POEMBOX

He sits me across the table, has me fold my hands in my lap. “You can look but you can’t touch,” and slides a box between us. It sits open, unclasped, and he pushes it pushes it towards me. “This,” he says, “is how you write a poem.”

(lately, we’ve been having a problem
and all these people are turning up dead.
tides are washing ashore and pulling back sand
and in between far-off blades of grass
we’ve found bodies.
with nowhere to lay them
we bring them to the beach.)

I lean over and peer into the box. There isn’t much inside, but, it seems infinite. Dirty coils of spring and watchpieces, old stamps and ice cream napkins. Everything anyone has ever lost, ever touched, ever experienced, tucked away in a jumble, lost in a black laquer box.

(there is something about the faces of people we’ve never met
but now,
know so much about.
their family, the children they left behind.
what happens when we all start to dream
of places we’ve once been and only find wreckage?
what happens when we are left to stack bodies atop bodies,
lives on top of lives?
what happens when we can no longer see the ocean?)

I look up from the box and into his eyes. He stares me down for a long while. “When you sit to write a poem, you reach into that box and time flows fowards, flows backwards. You pull out what you need and tell a story.” He pauses. “A poem is a story told in parts, in moments, in scraps. Reach in. Dig deep.”

(all the rest of us can only hold hands
and keep our chests steady against the sobs inside.
standing together on tippy-toes,
straining against what we see, what we know.
lately it has been
one after the other,
one after the other,
one after the other
and we wipe our tears away
with the bloody rags they leave behind.)

“Can I now?” I ask and he nods. I dip my hand into the box that seems so shallow but goes on forever and when I pull my closed fist back up. All that is in my palm is sand.

A Contortionist’s Love Story

I.


e once had bodies. They were long limbed and thick boned, weak muscled and thin skinned. We’d lay in bed together at night and trace the lines on one another’s backs, straight up the spine and back around again. We were whole. Complete. Two separate people who walked to work in the morning and walked back home at night. Snow in our hair, red flush on our cheeks.

We had bodies.

I changed before you. My leg stretched higher on the bathroom counter, my chest pressing forward, my arms in the air, reaching toward the stars. I always had small ribs, a small chest. Everything folded easily as I watched myself in the mirror. Hard water stains left spots on my reflection, but I ignored them.

This was more important now.

Days later you caught me, laid out on my stomach, hands around my ankles, willing them forward, scratching at the skin to pull and stretch. A backward butterfly struggling on the ground. Instead of saying anything, you laid out next to me. Echoed my moves, composing the same pose. Maybe you had always known how to do it. I don’t know that for sure.

Now I’ll never know.

II.


e moved in succinct poses together in every room of our apartment. I reached over you, bent at the waist, scratching the counter for clean spoons and you laid your arm atop me, struggling to hold the pose. I admired our view in the reflection of the kitchen window as we became composed of one another. Rain stained the glass, turned from snow before it hit the ground. You smiled. You had always been just a bit bigger than I had, your ribs full and wide, but you moved the same way I did.

I ignored our differences at first and kept going.

We walked to work. We walked home. Our bones thinned out and our limbs got longer until one day I was taller than you and could see the red roots growing out of your dyed dark hair. I touched my finger to your scalp and you said nothing. Leaned up and kissed my cheek, pulling your leg behind your back and up toward the gray clouded sky. A part of you melted into me. I folded into you.

We went home a little less than complete.

III.


told them all it was an accident. I didn’t expect it to happen that way. We didn’t know what we were doing. I asked and you agreed. You told me as I laid out on the kitchen ground, staring up at the paper stars we hung. They were snow colored, grayed out. I reached up with my arms and I could touch the very edges of them.

You were red-eyed, staring at me over the small space between us.

We laid out the way we once laid in bed when we could still fit under its sheets. I counted straight up your spine, following it with my fingers but the trail was longer than I remembered. Time stretched out, losing itself inside of us. The longer we stayed, the less we had. Our bones melted, our skin cracked. I wrapped my hand around the first stain of blood at your ankle. We had gone too far, but you didn’t tell me to stop.

It was the only thing we knew how to do.

We folded into one another again and again. A  struggle of hips and thighs and overextended waists. My ribs went first, your cheeks sunk last. We kept pulling without stopping, seeing red behind our eyelids. We countered pain with reflection. Folded into one another’s poses, we became an echo of each other’s parts.

We had bodies once. A pair of them. But now we were complete.