I haven't written many poems for people I haven’t slept with or weren't dead. But I did write you a poem my Junior year of college. Here it is again:
You collect light and accept
small inconveniences such as a rainy day
when you were hoping for a tan
or at least a dozen more freckles
to show the beauty in imperfection.
But you found a puddle and then another
and broke the murk with your rain-boots.
You noticed how the droplets caught the trees, pavement, and mud
before sogging the ankles of your jeans.
You collect light with your pen
then store it in envelopes in your letters to me,
explaining your garden and the greedy deer
that come by night and leave half-beheaded cabbages
and roses and small footprints dotting your whole backyard
and how hilarious and frustrating your niece finds this,
even though she lacks the proper vocabulary because she is only two.
You collect light and insist we move an iron bench into its puddle
when we talk of boyfriends and ex’s
and terribly uncomfortable moments
that we’ll still laugh about when we’re seventy and insane
and have ears crammed with aids.
But right now, at twenty-one, yours are as open as sea-shells
so my stories can come roaring in.
And when I recede, you notice
that our worse scars are the ones we’ve made by accident.
You collect light in your apples that you pierce
in large, unlady-like bites with your mouth not-quite-closed
so the skin sticks up in triangles and fjords.
But underneath you’ve shown it too large for geometry or geography
with its crooks and shifting layers and bits of saliva.
It captures the sun better than feathers.
My first instinct is to go back and edit it. I mean, parts are too, too much. I want to tighten and then expand. I want to contract and shrink and blow a hole in it. But there it stands.
Because maybe the truth isn't a narrative, which is an idea that's new and terrifying. Maybe it's something else. When I was on too many mushrooms, after the part I thought I was in an episode of Doctor Whoand before I almost called you, I went inside my head and tried to find something bigger and behind God, who I don't believe in. I think what I was doing, though, is trying to find something bigger, truer, and behind a story.
But when I think of you, and how to explain you, I do think of stories. Most of them are about you cleaning. Not the one of how we met, though. That happened in an unclean way. We kept peeing. So much, of the peeing. All over campus, different times, different bathrooms, for weeks. I'd go in to go pee or hide (shyness is very time-consuming) and you'd be there. I don't remember what we talked about. Probably peeing or shitting (which we still talk about) and you decided that we were friends, and that was that.
That was seven years ago. And our friendship is still wonderfully uncomplicated and silly. I mean, we've had our rough patches, but those were mostly because I was dating people you didn't think were good enough for me. And you were right.
But in the meantime, between us pissing side-by-side and me writing this, there were so many times when you had to clean. Freshman year, after my first heart-break and I refused to clean my room or get the papers and books out of my sheetless bed. You called it a hamster nest and laughed and laughed at me. Then you cleaned and opened the window to let the light in.
Then Junior year, at the start of spring semester, I invited you over and said, no, I didn't want to press charges. No, that's not what happened. First you told me that there's a word for what happened, and I didn't need to go to Confession. Then I said I couldn't press charges. You said okay, and then said you would clean. My dorm was still messy from the semester before, and there were a couple of bloodstains leftover. You opened the blinds and said that the rain had stopped.
Last year, I got bad news that my mother hadn't died but it wasn't through lack of trying. I invited you over and you and Justice cleaned the kitchen in the house I was renting. I felt calm but unable to stand. So I sat down and hugged my knees to my chest. I could feel the tile through my ass. You put away the dishes and said it's okay, this is just something you need to do. And you were right.
Then at the end of the summer for Labor Day or Memorial Day or whichever one comes at the end, we had a BBQ and I got so sick and wasn't a very good host. I coughed and coughed and coughed. Weeks later, I coughed up the biggest ball of phlegm I’ve ever seen. I didn't know it at the time, but that's when I was beginning to understand I couldn't be with someone I wasn't in love with. But you and your husband cleaned my horrible kitchen and made the yellow counters shine.
I guess what I'm getting at is, there is a truth that's bigger than the narrative. I guess what I'm getting at is, I love you. I know things are hard sometimes because of the chemicals in your brain and not getting out of bed makes you feel worthless, but I want to let you know that I love you.
And I know that when my ex-lover packs his shit and leaves, we'll clean my house top to bottom together and thoroughly scrub. We'll finagle the ancient blinds to open. You'll be what helps me find home.
Nadia Wolnisty is the submissions editor of ThimbleLitMag.com. Her work has appeared in Spry, Apogee, Anti-Heroin Chic, *Isaucoustic, McNeese Review, Paper & Ink, and others. She has chapbooks from Cringe-Worthy Poetry Collective and from Finishing Line Press and a full-length from Spartan. Her third chapbook is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press.