that winter

winter 200

On your left shoulder, a snowflake. You’re bare. You’re here in a city that has just died. The snowflake, it’s not a real snowflake. Ashen, spitfire sadness, a delicate crock of ugly lace. When they promised to push the big button, you had whispered something soft to your mama.

Now I look at you. On your left shoulder, a snowflake posing as crystalline cut of hope. On my left life, a promise. Keep you safe, you, the girl with the sharpness in her eyes, the black-bolt fear of rabbits on the run. The sky is forever dark. You stopped asking why the sky is blue because the sky will never be a color ever again. And when the men of this world made good on their wishes, you asked why people would want to hurt other people and I cried because it’s a truthful wondering; what is our motivation, even when made archaic in such a way that food, that copying to copy ourselves, that shelter is our only drive? Why hurt our last resounding resource; the us? The we? The tribe we were and have always been born into, not unto? Maybe we want to hurt because of the simple misunderstanding of that little latter. The unto. But I promise you it was not meant to be this way. It was meant to be very different.

Don’t look at me like that. Shh. Bunny rabbit. Bolt of lightning. Don’t.

You’re getting old enough to know that evil wins just a little bit more these days. Yesterday a wild dog glared at you, growl on its mouth, and you hissed at him. He didn’t back down. You didn’t back down. Not quite evil, but I saw something in your eyes I hope to never see again. You’ve changed. Bunny to rabbit to feral. I miss the infant of you. I miss the youthful crawl of your laughter.

On your left shoulder, a snowflake. You brush it off and pull your sweater back up the blade of bone. You turn back to me. You say that you think we can do this thing that’s called surviving. You’d like to make dinner tonight. You’d like to eat that dog.

Shh. Shh.

Don’t.

beetle

beetle

i am beetle, bumble
burrow

i sit, a leaf
she bounces me
serves water down the stem
tumble, engorged orbs

i am happy
i am bliss

clicket-clacket of a cricket
stirs me from a midnight-always
i wonder if he’s been there, always

burrow

so safe i thought were my rainbow colors
presentation of toxicity
my pincers, more
my drip-drip of poison
my watered hiss

clicket-clacket of a cricket

leaf stops moving
water dribbles off

burrow

i wait
i am ready now
come again?

nothing

nothing

nothing

i am beetle, bumble
burrow

i am lonely

gone

ef6bf9d90fd856be704b7ba3b693259b

“She’s gone,” he says, a shuddering shot of bristled nerves. “She’s just gone.”

We are awash with Western sands. I choke on my breath and cover my mouth and –

“Bee, stop with the drama. C’mon.” He walks away from me. He can’t look at me.

But she can’t be gone. She – stage name, Lily; real name, unknown to this very day – needs to know things that happened to me in the last twenty-four hours. She needs to know that vodka held by a tiny mason jar tastes better than when it’s placed in a shot glass; she needs to know that the elusive, wonderful, horrifying Stranger gave me lingerie crowded with gothic black bows; she needs to know I am still Claire for her, Claire Fantine, a body to be sold but intellectualized by a cheeky Les Miserables reference.

She needs to know. She can’t be gone.

“Where is she?” I ask.

“Don’t fucking know.”

“She said she wasn’t feeling well. Was that a mental thing, then? She gets in these head spaces. She gets a little unwell.”

He shrugs. He’s known her for years and years, and he shrugs about this? I can’t look at him. He’s known her for a sizable chunk of her life, and he shrugs. I want to throw up. I really just might.

I run to the trunk of the car, pound the sweet spot as I jimmy the key. Inside, Lily’s dirty plastic hooker heels. She had wanted to hand them down to me, muddied proven jewels, and I said sure but never wore them. I lift a nightie that Claire wore the other day for a family man during business hours. Black, razor-thin polyester. I become Claire for a nanosecond, then, and feel even her bubbly stupidity vanish under the thick weight of a kidnapping, a murder, a possible get-away. I often spoke to Lily about flying to Europe for our final breaths, a spectacular Siamese suicide. I wonder now if she went through with it, the very thing that gifted us temporary spiritual relief. I know I would if I had the money she raked in every week, sweet lord. Candles tumble from a bag, presently tearing, shoved up in the back. I remember a wedding from a few years ago, from before I knew Lily or this weird, ex-military, ex-husband of hers, this Connor person. The wedding makes me think of altars. And with my other ego Claire so close to my surface; this trunk, an altar for alters. A rusted pocket knife slides out of the bag and falls into another bed of lingerie.

“She could’ve gone off with a trick, I guess,” Connor says. He lights a menthol and puffs out, chapped lips, “but even she’s better than that. Girl knows how to push buttons.”

“She’s impulsive,” I offer.

“Impulsive.” Connor snorts. “She’s a turbo-slut. So are you.”

“Hey.”

A truck whistles down the road. I grow antsy, think maybe she’s in the bed of it praying for someone to think that people are always lying in the beds of trucks, in need of saving. Because how else would you know? You just have to be paranoid.

My phone’s dead. I shuffle through bras and g-strings for a phone charger but I only find an old flip phone and a few burned out lighters. “She’ll turn up,” I say, more to myself. “She has this way about her, of turning up.”

Connor crushes the menthol and picks up a rock. Looks at me. I seize up for a second, watch his mouth tremble.

“You’re both sluts,” he mutters.

I step back.

“She did this before.” He squeezes the rock. I take another step back.

“With who?”

“With who do you think? That fuckin’ loser who gave her that fuckin’ purse!”

“That was different and you know it, c’mon – “

“Shut up!”

He lugs the rock across the road. Thuds soft and dull into a cavern of dust.

Another car rolls by. An old man in the driver’s seat looks us up and down, keeps a longer eye on Connor, keeps going. Connor bolts, tags after it like a starved dog, screaming and hitting the back. The car revs up. A cackle from somewhere.

I sigh and sit in the front seat. Connor’s almost caught up to the front of the car. The old man’s swerving, messing with him. They get pretty far. I turn on the radio, dial in on some bluegrass. Dolly Parton’s on there. She’s crooning about lost love, about harsh winters.

She leaves me with a whispered lilt, something quietly sinister: Something about bags and bags of bones, and how could life be like this?

bug

Black and White - Horse Fly

“There’s a bug here, look.”

“Yes.”

“Did you see it? There’s a bug here.”

“I did see it, yes, I know about the bug. Are you ready?”

“Well. As ready as you can be.”

“He’ll be here in fifteen minutes. You have what you need, I gave it to you – and the drawer?”

“What about the drawer?”

“The drawer, the things in the drawer – here, wipe that smudge off you. Look at you – sorry, just a smudge, there – look at you, prettiest I’ve ever seen you.”

“He said how long again?”

“Fifteen minutes.”

“No, for the thing. The actual thing.”

“Oh. Don’t think that’ll take much longer than about an hour. It’s a quick thing. It won’t hurt as bad as you think.”

“It’ll still hurt, though.”

“Yeah. Well, yeah, it will.”

“That bug. Why the hell was there a bug in your shower?”

“Listen for a minute, look at me in the eye. There we go. Now, listen, you’re distracting yourself and that’s fine. I can give you your shot now, or right before. What do you want?”

“Now.”

“Ketel or Tito’s?”

“Who the fuck do you think I am? Ketel.”

“I’ll clean up the bug. It must’ve gotten smushed on accident.”

“That didn’t look like any accident I’ve ever seen, not any involving bugs at least.”

“You see a lot of bug accidents?”

“Shut up. Ah. This is better. That tasted good. Damn. Goddammit. This isn’t real. None of this is real.”

“Don’t lose your shit.”

“Fuck – you hear that? That him? Fucking hell, god, I can’t believe I’m going to do this – “

“Cool your jets, okay? I’m cleaning the bug and you’re about to make a fuck-ton of money. We’re booking it to Europe after this. Okay? Gonna see us some really cool, old shit.”

“Okay. Okay. I get it. Clean the bug. Just fucking clean that bug.”


The forest, at night, hugged tight by inclement weather, is an unforgiving place. This place inhales troubled spirits.

It exhales white mist.


“Girl, this your first time? Girl, look at me when I speak to you. This your first time?”

“Yes. First time.”

“It’s going to hurt.”

“She said it wouldn’t hurt that bad.”

“Who did, your friend? That bitch? That bitch, I tell you what, that bitch – “

“Whatever, forget it.”

“Put this on.”

“That’s not very flattering.”

“You got a nice face, what you got on doesn’t matter.”

“So where does it come from? The thing?”

“That bitch didn’t explain anything to you?”

“Hey. Stop, c’mon.”

“Put that on, I wasn’t kidding. And the thing? The thing, the vessel, it touches dirt right over there. I don’t know where it comes from. Really, I don’t. You can glare all you want, I really have no fuckin’ clue.”

“So it just comes right out of the sky and swallows me up?”

“That’s how it looks to me every goddamn time, sure.”

“And it’ll hurt.”

“Sure will.”

“How much do I get again? Just to – “

“Justify it, I get it. This is your contract. You gotta sign off on the bottom. Make sure my dumb ass doesn’t get sued or whatnot.”

“This isn’t as much as I was promised…”

“I take a percentage, girl, for bringing you here. Safety fees.”

“There’s an ‘earthling’ fee too. What the fuck is that?”

“That’s a pretty word for ‘human error,’ which is what you are by default, being from this godforsaken planet.”

“Oh.”

“Oh, yeah, here it is. Damn. Thing gets bigger and brighter every few months, man. Oh, man.”

“Fuck! “

“You got the suit on, that’s fine. You look great. They’re gonna love you. They don’t talk much, though.”

“Fuck – ”


“- her, this bug isn’t even that smushed. It’s a tiny little thing. A baby fly. This thing’s a baby fly, is that a thing? Flies are maggots when they’re babies, right? Fuck it, whatever, this shower’s clean as a whistle. Hope they don’t smush her like this. Hope she comes out okay. Hope she can still fly like the rest of us. Yeah. Hope, hope, hope. Whistle while you work.”


“There’s a human here. Look.”

“Yes.”

“Did you see it? There’s a human girl here.”

“I did see it, yes, I know about the girl. Are you ready?”

“As ready as you can be. Just clean that girl. What happened to her, anyhow?”

“She got smushed.”

“Huh.”

“Yeah.”

“Human error.”

“Precisely.”

“Ready?”

“Ready.”

stardust

stardust

stardust, you.
impenetrable, irreversible.

didn’t you hear?
a thing like death’s coming,
cower, crouch, run –
death izza comin’!

cower, stardust, you.

i know a thing, and that thing is this:

beauty’s your cross to bear.
i’m sorry, baby, but beauty’s your curs-ed cross.

you be sparkling much too much.
you superb supernova.

death izza comin’!

impenetrable, irreversible.
yet all they’s see’s the sparkle,
unlike unbreakable bonds that created you

to core, from core

yet all they’s see’s gold luminescence

yet yet
death izza comin’!

yet yet

you survived big bangs, baby
you survived THE big bang
baby
you survived

yet yet
death izza comin’

and all they can see
is gold luminescence
all they can see’s sparkle
all they’s can comment on
is whether you shine just right in the event of unfortunate explosion
while death izza comin’

your way

because, baby doll, precious –
beauty’s your cross to bear

i’m sorry, baby, precious girl

beauty’s your curs-ed god-given cross

and death izza comin’ straight

for you.

yet yet

by god you sparkle
by god that is your death, this sparkle,
by god, by god, yet yet –

you are pillar, you are strength
you are the things this god dreamt of

you are stardust

and when a thing like death’s coming,
stand, stare, stay put

impenetrable, irreversible

you are still stardust, you.

unsafe places

barn

The very first human memory was a barn, she says, dry hay matted to ground, razored wooly scruff scratching ankles, a frenetic escape drenched in a frozen musk (stale), backward into a black hole that frayed the edges of her mind’s eye. That scar? That scar on the top of her foot came from the first fall into the barn, skip-trip into satan’s chilled embrace. Running for her life, running to protect something her deepest subconscious knew to be a precious thing. Her pursuer, much faster, caught her in a grab-yank at a knobby knee. Practiced child thief, he, stealer of old souls in young bodies, crook of cubs. She has no memory of anything before this night. She sees nothing but black before and nothing but darkness after. She has since been emotionally blind during her present existence. We lament that her past lives were much better, had to have been, must and should’ve been. The vodka sloshes low. We have more. She thinks she might try Vicodin tonight.

What else happened?

She hunches, side-eye. The tv bumbles in the living room, occupies her current lover’s attention. Volume wavers low, lower, during our most decadent logs of innocences lost: My father once tangled me in a ferocious fight, so angry that his words became spit on my person to avenge the poisoned cursing of my poisonous mother.

I like it now, that’s what I do to fight back I guess. I ask for it, special-made for me. Get rough and tumble, spit on me, I’ll say real quiet. Spit on me. You ever try that? Yeah. Spit on me a lot. Some guys won’t do it. Some guys get real nervous about hurting me. The ones who know, though, who know how to do it, they do it well. 

She murmurs understanding and we mutter on about the necessity of melting into ‘the dark place’ during these encounters.

I look to my phone, wish for my army of men (reigning Admiral is a gen-u-whine spitter) to request battle. My heart feels so torn up these days, I moan to her. She only nods and breathes, long, slow, a ‘yeah’; can only try to relate to someone who does not bear a scar of repressed tragedy, only emotional and spiritual neglect; first human memory had been a bouncing fall onto museum marble. Family trip, 1990-something. Eons ago, I’m saying. Eons. For the entirety of our friendship, we muse about the conglomerate effect of spiritual abuse versus physical. Are they one and the same? Perhaps. She thinks something quite terrible happened to me. She thinks I’m repressing something very dark. I remind her of herself. At twenty-three, things did not feel right, she says. She behaved the same way as I do now, expresses herself similarly. I should seek into a deeper depth. One or two Vicodin? Two? It doesn’t affect me. I am addicted to people, not chemicals.

She rubs at the raised nub of flesh on her foot and her lips turn a grim smile at me.

Sometimes I think that she and I, we’re dark arts. Black magic. Things inhuman. We snub our noses at our peers, snarl about how ‘new’ they must be to the Universe and its injustices. We are reincarnates from too many moons ago. We are special. We are drunk.

And then a sobering happens. I have never felt such a swift cut into the atmosphere as this moment, as this exposure of her Universe. I have never felt so in love with a person of my gender, non-romantic and yet still. I have never felt so dangerously endangered next to her, powerful elixir infusion of the slightest glancings, and yes, people taste it, people want it – it? – the thing we possess together and then alone. One’s inheritance of unsafe places ruptures like a sore and spreads like lust, a perpetual tending to darkness. We befriended one another because we can see this wound on each other, can kiss it free for but a second’s respite. A laugh or two negates it completely for a moment more. Our humanity, or lack thereof, continues to strengthen.

Once pawns, now queens. A fight, tooth plus nail, for the crowns bequeathed to tired scalps. Hers: jaunty ruby. Mine: lallygagging sapphires. Diamonds for both, for anyone of this particular inheritance: shot-star-supernova bright, your name in lights honey, get it now, get what you deserve. These jewels are set into splintered bone. Her current lover does not respect these crowns. He does not understand why she is sometimes upset.

She is upset because her survival, it turns on her lately, that’s why, and you should understand something quite important, right, listen. 

He listens.

She and I come from unsafe places. 

She trills from the kitchen, more vodka? Want more? There’s something she’s got to tell me.

Places you couldn’t understand. 

This scar, she says when I return.

Places, unprotected. Places so dark that your eyes won’t ever adjust, never ever.

I look to her, and I swear I could cry as her mouth parts.

This scar. Right here.

A Letter, Untitled

versailles-press6

A certain song in a certain hour always reminds me of that day in Paris, the morning I got sick? Remember? My nose was running all the way to the Palace of Versailles, and you’d given me the rest of our baguette aux lardons for the train ride on over to the bigger train that would take us to Antoinette’s home. I kept sniffling, loud and whimpered, and I caught an elegant Parisian darting sharp eyes at me. But you kept me close and you kept me safe. It rained so hard that day. It rained so hard that we had to learn the word for “umbrella” – parapluie – so that we could buy one from the local shop. I would mutter Rochechouart under my breath on occasion, reliving a flood of pride from when your father had praised my pronunciation. My French r’s were lovely, just grand. The baguette didn’t last long. We were almost there, you said.

~

Versailles was beautiful. I almost cried like I did when the doors of the Sacré-Cœur opened and nuns ushered us into the basilica’s warm embrace. Here, and there, I felt at home. You immortalized our time at Versailles with a photo of me looking into the Hall of Mirrors, just as you’d immortalized me at the English bookshop. I felt so beautiful in front of a wanting camera in your hands. I felt precious, like Versailles. You don’t know this but the moment you took that picture with the mirrors was the moment in which I’d wanted to tell you I loved you, again, for a last and final time, but I had appropriately held back. We found farming cottages dotted on the outskirts of the garden’s groomed monolith so we said hello to the queen’s friendly cows, her pup-eyed goats. Quilts of grass poured into a maze of centuries-old fenceposts and haunted escapes meant to house the gardeners, things the other tourists did not know or want to explore. And we got deep, so incredibly deep into Antoinette’s garden that we’d reached a vineyard of some sort, idyllic greenery you’d find in landscape paintings or children’s books. I thought for a moment we’d catch enchanted ghosts amongst the flowers, the kind we had hoped to catch in a cat-crawled cemetery, immense and gothic, a day before. And I was terrified to disrespect the palace rules, to follow you into forbidden ivy aisles. But you said it was okay and so I trusted you and took your hand and we walked for a forever toward a latticed center. We reached a mossy clearing scattered with broken pottery. No one was here for a half mile all around. Just us. In all the universe, here and above, it was just us. I danced and laughed. We dizzied ourselves, drunk on the freshest air we’d ever tasted. I found a bench outside the clearing and you laid your head on my lap. I rubbed at the same strand of black hair looped around your ear. You fell asleep and murmured things from a lost and hurting boyhood. I smiled down at you and murmured things from an awakened maternal core.

~

We stayed there long past our stolen welcome. On the plane ride home, you made me cry. I had let a stranger borrow the pen we had used to check off boxes for the US government, things like, no, we had not touched Antoinette’s exotic cows and that, no, we were not harboring viruses of an illegal variety, and you hated me for the pen allowance, silenced me with such cutthroat glares that I felt small and weak. I had taken rocks from Versailles, dulled purple gems hoping to birth amethyst, and I felt nervous that our government would confiscate them.

~

It has been two years since precious Versailles. I treasure the memory just as I treasured a human with a heart that could no longer hide rust with fool’s gold. In those two years I have strayed from the French and wandered into Spanish. I have learned to say mi corazon se duele (my heart, it hurts) and I have learned to retract this statement with todo esta bien (all is well).

~

I have promised to return to Paris.

~

I have promised to never return to you.