*I wasn’t planning on posting this poem until it was published in the upcoming collection “Best Poems of WOWPS” that it was selected for - but in light of the recent Steubenville verdict and CNN coverage, I could not stay silent.*
The first hitchhiker I ever picked up I dropped off in the…
If they label you soft, feather weight and white-livered,
if the locker room tosses back its sweaty head,
and laughs at how quiet your hands stay,
if they come to trample the dandelions roaring in your throat,
you tell them that you were forged inside of a woman
who had to survive fifteen different species of disaster
to bring you here,
and you didn’t come to piss on trees.
You ain’t nobody’s thick-necked pitbull boy,
don’t need to prove yourself worthy of this inheritance
of street-corner logic, this
blood legend, this
index of catcalls, “three hundred ways to turn a woman
into a three course meal”, this
legacy of shame, and man,
and pillage, and man,
and rape, and man.
You won’t be some girl’s slit wrists dazzling the bathtub,
won’t be some girl’s,
“I didn’t ask for it but he gave it to me anyway”,
the torn skirt panting behind the bedroom door,
some father’s excuse to polish his gun.
If they say, “Take what you want”, you tell them
you already have everything you need;
you come from scabbed knuckles
and women who never stopped swinging,
you come men who drank away their life savings,
and men who raised daughters alone.
You come from love you gotta put your back into,
elbow-grease loving like slow-dancing on dirty linoleum,
you come from that house of worship.
Boy, I dare you to hold something like that.
Love whatever feels most like your grandmother’s cooking.
Love whatever music looks best on your feet.
Whatever woman beckons your blood to the boiling point,
you treat her like she is the god of your pulse,
you treat her like you would want your father to treat me:
I dare you to be that much man one day.
That you would give up your seat on the train
to the invisible women, juggling babies and groceries.
That you would hold doors, and say thank-you,
and understand that women know they are beautiful
without you having to yell it at them from across the street.
The day I hear you call a woman a “bitch”
is the day I dig my own grave.
See how you feel writing that eulogy.
And if you are ever left with your love’s skin trembling under your nails,
if there is ever a powder-blue heart
left for dead on your doorstep,
and too many places in this city that remind you of her tears,
be gentle when you drape the remains of your lives in burial cloth.
Don’t think yourself mighty enough to turn her into a poem,
or a song,
or some other sweetness to soften the blow,
I dare you to break like that.
Abuela, did you ever figure out how to stay in love? I promise I won’t tell a soul.
Denice Frohman - Abuela
Time Passes. Listen. Time Passes.
Come closer now.
Only you can hear the houses sleeping in the streets in the slow deep salt and silent black, bandaged night. Only you can see, in the blinded bedrooms, the combs and petticoats over the chairs, the jugs and basins, the glasses of teeth, Thou Shalt Not on the wall, the yellowing dickybird-watching pictures of the dead. Only you can hear and see, behind the eyes of the sleepers, the movements and countries and mazes and colours and dismays and rainbows and tunes and wishes and flight and fall and despairs and big seas of their dreams.
From where you are, you can hear their dreams.
When I get the call about my brother, I’m on a stopped train leaving town & the news packs into me—freight— though it’s him on the other end now, saying finefine—
Forfeit my eyes, I want to turn away from the hair on the floor of his house & how it got there Monday, but my one heart falls like a sad, fat persimmon dropped by the hand of the Turczyn’s old tree.
I want to sleep. I do not want to sleep. See,
one day, not today, not now, we will be gone from this earth where we know the gladiolas. My brother, this noise, some love [you] I loved with all my brain, & breath, will be gone; I’ve been told, today, to consider this as I ride the long tracks out & dream so good
I see a plant in the window of the house my brother shares with his love, their shoes. & there he is, asleep in bed with this same woman whose long skin covers all of her bones, in a city called Oakland, & their dreams hang above them a little like a chandelier, & their teeth flash in the night, oh, body.
Oh, body, be held now by whom you love. Whole years will be spent, underneath these impossible stars, when dirt’s the only animal who will sleep with you & touch you with its mouth.
because this is what you do. get up. blame the liquor for the heaviness. call in late to work. go to the couch because the bed is too empty. watch people scream about love on Jerry Springer. count the ways it could be worse. it could be last week when the missing got so big you wrote him a letter and sent it. it could be yesterday, no work to go to, whole day looming. it could be last month or the month before, when you still thought maybe. still carried plans around with you like talismans. you could have kissed him last night. could have gone home with him, given in, cried after, softly, face to the wall, his heavy arm around you, hand on your stomach, rubbing. shower. remember your body. water hotter than you can stand. sit on the shower floor. the word devastated ringing the tub. buildings collapsed into themselves. ribs caving toward the spine. recite the strongest poem you know. a spell against the lonely that gets you in crowds and on three hours’ sleep. wonder where the gods are now. get up. because death is not an alternative. because this is what you do. air like soup, move. door, hallway, room. pants, socks, shoes. sweater. coat. cold. wish you were a bird. remember you are not you, now. you are you a year from now. how does that woman walk? she is not sick or sad. doesn’t even remember today. has been to Europe. what song is she humming? now. right now. that’s it.
My space-brain already took to blast-off early this morning.
Fast forward ten years. The first thing you will notice is that you are taller. Not necessarily farther from the ground, but closer to the sky. This may at first be dizzying, especially if you never learned how to breathe. Practice. Meet your lungs. Take note of the way your skin fits, how your bones have grown into your skeleton. Your shoulders are perfectly balanced at the top of your spine. Your arms are long enough to reach your hands. This, you will discover, is what people who know anything mean when they say beautiful.
Investigate the body you are in. Reach for both horizons at once and discover your wingspan. Crack your knuckles. Lick the gap between your teeth. Place your fingers against the underside of your wrist and feel for a pulse. If you have one, it means you’re lonely. That’s good. This is a good world to be lonely in. Explore the space you take up, the way your body displaces air in the shape of: calves, hips, belly, chin. Trace the path of tingling from lips to nipples to between your legs. Notice that your skin is the color of new skin after the old skin has peeled away. Feel underneath your sternum: there. A scar. Your body has opened up, allowed egress to something it no longer needed, like an appendix. This was painful once, as doorways always are.
Excavate yourself. Turn inside out like a pocket and examine what falls to the ground. There should be just enough coins to take a bus to anywhere. A pressed flower with a breath of purple left in it, the exact shade ofI will always remember you fondly. Keys meant to open something old and worthy. Lint. The lint means you have been places, smelled dust, shaken off dead cells. A piece of paper with a name on it. Nothing sharp: you don’t carry razor blades under your fingernails anymore.
The suitcase you packed before leaving your parents’ house is here, spine-creased books and a one-eyed stuffed dog. The green dress that made your collarbone a lie. Your first lipstick. Jeans that will always have the stain from that night, an empty whiskey bottle. Spread them out like tarot cards on the pavement: the past, the present, the wish. Where the tenth and final card would be, place yourself.
Practice listening to sounds other than the grinding of your teeth. Songs are a good place to start, especially songs with piano accompaniment and lyrics about changing seasons. Listen to crickets. Learn how to divine the temperature from their chirps. Listen to the ground underneath you. Gravity will keep you here until you are ready to leave.
You can still recite those sad poems from memory, but they don’t resonate in your chest the way they used to. You can walk across a bridge without counting the seconds between your bones and the concrete below. There is an ocean, but it is far away, not filling up your mouth. There will be people who want to touch you gently. You know that you can still feel pain, in your eyes and hands especially. But in this moment, all you know of your body is open arms.