Dear B—

I once asked you to describe containment in the hopes that words would become a tangible net or spell and I would be safe forever.

Now, instead of a chrysalis I want:

Emptiness

Extreme space

I want open sky

I want rolling storm clouds and I want to feel the sting of every piece of hail as it strikes the ground (it’s still cold here, still winter–mostly).

But even though I have room to run now my brain is still caught in this weird mind snare that maybe was always there, I don’t know how long I’ve been walking around not noticing.

I’m having some problems and creative outlets help but I still have this awful hollow feeling in my chest and maybe if my body dissolved in the river or the obscenely wonderful streaky pink sunset I’d feel better.

So I want to know, now, even though I don’t feel very proper asking you (it’s not about protocol it’s that there’s so much more going on in the world and it’s President’s Day) but I’d love to know your feelings about the open sky and how you would illustrate the opposite of containment.

Call it freedom if you like

Call it emptiness

Call it a void

Call it silence

Call it the loudest noise in the world, a volcanic eruption

Call it whatever it is that you need to feel a lack of containment.

Sincerely yours,

Jessica

Note: This is an open letter. I’d love to hear/read anyone who wants to answer. Thanks.

It’s the Little Things You Notice

More thoughts on long distance relationships:

Mr. J. and I have been living apart (work reasons, we’re still married) since December 4 and I’ve surprised myself because I can’t mark his absence from my life in a tally of days. I’ve tried, thinking that will make things more bearable.

Instead I putter along, going with the flow of the day, until something happens, some stupid little thing that makes me realize I haven’t seen my husband/best friend in FOREVER.

The first occurrence was when I had to do laundry for the first time since moving. And I thought to myself: seriously? I’ve already run out of clothes? And this is my first time doing laundry away from Mr. J? And then I thought about how many loads of laundry I will be doing in the 3 years we will be apart. That’s a lot of fucking laundry.

The second occurrence was when I cut my fingernails (I cut them the day before I said “goodbye”). Sorry if fingernails gross you out. But as I was cutting them I thought: seriously? I have to cut my nails already? Surely it hasn’t been that long. But it was.

And then today I realized my new (purchased the week before my move) bottle of Vitamin C is almost empty. I don’t take vitamins regularly even though I should. You could hold a gun to my head and say, “If you don’t take your vitamins every day for a week I will kill you and your cats,” I still wouldn’t be able to do it. And now that fucking bottle is almost empty. I can see the bottom of the fucking bottle.

It’s like hitting the pan on your favorite eye shadow and going: WTF I just bought this!

I can still talk to him almost every day, thank the gods, but whenever I have one of these moments where something little jumps out at me and screams: BEHOLD THE UNYIELDING PASSAGE OF TIME HAHA! And I realize it really hasn’t been that long and I have thousands and thousands of other little moments waiting in the wings to jump out at me.

I’m going to turn 33 next month and I’ll be 35 or 36 when we get to a place where we can live together again. That in itself gives me pause.

And, like an ostrich with head in the sand (is that even a real thing?) or a cat that’s just fallen off of something and doesn’t want to admit there was a moment when it wasn’t graceful and in control of everything around it, I pretend I’m not upset, that that little thing/monster didn’t happen, and I move on with my day.

I don’t know if that’s the most healthy thing to do or that it will keep working but it’s working for me so far and that’s really all I can ask for right now.

Having a creative outlet also helps. Working with characters that I love helps.

What helps you?

Orpheus

…so for your arrogance

I am broken at last…

—HD “Eurydice”

I fell

(a bird’s cry)

stumbled over

the weight of the sky,

(twisted in the air)

all of mortality

smothering us

(joined the liturgy of curses

eaten by the dead).

The cry I plucked

from your lips,

your frown;

(a bird’s cry)

I wanted you that badly

(twisted in the air).

I tripped

over your slow step,

the kudzu vine across the path

or something else

equally absurd

(joined the liturgy of curses

eaten by the dead).

I had to stop myself

from looking sooner,

pushed the wanting down

until it was nothing

but a whisper. Then

the bird screamed.

*

This poem first appeared in Lupercalia.

Photo Credit: Nymphs Finding the Head of Orpheus, John William Waterhouse 1900

Wormwood

She has black dirt on her face.

The ruins of a garden plucked

for winter stain her hands.

She has scratched that greenery free

and bathed in the empty

soil, praying for next year’s harvest

with touches of bare arms and thighs.

She rubs the flesh of the earth,

places stones in her mouth

careful of her teeth

though she knows

this is ritual.

Her tongue rolls in the grit,

hips turn the ground like a spade.

She says, “I will starve myself for the gods

so I can grow poison in the spring.”

This poem won the first place prize for poetry at the 2008 Lex Allen Literary Festival at Hollins University, Virginia. Since then it was published in The Camel Saloon and nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2011 before finding its forever home in Lupercalia.

Photo Credits: wormwood, Prosperina (1870) Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Mermaid’s Songbook

1. A Boat Alone*

phosphorous moon

over

a boat

alone

singing

of eyes and

stars

dancing with

the horizon

the horizon

unravels

dancing with

stars,

singing of

eyes like

phosphorous moons

over a

boat alone

2. The Witch’s Song

love is spinning in the deep

mine is mine and

music is music

if you’re wishing for escape

love is love and

knives are knives

love is waiting far away

a song is a song and

sweet is sweet

if you wish for what you aren’t

love is love and

yours is yours

love is love

and

hate is hate

and

love is love again

come and see what I’m selling

mine is mine and

music is music

all the wishes you could wish

love is love and

knives are knives

when you regret, regret with your heart

a song is a song and

sweet is sweet

the tide will carry you home

love is love and

yours is yours

love is love

and

hate is hate

and

love is love

again

3. Dead Mermaid Singing

I can’t give you lapis less I open

a vein and rupture my organs in

just the right way

staining my blood

in a shade that will say:

“I love you more than that hand that gave you your lapis.”

I can’t give you sunset staining a canvas less I open

a vein and clot my obsessions,

fall into dusk

with a gesture that screams:

“I love you more than that hand that painted your sunset.”

When the waves call me back

to dance in the foam

you’ll never know how much

I hate my home.

I can’t give you music less I tear

out my throat and fling all my chords

to the sky-loving storm

to play on her way to crash down your door.

She’s the only one who knows

I do love you more.

The princess is so pretty,

her demeanor is divine

but her love will break in the shadow of mine.

When the waves call me back

to dance in the foam

I would open my veins and my throat

on your shore ever

singing ever singing:

“I do love you more.”

4. Redemption*

the grave sea

breaks and tears

the burning

emptiness

of all that

has passed,

write

your fragile

flight

*

These poem first appeared in Lupercalia.

Photo source: Waterhouse

A Boat Alone: Found poem. Source: Aquí te amo by Pablo Neruda.

Redemption: Found poem. Source: Las víejas del oceano by Pablo Neruda.

Aubade for What is Gone

She walks the morning alone.

I want to tell her

serenity

is not some myth-

ical beast she must catch

and kill. Blood

and hearts are not torn and slurped up

on a dare, for bargains

rewards, or love. Fate

doesn’t play well with others

but she does play

with hearts that need breaking.

I want to tell her

Fate will be her best friend

when there is no one

to drink with

but her own weeping

shadow. And when

she walks the morning alone

the concrete crumbles

and the sun

breaks

every

nightmare.

*

This poem first appeared in Lupercalia.