penance, april 2007

You are tired. So walk. Here, take this shell. Here, take and push. Push please your thumb into the round part of this shell. It will not break. Don’t worry;
It will never say It’s Not OK
When it had promised It’s OK.

Push please very hard and gentle. Push please all the bad, slowly while you walk. Push please the way you hate her sometimes and how you hate sometimes the sound of his feet and the shape of his lungs and push please all the bad out, slowly while you walk.

It is raining too much. This is every reason to walk. Slowly while you push.

The water on your face could be tears. It would be OK if it were tears.

Don’t look in the windows of the room where he shed your blood because you asked him to. Push please.

Don’t look at the house where (look). Don’t look at the sidewalk where (look, push). Please push please.

It would be OK if it were tears.

Walk because you are tired. Walk because you are thirsty. Walk to hear your mother’s voice saying You’re Very Young But I Was Too. Walk to see if when you are tired you keep walking.

It would be OK if it were tears. It is OK that it is not.

Find that you have forgotten to push. This is OK too. Because the rain is painted pink and unreal and maybe this is the prize for all your searching. And maybe you can feel more able to be kind, and to walk when you are tired.

To bury your mouth in wet lilacs.
To wash your face in painted water.
It is OK if sometimes it is tears.


short-short fiction, commissioned by Jonathan Thomson

She only came to see me when Elly was out of town. It was as if she planned it, and maybe she did. She had a feel for lonely days, and I had a taste for distraction. Like the park by the water at the end of summer, the sky with disappearing stars and our shadows, wrapped in blankets, moving in the shapes of ringing bells. Like espresso and Camus in winter, when I was most afraid. She fed my crises from a distance, and in the mornings I invented dreams to tell Elly in place of the dreams about her: the ends of her short hair in the sun -- her squint when I didn't know what to say -- her laugh, sharp, almost mean -- her shoulders in the stairway of my building, forehead to the door jamb, trying to leave, or not to. I didn't kiss her, but I could have.


outside Wamena in June

We picnic where the rivers meet; we invite Ibuh Veronika and two year old Magda to come too. Magda is shy, with eyes larger than her mouth, and a National Geographic stomach. She wears hand-me-down airplane-print pajamas from the Van Zwols. We wade into the river; Nan tells us we can shower at home later. Magda and Willem strip down to nothing and slip between muddy rocks. “Ha ha ha,” Willem triumphs, laughing-glad to be nude. “Pe-nis!” Magda clings to her mother and, once back in her boy's pajamas, won't leave her perch on Veronika's rounded shoulders.

An Indonesian approaches us, with a cigarette and a couple friends. Later we will refer to him as "that straight-hair" -- the Papuan name for non-Papuan Indonesians with their silky black hair, their fair skin, their superiority complexes. Without making eye contact or trading selamats, he pokes Magda’s tight belly, ignoring her mother. She is his inferior because she is a woman -- worse, she is a Papuan woman. To Magda he mutters “where’s your daddy?”

Veronika mostly ignores him, saying “tidak apa apa.” It’s nothing. It doesn’t matter. Her dad’s not around.

“Leave us alone; don’t bother us,” Nan is quick to respond in Indonesian, adding “and we don’t smoke.” We are all surprised how quickly violence comes to our minds once she translates the exchange.

But “tidak apa apa” Veronika says. It’s nothing. It doesn’t matter. As if it is her lot.



we made this. (film is truth alley, 2005)

and we made this.

(film is truth alley, 2007, in protest of removal of the above)

we didn't make this, but I'd like to shake the hand of the person who did.
it was exactly what I needed.
(on a door behind new consignment/antique shop on Cornwall, 2007)


poem, not currently titled.

After cutting him off for the second time I take large scissors to my hair in the hallway bathroom of my mother’s house. Careful, as I have always been: please don’t think I might not be in control here. Chestnut brown falls in handfuls to the water of the toilet; a layer gathers in intervals of half and quarter-inches. I think of the handfuls, chestnut brown, that fell when I was sixteen and thin: in the shower, clogging the drain, tangling my fingers, filling the creases of my pillowcase each morning. The hair is the first thing to go, before even the pounds, when the climate of the body becomes too inhospitable.

What happened to your hair? my grandmother shouts when she sees it. I cut it, I say. But why? she shouts.

(because I am hopeful. because I am broken. because the reasons are too hard to prove.)

For months I cut in secret like how I used to throw away food. I cut my hair instead of my skin, though that has never been my refuge: I cut as replacement for other, more familiar, self denials. Always with faith that what I want to see will soon emerge from the glass, hopes tied tight in the harvest of my own hair. I am not what I want but at least I am not what I was; at least I am not that hungry girl, hair weighing more than her body.

When he is in Arizona with cacti and his grandmother, I let another man sleep in my bed. His hands at the base of my spine, white and shaking like starved at sixteen; his teeth at the base of my shaking, short clipped skull. When I tell him how long it’s taken to allow myself my body he shudders, begs Are you joking? I do not tell him that really, I am lying: that permission has not happened. I am still stuck cutting pieces of history and love off, inch by inch, when I know a little better than to go after my flesh with the same blades.

When our clothes are gone already he asks Is that your hair, in the bathroom? Short pieces in the toilet, in the sink, on the floor. I tell him that it is, but not that they are boundaries removed, rules that I have been collecting solely for the purpose of throwing away.

That night creates a tangle of trusts broken, as if by small, sharp silver scissors. I will be forgiven, but this is not the point. I will keep cutting for months still. Until in all my dreams I know my body, and dark hair falls on shoulders in my sleep. Not as regression, but permission. Not to cleave, but cleave together. Mend, flesh: hum and grow. Because I am broken. Because one day I will not be. Because I am hopeful.


starting off with an ode to my town

At this point in our relationship:

To me you are almost only empty alleys, smelling of dryer sheets and dumpsters. You are only the friends of friends I have not made my own, the friends I have pretended to like. The grudges I have forgotten to get over, the people I have forgotten to love. The smell of the rotting drunk at the corner of Railroad and Holly. You are only the three hands it takes to count the places I’ve had sex in this town, and the two it takes if you subtract the times I thought it wasn’t sex, though of course it was. Or the times I thought it might be love, though, of course, it wasn’t.

The smell of fertilizer outside the Feed and Seed. The smell of sugar and burned waffle cones outside the ice cream shop. The smell of overpriced clothing, once worn by someone else, in the store where I used to burn myself with the steamer on Saturdays. The smell of fried things behind the re-opened tequila bar. The smell of cars ahead and passing me, in a hurry to go somewhere not-here, burning my nose, my eyes, graying my teeth and frying my hairs with their exhaustion.

You smell very terrible to me almost always, except for those occasions when the bay blows through downtown and up Cornwall, Commercial, Champion, filling me with wind and the feeling of things that are still living. Except for when I claim my portion of the road, dependent, for the moment, on only the strength of my legs, two wheels, old pedals. Except for when I give myself permission to leave.