THIS IS WHAT I THINK OF WHEN I THINK OF YOU.
How do you describe the feeling of waking up?
Darkness. And then, not, like the surprise light
of morning. Consciousness becomes the slow
drawing of a bath. My mind begins to fill.
My senses trickle back from blackness. Still
dark but lighter, drying paint, a photograph
developing. I become aware of my surroundings
shadow by shadow: the bed, the pillows,
the sheets, the hands. Trees thrash against
my hips, the window, but strange, there is
no storm. Still shadows. Something is pushing,
knocking at my body. How do you describe
penetration? I become aware of the sliding,
archaic thrust, the filling of what is bottomless.
Consciousness now spills over the lip of the tub
and I am drowning. Who are you? I am awake,
my body screams, awake, but my words
have not come back from the darkness yet.
Who are you? Nothing but shadow falls from
my mouth. For what seems like a year, I do not
know who is inside me. How do you describe
realization? The light bulb. The lens focus.
The gasp of air. It’s you, you, you, my lover,
my chosen partner. O thank god. O holy mistake.
I realize that it is you and that I am safe and
I cry fat, instant tears. You pull out, confused,
angry we stopped. I explain I was dreaming.
I explain people wake up entangled all the time,
I just didn’t know who I was tied to, didn’t know
who was knocking at the door of me. And see,
you don’t know it, but this is the exact moment
you lose me, even though we will still sleep
beside each other for six more weeks: I tell you
I thought I was being raped and you ask me
who I was dreaming of. O holy abuser. O green-
eyed wolf. You say I moaned like a ghost
in my sleep, panted, pushed against you
like a strung-back bow. You say I just must
want it from someone else. To this day,
this is what I think of when I think of you.
- Sierra DeMulder
SNAPSHOTS OF LITERACY
Street signs. Ingredients.
Warning labels. Bus schedules.
Your favorite book.
I am nine years old and in speech therapy.
A fat, glowing mirror distorts my teeth into large,
crooked kernels and the woman asks me to
repeat the words “show, start, show, start.”
Sounds stumble out of my mouth.
As long as I can remember I have been
able to read. This is a gift I open daily
but can not recall unwrapping. I have
been given the golden ticket. I am opening
the envelop as we speak, as I type:
the golden parenting. The golden school tax.
The golden free time. The gold access.
I am special in the way we expect everyone
to be special but help no one become.
Maps. Newspapers. Job applications.
Mrs. Cannistra explains to a room full of 8th graders
how, in Spanish, you say “this is my food favorite”
not “my favorite food.” We laugh at this strange
newness. It reminds us of the transfer student
from the town over who dresses in faded t-shirts
and smells sour. How backwards we say, how un
Speeding tickets. Phone
numbers. Parking signs.
“One glance at a book and you
hear the voice of another person,
perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years.
To read is to voyage through time.” And what
is it to stand still? To hear the thousand voices
but not join in on their singing?
In class, we are discussing a book about
a man who learned to read at 98-years-old.
The girl next to me, who wears college sweatshirts
and bangs that spell a hundred C’s, says
she was surprised at how happy he seemed,
at how much he accomplished for the first 97 years.
This man, who could not read but who could see,
who witnessed a lynching before his 10th birthday,
who watched one century stack itself taller
and taller only to topple to another.
Pay stubs. Help
Wanted. For Sale.
Menus. This poem.
Imagine the warning label on the bottle of prescription medication
looks like the red sea. There is no parting. There is no passage.
I am four years old. My mother is
reading aloud to my sisters and I,
and I, and I am drawing a picture
of the story’s hero: a mouse holding
his proud sword. It seems no matter
the age, the story is always about war.
- Sierra DeMulder
DELILAH: A FOUND POEM FROM WIKIPEDIA
Delilah (/dɪˈlaɪlə/; Hebrew: דלילה Dəlilah,
meaning “[She who] weakened”). She
whom Samson loved and who was his
downfall. Delilah, born into wife, who
is never named. You angel, you child,
Delilah: you discover the secret of
every one of us, pieces of silver and
a false answer: "If they bind me then
I shall be weak as a man. If they bind
me fast then I shall be weak as a man.”
Delilah, asleep on your knees! Delilah,
put out his eyes and grind in the prison
house! You, a dead tree wound. You,
the debilitating power of the fruitful
woman. The fountain that overflows
and seeps away into the ground.
The misguided. The foolish.
The temptress. Treacherous.
Cunning. Femme. Fatale.
There is a woman washing herself
in the bathroom at the public library
where I volunteer once a week
like the good, affluent, educated
college student that I am supposed
to be. She smile sheepishly
as she catches my eye—not the real ones
but the shadowed bullets in the mirror.
One foot in the sink, she scrubs harder,
quicker, as if attempting to erase
herself. And I wonder what it says
about me that I am inclined to write her
as embarrassed and not just friendly,
how I want to describe her shame
in the perfect, pitying metaphor.
I wonder if this is the real me,
standing beside this woman
with her elbow under the faucet,
or if she sees right through
this reflection. I know nothing of this
woman’s life. In a month I will
receive a piece of paper
that says you know so much
and the truth is I know nothing.
my sister wants me to meet her at a bar
that has the word booze in its name (and)
I’ve already had two.five glasses of wine
on an empty stomach with an ex-boyfriend
whom I still love but the way (you) love a
dog or a brother or someone who will care
for (you) unconditionally or so (you) hope
(and) isn’t this how it always goes: me,
half-lit off cheap wine like the nineteen-
year-old I still think I am (and) aren’t I
over this dance: the waltz of the eternally
wandering, the skip and shuffle to what-
ever beat is heartbeating loud enough to
catch (you)r attention (and) hopefully (you)
'll never notice how I watch (you)r mouth
while (you)’re speaking (and) hopefully
(you) will never notice that I love (you)
madly like the diseased, shaking, foaming
at the mouth, (and) I will never let (you)
see me like this like this tonight I’d like
to see (you) I’d like to see (you) see (you)
let me see (you) like this.
- Sierra DeMulder
when love curdles like milk
when love gets a flat when love
lets the answering machine get it
when love is just the dial tone
when love shows up drunk for
your niece’s birthday party
when love eats all the cake
when love is a belly of fingernails
when love browns her peel
when love grows old when love
is old when love stops laughing
at your dumb jokes
when love pops like a balloon
when love loses the keys
when love is the lost
key in the sofa
- Sierra DeMulder
people refer to periods as a “monthly visitor”
as if menstruation was an ill-mannered
house guest—ding dong, I’ll get it,
oh FUCK, it’s my period—who stains
your sofa and eats all the brown sugar.
Or perhaps, if not a visitor, we should
call our periods a hitchhiker—yes, sorry,
I can’t go out tonight, I’ve picked up
my bloody hitchhiker. I’m going to prom
with Carrie. I have dinner reservations
with my Aunt Flow. She’s not from here,
never been to the big city. I get it:
menstruation is an uncomfortable word,
best described as a brick shoved up
my ass and turned on an angle, but
"monthly visitor" implies that this
brilliant act of practiced surviving isn’t
who I am at all times. That she is
some sort of mistress to my life, who
I have to sneak in and out of the hotel.
That I have to clean up my act
after she leaves. That this witchy
system isn’t always steeping inside me.
My body knows the exact directions to life
blindfolded and that just isn’t some
short-term memory shit.
That right there? It’s magic.
- Sierra DeMulder
EXISTENTIAL CRISIS BROUGHT FORTH BY COMPLAINING ABOUT MY BOYFRIEND
At the bar, over a basket of cheese curds,
I tell my best friend how sometimes I jokingly
refer to my partner as an emotional robot. He is not,
of course, a robot nor is he emotionless
but he is incredibly calculated and analytical,
unable (or unwilling) to be emotionally stimulated
beyond the realm of happy or full. I, on
the other hand, feel emotions in technicolor.
I emote not unlike a fucking blender on high
with no lid and lots and lots of ice. My friend
laughs, takes another long pull from his Manhattan
and says, “No, if he was a robot, you could just
program him.” This is true—another moment
in my life when my friends are accidentally
staggering and it isn’t just the bourbon.
In a few drinks, I walk home alone in
the almost spring but not spring weather.
I can see my breath—an eager child
running into the road before me. I watch it
spill out and fade like a carbon copy
of my heartbeat I AM HERE I AM HERE AM I
HERE. I worry if I am just programmed this way:
to unearth a body just after burying it,
to find happiness and then, like a video game,
start over. Shit. I mean, really, if either of us
are robots, it’s probably me—the one who
always makes the same wrong turn,
who doesn’t get lost but drives until the gas
runs out. The one who doesn’t feel pretty
until she is told she is pretty. In other words,
the one who doesn’t go until she is told to go.
Who doesn’t believe in God but can’t find her own
remote. The glitchy one. The skipping record.
I love y—repeat. I lov—repeat. I—rebreak.
I have made this mistake before. I have
looked into the face of Love and said no,
not now but meant today. I have pushed Love
into a mirror and blamed it for shattering me.
This is what I think about as I crawl slowly
into bed next to a very warm, very breathing
body. I curl myself under his arm and fall asleep
listening to the buzz of his machinery.
Maybe this is alright. Maybe this is all we have to be.
- Sierra DeMulder