It’s fall now, but this city doesn’t know it
yet, and I don’t know this city. Half the nights
I still start awake in the dark as the bus sputters
past or a coyote that’s not there yowls out
where I was dreaming. Half the nights I don’t
know my body when I wake to it, and there
is grief in the returning and remembering
pain, familiar as a fist I know.
In the morning, I wake and my body
wears bruises I don’t remember making.
Did it take off without me, board a bus
from this new city looking for home,
or glamour, or you? I wouldn’t rule it out,
my body’s always wished it were wilder.
S, maybe that’s why we’re always hearing
howling in the distance, always spitting out stones
and road from somewhere else. In the morning,
I call you and we compare mysteries: what
do you make of it? Where do you think you went
There’s a whole wild species of things
I don’t know how to name, so instead
I say pain is an engine that stalls
the harder I push it or it’s the stone
in my mouth I can’t quite seem
to spit out. I’m not waiting
for someone else to tell me
what I’m missing. I know numbness
is a quiet fire, a night in, a call again
tomorrow. M, I know sometimes
I go missing, dark, a lightless stretch
of road, so I spit the road out
as I go. What I’m missing isn’t
a map, but the means to call again
tomorrow. What I’m missing is
a picture where the table’s set
and all the versions of ourselves
sit down to eat, and when we open
our mouths, no roads or stones fall out.
Today, the doctor’s office called to say he’d see me
in November, and take every photograph at once:
my knees, and hips, and back, to see what’s what.
And I heard: survey the damage; tell you your fortune;
reach right in, or cast you out. And all my smaller
selves, they hunkered down like children,
tender in their fear, swore that they’d file down
their claws, and fall in line, or let me loose
if that was what I wanted. Begged me
to keep them a secret, not to hang them
out there in the light. Years ago they spent
a long time in the theater, being stretched
and prodded, asked to pose, stitched
together, rent apart. There are so many star
charts made in their image, so many maps
of how they move. But then there was this mess
of wild, unwatched years. My hair grew long,
my selves grew wedded to their unseen galaxy.
They want no cartograph, no telescope,
they do not want to know or be known.
S, I have been asking for an answer, a relief
map—I have begged to be found out. Now,
some maker readies the camera, readies
the compass, readies the knife, and all of me
rallies to pull closed the curtains, to cover my face.
Maybe what we’re talking about
is a pronoun problem after all—
our bodies, you, and me, the lot of us
in search of a way to address each other,
when we can’t ever fully turn around
inside this room. When we sleep, of course
we come unraveled: it’s only fair. Awake
we’re always pushing against another
kind of self, the kind who pushes back,
or pulls us down, or makes us stay.
The kind who doesn’t let us go too far,
who strokes our hair, keeps us tame.
Where we go in sleep, I believe we
leave some selves behind. In the morning
they stare back at me across
the room, and though I look away,
they always plead with me
to tell them where we’ve been.
I keep a lot of lanterns in the house, for all
the ways we might one day be able
to get lost, a lot of matches so my smaller
selves can light their way along the road.
They get distracted, drop them lit, a pasture
burns: tobacco, strawberries, our skin
comes right off with the plaster. Sometimes
they seem surprised by all the damage,
other times they’re just in love with how
the light takes over for awhile. S, you’re right
we’re all they know. I send them up the road,
they trail a blaze right home to climb back
down the throat they came from, hungry,
tired from the show, and ill-equipped
to make it on their own. Who would have
thought it, S, that there was anybody’s
country in our bones?
I have wanted to be lost,
to wander in the forest until
all the trees refuse to give
me up. I’ve wanted to give up,
to call the doctor’s bluff,
to say there is no way out
of this, or there is no end
in sight. I’ve turned off all the lights,
closed every door, but the littler
selves come tumbling out no matter
what I do: they climb out of my mouth
in sleep, they tug at the hem
of my dress, until I stop and say
their names. It’s their favorite game,
making me trot them out in public
or at a party, like some gaudy Mardi Gras
parade. I say we give them
what they want. I say we ready them
for one last show, dress them up
before we send them down
the road. We’re all they know. M,
there are so many places left
for us to find, so many trees, a hundred
different ways to wander off.
So many different ways we might get lost.