In my defense, spring: five poems by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

December

When my body had forgotten its purpose,
when it just hung off my brainstem like whipped mule.
When my hands only wrote. When my mouth only ate.
When my ass sat, my eyes read, when my reflexes
were answers to questions we all already knew.
Remember how it was then that you slid your hand
into me, a fork in the electric toaster of my body. Jesus,
where did all these sparks come from? Where was all
this heat? Remember what this mouth did last night?
And still, this morning I answer the phone like normal,
still I drink an hour’s worth of strong coffee. And now
I file. And now I send an email. And remember how
my lungs filled with all that everything? Remember
how my heart was an animal you released from its cage?
Remember how we unhinged? Remember all the names
our bodies called each other? Remember how afterwards,
the steam rose from us, like a pair of smiling ghosts?


After Reading Old Unrequited Love Poems

If I didn’t think it’d make me appear crazy still,
I’d apologize to you for having been so crazy then.

Reading the poems I had written about “us”
resurrected all that nervous heat, reminded me

of the insistent stutter of my longing,
how I could never just lay it out there for you.

The answer, clearly, would have been
no, thank you. But perhaps that tough line

would have been enough to salvage all
that was good and woolly about us: your laugh,

that golden ring I’d always stretch a story for;
the pair of mittens we’d split in the cold

so we’d each have a hand to gesture with;
how even now, the paths we took are filled

with starry wonder and all that bright limitless air.
I’m sorry I could never see myself

out of the twitching fever of my heartache,
that I traded everything we had for something

that never ended up being. But if I could take
any of it back, it wouldn’t be the glittering hope

I stuck in the amber of your eyes, nor would
it be the sweet eager of our conversations.

No, it would be that last stony path to nothing,
when we both gave up without telling the other.

How silence arrived like a returned valentine
that morning we finally taught our phones not to ring.


Things That Happen During Pet-Sitting I Remind Myself Are Not Metaphors For My Heart

The dog refuses to eat. I keep filling her bowl
anyway: new kibble on top of old, hoping
that it will suddenly becoming tempting.

When I write, the cat watches me from a chair.
When I look at him, he purrs loudly, leans forward
so that I might touch him. I don’t.

Now the dog refuses to come out of her cage,
no matter what I say, no matter how wide I open
the door. She knows that I am not her master.

On the couch, the cat crawls on top of me
and loves me so hard, his claws draw blood.
I was so lonely, I did nothing to stop it.

There are lights in this house I want to turn on,
but I can’t find their switches. Outside, an engine
turns and turns in the night, but never catches.


Not Doing Something Wrong Isn’t the Same as Doing Something Right

In my defense, my forgotten breasts. In my defense, the hair
no one brushed from my face. In my defense, my hips.

Months earlier, I remembered thinking that sex was a ship retreating
on the horizon. I could do nothing but shove my feet in sand.

I missed all the things loneliness taught me: eyes that follow you
crossing a room, hands that find their home on you. To be noticed. Even.

In my defense, his hands. In my defense, his arms. In my defense,
how when we just sat listening to each other breathe, he said, This is enough.

My body was a house I had closed for the winter. It shouldn’t have been
that difficult, empty as it was. Still, I stared hard as I snapped off the lights.

My body was specter which haunted me, appearing when I stripped
in the bathroom, when I crawled into empty beds, when it rained.

My body was abandoned construction, restoration scaffolding
which became permanent. My body’s unfinished became its finished.

So in my defense, when he touched me the lights of my body came on.
In my defense, the windows were thrown open. In my defense, spring.


Op-Ed for the Sad Sack Review, Regarding News of Another Rash of Writer Suicides

In a fit of gloom, I googled the word failure,
just to see if my name would come up. Instead,
Google told me I misspelled the word failure.

Recounting this makes me feel like I’m starting
a very weepy poem, or a very dull suicide note.
Never begin a wedding toast with the dictionary

definition of marriage, and never begin a suicide
note by saying you googled the word failure.
These days, the number one thing preventing me

from killing myself is likely the idea of people
learning of my suicide via Facebook status updates.
There’s no dignity in that eulogy, its collections

of sad face emoticons, studded with apostrophe tears.
This is a dumb reason to keep living, but it is a reason.
I’m sure all you other sad sacks have your reasons too.

So let’s all cling to them. Let’s all agree that living
for a dumb reason is better than killing yourself
for a dumb reason. Let’s feed tears to the dragons

of misery, but let’s never crawl into their mouths.
Let’s write terrible poetry, dress like late-era Rothkos,
wear out the relentless hate machines of our brains,

but let’s never break. Let’s just keeping living. We can
do this. Trust me. Yours Sincerely, Me, A Poet Who
Doesn’t Even Know How to Spell the Word Failure.

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In my defense, spring: five poems by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

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