When you belong to yourself again: four poems by Andrea Gibson

Royal Heart

You will never be let down by anyone
more than you will be let down
by the one you love most in the world
it’s how gravity works
it’s why they call it “falling”
it’s why the truth is harder to tell
every year
you have more to lose
but you can choose to bury your past
in the garden
beside the tulips
water it
until it’s so alive
it lets go
and you belong to yourself
again

When you belong to yourself again
Remember forgiveness
is not a tidy grave
It is a ready loyal knight kneeling before your royal heart

Call in your royal heart
Tell it bravery cannot be measured by a lack of fear
It takes guts to tremble
It takes so much tremble to love
Every first date is a fucking earth quake

Sweetheart, on our first date
I showed off all my therapy
I flaunted the couch
Where I finally sweat out my history
Pulled out the photo album from the last time I wore a lie to the school dance
I smiled and said “that was never my style
Look how fixed I am
Look how there’s no more drywall on my fist
Look at the stilts I’ve carved for my short temper
Look how my wrist is not something I have to hide” I said
Well I was hiding it

The telephone pole still down from the storm
By our third date I had fixed the line
I said listen,
I have a hard time
I mean I cry as often as most people pee and I don’t shut the door behind me
I’ll be up in your face screaming “SEATTLE IS TOO RAINY SEATTLE IS TOO RAINY
I’M NEVER GOING TO BE ABLE TO LIVE HERE.”
I sobbed on our fourth date

I can’t live here
In my body, I mean
I can’t live in my body all the time it feels too much
So if I ever feel far away know I am not gone
I am just underneath my grief
Adjusting the dial on my radio face so I can take this life with all
of it’s love and all of it’s loss

See I already know that you are the place where I am finally going to
sing without any static meaning
I’m never gonna wait
that extra twenty minutes
to text you back,
and I’m never gonna play
hard to get
when I know your life
has been hard enough already.
When we all know everyone’s life
has been hard enough already

it’s hard to watch
the game we make of love,
like everyone’s playing checkers
with their scars,
saying checkmate
whenever they get out
without a broken heart.

Just to be clear
I don’t want to get out
without a broken heart.
I intend to leave this life
so shattered
there’s gonna have to be
a thousand separate heavens
for all of my flying parts
And none of those parts are going to be wearing the romance from the
overpriced vintage rack
That is to say I am not going to get a single speed bike if I can’t
make it up the hill
I know exactly how many gears I’m going to need to love you well
And none of them look hip at the hot coffee shop
They all have God saying “good job you’re finally not full of bullshit”
You finally met someone who’s going to flatten your knee caps into
skipping stones

Baby, throw me
Throw me as far as I can go
I don’t want to leave this life without ever having come home
And I want to come home to you
I can figure out the rain.


Prism

My friend Derrick says love is the only war worth dying for. But every time I say, “please come back”, I feel like I”m trying to find a dirty needle in a haystack, and God knows I can’t go out like that. I suppose we wear our traumas the way the guillotine wears gravity. Our lovers’ necks are so soft. I lost my head so many times. I got sober just hoping my eyes would dry. Still, I drink so much in my sleep, I can’t sleepwalk a straight line to the guest room or collapse, hang so heavy inside her lungs.

She speaks and her voice trips across her heartbeat, each word limps into the air. We are gone, she says. And I am no mortician; I have no idea how to put make-up on the dead. I have no idea how to unerase, so I just puddle at the door, my face looking like a deck of falling cards, like everything’s been playing me. We tried so hard. But when I said “give me a ring”, she thought I meant a call. Now I haven’t had her number for two years. We’ve been saying how many times are we going to keep cutting these red flags into valentines. You know, all those wars we fought have turned our shine into rust, we can’t even touch each other’s hearts without a tetanus shot.

We can’t begin to remember how we forgot there is no shelter in the womb. The heart forms long before the ribcage. My mother swore she could feel me kicking weeks before my feet formed. That’s how hard my heart beat — and it still does. They say the womb is where we learn love is knowing the cord that feeds you could at any moment wrap around your neck. I hold my breath for the entire 56 seconds it takes her to walk to the window to stare at the road to tell me she has nothing left to tell me, we are done, carrying our level heads in our tornado chests.

For the first time, I know she is right. As the dawn, after our first date, we were so young, and I hadn’t written an honest love poem yet. I hadn’t met anyone I could fall so hard for ’til the night we kissed on our skateboards, she teased me for going so slow. I said I never want to catch up with the letting go. I want the plead in my throat to forever anger my spine and the seams of your slippers, love, even when the dove crashed through the window, even when our friends said, you can call it love, but you know Einstein called himself a pacifist when he built the bomb.

When they ask why we stayed together for so long I say, I don’t know. I just know that we cried at the exact same time in every movie. I know we blushed everyday for the first two years. I know I always stole the covers and she never woke me up.

I know the exact look on her face, the first night she used my toothbrush. The next day, I brushed my teeth like thirtysome times, ’cause I didn’t want to let her go. You have to understand when it hurt to love her, it hurt the way the light hurts your eyes in the middle of the night, but I had to see, even through the ruin, if what we were burying were seeds. There were so many plants in our house, you could rake the leaves even through that winter when I was trying to make angels in the snow of her cold shoulder. She was still leaving love notes in my suitcase; I’d always find them.

The day before I left, I remembered a story her mother told me. She said, Andrea, when Heather was a little girl, she couldn’t fall asleep without tying a string to her finger all night long, she’d give that string the tiniest tug to make sure I was still there. And I’d tug back. That was love. That was love. As easy as that. Sometimes. Sometimes.


Photograph

I wish I was a photograph
tucked into the corners of your wallet
I wish I was a photograph
you carried like a future in your back pocket
I wish I was that face you show to strangers
when they ask you where you come from
I wish I was that someone that you come from
every time you get there
and when you get there
I wish I was that someone who got phone calls
and postcards saying
wish you were here
I wish you were here
autumn is the hardest season
the leaves are all falling
and they’re falling like they’re falling in love with the ground
and the trees are naked and lonely
I keep trying to tell them
new leaves will come around in the spring
but you can’t tell trees those things
they’re like me they just stand there
and don’t listen
I wish you were here
I’ve been missing you like crazy
I’ve been hazy eyed
staring at the bottom of my glass again
thinking of that time when it was so full
it was like we were tapping the moon for moonshine
or sticking straws into the center of the sun
and sipping like icarus would forever kiss
the bullets from our guns
I never meant to fire you know
I know you never meant to fire lover
I know we never meant to hurt each other
now the sky clicks from black to blue
and dusk looks like a bruise
I’ve been wrapping one night stands
around my body like wedding bands
but none of them fit in the morning
they just slip off my fingers and slip out the door
and all that lingers is the scent of you
I once swore if I threw that scent into a wishing well
all the wishes in the world would come true
do you remember
do you remember the night I told you
I’ve never seen anything more perfect than
than snow falling in the glow of a street light
electricity bowing to nature
mind bowing to heartbeat
this is gonna hurt bowing to I love you
I still love you like moons love the planets they circle around
like children love recess bells
I still hear the sound of you
and think of playgrounds
where outcasts who stutter
beneath braces and bruises and acne
are finally learning that their rich handsome bullies
are never gonna grow up to be happy
I think of happy when I think of you
so wherever you are I hope you’re happy
I really do
I hope the stars are kissing your cheeks tonight
I hope you finally found a way to quit smoking
I hope your lungs are open and breathing your life
I hope there’s a kite in your hand
that’s flying all the way up to orion
and you still got a thousand yards of string to let out
I hope you’re smiling
like god is pulling at the corners of your mouth
cause I might be naked and lonely
shaking branches for bones
but I’m still time zones away
from who I was the day before we met
you were the first mile
where my heart broke a sweat
and I wish you were here
I wish you’d never left
but mostly I wish you well
I wish you my very very best


The Madness Vase

The nutritionist said I should eat root vegetables,
said if I could get down thirteen turnips each day
I would be grounded, rooted.
Said my head would not keep flying away to where the darkness lives.

The psychic told me my heart carries too much weight,
said for twenty dollars she’d tell me what to do.
I handed her the twenty and she said, “Stop worrying, darling,
you will find a good man soon.”

The first psycho-therapist said I should spend three hours a day
sitting in a dark closet with my eyes closed and my ears plugged.
I tried it once but couldn’t stop thinking
about how gay it was to be sitting in the closet.

The yogi told me to stretch everything but the truth,
said focus on the out breath,
said everyone finds happiness
if they can care more about what they can give
than what they get.

The pharmacist said Klonopin, Lamictal, Lithium, Xanax.

The doctor said an antipsychotic might help me forget
what the trauma said.

The trauma said, “Don’t write this poem.
Nobody wants to hear you cry about the grief inside your bones.”

But my bones said, “Tyler Clementi dove into the Hudson River
convinced he was entirely alone.”

My bones said, “Write the poem.”
To the lamplight considering the river bed,
to the chandelier of your faith hanging by a thread,
to everyday you cannot get out of bed,
to the bullseye of your wrist,
to anyone who has ever wanted to die:

I have been told sometimes the most healing thing we can do
is remind ourselves over and over and over
other people feel this too.

The tomorrow that has come and gone
and it has not gotten better.

When you are half finished writing that letter
to your mother that says “I swear to God I tried,
but when I thought I’d hit bottom, it started hitting back.”

There is no bruise like the bruise
loneliness kicks into your spine
so let me tell you I know there are days
it looks like the whole world is dancing in the streets
while you break down like the doors of their looted buildings.
You are not alone
in wondering who will be convicted of the crime
of insisting you keep loading your grief
into the chamber of your shame.

You are not weak
just because your heart feels so heavy.
I have never met a heavy heart that wasn’t a phone booth
with a red cape inside.

Some people will never understand
the kind of superpower it takes for some people
to just walk outside some days.
I know my smile can look like the gutter of a falling house
but my hands are always holding tight to the rip cord of believing
a life can be rich like the soil,
can make food of decay,
turn wound into highway.

Pick me up in a truck with that bumper sticker that says,
“It is no measure of good health
to be well adjusted to a sick society.”

I have never trusted anyone
with the pulled back bow of my spine
the way I trusted ones who come undone at the throat
screaming for their pulses to find the fight to pound.
Four nights before Tyler Clementi
jumped from the George Washington bridge
I was sitting in a hotel room in my own town
calculating exactly what I had to swallow
to keep a bottle of sleeping pills down.

What I know about living
is the pain is never just ours.
Every time I hurt I know the wound is an echo,
so I keep listening for the moment the grief becomes a window,
when I can see what I couldn’t see before
through the glass of my most battered dream
I watched a dandelion lose its mind in the wind
and when it did, it scattered a thousand seeds.

So the next time I tell you how easily I come out of my skin
don’t try to put me back in.
Just say, “Here we are” together at the window
aching for it to all get better
but knowing there is a chance
our hearts may have only just skinned their knees,
knowing there is a chance the worst day might still be coming

let me say right now for the record,
I’m still gonna be here
asking this world to dance,
even if it keeps stepping on my holy feet.

You, you stay here with me, okay?
You stay here with me.

Raising your bite against the bitter dark,
your bright longing,
your brilliant fists of loss.
Friend, if the only thing we have to gain in staying is each other,
my god that is plenty
my god that is enough
my god that is so so much for the light to give
each of us at each other’s backs
whispering over and over and over,
“Live. Live. Live.”

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When you belong to yourself again: four poems by Andrea Gibson