A Valentine’s Day poem. Sort of.

VALENTINE

This is what you named the rat you bought
from the pet store. White fur and red eyes
that narrowed and darted and never met yours.

Because you couldn’t afford a cage,
Valentine lived in a cardboard box
though it took him less than one night

depressed-runaway-teenager-in-backyard-picture-id175482777to chew his way out and move into the cupboards.
But the apartment you shared with three other girls,
none of you yet eighteen, was empty of food

and furniture and parents and anyone
who could make a decent decision. You lived on
school lunches and leftover desserts

from the restaurants where you washed dishes. You slept
like four orphans curled together on one mattress.
You read poetry sometimes, for entertainment,

but mostly prowled the night streets, stealing
toilet paper from hotels and tampons from the machines
in gas station bathrooms. Scraped knuckles to prove it. Who knew

how adults made their way in the world?
There was no guidebook. You were often hungry
but you didn’t need much food. When you’re young

you can go without a lot. Sleep, love, letters
from home. You lie awake and listen to the sounds
of the neighbors below, or the trucks on the highway

or the rattle of a pet rat gone feral
in the ductwork. Your father stopped by once
with some things. A winter coat, maybe, and fifty dollars.

So the four of you ate like lottery winners. Grilled cheese
and fries in a diner, the windows steamed over
like it was your own world. And you only wondered a little

how far you could have gotten if you’d kept the money
to yourself. But you didn’t know where to go
or how to get there, so you stayed

close to the rattle of the radiator and the other
night noises. The girls with their profiles sharpened, mean,
a shield against everything. Even the good things.

They brought boys home sometimes, for warmth
or distraction. Played cassette tapes of German punk,
ate shoplifted Grasshopper cookies. Minty and green

as a dream of a birthday party. Spring was close
when you finally caught the rat, trapped him
in a corner of the kitchen. Naked pink tail,

no kindness left in his face. Or maybe you’d imagined it.
That’s what you did. Like how you imagined Valentine
happy, living like a king in the dumpster

behind the apartment building. You should have felt sad
about letting him go, but you were only relieved. The night
had fewer teeth, and sleep circled steadily closer.

New! Chapbook! Yay!

In the fall of 2016, leading up to the presidential election, I started #28daysoflove as an experiment to combat the environment of fear, anger, and hopelessness that was so prevalent on social media. For four weeks, I posted personal essays on the theme of love on my on Facebook page. I didn’t know what to expect, going into it, but found that the more open and raw I could be, the more human, genuine, and accepting the response was. Through those posts I learned a lot about myself and my desire to approach the world with an open heart. Plus, a loose community formed around the posts that felt more rich and real than my average social media interactions. I collected 18 of the essays into this 52-page, self-published chapbook, It All Comes Rushing Back.
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The bad girls’ book club and crime spree

From a month-long experiment writing about community, using social media as a platform.

Okay, there wasn’t much of a crime spree. I did steal some hair dye. This was before the days of Manic Panic so I used to color my homemade faux-hawk by first bleaching it with Sun-In and a hairdryer, and then dying it with the blue tint that old ladies used to buy at the drug store. But this is about community and not about shoplifting, though some of the best connections I made during my high school years were with the kind of girls who encouraged that sort of behavior.

15871892_10154669000640218_7627992220536349783_nSometimes we stole things. It was more often beer than hair dye. We wrote things in bathroom stalls. More often, we wrote in our journals — every detail of our terribly interesting lives — and then we traded journals and read each other’s pages even though we’d been through most of it together. I’m compositing a number of high school friends here, though the relationships came one at a time and each was special and rare, and each shaped the me who I am now.

Friendships with good girls were important to me, too. My close friendships have been few and far between and I’ve cherished each one. But for some reason, between the ages of 13 and 18, my best friends were bad influences — fearless girls who egged me on and pushed me beyond my shy, studious, good-kid shell.

This is what we did: Shared everything. Every secret, every book we read, every album we superthumblistened to, every derivative poem we wrote, ever ache and fear and bruise and self-inflicted cut. We snuck into punk clubs, bought clothes at Salvation Army and reconfigured them into new outfits, traded boots and coats and earrings, consoled each other over shitty boy drama, walked for miles in the cold just to be doing something and going somewhere. We walked or took the bus because we were too young to drive and then too busy to learn to drive and then too poor to own cars. We stomped around in the cold, rosy cheeked and immune to frostbite, always on our way to a fantastic adventure.

We piled cast-out Christmas trees on rich-people cars. We sat in diners for hours drinking cup after cup of bad coffee. We talked about running away and made plans to run away and then we met new boys and stayed because maybe there would be a show or a party or something good. The future was soon; the now was hazy with the smoke of clove cigarettes and frosty breath and bad choices.

But the bad choices were good, too. Some of them still hurt like a war wound that flares up when it rains, but the hurt is a connection to a past and the past holds the bad girls who were my girls, my sisters, my family, my home. Community is where we make it, even if what we’re making is a mess. It all counts, it’s all part of the narrative.

A story that was told to me by a painting

Inspired by the painting “My Heart Lives Outside My Body,” (pictured) by Daniel Nevins. This post is part of my writing experiment #30DaysofArt. Find more entries here.

THE FUGITIVE

One day the heart got a hold of a crowbar and pried itself out of its prison. It had been locked too long in the dark tower, not able to see anything, just taking the mind’s word for what was out there. But the mind got everything wrong. It had a lawyer’s reasoning and a miser’s unwillingness to part with its riches. “Don’t give more kindness than is required, ration your smiles, never trust more that you need to,” it advised. But the imprisoned heart slept on its coffers of gold and wondered if it wouldn’t rest more peacefully with fewer cold, hard coins rattling beneath its vertebrae.

15267668_10154508685655218_3182269665923310359_nThe escape was not without its fallbacks. “What’s the point of building a tower anyway, if not to keep something in it?” the mind asked. The heart fluttered nervously, grappling for purchase on the outside. The mind was right about that at least — the outside was a smooth suit without shelves or crevices. Certainly no bars. Maybe all along the bars had been less about restriction and more about protection.

And, it was all so blindingly bright. The heart felt itself burning in the sun and shivering at night. But it could see stars for the first time ever. Orion made its way across the winter sky and the heart swooned a little.

“Stop that,” the mind scolded. “You can’t go around just falling in love all over the place. Plus, you’re bleeding on everything. You’re a mess.” It was true. The heart was naked and raw. It thudded and gurgled and made a fool of itself. It was scared a lot. It wished it had a heart-shaped suit of armor. But still it stayed, trying to balance on a shoulder like a good guardian angle, whispering sweet nothings into the closest ear. Sweet everythings, really, because everything — after the initial rush of panic and doubt — was sweet and rich and bathed in wonder.

The heart swayed to music, drank rain, stuck out a capillary to catch the first snowflakes. It shivered as much from anticipation as from chill. Everything was a thrill, every caress of the wind, every passing glance of a stranger, every new song, every saturated color. The heart dressed itself in fresh paint and feathers. It admired its newly acquired scars.

“This has gone on long enough,” the mind said. It was using its patient-but-getting-sick-of-this-shit tone. “You have a place. IT’S INSIDE. Go back to your room and do your job.”

But the heart was in love again and again and again. It would not listen to reason. It wouldn’t even slow its roll enough for those prickling words of insecurity to catch up.

The heart surged toward its new desire. It rushed and throbbed. There was danger everywhere, outside the body. Car horns, sirens, hungry bears. But the new love was so beautiful, so real, so rare, so close. The heart wanted nothing but to fling its wealth at the feet of its desire, to rattle and beat a new poem, to curl into the curve between its love’s neck and shoulder.

The heart said that it would never go back.

“You’ll die of exposure,” the mind grumbled.

“I might,” the heart shrugged, like what could be better? It checked its look and fluttered its lashes. It leaned toward love like it was immune to gravity, like at any moment it might grow wings.

Dear Vincent

Originally published on Facebook as part of the social media experiment #30DaysofArt

It took me all morning to find the Vincent van Gogh paintings in the Musée d’Orsay. Not because they’re not well marked — I could have walked right to them — but because I have a thing about delayed gratification, so I made myself walk through every other room leading up to Vincent. And then there he was, like a long-lost lover appearing, as the crowds parted, at the end of the jetway. “Mine,” I thought. And then I ugly-cried like an overwhelmed Justin Beiber fan, right there in front of Vincent’s self-portrait.

To be fair, I also cried a least a little bit because I’d doing too many hill sprints in Montmartre and not enough chilling at cafes, drinking half-carafes of Sancerre. Sometimes I make it very hard to be me. My hips ached and the slow crawls through museum after museum didn’t help. Also, Paris is terribly romantic and everyone is in love and making out everywhere all the time, but I was not in love. I was alone. It was bullshit.

15192620_10154489799415218_3819259972376788331_n

I wondered, in the Musée d’Orsay, if Vincent wasn’t a lot like me. Too hard on himself and in love with someone who didn’t love him back, or at least not as he should have been loved. Because, my god! He was Vincent Fucking van Gogh! But he probably didn’t know that. He probably thought he was a weird Dutch dude, hopelessly unstylish, who made strange paintings. He probably suspected he was inherently unlovable. And yet love lived in him, so he did what he could — he put it all on the canvas. Those kinetic shapes, the saturated colors, the way a wheat field was as sensual as a woman; the way he captured his own agony with the same electric strokes he painted sunflowers — as if human ache and madness pulsed with the same sun-drenched ebullience as a vase of fresh flowers.

He worked at the synthesis of beauty and pain. He buried his heart there, in those hues, those lines that are so specifically his. And I swear his lovely, immortal, perfectly broken heart beats on, forever, through his paintings.