Chicken Bones; Wrecked; Wretched
Chicago fades in honest shades
pressed violets and pressed bruises
we’re wholesome as broken vows
slow-dancing toward goodnight under
the blue line tracks
sulking clouds with paper-cut slits of
sun crouch like traitorous friends
we tuck feathers of glass
behind our ears
braid strands of light like tinsel
through bleach-snarled crowns
is this the drugs? you say and moths
beat technicolor waves of origami
wings against our cheeks
furious and fragile as failing lungs
a train shatters the August dusk
roaring like a memory that
threatens crooked stitches
my daughter my girl my buddy my
baby with reaching starfish hands
labored breath on my neck
some six hundred nights and another
tonight is a fresh ending but less
(always) than the one I wear like armor
to feel the weight of leaving you I’ll
release her weight from my back
to be present in my city
to leave it with reverence
I’ll brush the grief from my palms like
slips of her ashes
we pass goodbye between our fingers
like a lucky coin
our picnic table littered with leftover
summer and Parson’s chicken bones
abandoned negronis in wilting heat
your funhouse eyes ask what you’ll do
when I go
clown-sadness and Campari painting
I’ll nod and wonder how many pickles
I’ve eaten from your careless plates
how many bones
I’ve watched you pick bare with relish
we’re reckless with relief
once our borrowed door clicks
blinds pulled tightly against
the judgmental weekday sun
gossip leaks through
walls of washi
humming of housekeepers
stripping sheets and secrets
from ship-wrecked beds
of other temporary lovers
minutes slip like
drips of honey
your strumming fingers tease
I’ll play tide if you’re my moon
growling approval in my ear
when I’ve bent and behaved
but our light shifts with
I’ll scour your body for stray
the stubborn traces of me
from your clothes
sweetness in the dark
after we’ve scrubbed
smoke and scalp and cells
of each other
from underneath our nails
after we’ve climbed into
separate beds in
separate sleeping houses
I’ll remember the cocaine flint of us, his
kiss the barrel of a gun I keep pressing
against my temple to feel the chill of it.
I’ll remember how my restless heart
made a nest in his lonely one, the calm of
patent leather darkness dressed in
crisp sheets. He was a grown man who slept
on a slowly deflating air mattress, but I was
the grown woman who had slipped from
her bed to follow him there again.
I’ll remember thinking, I’m so sorry I can’t
love you, as I laid across his lap with
feral reluctance, purring while pretending his
patient strokes down my spine, deftly
separating muscle from bone and quieting
my noise, didn’t feel like home. His pause on
my back was a shiver and absent jingle of
silver as he shook bracelets back from his wrist
to sip from a mason jar perched between my
shoulder blades. It was not quite love, but I
am a stubbornly ruined thing, so I let him
trace earnest hearts on my selfish skin and fell
with underserved ease into sleep like absolution.
I’ll remember all of this a year later when I’m
still, sharpened teeth tucked away for the day.
As familiar as my own breath I’ll know his sigh
when he answers my call. He’ll pull the hoodie
I loved over his bare chest and switch on a light.
He’ll find Rumi in the stack of books without
a shelf. We’re a third through; he’ll find our
dogeared spot and settle back into his new bed.
I’ll be almost asleep before he starts reading.
Sam is a Midwest native living in the Bay Area with her husband and daughter. She works in the service industry, where she finds the best and worst of humanity and much of her writing inspiration. Her work often focuses on grief and goodbyes, secrets and Chicago.
Interview with the Poet:
Cathexis Northwest Press:
How long have you been writing poetry?
I’ve been a keeper of journals and random fiction for as long as I can remember, but poetry wasn’t truly on my radar until I made a (pretty disastrous) attempt at a novel a few years ago. My main character was a narcissist/poet, and I started writing from her perspective when I struggled to get into that head-space. It didn’t take very long for me to
realize that creating her ‘work’ flowed much more naturally than the story I was trying to build around it. I’d mistakenly believed that poetry would box me in, but instead found freedom in blurring fiction and autobiography
while never having to explain which was which.
Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
I was always (still am!) a sucker for Pablo Neruda. His depictions of longing in “Tonight I Can Write (The Saddest Lines)” broke my heart at seventeen before I’d experienced real loss firsthand, and that, I knew, was power. It made me want to write something with the same ability to generate that tug and release of emotion.
Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
It’s rare for me to read something new and not find something I love about it (and I am never without a book), so my favorites are constantly changing. My current obsessions are Elaine Kahn and Hala Alyal, both of whom have many lines I read and reread, wishing I’d written them myself. “Even When I Listen, I’m Lying” from Alyal’s recent collection gives me the shivers every time I come back to it. She weaves marriage and sex and heritage together so beautifully that I can’t stop trying to unpack it.
Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in
A combination of ADD and being a master procrastinator makes finding that process my biggest struggle! I’d love to be a disciplined morning person who sets aside specific time to write, but have come to terms with the fact that I just don’t operate that way. My natural schedule is as nocturnal as being a mother and functioning member of society allows, and most of the work I feel proud of starts as scribbles. I’m constantly trying to decipher my own cursive from the backs of grocery lists and crumpled receipts so I can expand on whatever initial strike of inspiration compelled me to write it down. From there I need alone time, lots of editing, and whatever music suits my mood.
How do you decide the form for your poems? Do you start writing with a form in mind, or do you let the poem tell you what it will look like as you go?
The form usually finds me instead of the other way around. I try to pay attention to the tone of whatever is taking shape; whether its abrupt and demanding of short bursts or more free-flowing tends to determine the end
result. I’ve been experimenting with haiku recently and was surprised by how much I enjoy the puzzle of putting
my ideas into such a brief and structured format.
Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
As a new poet myself, my unseasoned advice is to be gentle with yourself. It’s incredibly daunting to read the bios of established writers when you’re starting with nothing, especially when the rejection letters start rolling in. That first wave is tough. You have to believe that you have something unique to offer, even without the validation having your
work accepted (yet!). There will always be others with more experience, more formal education, a longer list of achievements and so on...but everyone starts with a blank page.
What is your editing process like?
One of my most frustrating qualities is an inability to tell a story without going off on a dozen tangents...and still maybe not making an actual point at the end of it all. Editing allows me to be much more articulate on paper since I can pare down my thoughts before presenting them to anyone else, which makes it the most satisfying part of my process. I try to write freely without correcting as I go on the first attempt. My instinct is to immediately weed out whatever registers as “bad,” but I’ve learned to trust that what I want to say will be in there somewhere (even
if I have to dig it out of several pages of first draft nonsense).
When do you know that a poem is finished?
Finishing a piece is a really fluid concept. I can put something aside when I feel it expresses what I wanted to say, though that doesn’t mean I won’t revisit and continue to tinker with it later. It was only when I started to submit my work to publications that I made peace with sticking to an initial feeling of completion