for my mom
In late May, after winter sees itself out of each
gritty New York City borough,
every rose along my inner city block blooms.
I once knew a boy who loved the Colorado river.
Yes; I love the boy like
the boy loves a long river in Colorado and
the long river in Colorado loves to meet its maker north of Mexico and
Mexico loves to cradle cruel America in its manos generosas and
cruel America loves to watch me leave it.
If you ask me I say
all things bleed together like this, dreamily,
while cupping the petals of my grandmother’s perfect yellow rose that
grew through the holes in our chain-linked garden fence.
The best lesson geography ever taught me was
one about wholeness: that half of a
half of a
half will still always be a part,
of a whole.
In early April, on the first cloudless day of spring in Korea when
the world wakes itself up again, a
whistle ascends from the cluster of seats towards the front of a city bus.
It dawdles absentmindedly, dips and carries, loping through a country of mountain.
It goes on forever: a happiness so tenable it’s
musical with the weight of it.
Back home in America, my heart is crossing state lines without me.
I think of last August—seven bodies to a back porch,
wrapped in the soft cocoon of thunderstorm,
a feeling so redolent of my mother’s partiality for
gardenias. The life you leave behind is
also the life you come home to, I think,
as the whistle leaps & the lilacs blossom &
the bus goes its same route & spring still stays
my favorite season.
The life you leave behind is
the life that you come home to.
The life that you come home to is
the life you leave behind.
I came east for fear & wanting.
I came east to chase the light.
In my last poem,
I dug us into
a shallow grave.
It was the safest place to put you.
So I buried you alive.
Left you to rot
Today, walking home,
when I look to my left:
Irish alcoholics lining the
seats of a bar at midday,
amber liquor burning a hole in
each of their pockets.
Taxis running red lights.
Train wheels showering sparks from
the third rail overhead.
The temperature drops.
I look to my right and
Syria goes up in smoke.
I’m holding my unconscious sister
on the cold tile of the bathroom floor.
Her head’s against my heart,
and it beats steady with the knowledge that
life is an expert at
flourishing all around me while I
stay exactly where I’ve always been.
I am selfish for missing you,
for wanting to tell you I miss you.
I am selfish for wanting time to duck and rewind and
bend over backwards
I am selfish for wanting this
I am selfish for wanting
anything at all.
I’m alone with a bed and
the only thing I want besides you is
to disaster this
I’d love to, but I can’t.
fine. I’ll save it for later.
this wasn’t what I expected;
you are more than just a body.
I can keep your drumming fingers busy.
I can put a quiet to your restless.
I can show you.
the emptiest type of goodbye.
this is how often I think of you—
of my hand in your capable hands.
of my mouth on your immaculate mouth.
I think of you sometimes,
what does victory taste like
after a century of never knowing?
Is it sweeter than kissing me?
it tastes like honeysuckle, like velvet.
Like a saccharine, recycled ash:
the immense pleasure of burning.
It tastes just the same
as kissing you.
I’m sorry that I left the way I did.
I fell hard for all the languages you speak.
I think that I got
lost somewhere, crawling through
the thick of them.
Kneading my way out
through the catacombs of your tongues.
everything we speak is the same.
It’s your fault you left too fast.
I know it was my fault.
It was all
it was all too fast.
this is it.
in a pocket.
My Trojan War
in a weekend.
This isn’t big enough,
This isn’t even close.
It’s possible to have ruin without tragedy.
To love a wreck if
it’s all yours.
my heart contracting like
a fist clenched in anger,
Most of the Time
During the year in which I stop living among the
Manhattan is reduced to memory and
nothing inside me is dead anymore.
Which is to say,
nothing inside me isn’t alive,
Which is to say,
something still feels off,
but you wouldn’t believe me, if I told you,
the risks I took for all of it.
The things I gave up.
All the courage I swallowed
just to be here.
most of the time,
I’m half catastrophe and half
clutter without a place to
put itself down,
all October smell of petrichor and campfire burning,
wet summer soil coming up for air,
citrus trees I don’t know the name of
sighing themselves softly into afternoon,
everything trying to make itself last before winter roars its way in
while planet Earth still spins itself dizzy, dizzy, dizzy,
and surely I’m no exception to
I talk a big game about when in Rome!
as if I know some huge secret about what to do with
this kind of freedom—
people telling me that they’re so proud,
“you’re so brave, Alexandra,”
as if spiraling myself into a new,
particular kind of alone for
the hundred thousandth time is some kind of
accomplishment to be admired,
as if it’s not my best, worn-in, recycled, ugly magic trick,
as if it’s something to be lauded,
as if it looks anything different than just
an expert disappearing act,
an easy, meticulous excuse for
The truth is,
sometimes terror grips its hands around my throat from
still not being able to tell
the difference between fear and just
Sometimes I get so jealous that the hunger of it
turns me dark, hideous,
incurably ill from the inside
Sometimes I wake up from a bad dream in the middle of the night—
the hallucinatory horror of my subconscious
manifesting itself in my bedroom,
so real my heart races with the fright of it—
with my body already halfway across the room in a
semi-lucid desperation to get to the light switch,
a helpless marionette to my own shimmering instinct of
fight or flight
even while I sleep.
Most of the time,
I can’t tell whether I’m running to somewhere
or away from something or
just dancing myself in circles.
Most of the time, I’m so thrilled to be alive I’m nearly
crushed by the weight of living—
of joy, lust, anger, memory, desire—
so ashamed of my own inertia,
so utterly scared to death of
of leaving everything half finished,
never staying in one place long enough,
after the novelty wears off—
that I scream myself from coast to coast
looking for answers as if the world will
unfold my own self for me,
as if the world owes me that,
as if the world wasn’t here first.
Most of the time,
I need desperately just to be
Most of the time I feel sorry,
but I don’t know what for.
Most of the time,
my body is a dead language that needs to be sung awake.
A denim jacket,
first dog-eared copy of a favorite book
aching under my hands.
Everything I’ll need
to run away,
my mom brings me on a Saturday.
The holy ghost is sitting heavy on my chest
in a chapel I’ve never been to before
and I start to think my religion tastes like the cracked
broken spines of library book bindings,
pomegranate wine when I can’t find a corkscrew,
yellow sunlight hitting yellow leaves.
The most fickle of summers,
These are what you’ll have left of me
when I finally go.
“I want to be salient,” I said.
on the seat of a plane,
a square back pocket filled with only this: alone,
Tell me you want me to stay and I’ll soak in it,
wash myself clean with it,
breathe it in through my lungs and out with a shaky breath.
I’ll pinch it between my thumbs,
leave my fingerprints on it so you knew I was there;
it was meant for me
and I swallowed it
Tell you want me to stay and I’ll wrap it up careful,
I’ll pack it up safe.
I’ll split it up into pieces and bury it deep,
I’ll bury it in me
and laugh while I leave.
Alexandra lives, writes, and teaches English in her hometown of New York City.
Find her on: INSTAGRAM
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ALEXANDRA CRITSIMILIOS IN CONVERSATION
Place and places (especially my hometown of New York City) have always played a huge part in both my life and my writing, and in the moment, that tiny glimpse of New York stretched incredibly far and wide.