Your body sculpting itself to the wall besides the ivy
and mold, sadness splattered
among hasty handprints and an echo of breath curled
on glass. I’ll keep your secret
like a bruise, like a child. I’ll keep your hands until
you want them again.
And if you never want anything but the slow wasting
of muscle beneath
the parchment of your thighs; but the churning of
your stomach when faced
with your own desire; but your mouth, bloodied
and my knuckles, not
—well, I’ll keep that, too. Until you slip back into
this life or slip out
of it or slip on the slick edge of the poolside and
fall in your pink suit
like a wind-swept azalea. I am still comparing you
to flowers. I am still
remembering you better than you were, remembering
everything but your sticky
fingers twitching with hunger—stunted with it, too.
everything more beautiful than it once was, than the sun
still veiled in ash. Would you regret
even this? The slack face, one hand clenched around
ill-fitting swim trunks,
my fingers turning blue then pink and blue
The night he became a god, minted by desire,
finding his body to be hallway where every door
swings open, our days turned memoriam for the girls
we could have been. The places you could have
retreated to with your peanuts to deteriorate in
peace, and how dancing was just a way to put
your hands on something smaller than
your grief: the oil spill of my stomach, falling in
on itself. Coming home aching, that week in
my mind as an acid-stained cloth, every
violent censorship bearing your name. I have
forgotten mostly everything you asked me to.
My body, still aching with the ghost of it beneath
my sternum, a truth heady enough to shrivel
our fingers long before the chlorine reached
them. I wanted to indulge you. Sculpt your
ravaged flesh into a forgery you could bear, even grow
to love. Something no one would take from you
in the dead of night like every beloved shadow
slithering against the motel wall. You could have been
beautiful, cutting arcs through the waves, tender and
nameless body slicing the veil of water vapor
and repulsion. It stills crawls through my lungs like smog,
like everything else you left me with. Years later I choke
on a note of it, hands frozen over some still
unutterable place, and see through your eyes a skirt
hiked up in an empty elevator and a boy waiting for
the open, wondering about my hometown.
EULOGY FOR THE ONLY GIVEN VESTIGE
i promised to never mention it. this is me
mentioning everything but.
your smile—the wildest thing for miles. beneath
us, some spent animal twitching
with the force of it, the threshold you’ve pushed
it to. my palms to
the leather, a consolation: i know how it feels
to let him take you apart.
i know how it feels to like it. can i admit it now?
when the world and god
have stopped listening? i tried to scream and
could not find my mouth.
what was i supposed to do. hail the passing sirens
and wonder if anyone could
drag you back down. break you over the blade of
a knife to prove your veins
pump the same as any other: red, pulsing with
your own mortality.
you didn’t expect to face it. shrank back from it—
a bad dream. me,
unflinching. this is the price. chest cavity emptying
to make room for glee
that never comes. this is the spinout. the helpless whirl
of it. i wanted this to be
a dream but not hard enough. beyond the soft
shoulder, a deer waits
in darkness. even she knows how this will end.
you, still searching
for the hungriest crime scene to give your body to.
you, still searching
for the hungriest monster to turn your body into.
In the same way the man can’t move on from the scene
at the tree line, I can’t stop watching the vultures circle.
The man turns judge, turns murderer, turns victim. The
vultures wait for him to turn his back. And he almost does
—across the field his children dance, coming closer,
and he would do anything to stop them because
there is too much blood already. It seeps
from the ground as it would from my hands or
the man’s stomach slit open like plastic wrap.
From beneath the soil a phone sings someone must
hold this life between their hands. Someone must
keep it warm at night. And time’s on a loop
and neither of us care to stop it.
In another life we’re on the roof of your apartment and
I’m begging you not to fall to the ground like ash. And here
you understand that this, and all the world,
will save you.
In another life we’re in a bodiless field
and you fall to your knees to pray to no one but
my body, remade,
and the stream roils in its own small tornado,
and no one’s child is rolled away
But the man cannot move on from the place where grass
dips into nightfall. From this life, a mouthful of blood.
From him and me and his children who, miles away,
have discovered the sound of skin breaking.
I can’t help you unless
you lower the knife, but
It is all I have left. Like mothers
in hallowed courtrooms, we cannot abandon
the nightmares of our own creation.
In the same way the man is devoured by the field,
by some other country’s god,
I take the children home,
bathe them, braid their hair.
Place them where no one
could hurt them
and never touch them again.
NIKKI VELLETRI is a high school junior from Massachusetts. Her work has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and is published or forthcoming from Words Dance and Eunoia Review.
FIND HER ON: fearlastyear.tumblr.com AND follow the link below to read our conversation on writing with her
I have a tendency to read a poem and automatically assume the narrator of the poem and the author are the same, especially when the author has brought the reader so close to the poem and the emotions it discusses. In my own poetry, trying to step back from writing as myself has always been difficult for me, but it is something I want to keep doing because it is so rewarding to play around with lives I have never lived, a method that usually lends itself to prose rather than poetry.
READ FULL CONVERSATION HERE