after Lisa Marie Basile
1. My first crush was a teenage opera singer. His mother had known me since I was born, and I slept with his senior photo under my pillow. I remember watching him sing in church and wondered if he felt my burning gaze through all the old heads, all the pillars.
2. Before the age of twelve, my body had hosted two parasites. Does this mean that I have experienced being a mother to something vile, something simple?
3. If you can, imagine going to work in rivers of blood. Imagine the lank corpses of cows, imagine the hooks and knives and blunt objects used to kill those cows. Imagine every day smelling like metal. Imagine the bodies of a hundred cockroaches falling on your head. Imagine sacrificing your body to the altar of meat and fire. If you can imagine doing this for many months or years and still find tenderness within yourself, you are a better person than I thought you were. And truthfully, I still don’t think much of you.
4. Sometimes a prayer can be just a word. Sometimes it is the abandonment of language entirely. I knew this in the shower of the hospital. I knew this because my body had to be emptied out for the light to get in.
5. More often than I’d like to admit, I was just being dramatic.
6. More often than I’d like to admit, sadness felt like the only pleasure I was allowed.
7. More often than I’d like to admit, I was so bored I could die.
8. But I also know boredom to be a symptom of a greater restlessness. Now I know boredom to be a fertile breeding ground for violence, for destruction. My mother used to reply “bored people are boring” when I told her I was bored. I wasn’t sure what to do with that information, but I knew I didn’t want to be boring.
9. I’ve slept in some bad places, some of which include: an old couch, metal twin beds (as an adult) (up until recently), floor mattresses in which I could feel the springs, the concrete floor of a summer camp cafeteria, bus and train and airplane seats, beds that smelled of acrid sweat, dirty apartment floors, sleeping bags, a mostly deflated air mattress. The best place I’ve ever slept is the porch swing on the patio of my parents’ house.
10. I have considered having the bones in my jaw broken and reshaped into a rounder, more feminine face.
11. Secretly, I have harbored hatred for my friends for having romantic partners. I have kept this juvenile, teeming hatred in a box, like a swarm of spiteful bees. I can contain it, but that does not mean I haven’t tended to that hatred. It does not mean that I haven’t occasionally slipped it scraps under the table. I take their happiness personally.
12. For all the intelligent men around whom I have spent my time, I have not yet absorbed their cynicism for things like astrology and magic and rose scented candles and all those feminine beliefs. I have not yet adopted their contempt for the constellations, for the elements, for the language of flowers.
13. I am a fundamentally lazy person, but I think everyone should have the opportunity to be lazy. I think every person should get to experience idleness and warm baths and their favorite foods. I think every person should spend late mornings writing poems if they want. Even bad poems. I believe in communal indulgence, communal luxury. Bread and roses, but especially ostentatious roses. Especially golden bread. An endless basket of bread.
14. My handwriting looks the way it does because I practiced.
15. My favorite season used to be fall but now that I live in New York, it is most definitely spring. I died here one winter, learned to clench my facial muscles into a perpetual death mask. I became thin and gnarled. I didn’t speak to anyone. When spring came, I walked through Bryant Park in a yellow dress and felt the plump tulips turn in the breeze, the wink of a pink hyacinth amidst the sexy blue hyacinths. I began to stir.
16. One of my greatest desires is to have someone beg for my forgiveness. I imagine sitting comfortably in a chair by a fireplace, half listening while they plead their case, them wanting my forgiveness so badly that they begin to cry, frustrated with themselves. I am not sure who, exactly, would plea for my forgiveness, but in my imagination, it is always a man.
17. I’ve never been encouraged to love myself unless it is in the service of others, but I will say this: the two physical qualities that I am most proud of are my hair and my ass and I will not accept criticism of either.
18. For many years, I smoked cigarettes on a daily basis. I sometimes miss them. It wasn’t the threat of death or pleas from family or friends, but my vanity which saved me. I didn’t want to smell or look bad.
19. I am deeply afraid of exercise. Yes, afraid. The only two modes of exercise I can tolerate are swimming and walking, both being mostly recreational, and situations in which my body is mostly hidden. I’d kill for a pool where only I am allowed in.
20. The most repulsive thing about me is my desire to know. I’m a dirty little scholar. I’m the spider in the library.
21. I’ve always had a suspicion that I’ve been abandoned by God. Even at my most religious, I didn’t feel the same ecstatic joy as everyone else at the revival. Not at the retreat, not in church, not in the homeless shelters or convents. No amount of volunteering or attempts at prayer could rouse me. I suspect that within me there are many holes to fill, none of them God-shaped. Instead of taking pride in this or arguing against the existence of God, I just assume they lost interest.
22. Vincent, Max and I sat in the Foxhead one night and told each other, over beers, the worst thing we’d ever done. When I admitted mine, they said, “Denise, the only person you fucked over was yourself.” I miss those booths with all the names carved into them, the pool tables and the dark bar bathrooms and the worst things we’ve ever done. I don’t want to go back because so much isn’t there anymore, everything has a different rhythm. I think Max would have found this poem funny for being so histrionic. He would have laughed and rolled his eyes and I probably would have hated that but loved him for it anyway.
23. I only wanted you to like me.
24. I’m not sure what to make of my obsession with desire continuing in the midst of a global pandemic, but I think a lot of what we kept hidden is being laid bare, so maybe this is the apocalpyse. Others’ desires are so raw. We are collectively aching to be touched. I am interested to see what it will mean at the other end of this.
25. In New Orleans, I loved even the rotting things. I loved the way the tree roots busted up the sidewalks and I loved how everyone sweated and drank and sang in the gardens.
26. I am ashamed of my ancestry, so I wrote poem after poem about it. I am still looking for something to love within it. A pearl in the dark earth. An emerald hidden in the walls of the house. I am waiting for their extended hands.
27. Most of the lovers I’ve had have told me extensively about the women they loved before me. Surrounding me is a whirling cloud of crying ghosts, blinking through their lashes and pouting their lips. It’s a wonder anybody can see me anymore. Swipe right on the circle of the lustful, the great wind, the cities of the interior. I can only guide you through, but I cannot ascend.
28. Did you know I once had a beautiful singing voice? I keep it locked up like a family secret, an old lie. I can lure it out with murder ballads, riverside folk songs and smoky jazz, but it retreats easily. My ortolan in a box. My blind, my fatted bird.
29. I’ve frowned at the mountain. I found an old cistern in the most glorious valley. I found a button in a field of sunflowers. I collected glass at the edge of the sea. Only one of these is a lie.
30. I remember, vaguely, a family of travelers sent their children to my school. One was my age, dark-haired Tiffany. I think we were friends for the short time she went to our school. To this day, I wonder if she was real. But she was the friend of my dreams, a hooked finger, a promise, a cherry popsicle laugh in the afternoon.
31. Somewhere, someone is dancing to pop songs in their kitchen and feeding their dog pieces of bacon and I have to believe things like that are true in order to get out of bed.
32. I’ve been trying to get everyone together to watch Babette’s Feast, a film in which an outsider spends all her money to make an exquisite meal for her straitlaced Swedish community. I am the outsider here, and for you I’d arrange red peonies in the center, I’d pour wine, I’d ask you all to tell me the names of everyone who came before you. I hope there will be more nights of potency. I’m making my list of things to give you.
33. I’m a middle child. Clamoring to be included. Oh my God, do I want to live.
Denise Jarrott is the author of NYMPH (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press, 2018) and two chapbooks. Her poetry and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Zone 3, La Have Review, Angel City Review and elsewhere. She grew up in Iowa and currently lives in Brooklyn.