Dark is a bathroom
I go home to.
I spend lots of time
chasing thoughts with
my tongue: it bends,
makes a ring. In life,
there are many things.
When I eat birds,
I spit them out; bees,
I swallow. These
are the rules. The sun,
zero. The moon, a smaller
zero—facts I remember
the sound of. Like a song
with no words. During recess,
I hum. I stay
on the bench: first the right end,
then the left. The other kids
like fish. What I mean
is I can see them.
In the cafeteria, I eat
oranges and their juice spurts
like boys. That is what hands
are for: wiping mouths.
I want to sing. I want to break
something but I think
that is a wrong thing to want.
These are the rules. They look funny
from behind. I am terrible
at staying where I am put.
In class, we learn facts
about zero and the ocean
and gravity: the string
that holds them together—
a long string the air moves, like my hair
when I play. I wish I had
a big pair of scissors. I have
so many thoughts, but none
of them like words. I have
I just don’t know what
Poem with a Slightly-Altered Line by Tracy K. Smith
After the end
it’s hard to decide
what to make for dinner
or what album to listen to
while making it
Outside, the land smokes
the sun goes to zero
the last few birds shuffle back
and forth across something
too wide to call a sky
Inside, you preheat the oven
and turn on the tap
If the world is ten thousand things and
if the ten thousand things get broken
down into endless soil
and you put some seeds in the soil
and the soil changes the seeds
and sends them out into the air so small
and new and tenuously rooted
it’s hard to decide
what to call them, like
are they seeds or
are they soil or
are they something
else, the way
the children of gods are not always gods
After the end
you’re beginning to make dinner
and the phone rings
and the voice on the other end
sounds more like yours
than someone else’s
The air bled
all winter. Don’t you remember? Of course you do.
Your coffee was black. My tea was white. My hips curved
in a way they had not curved before.
We walked a city of neon lights, walls
of white ice, and buildings older than the building codes
that say if you’re standing in the street, you have to be able
to see the sky. Maybe we should’ve looked.
By the end, the stakes were low: I wanted to leave
because you had to go. I didn’t realize I’d left
my scarf on the train
until afterward. The buildings
sutured behind you.
From here the city could be a field
of silver wheat, or one hundred outstretched fingers.
We don’t talk about the sunset but here it is, obscene as a cut grapefruit.
This is when I don’t tell you
I don’t love you anymore. Instead I say It looks
like a field, and you say It does.
All summer I’ve sprawled in swaths of new grass,
watched insects swarm the creases of my elbows. I want to tell you about this
but I also want it to rain. You say You’d never say so from the inside, though,
would you. It isn’t a question. It still isn’t a question.
Self/Portrait as Echo
Kneeling at the edge
of the green pond, ground beneath me
unfastened by days of rain: this
is the part where I stare at you.
Of course you are as beautiful
as a steel jaw trap.
Of course you’re not in love
with yourself—just furious the water
won’t stay still, surface pockmarked
with tiny corpses: bronze leaves,
brilliant insects. Sometimes I forget water
is not a living thing.
Sometimes I walk so slowly, I can’t tell
whether or not I’m moving.
I carve your face into the dirt
with a twig and my index finger, and then
I do it again: eventually I will know
the lines of your face the way you know
a city map, or a story you’ve heard
over and over. I will reflect you
and you will look at me, say something
useful, something I can live inside of.
I once survived all winter on seeds
gleaned from bird shit. I drank green water
and memorized the forest, wandered barefoot,
silent. No one knows this.
You say your own name like a question
and I repeat it like an answer and the gods
will call that echo, call that a story
someone will tell someone else.
Lucy Wainger grew up in New York City. Her poems appear in Best American Poetry 2017, the Collagist, Nashville Review, Poetry, Vinyl, and elsewhere. She studies creative writing at Emory University, where she won the 2017 Academy of American Poets Prize. More at lucywainger.com.