love poem

Poem by Stella Xia

Art by J. Sassi

x. epilogue / asshole, she scoffs
no no mom i’ll still write him a love poem
it is not a matter of merit you see
but of memory, or what remains after skin
becomes tissue paper
and knees
a bird’s
croaking under sterile sheets at least i was reckless
just what he loathed
just what i needed

i. courtship ritual involving expensive Japanese stationery
say “listen to the scratch of its strokes” and i am brainstorming names for our daughter
you’ll homeschool her on a mountain and enamour her in beauty:
say “see how the water shimmers turquoise in the sun and deepens in the shade, but step in right
here—i know it’s cold baby you’ll get used to it—and there’s no colour at all”
the waiter in a cannabis-print polo smirks at the way you stare at me
like i am a fountain pen like i am Lake Louise
say “she’s mine” (you didn’t)

ix. void
i am trying to be grateful for the finite
i am trying to appreciate absence
it means there was something worth missing here, once
etched in the folds of a yellowing notebook
dancing in the creases of your palms

ii. falling-in-love montage
lavender essential oil
imitation brick walls
hands (yours, wasted pianist potential, tragedy of epic proportions)
spines (mine, arched with a squeal at your zipper of fingernail)
skin cells (yours, catching sunlight and settling on my mantle)
(i’ll lick it clean)
(i’ll coat my tongue in gold again)
i meditate each moment at 0.25x speed
and you ask if you make me
love i see beautiful things now convinced you made them happen

viii. palpable, cosmic injustice*
today i followed a stranger up three flights of stairs because the back of his head reminded me of
i don’t know what i was hoping for
i was relieved when he turned around
please don’t think me insane sensing your presence
in every mop of curls screaming your name
down a madwoman’s memoir you make me
an unoriginal poet
an undignified feminist
meanwhile i am a scabbing footnote in your therapist’s file (the medical record retention policy
gods grant small immortalities)

yes love i am insane sorry you had to find out this way

iii. morning after
i wash you off in the shower
i rinse my mouth of
you, appraising me head to toe
no lust or conquest
or, granted, a poet’s use of adjectives
but someone’s taught you the easy words
“beautiful” drips like honey from your parted lips
hovering an inch above mine, the merest brush, the reciprocity, ebb and flow of breath you are
simply my oxygen
anyway i contain enough poetry for us both
enough pain also
in the silver ephemera of dawn i see the ending and i want you still

vii. the unmaking
let it leak out of me an abscess  draining into carpet  into prose  into quiet certainty i’ll never love as breathlessly  as boundlessly  let it burn ‘til there is nothing but smoke (curse the cloying lavender) to hold onto ‘ til ash embalms me whole  when dad says he never liked you i nod mutely  promise to vet more carefully next time  ha next time  as if i haven’t grown a profound resentment for the human race’s inability to replicate you  as if a wave can dissolve without casualty of  shore  you are driftwood  shrapnelled in my chest cavity scraping diaphragm with each breath tide  the seaglass walls of past and future march loyally closer together and the creatures in your irises i thought i’d tamed (beheld me vanilla-tender) lay mousetraps in the crossfire  i am insane in grief  possessed by monstrous anguish  you better kick down my door with a boombox and roses  or else i sat here all day for nothing  god  it’s no use pretending you don’t exist is it  you catastrophe  you kaleidoscope  beauty is a waste without your eyes to see it through  these days i see only ash

iv. delusionist’s fantasy**
it would have to be you to ask
i have known the answer for a while
i do not pretend to think about it
i do not lament the impracticality of tulle
or tease you for surrendering to the obsolete institution
we split an orange over breakfast
in the silver eternity of dawn your mouth curves up the way it always will

vi. in which i have months to live
you, too, would hesitate to agree if i knocked at 11:38 PM with a deadline and a deal
whispering “i will show you God
and then i will take it all away”

v. the price of knowing
the butcher can no longer eat without conscience
which is to say you can no longer have me without buffer
ball pit
chase piecemeal limb and tactile sin from lamb shank that actually understands you
but smother my gaze—doleful and deadly—lest it force you to confront the guilt you do not
strip your mattress bare and it’s like i never bled
spit my bones back up and it’s like you never had me to begin with

*from Rayne Fisher-Quann’s the pain gap: “There is a palpable, cosmic injustice in the fact that a relationship … can change a woman’s psyche while barely even inspiring the man to change his communication style …”

**from Savannah Brown’s what is love. baby you’re hurting me: “How difficult it is to rid yourself of this delusionist’s fantasy of lying down next to someone who knows your shame and loves you for it …”