I am about to speak,
Tap the roof of my mouth
Back of my teeth
With the tip of my tongue,
Every word inching closer
To screwing up
Your approval of me.
I was a people-pleaser
Until 25 made me learn
The hard way.
I wondered aloud about refilling
My Klonopin at CVS.
The cashier raised her eyebrow
As I challenged her response,
But nodded politely while handing
Me my change.
One conversation, one guy
said I sounded like a prude.
I corrected him,
“I am a prude,” while walking
away, feeling nothing between us
under darkness and hook-up beats.
At almost thirty, I’m sorry-not-sorry,
rolling my eyes at large letters
on a Cosmopolitan magazine
near the check-out line, watch teens
find out they’re slutty but will never
please their man with every page
turned, so keep reading.
I could never finish a page;
I could never understand the game.
It’s important that you know this.
you’re back again.
And with your head
in my bedroom no less.
When I told you already, I may
Have the word “asexual”
Stamped on my forehead.
See, I am the vanilla girl
Your guy friends talk about.
So be kind while losing interest,
It’s not too late to turn around
as I get over you,
the way you hold your shoulders —
But You’re. Still. Here…?
But I’ll wait for you to make up your mind.
…Later, I’ll say thank you for listening
We proved the other wrong.
I just don’t get
the girls I went to college with–
the social butterflies,
the big, Miami beach personalities,
voices rising higher than champagne bubbles,
as I wondered who taught them how to draw a crowd,
add more lighting to a room
with smiles and fluid gestures.
You need to understand this, but I’m not
one of my many obsessions, like the girl
I watched fit in like a geometric piece
in improv club or anywhere else with the right
kind of quirks, or the friend who drank beer,
shouted louder than her guy friends, or the girl with attitude
most likely voted to be the “natural born leader”.
I’m not even the American
sweetheart who gets large tips at a restaurant job
and boyfriends with just a smile and a high pitched voice.
No. I am the polar night phenomenon for days
and days in Alaska;
or, the pale gray sky releasing another day of sleet. I am the student
being told “to smile more” in a seventh grade progress report;
the girl told to “speak louder, I still can’t hear you,” or the five
points subtracted from a oral presentation due to “lack of confidence,”
teachers’ yearly “help her come out of my shell” project
(they always failed).
I am the students advising me not to join the debate team,
among other clubs where introverts need not apply,
reading about the power of my personality
in world that can’t stop talking; too reserved to be
girls gone wild or a male’s Xtube fantasy; I can only
watch the life of the party, suited to absorb lives
in a book while curled on a couch, a safe distance
from sensory overloads on Bourbon.
I’m hurrying home at 5 pm to be alone with the radio
down low, spending nights in white satin and other throwbacks.
I am skipping ads that look for workers with a “can-do”
spirit; I throw away ads that have the word “out-going”.
I’m the twelve year old correcting my mother,
“I’m not pessimistic, just realistic.”
I’m more my mother’s husband’s daughter, expressions
As dark as his skin, final gestures, morose frowns trying
To be as sweet as the Creole princess she hoped for
(not this depressive alternative black girl she was given).
I’m the diagnosis, the medication,
the therapy, the girl that jumbles, mutters, whispers
words, slightly better than my aunt’s non-verbal childhood,
but falling far, far behind.
I’m the moody eyeliner.
The blue lips.
The sullen eyes,
The whatever shrug,
The “please make eye contact,”
The bullies’ target
The weird one because I don’t care for the top 40,
don’t care who in the hell is on Housewives of Whatever,
Wondering what’s the big deal about the homecoming dance.
A blank slate where you draw a personality,
Writing phone numbers but expecting no calls or friendships
(better off anyway, they’ll annoy me).
I’m a broken house divided despite the best of my worst efforts,
Taking my time after the bus ride.
I am nothing people chase after.
But this is me, being as honest as I can possibly be.
and thank you for staying.
Let’s take it back,
to that throwback love,
bring it back to the table
to renew our vows,
to keep the wick glowing
for a lifetime.
I’ve been listening to our neighbors pack up to leave as I stir to keep the rice from burning.
What did they find out
in the time between our wedding
and one year later? Did we interrupt
their silence on the other side of the wall,
listened to usual moving day chatter
about the thrift store table,
and items we hoarded for a month?
The clink of utensils on china as we spooned our first Sunday meal
seeped through the walls with the savory aroma as we sat down to
meat loaf (your favorite)
and corn (I knew you wouldn’t touch).
The wife is waiting for her other half to return with the U-Haul truck. The rice pilaf is cooling on the counter.
Did they ever pass us by on the street
or aisle ten at Rouses,
catch a glimpse of our courtship, then reminisce?
Like us, they are married too, so they probably nod
patiently as we balance grocery bags on the edge
of bursting, knowing the debates before us
(where do we put the ketchup, toilet paper, light bulb?).
The fine creases in our upbringing still creep into
our honeymoon phase like the way
you call for a washcloth before a shower,
and I simply call it a “small towel”.
Or how you wakes up early while I savor the sleep in
on a day off. Little differences give love an edge,
but did they also understand how
the night and day
of you and me
completed the bricks
before our first key,
I’m hearing a voice rise for someone in another room. I’m opening the oven to check on the progress of our evening plans.
How soon before they realized we were night owls,
hearing entwined laughter
and the glow of a TV screen at 1 am
before submissions to sleepy kisses,
a fluid embrace
I value as our first love language?
We found out how to appreciate quiet
after our entry level grind,
quickly gave the evening to the tourists
as we sank together on the couch,
then soaked in another molasses Sunday.
They are hauling furniture to the moving van. I’m setting
the table as the meatloaf cools.
Soon, it will be just you and me again,
left to discover more of this post-altar underground,
while carrying daytime adult business,
and drowsy eyes at the orange-pink
view from the balcony once dusk sets in.
I’m waiting to listen to how we survived another day
as we build more bedrooms,
brick by brick,
catching still life moments fit for the Polaroid
while looking back, but today, you’re kissing
my forehead to sooth my jumpiness when you silently
enter the living room with tulips for the first time
all over again.
You may not want to take me home;
I’m mostly a leather jacket from the second
hand store, left to rot in the sun and rain
for too long. Once you wear me,
you’ll find I’m not what you want
to show off to your co-workers,
post graduate friends,
old girlfriends you might run into.