we left with our hands unfurled
in separate pockets, our
fingers strained against the denim.
we had separate plans on how to
get this done.

I left Colorado;
Boulder, a place where I found
God and
      you left me here
a studio apartment with no utility bill,
on-site washer and dryer,
foothills with no rain and 0% humidity.
I left sun 300 days a year,
my rose blanket that smelled like my parent’s room,
a bunch of empty Tupperware, my umbrella
even though it’s pouring and
half of my books,
the margins, the lines I jotted
to keep myself moving.
I left my ideals about partnership,
first women I bonded to,
whispered truth and loved,
first incantation,
      my brother is dead
in the margin and you left me with this
townhouse in Kensington to fill
with borrowed stuff.

you left an abrasive echo that scratched marks in the walls and
no budget for paint, one half of the utensils,
a couple of wicker baskets for bills
and no end table to set them on.
I just want to make sure, Sarah,
you gesture to the antique armoire I mistook for a gift
that when I leave
when on our first anniversary, you
walked in my room to talk and
I mistakenly
I get all of this back.
looked you in the mouth and
spit every sentence back.

you took the bigger bottle of toothpaste.
an excessive amount of chairs,
all the curtains, the area rugs, the broom and your
glare lingered by the sofa long after you
left me here
left and you let me
keep it, sit on it, eat dried ramen
and count dollars and feel my clavicle
grow jutting out the skin
as I rationed meals.
as I watched my spending.

you took the kitten away.
you took the lighters.
you left the armoire after all.
you left me rummaging through half-burnt incense sticks for a smell
that got me through the big flood and you
took back every last card abruptly like when
you took my waist one breathy night and said you were going to
squeeze me in this bad neighborhood
right before you took me out of that soft spot, tempered,
grabbed a litter box and took
clean off.

I took myself to the welfare office to beg for my Access card
back; smacked my lips the wrong way
and snacked on servility inch by inch as I inched my way
back to “our place.”
I took out some loans,
threw away the clunky pepper spray
that women wraithed into chains
they hung from their hips
as if fear and trepidation and weaponry have
ever kept me safe.
I took my time walking home and
let the water fill my eyelids so I could see
Philadelphia differently:
better and blurred and I understand
need.
I took it in the chest that day.
I take it in the neck today.
I took one more risk and someone told me failure is perspective
but all I see is gray, litter, plastic baggies and cops
pinching girls with latex gloves and ignoring epidemics
or data or calls from the corners and all the little
shrubs that line the block look like
workers shaking their heads at me
     leave
and I also see a
half empty apartment that is down to one cat and one
scorned tiny girl who is bitter, body dysmorphic and
hungry and has resentment, a meeting
coughed in my face and
not enough pots or ingredients to cook both
soup and stew and she is
throwing coffee grounds into a makeshift
leaky cardboard box trashcan smelling
the mold from the basement, and
our first CD is scratched and in half in a basket
with someone else’s paychecks.

I’m on a bed that lifts with one giant sigh
and no top sheet and under a pillow
(they said risk meant courage)
and

YOU FUCKING LEFT ME HERE.

“grace”

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“That to say your name is to hear the sound of clocks
being turned back another hour.”

–Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

What is more concerning, he was thinking, was the space between us and our religion, which governs us. He was setting the votives carefully along the stairs, praying quietly but with a sense of mania. Dusk had brought a snowstorm and the blizzard had ruined his plans. Many people had cancelled. He paused at the top of the stairs. Each step was lit with an alternating white and black candle.

“You’re living in a fantasy,” Sophia shouted before she slammed the front door.

“It’s not a fantasy. It’s the past,” he said out loud, now, long after she was gone, before swallowing the last of his beer.

He moved into the living room and looked out the bay window with some covert furtive longing he masked with his budding alcoholism, his apathy at his friends’ choices, his dismissal of people. He was lonely.

“I’m lonely,” he said.

Tonight he was being decisive: which candles to set, where to place them, who to invite. This filled him with a sense of purpose but the depression swallowed him regardless. It was winter, six pm and the sky was black as death outside. Already six inches on the ground, the weather predicted a foot more by midnight. No one is coming. The burgundy filled him by four and he was into the beer quickly after that. I have given up already. He had given up already. He continued to light the candles, to set the ambience even though he knew, David was the last one and he cancelled too.

“We just don’t feel safe driving,” his phone blinked.

Sophia’s face danced on the pane in front of him but he didn’t reach for that. He stood stoic; numbed by the alcohol, frozen by the climate, taken by the idea of it. No one else was home on his block when he heard the knock.  

It was twenty degrees and he felt it before he even opened the door. With every change in the wind’s direction, the cabin dropped a degree.  He was layered now: hoodie, jacket, fleece, long johns, gloves, hat and a bottle of water in his pocket. He stood on the front step to examine the window before his hike. The hole was covered with duct tape that he had criss crossed into a new flimsy pane.

“This will have to last until Monday, “ he said aloud to himself

Standing on the front porch, he could see the holes where he didn’t affix the pieces together correctly; pin-sized and almost tiny but enough for air to freely flow back and forth. Every time a breeze blew he felt it. It was Saturday afternoon. He had two more days before he was leaving

“This can wait until Monday.”

Looking at it only a few seconds longer, he nodded to himself to confirm that was true and began walking west towards the boulder with the blue paint mark. He would light a fire later, put on the kettle, run a hot bath.  There may be another sudden gust this weekend and he just wanted to stay warm. There may be more windows to patch depending on the direction of the storm. For now, all was still.

He heard a couple crow calls, around eight am, and then nothing. There was no wind or sound or movement in the woods.The cabin stood at the edge of the lake in the middle of a trail, not the mouth of the hike. Because he only hiked when he visited the cabin, Milo was always forced to start with The Blue Trail. If he was feeling up to it, he would cut north and wander the three miles through the Red Trail and decide later if he was game for the Black Trail. He was tired and hadn’t slept well because of the shattered window at 1:00 am so he doubted he would make it there. He never ruled it out though. The Black Trail was a beautiful hike through the middle of the forest. In the summer, it was lush and colored by unidentified evergreens, pines, full blue spruces, oaks, and fir. In summer, it was littered with people and birds: sparrows, blue jays, cardinals, finches, hawks, owls, the occasional eagle,  and tons and tons of goldfinches. Milo loved birds. He loved listening to them during his days at the cabin with his dad.

“Look!” He would nudge his father every time they saw a cardinal. “Look!”

“Cardinal,” his father said.

Milo would nod. His father would walk in front of him.
“And what’s the black and white bird and the long tail that sang to us this morning?”

Milo would look sheepishly at his shoes as they hiked, feeling like a girl.

“Magpie.”
“Good son,” he would say without turning around.

There were other animals too: deer, beavers, frogs at the edge of the lake, squirrels, chipmunks, mice, the occasional fox, and even the occasional coyote. Wolves roamed the perimeter but he never saw any. In winter, the hunters abandoned the area and all animals moved south to eat or north to hibernate. It was lonely. Milo watched himself tread the snow-covered floor and he wanted the sound of the morning birds: the magpies and the sparrows, the coffeemaker and his father’s cough from the living room. The lake was covered in ice. He cherished the couple of spiders nesting in the corners of his bedroom. He was completely alone again. Whether he was in the city or not, he was alone.

About two miles in and past the tree he always noticed, the one with the X carved neatly into it from some bored hunter’s buck knife, he suddenly couldn’t remember if he locked the front door. He was overcome with this sensation; something unfamiliar, the sensation, and a thought pattern he had never had to soothe before.It started at the bottom of his spine and traveled upwards through his shoulders. Ominously, he turned back but all he could see were trees:  brown trunks and white ground. The cabin was out of sight and would him take him too long to circle back, yet he stood there, frozen, waiting for the door to answer. He thought to himself: I didn’t lock the door and the thought reverberated all over his body. It seemed strange to even question it and he doubted anyone else was here but it was on his mind and gripping his mind. He felt anxious. He patted his pocket to feel for his key.  I must have, he thought. He turned back around to face the X.

“I must have.”

Yet, he couldn’t remember doing it: actually taking the key out of his pocket and turning the lock, checking to make sure that the door was locked. Milo stood silently on the trail and thought about it. He remembered standing on the front porch to examine his window. He remembered taking the bottle of water out of his pocket to drink. He remembered walking towards the boulder. He did not remember locking his door.  Milo waited another few seconds for something to interrupt: a rogue squirrel or light breeze or ice droplet from a branch, but nothing shook him. He held the key in his pocket and stared at the X. Let it go. There’s no one here.  A crow called in the distance. It must be noon, he thought and kept walking forward.

 

“Yes, I remember the agreement,” I begin again in front of the altered mirror. “I remember everything.”

this is your death stroll.
you used to dress up for it,
now you take it as it comes;
easy, waiting but
walking.

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