The difference between being loved and being fucked is I can’t remember how the first feels. I have a body like an open door. I have a body like an open hand. It is too easy to hold me.
Find me a boy with a heart more hopeful than spun sugar on a hot day, I will teach him to render me meaningless. The whole time, every moment, wishing he’d crack me open, rib by rib, to see how I work. How I bleed.
Here is the bitter truth: that mouthful of thorns you called our last kiss still lingers after so many others.
Darlings, sometimes love will come to you like a fire to a forest. When it does, be braver than I was. Just leave. Take only what you can carry. No tears, no second thoughts. You have hands like tinder boxes, the smallest spark will kill you.
Get in the car. Take water to the maps. Avoid gas stations. Don’t look at the flames dancing in the rear view mirror. Go to new cities, climb on the rooftops and slow dance with your coldest memories. Wallpaper your new home with every dusty, desperate love letter you swore you’d never send.
Find a stranger with sharp edges and uncharted hips. Press your stories into their skin and forget you ever knew his name. Just promise you won’t think of embers or smoke.
Even when there is ash in your hair. Even when there is soot in your lungs.
It’s 11 am and I’m sitting in a restaurant 3 beers in. Believe me, even I’m surprised I’m still alive sometimes. I have been drinking about you for 2 days. Lately you remind me of a wild thing chewing through its foot. But you are already free and I don’t know what to do except trace the rough line of your jaw and try not to place blame. Here is the truth: It is hard to be in love with someone who is in love with someone else. I don’t know how to turn that into poetry.
I am 15 and he is my first boyfriend. He is 18 and 6’4” and his hands are the size of thick textbooks. He says he has a lot to teach me. He is drowning in his sadness. Drowning people often believe if they grab hold of someone else they can be saved, but it just makes you both sink faster.
I am 17 and she is my first girlfriend. The only thing we do more often than fight is fuck each other. I tell her about the boy’s hands and she tries to stretch her fingers wide to mimic them. I say stop it. I say I love you as you are.
I am 19 and in the first of many dirty rooms with books strewn everywhere and a mattress in one corner. These rooms always belong to boys with unshaved faces and tender hearts. Boys like this are a dime a dozen, but I don’t know that yet because tonight I’m with the first one. He hands me a beer. He says he thinks I’m smart. He orders me to take off my clothes.
I am 20 and in love with someone who tells a lot of lies. The punishment for telling lies is that I become cruel. The punishment for being cruel is being abandoned.
I am 20 and it is not sex because I don’t say yes. I say stop but that doesn’t make it stop. I am 20 and crying because my friend Aaron wants to kiss me, and I know if he does I’ll still taste like betrayal.
The Ways I Didn’t Leave You:
Even though I knew how it felt to love someone with a heart like the sharp edge of a knife, I pulled out the whetstone.
I asked you to bend, to be small enough to close my fist around. I wanted to be certain you could never get away.
I knew there was someone else, but I started looking through your pockets for proof I was wrong.
I threw a wine glass across the kitchen like a fastball, we both stood and stared at the shattered glass, proof that good people do terrible things.
I said “I love you” when I meant something much more specific, I should have said “Please don’t leave me, I’m afraid to sleep alone.”
I thought leaving you would be easy, just walking out the door. But I keep getting pinned against it with my legs around your waist. It’s like my lips want you like my lungs want air, it’s just what they were born to do.
So I am sitting at work thinking of you cutting vegetables in my kitchen. Your hair in my shower drain. Your fingers on my spine in the morning while we listen to Muddy Waters. I don’t know why I’ve got so much hope pinned to someone who will never call me home, but the way you talk about poems like Marxists talk of revolution it makes me want to keep trying. In the mornings, in my shower drain, in the music, I am looking for reasons to love you. I am looking for proof that you love me.
Here is what I know: You drink your coffee black and we are afraid of each other. Once you kissed my neck in front of your friends and it made me very shy. Once you kissed my stomach and I started crying. I see the tender way you touch things and want to kiss your nose but I keep my mouth to myself. Your collarbones are craters big enough to fit my fist into. You are the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in months. I was not good to the last person I loved so I punished my heart (I let it break and bleed out then roughly sewed it back together.) It is hard to write poems when I only know how to fuck you. I am always trying. I am thinking of Somedays. I am saying goodbye. You asked why I never write anything honest so I am writing you this.
You told me mornings were the best time to break your own heart. So here I am smoking your brand of cigarettes for the scent. I wonder if you still sing Beatles songs while you make coffee. You said your mother sang them to you when you couldn’t sleep, 19 years before we met and 20 before you moved your clothes out of our closet while I was at work. By the way I hate you for leaving all the photographs on the fridge, taking them down felt like peeling off new scabs, felt like slapping a sunburn. I spent so many nights carving your body into pillows I can promise you nothing feels like sleeping with your arm slung over me and your breath in my ear. Still, it’s comforting to know we sleep under the same moon, even if she’s so much older when she gets to me. I like to imagine she’s seen you sleeping, and wants me to know you’re doing well.
I know you and I are not about poems or other sentimental bullshit, but I have to tell you even the way you drink your coffee just knocks me the fuck out.
Clementine von Radics is an internationally touring poet and the founder of Where Are You Press, a publishing house that focuses on the voices of women and people of color. Her work has been featured on Whiskey Paper, Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, and others. Her first collection of poetry was adapted into a song cycle by Stephen Schwartz, debuting at Carnegie Hall in 2016. Her latest book, Mouthful of Forevers, has been a #1 Bestseller on Amazon. She lives in Portland, Oregon. You can more of her work at www.clementinepoetry.com