When you aren’t there to witness something, all you have is imagination, mine was toxic.
Mine should have come with its own hazmat suit, recalled at birth.
In undergrad, during a meditation and mindfulness class—yes, I studied at one of those schools—after writing an essay exploring a week’s worth of walking and sitting meditation, my professor asked me about my hysterectomy and if I wanted to explore the “gaping hole” left unfinished in my body. It felt odd to have to explain that I had never had one—a hysterectomy—and that the void in body was due to my own gutting. Sometimes we must remove in order to understand.
I thought my body was an alphabet.
I learned the letters, each curve and swoop, strike and point. Understood how to pronounce the sounds, changes, syllabic thrusts. Combined one letter with another. Definition. Communication. Origin.
Letters have a role, a purpose. This letter can lift things, this one kicks.
This letter can nod or shake. This letter speaks.
All of this is just to say:
I thought I could sing the song of my body in every pitch,
with eyes closed, in a room with no windows.
But I was wrong.
My body is not an alphabet.
My body is a recording device even when I think it is turned off. I have curled my body into disconnected snake skin listening to each tape.
I rewind too much. Maybe I am stuck. Maybe I am afraid that if I let the tape play through the end, I will have to move on, have to be present, have to leave all of that behind.
What I keep going back to is what continues to repeat.
I peer down toward my body with view of blurred skin.
What am I afraid to pronounce?
anthology of suffering
What life am I wearing and is it itchy and does it fit and has it shrunk and what size is this and are these my colors and when did that button pop? What are the statistics for this torment and where is the religion of this disorder? Can tears pray and do they bend kneel drop into box of collections? Is there a contributor’s fee in this anthology of sadness? Does this pink make me look too blue and what is this lining and are these detours in these pockets? Can language be softened symptomed misgendered mistaken? How binary is your feminine and how at risk is your masculine and how revolutionary is your queer? Will you commit to this anguish? Am I wrinkled and stop staring and are these scars or stripes? Have you sutured your past into your now without rupture? How dysphoric are your hips teeth ankles hair eyes toes neck breasts and how psychological is your stuttering suffering? Do these sleeves make my wrists look fat? Is your wardrobe a medical condition and how mental is your illness? When did I disappear? How technological is this body Have you alienated your smile and does your mirror make you an atheist? What is the remedy for survival? Whose supposed life is this?
unheard love ballad for the addict
Dear Oxycodone found in two separate cabinets in my mother’s home after her sister died and as everyone was quietly grieving, I contemplated my next overdose.
I handled you like the last clitoris I touched
Rubbed six of you around in my palm, felt your ghost sharp, your measured antidote
When my mother had a piece of her breast removed, I asked her
to hide all her meds because I have a difficult time committing
before the cigarettes and
You probably taste
yet my tongue shakes
staging an escape from mouth
using spit and rope
Have you ever French kissed
I mean, maybe.
But if one, why not eight.
Might as well.
I over-eat because food is acceptable
to consume too much of
because when my ass gets bigger,
they just want more of me
I am afraid of my mother’s
small print and side effects
Have you ever played a game of tic-tac-toe on your skin? When it is dry enough for the lines to remain past two turns and whether or not you won no longer matters because now you have scratches that are acceptable, and the white dust turns to red drips and just because a body is yours doesn’t mean it can be played with or taunted by all the ways it can break down.
this kind of young where freckles are like passports
rather than cause for medical attention–
reminds me of how little I committed to that age.
Her name and favorite color do not coincide
she much prefers the tip of a summer sunset.
I said to her, find your wild and when it slips out of reach
rub your teeth and limbs together so more will grow.
Blue told me that humans aren’t always nice
to the ones who wear their emotions inside out
so she epistolary’d herself into a falcon, flew above the
mean, and joined the circus of sun dripping over them all.
beet red scratches on vanilla bean cheeks.
We introduced ourselves through war-torn wrists rather than first names. Her hair, blond cornhusks or candle wax.
All of the knives had been replaced by spoons.
I stared at her cheeks as though they were clouds—slow-motion pictures dug into skin.
We often lost track of our tongues, but that was just a side-effect of the meds.
She was more beautiful than June and honeysuckle.
Our teeth no longer asked questions when approaching what they called food.
She told me, I was afraid of my pretty and what it made people do to me.
One of my favorite essays by Virginia Woolf explores the final moments in the life of a moth (Death of a Moth). The observer watches the moth flutter from one end of a room to the other, even offering up her pencil like a kayak, aiding its struggle. There is a sense of mirroring of moth and mind. By observing its death, one is reminded of life. When I write, each word is like a detached wing, fluttering and fingering the spaces beside me. I am simultaneously trying to make sense of meaning and motion, while also connecting with my own desires to fly away. It seems so hyperbolic to say, I write to stay alive. I write to bandage the wounds. But this is true. I am a survivor surviving mental illness. Each day, I (try to) connect to my disconnect. I write to remind myself that my body is a collection of books. Some days, I open wide, reading cover-to-cover, climbing through the footnotes and metaphors. Other days, I stare at the binding and let the words rest. These poems are a declaration of the documents within my scars. Learning the alphabet of my mental illness, of my mental capacities, of my body’s breaths.
Aimee Herman (she/they/her/them) is the author of the recently published YA novel, “Everything Grows” (Three Rooms Press) and two full length books of poems, “meant to wake up feeling” (great weather for MEDIA) and “to go without blinking” (BlazeVOX books). She is widely published in journals and anthologies including BOMB, cream city review, and Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics (Nightboat Books). Aimee is a queer writer and educator and a founding member in the poetry band, Hydrogen Junkbox.