61

first snowfall:
dust flittering, quietly
off an unattended shelf
books from my childhood

you have no idea
how little I knew
before I knew you.
lighthouse, alight home
your pillow is always the softest.

loving you is like walking in the door, warm
the snow soaks into my clothes
turning to water and
rinsing me clean
you’ve always felt like
the sky itself, nestled
in my veins

never quite the gambling man,
you said you never believed in luck
until you saw my chances
and cast a bet anyway.

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60

I once had this beautiful silk dress
dotted with oil stains
I couldn’t get out.
I’d wring my knuckles raw
trying to scrape this pattern
from a spot only I could see.

I would question everyone:
“Do you see a difference?”
“Can you tell?”
I could feel it on me
like bullet holes in my shoulder blade
lodged into my skin
and yet I only quantified myself
if someone else noticed, too.

an impurity
a part of me
that ached from the inside
at a time I used to count calories
and revel in my whittling
8, 6, 4, 2, 0
I embarked to be even more invisible than
those defects I desperately wanted someone
to notice

I wonder if that girl with the silk dress
understands why I gave it up
and why it was that
she so desperately tried to
erase an imperfection that wasn’t really there.
I certainly don’t fit in those
clothes of a time long past
and I may never get to 0 again
but at least
my knuckles are soft again.

59

A satin-sashed serenade
a foxtrot of forgiveness:
“you can do anything,
but
you can’t do everything.”
cue the world’s
most delicate fanfare

If I had as many arms as
I wished I did,
I’d be more extremity
than me.
My identity is not in
how much I continue to reach
but in my ability to pull back
when I’ve lost track.

Following each fork in the road
just to be sure I didn’t
miss anything
I ended up missing a lot:
invitations to a wine bottle, shared
cat-sitting a cat I don’t like
impromptu sushi nights
RSVP, respond later

I’ve discovered that the best part of sushi
is in the freshness of fish
not in the number of pieces
I can fit on my plate.

58

6AM, fragile morning air
whispers of fall.
orange hue, honey’s dew
my lungs breathe in
the crack of crème brûlée
nestled in the back of my throat
sweet, burnt
sun, rising

the cafe ’round the corner
he’s smiling at her
behind the counter
he imagines tucking her wisps
behind her ears, she
pours frothed milk
white ribbons
holding back a yawn

“Keep the change,”
“see you at lunch,”
the softest exchange
familiar faces for another time

When the sun has woken up too,
he’s mustered the strength
to ask if he can
see her again
in the evening.

57

“Come back to bed,”
like a phantom, eager
to pull me in and
hold me ransom.

Our past just so raw
I can roll it around on my tongue, sinewy
sepia memories and a history so faded
I can’t make out those people in the shot
embedded forever in film
I swear I may have seen before
a lifetime ago.

I’ve learned not to
seek refuge from those who
refused me in the rain
but did let me in when the sun shined.

Finding yourself tangled again
familiar bedsheets and instinctual fingers
remember that your own hands held the umbrella
that kept you from the storm,
not someone else’s promise that
this time, it’s different.

56

Nhi
meaning ‘little one’
my parents called me nho, sometimes
a singular grape
a child so small
plucked from a vine

I was given an English name
so that I wouldn’t get bullied
for such an exotic background
I was reborn for the convenience
of others

Michelle
meaning ‘child of God’
my mother had two boys she loved
but prayed everyday to have a girl
the third time,
to have her likeness reflected
in such a tiny face
and in December of ’94
she did

I rejected Nhi most of my life
a relic of forgetting myself
of welcoming the parts that were easy
and holding my applause for the parts
I wanted to keep quiet

A single syllable
uttered like a sigh in the night–
why would I try to erase
the love that preceded my birth
and the affection that named me?

55

Checkered, polka-dot, plaid;
a pattern of familiarity
an alarming consistency of what’s next.

I once met someone who admitted to me
that he may never get married;
he didn’t think he could love anyone.

Instead of asking those big questions,
“When did you start thinking that?”
“Do you really believe it?”
I started thinking,
“I can change that,
I can make him love me.”

He just needed someone to talk to
someone to understand how
loneliness can eat away at you
like ants on a picnic blanket

This pattern of trying
to fit everything
into everything else,
that I had a place
in anything I deemed
needed fixing.
Not every statement needs a response
and not every time are you
that answer.