One turned the corner at a beach access,
brushed her feet off and disappeared.
Another kept calling me but each time
I picked up, nothing but static came through
and frustrated we hung up, seeking
something easier, an office buddy who
halves her burrito with whomever stays late,
makes small talk about marriage. I thumb
through the phone book some evenings,
searching for someone to salt the water
while I slice bread, to take one end
of the tablecloth, shake the cat hair out
and I find no one. Did you know, the day
that you choked yourself, opened
the bag your grandmother kept
lipstick in and replaced it with death,
that was all it would take for this string to unravel?
Now I confuse everything with love.
I can't stop wondering if one afternoon
will blanket me forever, and I take hello
to mean be with me. And just imagine how hard
it is to hear goodbye. It all sounds
like your gunshot, over and over
and even people who fade naturally
seem to blink out like lights.
How to Put Yourself To Bed
First, become sleepy, not only weary
of the day but weighted in the eyelids,
spine gently curled as before you
were born, nose facing sofa cushion.
Imagine your mother's face, the look
she gave you when you refused being
tucked in. You fought dreams like
wars, you made noises with your mouth
during her singing, and now you would give
anything to hear it. You ready yourself
for bed like an animal now, or a small plant
in hopes to thrive after frost. But no one
affirms you will not pass into death
during those hours, not since your family
stopped praying together, chorusing
Goodnight Jesus so you all felt safe. Now,
it's a gamble you take alone: pulling covers
so your body won't escape its heart
and knowing you should be used to dark,
to negative space, to no sound, to no one
telling you sweet dreams.
Denise K. James is a writer living in the port city of Charleston, South Carolina. Her poetry and prose have appeared in Heartwood Literary Magazine, The Rumpus, Illuminations Literary Magazine, The Poetry Society of South Carolina yearbook, and other publications.