The Ocean in her Denim Jacket
She wore the ocean with its waves
folding out from her faded figure
and in her pockets she held seashells
and sometimes she held them to her ear
but far enough away that she never
had to hear the waves crash
Her shoreline fits her like the misshapen outline of blue-grey sky melting against
water drowning in its own body
and the sound you get when a muffled foghorn
creeps into your ears that are cupped
She wore the ocean the way the sky
wears the moon pinned to her lapel
the way the grass wears dandelion chains
on his ankles
and she waits to see what the tide will wash up
she waits for the crash of the waves
to wake her up
Living in Innocence
We re-enacted “The Wizard of Oz”
on the dew-stained lawn that we pretended
was a meadow in a magical land
but was always in sight of mom’s kitchen
and we argued over who had to play
the flying monkeys
and who got to use Katie’s fake hand gun
even though that was never in the movie
We were the most violent when we were
living in innocence
the older kids wore bikini tops and bare feet
on the driveway in the middle of April
and that made them seem like teenagers to us
even though they were only nine
and we were only seven
and they watched our “silly little kid play”
from their stretched out lawn chairs that they couldn’t stop slipping through the cracks of
and gave us looks that made us feel
smaller than the butterflies that they were
pulling wings off of
so we spit our watermelon seeds into the grass
because we thought it might impress them
but then they laughed at the pink rings of melon juice around our lips
and at the time nobody realized that the rings of pink lip-gloss around their lips
didn’t look much different
and we never realized how silly the whole thing was because we never grew out of it.
A different you
I’m not writing these poems.
This girl sitting at the back of my parenting class is writing them but I will never know that she’s writing them because she will never ask me to the dance. I will bury my eye shadow and lipstick
into the shoulder of a boy who sold his bass guitar for football pads and condoms
and my mother will approve,
even though she shouldn’t.
I will stitch Abercrombie and Fitch into Value Village sweatshirts and hope the cheerleaders
don’t notice. But the poet will notice,
because she did the same thing as a freshman
and she went to all those parties and drank down bottles she couldn’t pronounce the names of
and now everyone wonders why the lesbian
I’ll be her daughter’s pre-school teacher
and I’ll see her mother’s eyes every time I tell her to participate.
I will go to 10-year high school reunions where the kids I never bothered to talk to can afford Abercrombie and Fitch sweatshirts but don’t wear them even though they can.
And I will read the poems but the poet
will never ask me out.
Neither will the football players or the cheerleaders.
They’re all waiting on me.
But I can’t dance.
I missed the prom.
She rubs her pregnant belly;
wishes for triplets or quins.
Her hug is as warm as an oven full of cookies
and she’ll make sure you never get burnt.
And she smells just as sweet.
Let’s you discover all the layers.
Her scarf is a rainbow with lots of colours
and once you unravel one, there are still six others.
Her hug wraps around you
and her arms remind you that wherever you go,
you can always come back to her.
There are no shattered bones inside her body.
No cobwebs clogging her bloodstream.
And her only dark corners are secret hiding places.
If you cry, she’ll remind you that your tears are drum beats, and you’re a tin roof
If you bleed, she’ll have a first aid kit full of bandaids and ointment,
and if the ointment stings,
she’ll sing you to sleep because her voice
is a lullaby.
And her fingers are wind chimes
and her breath is the wind that blows the candles out when your heart is on fire,
but she’ll always make sure that your wish comes true.
We met in the greenhouse.
The tropical plants and butterflies
were almost enough for us to call it a garden.
But the glass was there.
And we would have cracked it, but then
the butterflies would have died
and you would have cried over how much of a cliché your life has become.
And I would hide more than my goose bumps
in the flaps of your fleece sweater
until I’d take it off so that we could compare deltoids. I guess weak is a compliment these days. If you found a dragonfly tangled in its own wings, what would you do?
What if your mother loved dragonflies?
What if she hated them?
There are flowers larger than your whole apartment building. Books too heavy for bookshelves
but like feathers in your hands.
I was a feather in your hands.
Don’t laugh at my clichés, they exist for a reason. Ballerinas feel awkward.
Slugs find slime sexy.
People don’t really know much at all.
We award each other for things we don’t deserve and ignore things that actually matter.
What a pack of dimwits we’ve become.
It’s a garden if you call it one.
When we were eleven
We laid down on the grass still dewy from the dawn
on that day when we spoke in only gestures
and found places much too beautiful for sound.
And as we laid with our lips in opposing directions,
we pretended that the electrical wires above us
were electric fences,
even when blackbirds sat on them,
and as they contemplated their direction of flight,
we heard the bombs drop,
except they weren’t really bombs
just the heartbeats of two children with
whose hearts skipped two consecutive beats,
and we couldn’t hear them
but we said we could.
It doesn’t matter how loud the beats are
when you’re playing someone else’s drum,
and when our lips touched,
we imagined fireworks that were never there,
but we talked about them anyway
and about the colours we never saw,
but if you can’t paint the ocean, it’s okay to cry,
because your tears will colour the ocean clear
so that all the
colours can come through.
So that’s why my favourite colour
will always be you
and because your hangnails are beautiful,
just like your ingrown toenails,
they’re prettier than any flowers,
at least the ones in vases
because flowers can grow in graveyards.
I guess the ghosts of gardeners live there.
Your eyelashes are my favourite thunderstorm,
even when the porch light bulb burns out
and I want to make snow angels
in your fallen dandruff.
There are things more beautiful than your bones.
Hide behind something delicate
where no one will think to look.
Your reflection is watching you.
It wants to play hide and seek
with the parts of your body that you can’t stand.
If you can climb a mountain,
don’t settle for climbing a hill.
Your muscles are so dainty.
Your dreams are so obnoxious.
But we’ll always keep hoping for the firework show to come
because we’re not ready to let go of the childhood that we imagined
on that day when we sat beneath electrical wire with our lips
in opposing directions.
The boy stared
at his reflection
didn’t know how
he ended up
the way he
but he continued
on with life
passing by everything
and not paying
attention to details
out of his mind
he decided to go
Stillborn in one Sentence
She doesn’t understand why daisies make perfect halos when the sunshine shines on them or how chains are supposed to hold things down when she’s only seem them as symbols of heaven and maybe her mind only retains information that has been stored in the clouds because angels don’t sing her to sleep when the storm comes so she’s left to wonder if lighting will strike her magnetic attraction to the moon but she’s always been one to take chances when her wishes on stars don’t come true and that’s why the waves of the ocean make a perfect pillow when her head is too full of thunderstorms to notice the rainbows that come out when the sunshine shines on her daisy chains and she always knew it was possible to drink in the rays of light that rip through the clouds of her crowded mind like an elevator caught between the penthouse and floor thirteen like a wristwatch that only moves on the half hour like a boy skipping rocks in the shadow of a raincloud like chains forming rope ladders to heaven that rip through the clouds like perfect halos. Like dead babies.
High Heels and Gym Socks
This is a poem for anyone who has ever felt like a chalkboard. For anyone who had ever been touched by fingertips so smothering you could see them. For anyone who has ever turned grey from the words that were written on their bodies being brushed away. This is a poem for anyone who has ever felt dark in a fully lit room, for anyone who has felt like the bits of dust hugging the bottom of a broom. This is for the spinach in your teeth, the strawberry seeds on your cheeks, and the banana peels on your feet.
This is a poem for the girl whose training bra became a petting zoo the day she took the “I love you” lollipop to tell the world that she needed something sweet. This is for the boy who thinks the graffiti in the alley where he sleeps is pretty and that pillows made of stuffed garbage bags turn your dreams into treasures. This is for the girl who can still see the beauty in her symmetry after she has been slapped by a seesaw.
This poem is for the scale that tells you everything in life is heavy but that you should wear a bikini anyway. This is for the boys who wear pink tuxedos to prom and the girls who show up with no makeup on. This poem is for confident sideburns, noses that turn up and down like light switches, and the eyebrows that colour outside the lines.
This is for the kids whose bodies cry from eating too much salt, who pray to their Kleenex box bibles from their hospital beds. Who would rather cut their heartstrings like shoelaces they’ve grown out
of than go through another round of chemo.
This poem is for the kids who knock their teeth out even though they know the tooth fairy won’t come, the boy smoking in the church basement so at least his lungs with be holey, the cellos that play fiddle music, the parents who name their daughter Heroin after their best friend, and the kids who pull wings off of butterflies hoping that will make them fly.
This poem is for the chalkboards. This poem is for you.
Sometimes, I wish I was a duck
so I could wrap my veins and arteries together to stay warm,
but in the wintertime,
I can’t even migrate so I need your arms around me like I need skin to my bones.
Forget what the government told you.
go and shove your middle finger up their fucking ass and say “taste this”.
This is the taste of a million suicides,
of a million people who never got to say goodbye,
because they were judged from hello.
This is the finger that went down the throats of people whose mirrors reflected your hate.
So the next time you want to call someone’s brother a fag,
daughter a dyke,
or best friend a tranny,
stop and think about how in the blink of an eye you could change someone’s life if you just had the courtesy to smile,
stop and think about the butterflies
that could emerge from the cocoons you stole to make silk.
If I had a cocoon, I think I would spin it from my lover’s hair instead of unravelling someone else’s closet to use as my own.
Sweetie, you shouldn’t have to pick male or female
on a paper labelled gender,
and I shouldn’t have a soft spot on my leather couch
from where my tears wore it out
like the soft spot on the top of a baby’s head from god’s thumb pushing them into this world
because I know that nobody was given a life for the purpose
of growing a thick skull.
So tell me,
is your ignorance planned?
Or do you take notes written in someone else’s hand?
Like the hand that wrote “thou shalt not lie with a man”.
Don’t you understand?
That our eyes may be rainclouds but even they’re not enough to put out the fire you breathe and too many people are getting burnt.
So call me a weathervane,
and I’ll point you in the direction my blood flows,
lie with me under the stars
and I’ll prove to you that the twinkle in your eyes glows brighter than the moon,
and maybe you’ll point out how much the freckles on my arm resemble the big dipper.
What if I told you that I had a dream last night?
What if I told you that we kissed on a swing set?
And what if I told you that it wasn’t really kissing
just our tongues forming words we couldn’t pronounce?
And maybe the combination of rust,
and scraped six year old knees
isn’t a place to fulfill your fantasies
but if it’s good enough for you,
then it’s good enough for me.
Maybe the snapshots make you heart stop
in sepia tinted photographs
of playing tick tack toe on your backbone
every time our bicycles were broken.
Maybe hallucinations are just echoes from seashells and wishing wells.
I want to play hopscotch to your heartbeat,
I want to skip rocks that make ripples down your arteries,
but most of all,
I want your crazy snare drum to meet my steady bass,
because when two hearts meet,
their beats make music.
We shouldn’t need shields for our hearts,
because our mother’s heartbeats are the first sounds we hear and the last sound you hear is your own heartbeat
as it echoes
through your ears
so I’m going to let my heart beat right out of my chest,
if that’s what it takes for society to tie veins and arteries together and walk in our shoes.
As humans, we are drawn to the eye. They are windows into the soul, covered by heavy curtains and tassels and sometimes other decorations for people who try to hide what is seen when you look through the window. When people look at my eyes, they see “supermodel”. Fresh out of high school, a girl with small dreams and an even smaller chest, stepping into shoes too big for her to fill. Of course I wanted to do something else with my life. Maybe become a plastic surgeon, or a pastry chef. Hell, maybe travel the world. But I signed the contract and I haven’t looked back, because as much as I’d like to think that my life could be more than runways and magazine covers, being seen as sexy isn’t such a bad thing for girls like me. For girls who have something to hide. The thing is, I never thought I would have something to hide.
I’m not the cover girl anymore; I’m the article stuck between pages of sticky perfume samples and comparing bodies to fruit shapes. I could tell you all kinds of things about hair and makeup and how to accentuate your cleavage, but that’s not what this article is for. I want to tell you about me because I’m a boring person and a normal person, and if anything, that’s the message I want to send. Girls like me are normal. So let me tell you what’s behind the shine of modeling.
Thirty years after John Lennon met Paul McCartney, came a first ovulation baby to 20-something-year-old newlywed high school sweethearts. They weren’t siblings, they didn’t elope, they never went skinny dipping, they didn’t meet in a concentration camp. They were just people. People who lived in a townhouse in the not-quite-suburbs with a belly full of six and a half pounds of unborn baby.
The baby wasn’t born in a bathtub with vegan artists chanting like atheist fairy godmothers. Her genetics weren’t chosen from a book of sperm donors or placed inside a surrogate with no money for tuition. Not one thing about her birth was Hollywood movie worthy, or even Swedish independent film worthy. When the doctor handed the baby to her mother—the placenta not yet emerged from her womb—he said, “it’s a boy”. At the time, nobody knew to correct him. The balloons and cakes and birth announcements all said the same thing on them. “It’s a boy” plastered on baby blue. A celebratory lullaby for familial ears. For ears that didn’t know they would have to adjust their hearing aids to hear the girl say, “the baby blue lied”.
Her childhood felt short, like it was over before the umbilical cord was cut. Was she a happy child? Of course. But that doesn’t mean she didn’t have her bad days, like the day her parents tried to explain divorce but all it meant to her was a stepfather nobody bothered to mention. But soon enough, divorce meant two bedrooms, a fireplace, and an eight-years-old’s very own computer. Her parents noticed that their son liked dress up, dolls, and playing with mommy’s make-up, but it was the 1990s, so they didn’t think twice about gender roles.
Her teenage years were normal enough for the late 90s, filled with spin the bottle kisses, Ouija boards, and lip-synching at the theatre wearing nothing but golden thrift store short shorts.
In eleventh grade biology, she cut open a fetal pig with a boy named Oliver, who would later become her boyfriend.
For the next thirteen months, the girl and Oliver sat together on a couch that they had found on the side of the road and moved into Oliver’s shed. They picked at the paisley cushions and dug their painted fingernails into the mustard foam. They rolled lavender into telescopes and breathed in the smoke. Sometimes, they would kiss. He said, “I love you”. She said, “don’t”.
Oliver found her in the bathroom one day, with her jeans puddled at her ankles. She was counting the lines of a measuring tape. She told him that her body was gross, and he said that it wasn’t. He also held her hair back when she wouldn’t listen. She wondered if babies could be lavender coloured, not swaddled into tight pink or blue blankets, because that was how she felt. Not baby blue like the blanket said, but certainly not pink. Not like other girls. Oliver knew that she didn’t need a blanket or to be wrapped up like a lavender cigarette, but this time, he kept quiet, and helped her into her safety pinned jeans.
The girl pulled out one of the pins and kept it in her pocket in case she would figure out how to use it. Oliver’s arms were a roadmap to where he was trying to go, full of red forks, none of them making his path any clearer. The girl traced her fingers across them sometimes, finding new ones on the days Oliver’s father dared speak to him. Oliver said, “when you’re strong, you sparkle”, so she kissed him goodbye, because this time, she actually believed him.
She never did figure out what to do with that damn safety pin, which is a good thing, because models can’t have scars. At least, not scars that people can see. But now, I am drawing the curtain and letting you look through the window. I would like to tell you that I am writing this article by choice, not that I got busted, but really, that is what happened. The agency fired me, and I stepped out of the shoes with blisters on my ankles. So in a way this article is my redemption song. But even more than that, it’s a message in a bottle to a little girl who may or may not have been born 30 years after John Lennon met Paul McCartney, but thinks that being different makes her a little bit less perfect. I never thought I would be a statistic, and maybe you didn’t either. Maybe you thought you were the most normal child born in the most normal hospital to the most normal parents. Whatever your story may be, this is me screaming “you are so fucking perfect” and you may not know it yet, but trust me, when you’re strong, you sparkle. If modeling taught me anything, it’s that you have to be your own definition of pretty. So write your own dictionaries if you have to.
His skin was the dark road in the night that we were scared to drive down.
He told me, “we all look the same when the lights are out”.
I wasn’t sure if he was being suggestive or poetic.
I hear the was he talks. Not at all like others of his kind, but with a refined bite.
And I can smell the mystery behind him.
I wasn’t sure if I’d want to taste him but the though had sure crossed my mind.
I’ve touched his hand once. It wasn’t really intentional, i just brushed against it. His hand felt rough and dry, even in the summer.
I told him, “when the lights are out, you don’t see anything. How is that better?” And he laughed.
His laugh felt like squeezing a lemon.
It is then that I realise, he was being poetic, and I was being suggestive.
In school they teach us how to talk except I know that that’s not true. We were all born knowing how to talk because we have a broca’s area and that’s what seperates humans from animals. In school they teach us how to pronounce words.
When I was in the second grade I talked funny. I said “Mith Morrith” instead of “Miss Morris”. This is because I tried to eat soap when I was younger. The only thing that got the soap out of my mouth was lemon juice.
My parents never said, “I’ll wash your mouth out with soap”. They didn’t need to.
But I wanted to anyway.
The bubblegum soap of purity didn’t make my tongue feel any cleaner and all I wanted was lemon juice so I could feel clean like the dust bunnies caught in my slippers.
So that night I cried ink and with it wrote the sequels to my nightmares.
Little lemon juice never tasted anything so sour.
But soon the sour days will be gone and maybe I’ll call myself honeydew.
And I’ll trade my voicebox with an electronic blackberry so I can be sweet no matter where I go.
C’est la vie.
But maybe lemons rain when clouds evaportate, because we need a little sour to appreciate the sweet.
Just like how we need a little darkness to appreciate the light.
Ode to Family Photographs
This is me on July 6th 1997.
I’m 8 pounds, 10 and a half ounces.
I’m also four hours old. That was when they allowed photograhs.
This is my sister holding me.
She is holding me because my mum told her to, not because she wants to.
This is my fourth birthday party.
I’m in the middle on the fuzzy blue chair.
There’s also my sister, Kyle, Jackelyn, Bailey, Alicia, and Erica.
Alicia’s dress looks like wrapping paper.
Bailey is eating a marshmallow.
This is the year my mum let me on her motorcycle.
I am six.
We’re not moving yet.
That’s not why it’s blurry.
It’s blurry because my dad was nervous when he took the photo.
This is the year my mom moved out
and we got a fireplace
and I got my own computer.
I was eight.
This was taken on the day I got suspended.
I’m in the fifth grade.
My parents don’t believe my side of the story.
This is my calling my dad on the phone.
I tell him I need to tell him something important.
He things I’m pregnant.
I don’t like Quiet
We share an unspoken belief that my backyard is the best place to play. When we were seven, Jasper, the weird kid whose parents we never saw, came over and we clanked toys together, while Grandma peered at us through the kitchen window. Jasper showed me a bug, which I assumed was from his collection. He’s quiet most of the time. I don’t like quiet. Normally, we wouldn’t be friends, but not many people are dying to hang out with the girl who is hearing impaired. So Jasper it is. In the first grade, everyone thought I was ignoring them when they asked for the blocks, but not Jasper. We spent hours outside, Jasper with his bugs and me with drawings of my thoughts, and eventually, Grandma got tired of watching us through the window and brought us blueberry pie.
Our New Home
Together we found a lighthouse.
And called it our new home.
And that was that, we left it at that, I guess the rest we’ll never know.
We spent the day in our lighthouse, shielded from the misty rain.
I guess our minds went blank and we imagined a place where we wouldn’t have to go home.
I called you Alice in Wonderland, you called me your Peter Pan.
At the time I didn’t understand that all we wanted to do was stay young.
In the morning we went swimming; for the night had been too dark.
The fireflies had said goodbye and the lighthouse didn’t work.
We started close to shore, afraid to leave our loving home.
But the rocks gave way and we picked up pace till the lighthouse was a blur.
The fog fell in heavy sheets and at times I lost your face.
But I heard you clear as echo shells when you called my name and said, I found a boat.
So together we hopped in and we called it our new home.
The boat rocked and filled with water and you called me your Romeo.
So I made you my Juliet, I guess the rest we’ll never know.
My Uncle who played with Fire
Here’s what I know about my uncle: He enjoys burning things.
Here’s what I’m pretty sure I know: My grandmother won’t let him in her house because he burnt holes in the carpet.
Here’s what I think I know: He also burnt the kitchen down when he thought that nobody was home.
Here’s what I didn’t want to know: In university he was arrested for stalking his professor.
Here’s what I don’t know, but wish I did: Why did he change his name?
My uncle was always strange. I’m not sure if he knew it or not. His parents always thought he was normal and that’s probably why he was never diagnosed with anything. He liked Star Wars, burning bugs under magnifying glasses, and wouldn’t allow more than one food on the same plate, but it was nothing too irregular. My mother told me that when they were younger, he often climbed his lanky body into the dryer and said, “turn it on”. She never did. Just before my grandparents’ divorce, he burnt the kitchen down. They thought it was an accident. Flash forward twelve years. After he graduated from a gifted high school a year early, he got into a new school, with a new religion, and a new name. In a few weeks, he had climbed his six foot eight body into the tree outside his professor’s house. In what I guess was a few months later, she found out. There was a court case. He didn’t get any jail time. Not even community service.
“I will take my hat off,” he said to the judge, “when you take the cross off the Canadian coat of arms”.