after Maggie Nelson
I am too close to illness to say much about it. I call it it as if it is only one thing. It contains plenty, bilic, undulating.
Unsustainable habit: deriving the bulk of my self-worth from a feeling of hypercompetence, an irrational but fervent belief in my near total self-reliance.
Broken looks different on everyone. The gulf between us: being alive.
In love, I never go too long without feeling like a threat.
The quiet confidence of softening is a rare shell. I am too defiant to keep my clothes off for long.
My body: the only thing I can talk about with any assurance. Even then, it is largely a river, temperamental, rivering taut hunk of muscle, blood tightening into quake, heavy as water.
In my dream, I am ribbed with orifice: drill me a mouth, erupting in slivers lining my arms, a new skin, punctuated. I oscillate between deserving beauty and excoriating it, purging any remnant through the clarity of fire, exposed brick hushed with winter.
I split my ribs, loose a tide claiming emptiness, forgiveness, so much longing.
A savage lesson in letting go: abject on the sidewalk, gravelling long coat, my arms full of what you left behind, tenderness jerked from coat check.
The clamor behind my eyes marks me broken. You carry yours differently.
I would give it all up for sleep,
for the guarantee of coming or whatever.
Your name becomes the only language I speak: lower me into the crowd of the afternoon, pulsing like a lung. Translate streetlights to mutter, surge, want—hunger the only thing I can still feel.
When the time comes, I will not have earned my death.
I swim back to my self after the flood of you—a new yes, tempestuous.
When did my body become a myth I am afraid to tell?
This is the grief of love: Apology followed by shouts, cold bench, back pressing into ghosthood. Practice hiding as if you are rehearsing for a play about hiding. Re-cocoon, prelude to bruise, mangled by months of pain, poems always born from some wound.
Jesse Rice-Evans is a queer Southern poet and the nonfiction editor of Identity Theory. Her first chapbook, Soft Switch, is forthcoming from Damaged Goods Press. Currently, she waits tables in Brooklyn and is into rhodiola. Find her @riceevans