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By Katie Marshall

I.

I sat down to write a story and out came poems instead
Little lines dissecting little lies that I locked away in a house that used to be me
God, how I yearn for something new to see.

I put my keys in my pocket after I locked the door, but I turn and instantly forgot if I had them or not
Check your pockets, check your bag, check the memories you can’t escape,
Check the way you hear his voice at night and hide, Check the person you want to be
I’m anxious about what’s left behind.

So these poems, small stories, are the decisions I make to turn and go back inside
To sit in discomfort and hold it up high
Even when I would rather be drunk
Even when I would rather be done
Even when I would rather be twenty years from now, someone else, happy, new
Even then, I go back inside.

It’s been a tough eleven months and by that I mean
Apocalypse
The world ended again and again and I died and came back and died and came back
And I’m still not entirely sure what’s on the other side
But to say that things have been hard and then turn them into art is the kind of thing magicians do
And if this is the way that magic is found then it must be what I need to do,

So,
Cheers.
To the pain and the loss, the mistakes and the shame
Guilt, come around, lift your glass, you’re welcome, too
In Sweden, they connect eyes with everyone at the table before putting their drinks back down
So here I am,
Pain, confusion, loss, and learning,
Here’s looking at you.

II.

Is the earth okay?
And
What if it just… stopped?
And
What if there’s nothing out there or what if there is something out there but it’s not waiting for me because I’m not talking to it or what if it’s out there and doesn’t care
And
After seeing a stranger on the street – maybe you don’t smile because your parents didn’t smile at you enough when you were small enough to need it,

These are thoughts that are not helpful but ring in my mind lately
Because when you give up everything there’s so much more time and so much less to do,
except wait for failure to show up at your door while you sit in your living room and watch Gilmore Girls without pants on
Again

A life: yours to make except you’re terrified of yourself.
A life: yours to fake until you’re ready to face yourself.
A life: yours.

III.

A song gets stuck in your head until you resolve the melody
Round and round,  words, faint memories, circle until you sing the ending line and move on to another song
Like
Unsolvable problems, continuing for infinity, teeny  bopper nightmares that make dances into cages
Earworms, they call them.

These unsolvable problems
Whose solutions don’t mean anything but we chase them down, one-way, anyway because how could they just
end
Humans are not comfortable with mystery, ask any documentary
A whole life ahead of me and I’ve still got the tune you would hum nervously in front of me when she would text you
Stuck in my head
Like that song would distract me from what you were doing outside of me
That hum, a melody; the words you would use to change conversation, lyrics; still
Stuck
In my
head
and all I can think of is what I would change about me,
Because that must be the final note that lets me out, this song a chant that wails,
if only I was different
but I am Stuck
In my head
There is everything to do and everything to lose but I can’t loosen my grip to drop it

And I know this song, I’ve heard how it ends
The drum beats hard and the bass line heavy, I’ve sung this tune before.
The final line is not how I could have been more. Not anymore.
I know it from the mouths that have said it and I sing along to their words,
self-help karaoke,
because with each new play, it comes in stronger –
Light, through cracks –
This new song, an evacuation from the dance floor, an eviction from the house I dreamt we would live in together

I quit my job and I
Quit you
And I
Became myself
And that is the truth.

IV.

There is the darkness you know and the darkness you lose and both of them have something to prove
These teachers dressed in black, stars for eyes, moon-shaped roadmaps
I have never known myself as well as when I was all there was to know
Every question rising and falling at the same rate, the same place
A pound of feathers and a pound of doubt weighs the same but one is lighter to carry
Lightly, lightly,
Everything comes together with time
Which I’m not entirely sure exists.
You see, time is an illusion, a man-made substitution for control and yet
And yet
And yet
I follow it through. Mark my life off in boxes with a permanent marker, square away all my hurt into journal entries and gratitude lists that I read through like recipes when I don’t know what to make
When sad, remember that going to the park made you grateful,
When angry, remember to find the lesson that might make you better,
When lonely, remember the way it felt to hold yourself together, how it felt like there was something else holding you, too – and remember there weren’t enough words to explain Thank You so you smiled in silence
Remember how brave you were when you didn’t know you would need to be and remember
How scared you were
Take these experiences, these little pieces
This life, a pointillism painting – you see dots up close, the heartbreaks big and small equal in size to the greatest moments of your life
Step away and see the painting
Your life is art
Your life is art
Your life is art
You do not have to make something of yourself to be beautiful. You get to be something beautiful regardless.

V.

Everything is impermanent
But this thing is lost until you set it free
and then it’s found again
In the wind, in the music
In the way your mom smiles when she tells you she’s proud of you over a dinner she’s paying for
When she asks if she can buy you a blouse, say yes. This thing that you need lives there, too.
It’s found in the way you feel and in the choice you make to feel something else
It is the electric space between the lines of what you know and what you might someday understand
In your willingness to travel to new planes of understanding, in your ability to jump out of planes and scream without being embarrassed
In the way you take up the space you live in, but do not own, and how you add to it, beautiful colors, a home.
Your heartbeat, a rhythm you are brave enough to dance to
Let these little sayings become holy.
Let them live through your actions, as you call on them in your answers that you offer friends that ask you how you are doing
Instead of saying “Okay” for the millionth time tonight, show them the love notes you got from the great conductor of the orchestra that is your life
This thing is hard, but you are doing some, if not all, right.
Something that made everything wants to know how you’re doing on a Tuesday afternoon and that is the miracle of Christmas lights on a porch, shimmering in a July night
No matter the traffic jams, no matter the heart aches,
It remains.
Lose yourself and find yourself
The journey is the same.

Come back home and dance away –
This thing, your heart, still tells you,
I am here for you either way.

VI.
I like the way you say thank you.
I like the way your hands open as I drop the details of my day,
collecting them like confetti falling from the ceiling on New Years Eve
I like that when you kiss me, it is an introduction to forgiveness

I like the way your hair moves, ocean in slow motion
Sea salt and rain drops, you are all circles and water
I like the way you read in the morning and how being around you makes me nicer and louder, softer and brighter; more.

I like the way you never blame me for my scars.
You ask where they came from and after hearing each story, you always ask me what I learned
I like the way you never say I can’t do things because I’m a girl
I like that sometimes you tell your friends that I’m your bodyguard, of how proud you are that I could fight my way out of a bar
And when you hold my hand as we walk down the street

I like the way you feel on a Friday – fire in a bottle
I like how tall you are. It’s shallow, but
You fill up a doorway and you order your shirts online because they don’t make them big enough for you in stores and I think you’re giant.
I like how feral you look until you smile, your eyes, the dark center of the woods at night, your voice, a low growl, all wolf;
your smile reveals the man inside

I like that you never call me princess;
I am Queen, Love, or some nickname in another language I don’t speak yet, but I like the way you’re teaching me
I like the way you take your time and the way you sing
I like the way your light dances with mine – fireflies, fireworks, spotlights
Baby, the way you shine –
I like the way you’re Cary Grant and Deadpool combined

I like that you find reasons to bring me flowers
And how you never make me apologize for not knowing how to accept something wonderful without reason
With you, maybe I could be the reason

Nothing lasts forever, but I like the way it feels like it could with you
Minutes pass slow with you over coffee
If anything, this is infinity
I like the way you know constellations and the way you quote The Office
I like your passport laced with stamps and your laugh and the way I never want to check Facebook when you’re around
My escape routes are all closed down

I like the way you smell in the morning; it made the wait worth waiting

I like the way The Alchemist makes so much more sense now that I know you
How I can connect lines that show how I came to love you
because the entire universe conspired for me to meet you
I like that it took a little while to meet you
I used to pray for you before I knew you. I would hope that you were doing okay or that you were learning something or that you might feel the pull of something wonderful coming,
That someone who didn’t know you yet loved you

Hey. It’s me again, and I love you
I love you
I love you
It’s me and
I can’t wait to meet you.

VII.

I read that people tend to engage in immoral behavior
When they’re tired,
Due to lack of self-control.
I wonder if that’s the kind of thing you can read and forgive yourself with.
Erasing the mistake of me from your recent memory with a deep breath in and out.
Maybe it wasn’t so bad.
Maybe you were just tired from living this everyday life counted in seconds between red lights.
It was late and it was dark and you were so tired of living the way you knew how
Maybe it wasn’t so bad.
Maybe you were asleep. Just a dream, just a dream, so fuzzy memories seem.
I hope thoughts like this help you sleep.
The relief of self-forgiveness will come – the gift of loving yourself even though you know everything about yourself, the truth giving you space to find it again, when you’re ready, but first,
sleep.

I want this for you because I want it for me. And I heard once you can’t want something for yourself without wanting it for someone else.
So I want you to be happy
I want you to dance to songs that used to hurt
I want the tightness in your chest to ease, the darkness to turn down, the yearning for someone who knows you to hold you even after you wake up to quell, the hunger for an answer to unanswerable moments quieted with new adventures
I want you to see the ocean and feel welcomed, worthy and humble as the waves, older than the first heartache, kiss your feet

I want you to be happy, I do.
But I want you to forgive yourself in the way I want you to never forget me
The sprained ankle, the twisted wrist, the pinched nerve behind the knee that made you yelp, days later, inching down the stairs until you walked slowly away,

Let me be a pain that lingers, the friend that doesn’t know the party’s ended
Then eventually heals over time,
Mostly.
But sometimes, you still feel the ache
When it rains

VIII.

This is what it wants:
You trade in all of your cards, all of your chips, all of your heart for fear of what is in the closed hand
A gamble, a game that you’ve played before or been warned about
There is nothing in the hand, girl. All there is to take is what you give.
Do not give.

The air between the empty fingers whistles:
I know you are worn out
I know you are tired
I know you are scared of happiness because when it shows up for one day, it’s fine – a mirage – Two days, a vacation
But three days or more and you’re clenching, waiting for the chain around your neck to pull and you’re brought back again
Back down again.
You’re on a leash, stuck in a yard
That’s how it made happiness seem, it spanned only as far as you could reach
That’s not wrong; happiness is as big as you can touch
The lie is that your hands are only so big, your heart holds only so much.

My darling, I have not given up. You must know that.

The tug you feel on the happiest days lately isn’t the pull of hands dictating where you can roam; it’s me, inviting you forward
Come with me come with me come with me
I have not stopped dreaming. Don’t quit on me now.
Think of the house by the water in the city that is all yours,
The promise you wrote and shoved down the bottle of wine you bought yourself on your birthday as you made a list of everything that would be different this year
Remember how you wished for freedom?
It’s in front of you, warm and ready
Come with me come with me come with me
I love you. I have not given up on you.
Kick, scream, cry – I’m not going anywhere.
I know you’re worn out
I know you are tired
But happiness isn’t a gift, it’s a choice
And sometimes, you must fight for you instead.

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