A Buddhist monk once said that life is like stepping into a boat that is already sinking. Death: it’s the apples rotting in the yard. My mother says she is not afraid of death, but of dying. Not me. I am terrified of death, its finality. Lights out. Or else, eternity. But first, the dusty volume propped open on the welcome desk, thick as a phonebook The careful catalogue of my choices to be considered: The lies I told without blinking All the homeless I have walked past The mornings I left without saying I love you. Humble, courageous, and kind: my mother will go to heaven. Her heart is just enormous, like Audrey Tautou in Amélie, dipping her hands into sacks of grain at the market. I might go to hell: I don't save birthday cards or love letters. I hoard unread novels and believe I am what I wear. I am bad at listening even as the Buddhist Zen says gently until death there is nothing enough.
You didn’t understand: I wanted freedom; well didn’t I have it? You demanded to know: Why all this beating of wings? Not in words, but the way you stared at the floor and nestled the cat to show that you were capable of affection but withheld it from me. To you this was a question of loyalty. Meanwhile, I was trapped in the slow-clicking memory of my childhood, like an old video tape: the tick of a clock, the sound of late afternoon. At this time of year, there is no sunset, just the deep carve of light that slowly melts away. I told you I was leaving, which was easier than allowing you to love me. At first, it felt as if the sky had been ripped off the earth, but then I finally sensed my own existence and I was ravenous for the world, driven outward like a bursting sap. For weeks, I opened all the windows before I went to bed. How glorious: the fragments of moon, blue air and honey sun. All that light on my face in the morning. When the summer edged out, I shut the windows and left. The drive was long and the sky was filled with rain like thick strokes of ink I hurried down the freeway, as if someone would be there waiting for me. And the next thing I knew: Wisconsin. I dashed from the car, pretending to run for cover, but secretly praying for more and more rain.
When I was little, I thought I had the power to change them. When you got cancer, I bargained with God: He could take away my power if you could live. You didn’t die and I can’t change stoplights.
I’m told this is a paradise
of snow and sea and starlight.
The mountains burst out from the loam
then tumble to the charcoal water
like a silent white explosion,
splitting through the citrus sky.
But its sound is swallowed in the vastness
like a whisper or a violent kiss.
I’ve heard there’s beauty in the bareness,
in the sparkling glacial graves.
The sun melts across the hills like nectar,
as dusk starts seeping through the trees.
But something holds me by the water,
underneath the lights in the sky that are stars,
stuck between fearing cataclysm
and wishing for it. Working towards it.
When wolves first meet up they have a ritual of smelling one other’s breath One wolf will put his nose to the mouth of another, asking What have you been hunting? The second wolf exhales thick breath, hot with blood and sulfur to explain, You can still smell the kill But nothing tells this story quite as well as a human. My father took me hunting every autumn Crouched down in the forest beside him, I felt the gravity of this genre, the deepness of its roots extending so far beyond men. It was the sensation of soil working its way into the grooves of my skin, the crunch of detritus underfoot. It becomes a type of language, like a prayer In college, I would later learn some theories which suggest that the human kiss began as a mouth-to-mouth greeting like that of the wolf. I knew this immediately to be true; my father is a wolf. Always quick and deliberate; gutting his animal in perfect technique. He taught me how to split open the ribcage and reach inside— you have to grab the heart and sever the moorings. But still, there is a right way and a wrong way to kill an animal.
After everything, I couldn’t stand to be alone in my bedroom, so I started sleeping on the couch. Then I couldn’t stand the couch so I slept outside in the grass, but I couldn’t stand the grass. So I slept in my body, strung from my ankles and my wrists like a hammock. When I couldn't stand my body, I chiseled myself out of it. This use of knives broke my heart, because it was an act of violence. My weakness broke my heart, because Julia comes from Jupiter. The meaning of my name broke my heart because I would rather be beautiful than strong. My vanity broke my heart because I am a scholar. My education broke my heart because universities are mostly lonely places and knowledge, in the end, is empty. My emptiness ate me alive; I was starving to be whole. The thought of wholeness broke my heart because it is elusive and I could not have it. So I tried to rationalize wholeness as the mastery of all interests: I walked into the yard trying to vomit and pray simultaneously. I fell asleep while whispering a love song. I was empty empty empty. I've had enough heartbreak to fill every inch of this house. Really, I was drowning in a room I couldn't stand.