If these were the ending words of whatever story,
I would say I am a liar telling the honest truth.
If these were words (I wanted you) to remember,
I would press them into your flesh like this,
like this. Believe me. This is not a request.
I will only say it once. For years, I altered
an unremarkable reality. In the story, always
I have been the storyteller and left to speak
alone and so loudly. I met a woman sometime
before now who looked at me gently and placed
needles into my skin. She set the slender pins
into places necessary to let this unremarkable
sadness lift out as vapor, trail out as water.
Perhaps it did and has done. But in the real-life
of that then, even if she was and is (as I imagine
her), achingly lovely in that divine in-the-skin way,
it is, and always has been, the what I did not
say, the what I did not do, that I regret the most.
If this were another story, and there was pleasure
for her in it, I would have touched her actual face
actually, touched her actual body actually.
But this is not a story about love
anymore. This story is about you.
She was sudden in the room
in the night’s center
when there is no light left
from the evening or morning suns.
She didn’t ask. She told me
I should follow her,
myself holding the arms
of the painted chair, my body
still half in sleep, my head
pulling my face from the floor –
no, no, no. I sat so heavy
there. I never moved.
I wanted some other version,
some quieter room. She said
You love me. You know it.
As if there were a train
behind her almost leaving
without us. I will never
be better, I told her,
and I cannot come with you
To anything dark I have surrendered once.
My eyes still recede in the glint of the light
still with that memory. I have said, Take me
to the drugged obliterations when even
my unconscious was still nightmare loud
and would again be awake, Take me
to the lying lovers’ conditional clasp,
to the clatter of the trapped heart after,
to the liquored click in my head, that off switch,
to the bottom itself, I have surrendered.
I have sacrificed blood in the bathroom sink:
I am toxic. I am a toxin within myself. Free me.
And then, only then, I handed myself over
to the god I despised for my own making,
handed over the nothing left. I gave up
all the power I never had. I wish this for you,
this gift of hopeless freedom when you decide
to alter one thing only and that is everything,
to change only everything
because there is nothing else to be done.
When you notice you are alive but lifeless
and you want one moment of soul-raking
awareness more than another whole life
of numb unknowing. All morning today
I breathed for you, the one lost still darkened.
Did you feel it? I sent you my breath. It made
no whisper that would have reached you
as sound, but it was a prayer. It said, There is
a god who loves you whoever you are or
have never yet been. Give yourself up.
I should have died that year
I made love with a painter
who would come to my bed
with her dirty brushes,
dirty hands, dirty mouth.
I bless her dirty mouth.
All of it paint-stained,
entering my body just the way
I needed it to. After the inevitable
parting, I thought of toxins,
my precious flesh, but then I loved
that we couldn’t wait. I loved
sucking her fingers clean
and, most of all, I loved the paint,
bruises left on my body, blue.
What if I said she came to me
without warning, entered the room
wearing her night-stained silks.
Three years of silence, then
a knocking I recognized – the sound
of her hands, the sound
I made under her hands.
What should I have done? I opened
to her as always. No, I waited
behind the door knowing she wanted
everything, even what I’ve kept
from myself – how I would suck
my fingers after I touched her,
how she tasted on my hands, how
she tasted herself on my hands.
I watched her blue eye
against the tiny circle of glass
like a distant planet surging
in its interfering orbit.
Ashley Crout was born in Charleston, SC, and graduated from Bard College and the MFA program at Hunter College. She is the recipient of a poetry grant from The Astraea Foundation and has received awards from The Academy of American Poets and the Poetry Foundation. Her work has been published in Sojourner and Ponder Review, among others. She lives in Greenville, SC.
Read more of Ashley here.