Ilsa Seeks Rick

Words from the Woman in the Red Dress

She taught me
How to swallow pills
Without water
Even the ones that you find it the bottom of your handbag,
Next to mysterious crumbs and
Shell casings of sugarless gum

Even those ones.

Or the ones that hide in that compartment in the Camry,
The one that clicked open suddenly.
It was meant to be an ashtray..
Those ones, too.

Things the coffee cup taught me

I don’t believe in God but I believe in fate,
In scrawling out excuses for our mistakes.
For the wrong turns that the lungs make
And the thing I should not say.
For fear they prove true
I sat down with my coffee and considered loving you.
I drank two and a half cups trying not to.

I spilled the last,
It sprawled across the kitchen table
Muddied the headlines with stains of my regrets

I let it pour off the sides and onto the carpet.

I don’t know.
Who am I to talk?
Or not talk, really.
Or talk incessantly, though never say the thing I mean to.
I am one worth not talking to.
You see,
I’ve been thinking about you.
Never mind

On editing.

I stayed up too late. I killed so many darlings. They just kept coming. Like zombie darlings.You cut the head off one sentence and it grows three ah-ha moments in its stead.
Then all of a sudden it’s four a.m. in the apocalypse- every word for itself. All the structure has been burnt to the ground and somewhere amongst the rubble and the fragments and scattered punctuation the bartender is still shouting,
“Last call!”
Like he doesn’t know he is the next to die.

Next Year Just Send Her Flowers(Take 2)

6: 30, Valentine’s day.
There is neon pink vomit
On the floor of the L train.

You’ve been writing poems on the subway
Passing love-notes to the city.
Check yes
Check no
Check maybe
You lose them in your apartment entryway
When you fumble for your keys.

Last night, did you see?
The Empire State Building
It had a heartbeat.
Lit in great red lights they
they pulsed
The evening had its cheeks flushed.

Did you know?
That When the city gossips
It creates the sound of footsteps.
It melts the snow off the cement.
The buildings lean down to the street lamps
and whisper
“Have you seen her?
I guess the rumors were true.
Red is a rather good excuse to break rules.”

I can only assume that the moon is out where you are,
That you are fast asleep, ignoring her.
That she is in on the scheme, along with the sidewalks and the subway cars,
The trees dressed in February woes.
Complaints against the cold.
I only hope that she left you chocolates.
I only hope that you are dreaming of such sweet nonsense.


Next year, send her flowers

6:30, Valentine’s day.
Neon pink vomit
On the floor of the L train.

I sat down with my coffee and considered loving you.

Love is a lot like anxiety. It’s a good reason to stay in bed.

I owe a few thanks to those who have checked in on me as of late.

I spent the better part of last year in hiding, From words and poems and people, and decisions. I built a wall around me that was named one of the Seven Great Anxieties of the World. You can see the unnecessary worry from space.

I also fell in love. Which was the easy decision to make, to put in the effort to love a man across an ocean. It requires a few broken vital organs, undivided attention and a lot of time spent on the telephone. Or on an airplane. It has been gorgeous and trying.
Loving him left me wanting for wanting, as I am wont to do.

Love can be beautiful and most terribly indescribable.
Peculiar and wonderful and inopportune and just at the moment when your knees threaten to give out.
That’s always when.

Love is a lot like anxiety. It’s a good reason to stay in bed.

I call my anxiety “The Domino Problem.”
I was surrounded by a wall of them, standing six inches from my nose. Big questions, About buying a home, and what city I’d be living in, and where was my job going, and so on. Piles of paperwork I still hadn’t filled out. Phone calls I had to make. Then there was the question of him, of how to get my body where my being has been living. I feared moving in any direction, that I’d knock over a Domino and set the whole thing into motion, into a great crashing mistake of shattered porcelain.
The question was,
My answer was always,

So I stopped writing. I stopped talking to most people. It is hard to say which happened first, either way, I ran out of stories to tell.

I can be so weird sometimes. People are hard. I am lucky enough to know some who stick around.

There’s been a wild amount of change these past few weeks. I’ve been getting out a bit more and seeing people. It’s been liberating to say the least and then, the other day, the words began to come back to me.

It’s hard to say, though, so much of me these days feels cold. Literally, figuratively, ineffably, Et cetera. Et cetera. Et cetera!

I had to throw my red lipstick away.
It was a hard moment,
saturated with symbol though lacking in substance
Diseased and relentlessly contagious.
Immune-compromised though not positive.
Excessively gendered breaking of hearts.
Paint the town cliché.
The great purge of feminine wiles,
A revelation of shame.

It was a hard moment in a series of hard days
Since, I have not felt the same.
There is so little within my bones of poem,
there is his scent still on my skin and there is the familiar sense of longing which I bring to meet the morning.

A shiver of autumn, of broken radiators and a cheap yet creeping towards overpriced apartment in Brooklyn. I fill the rooms with the passive aggressions of my imagined anxieties. I avoid the kitchen the living room I avoid the necessary conversation required to maintain a state of living.
I am sleeping,
always and never quite.
I snore, he has told me.
My anxieties climb up a wall of the evening, in search of the sun and inspiration, the something over the wall. The air thick with my delusion, turns the corners black, they decay and disintegrate with my footing, my hold on things.

At the end of the glass,
My questions rattle amongst the ice cubes
the answers dilute with the melting

Second Star to the Right, Then Straight on ’til Mourning

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words
-And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

-Emily Dickinson,
whom my Grandfather referred to as,
“The Woman.”


You died two weeks before Mother’s Day. ​​​
Your sense of humor was always a bit twisted that way.

I was 19.
Which is just over the age when people say
That’s too young.

There are less heroics at 19.
Fewer excuses.
So I worked on the holiday.
The owner of the bakery told me,
“You’ll have the dreams, you know.”

For so long I did not dream of you.
I kept waiting to.

You used to do this thing, you know
where you would say,
“5 more minutes.”
Which could mean hours.
And I knew,
“Just 20 minutes more!”
Meant you would take forever.
You are only gone for 20 minutes.

For so long I forgot
what it meant to be angry with you.
I just knew that I had.
I can see the dishes shattered in the kitchen,
I just can’t remember the sound.

But I can recall exactly how you told me.
We parked your car in the driveway
With the engine turned off
But the radio on.
We were listening to that Casablanca song
As Time Goes By
You sighed at the steering wheel,
Not at me.

Then said,
“This would make a great first dance at a wedding someday.
And you’ll all say,
God, I wish mom was here.”

I miss the way you took your coffee-
How you would misplace each cup somewhere.
On a bookshelf,
Or halfway up the stairs.
I’d open the microwave to find the mug abandoned.
Where at some point you planned to reheat it
Told it you’d return in 5 minutes.

Did you know that our birds still spoke like you?
They sang good morning in your coo.
Eventually they stopped, too.
Then they all flew away.
Perhaps, they are with you.

Someone sent me a bottle of your perfume.
It spilled open in a box of all your scarves.
I could still map out the constellations where your freckles were,
I could guide my way home with them
Second star to the right,
And straight on till mourning
I could still give direction ’round
the dirt-roads of your scars.
Even the last ones
Where they took the fatty tissue,
the lymph nodes,
All the soft parts of you.

By then It was hard to notice, anyway.
In the end you’d stopped eating and
All the soft parts of you had flown away .

Do you remember when the birds had babies?
I mean, of course you do.
Or, of course, you don’t.
But at first,
They were sort of ugly-cute
All screeching and hunger and hard edges.
Until they grew their first feathers
Those little bits of gray fuzz.

The cancer turned you into this
Small baby bird.
The chemo wreaked havoc on your skin,
On your nerves.
So dad went out one day
He bought you these insanely expensive sheets
Made of Egyptian Cotton,
In a bright shade of burnt orange.
We wrapped you in the color of prayer,
Of flame.
Some sleepy phoenix reborn
In a bed of ash and bone
The glow of questions I never asked
And a frozen look of pain.

The embers settled all along outline of your frame.
The first bits of gray hair growing in.

They sent someone in
To take your body away,
We gathered in your garden.
Where they had asked us to stay.
As it can be difficult for some to see.
I assumed they took you out of those sheets.
That they put you in a bag.

Since they scattered your feathers all along their path.

Dear Boy, Who Never Met My Grandfather.

The writing today has been not. Along with the finishing of chores and suppression of anxieties, along with the necessary hours of sleep and their prerequisite ignorance of moonlight-all of them have been decidedly not. The of-courses and always were still as such, nothing changes. The lunatic ways of this poet, of the impending doom of Mondays and plane tickets and Oh dear lord my boyfriend is coming and Oh dear lord it has been so long since I’ve been naked with anyone. Fairly certain my bathroom scale is broken. The barista at the coffee shop keeps insisting they are not closed until 7, while turning off every possible light around me.

I bought new old shoes today and a new old coat from the thrift store that is sort of across the street from my job. I needed the coat, yet I decided to just continue to wear his sweatshirt. Which just fits me. Not in an adorable this is clearly my boyfriend’s way, more of an I am fairly certain my bathroom scale is broken kind of way.

The barista continued his polite insistence that I am fine to stay, and not write. To not drink the sip of coffee in an almost empty cup. He sprays each table with sanitizer and wipes it clean. He runs the rag right across my face, my being, all the while whistling. I wash away the taste of ammonia and dish rag with my last ten percent of coffee, cold.

I left the coffee shop and went to a bar, avoiding the perils of my apartment and the walls he painted white for me. I have felt as little today as I have consumed, hunger being the soil from which affection blooms. The rhizomatic sighs of young, fertile Americans. Fingers intertwined.
Fairly certain my emotional scale is broken.

I have starved my loss into existence, turned numb toward all things save for the wind. The advanced ache of my young bones and their relentless complaining. I love my knees in all their wobbled glory, they get me home and they keep me standing at work and they make poetry seem worthwhile and they help me to wobble away from my anxieties, they avoid the walls of the apartment.

You see, the walls were so ugly and I whined and whined on phone calls to a boyfriend who was not here. Who was perfect in his absence, ever haloed and flawless. He painted them white during his last visit, and we abandoned the project when they were all merely primed white. Bohemian. Post-apocalyptic chic. Or something. Regardless, romantic.

They are waiting. The walls. Not just waiting for me, waiting for me to admit it. The pain of without him. For my emotions, at last unbridled, to declare something other than the thickness of the air around my skin. The winter of New York and never seeing Manhattan, of New York every day the same, of the cityscape sunrise outline orange glow off the empire state building and the smiles I no longer bring to meet the morning.

I want to not write it, or even to think it, to acknowledge the cold shoulder of my inner dialogue. I am the husband to my psyche, I will never wash the dishes or put the trash away. I stopped loving me a long time ago.

I can only hope that all this lack is a coping mechanism, not a falling out of, not a boredom. I never want to be wrong about him. I dare not admit it yet, for fear of his wandering eyes and my inability to lie. These things are so fragile, and he is so very much one of those fragile things. He is my fragile thing and I’ve grown tired of the chore of his mending. I haven’t at all, actually, but I have learned in the past that the day will come. For now, there is only the numb and the not writing.

I should clarify, I don’t love anything these days. Nothing tastes the same, save for the whiskey, the ice cubes. The cold weather and ammonia and the stutter of my inhale.

I keep my eyes down. I radiate taken, or at least not up for anything fun. My cleavage has been bound into submission, starved from the relentless consumption of my lungs. I do not want to love anyone but him. I am just overwhelmed with the anxiety that I don’t. I alternate, I have brief moments during each day where I feel something, and in those moments I miss him. Or his arms, the warmth of skin on mine. It hurts. The scent of autumn and alone, of decay and anxiety. The withering of things, the reduction of beauty to its sugars.
Nothing tastes the same, save for the whiskey.

Please, just let me be right to love this one, let me love him, let us have something easy and warm and eternal and lacking in struggle.

Dear New York, I will always love you and have you. Did I abandon you? I am sorry. You deserve more and I can’t say why I have been so reluctant to put up a fight. You are my girl over the body of water, my green light rich with envy and metaphor.

This is a long love letter to no one. Rather, this is a courtroom record of a heart not breaking. Though just faulty enough to hurt someone. To demand a recall, to question the meaning of this all and the cost of a settlement, of a marriage and a divorce and an inevitable guilt trip by my dead grandfather. I am supposed to be making a list of his things that I want. I want him back.

I am supposed to have found a place for his ashes but nothing feels right, so instead I talk to them. I apologize, I try to live up to their standards and I wonder if they are really the remains of the man who could not die. I curl round the box in my best attempt at the traditional fetal position, which was not mine. He has so much unfinished business and I had so many thing to, well, never say. Thing to say that I never would have, We could have lived for centuries and I’d still shame myself into silence at just the thought of his blue eyes, the anger. The strength and despair and he really had no idea how much I loved him. I know still he would be furious at the things I say about him, sometimes. When I speak of his cold ways, of his shame. I wish I had kept the secret of his illness, how it stole his mind away. I wish I had kept him as mine. I wish I had not been so afraid to love him.

I always called him “Pa.” My mother did not tell me until I was older that he wished to be called “Grandpa.” He was, by far the most interesting human I will ever encounter. His mind moved in ways I will never understand. I loved him in ways he never understood.

To think of breaking my grandfather down to a list of what I want has been a task that has consumed my thoughts, and questioned all my limited 25 year old understanding of what is right.

Were I to send an honest list I would ask for only one thing, I would like my grandfather back. Other than that, I would like my brother to call me. I would like my grandfather’s clock to have continued its infuriating chiming, every 15 minutes. I’d have loved to have spent enough time with him to stop noticing the time. Second star to the right, then straight on ‘til morning.

I would like to give him back his bowl from the prison camp and his filthy sarong of parachute. I would like please to take possession of the broken pieces of his heart and I would like to glue them back. Rather, to hold them together with my own hands, clasped, until the effort allowed his blood to move again. I would like to remain there. I would like to have one more Sunday with him reading poems from the New Yorker and listening to his story of T.S. Eliot in the library. Which is the best of his stories, and above all it is my story. That he told me.
You see, he knew exactly what Eliot was pointing at.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 343 other followers

%d bloggers like this: