TMMY PHTOG CC
MY AUNTIE CALLS SIX MONTHS AFTER SHE ABANDONED ME
My auntie calls and before she starts speaking
I whisper into the phone:
Age 4, after two months spent
camping with you and my cousins,
my toes buried
in the sand.
On the last beach day
of the year.
when I realised I’d have to
spend a whole new school year,
without seeing you everyday.
Wishing I could just flip through
the calendar til our next summer.
My auntie calls and I’m terrified,
just like I’ve been every single day
since she left us.
I tell her about my mum curled up into the smallest ball
I’ve ever seen,
on our couch, crying her eyes out after
their last phone call.
How she kept repeating:
than when your dad left.
than when your dad left.
When my dad left I asked my mum
if we could keep the dog.
When my auntie did I just said, You’re going to be okay.
I hear my auntie breathe into the phone and
I tell her there’s nothing worse than reassuring someone
in the middle of your own panic attack.
I tell her how my future is nothing
but a blank page now;
how by leaving she set fire to my next house,
killed my future partner and kids,
kicked out the dog
I haven’t adopted yet
and left me facing the remains
of what I could have become.
My auntie calls and now I can’t shut the fuck up
I tell her
how I thought these words would stay inside of me forever
but how instead they flew out my open window
without me even noticing. Just like her.
Sometimes things you never thought
And this is the part of the poem
stops being an illness
to become a side effect
of having being loved forever
by someone who can’t keep promises.
HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY
Chocolate cake always tastes better
when it smells like candle smoke.
My birthday wish
has always been the same,
since I was old enough to have anxiety.
For my 19th birthday I wish for my family to be safe.
I like birthdays -
fifteen people singing
Happy birthday to you!
It’s the only time it feels socially acceptable
not knowing what to do
with your hands,
with your hair,
with all this attention served on paper plates.
It’s always the same picture,
And I wonder when
you stop growing up
and start growing old.
But there’s a comfort
that after all we might not be
made of cracking bones
and jumpy cells,
but of a series
of corny photographs.
I like birthdays.
This one is a success;
my friends are drunk, happy,
noisy, collapsing into one another.
And that night
my friend Jack rapes me
in the guest room.
The next morning
I sweep off confetti and throw out party hats,
even dance to a Beatles song for a while.
Not sure I get it when
He texts me:
I don’t ever want to talk about it.
Still not sure I get it a few weeks later when
I see him at yet another party
and he gives me a gift
A belated one, he says.
My silence wrapped into a shiny paper.
My trauma with a red bow on it.
My thank you twisted so it looks like a smile.
I tried writing about it once,
Healing was the prompt.
But I wasn’t happy with the result.
Still, I hung up my poem
on the wall closest to my bed.
My mum, who doesn’t speak a word of English
asked what it was about.
Growing up I said,
and maybe it was.
what I didn’t tell you is
I’m yet to find out if rape
will ever be crossed off of the list
of everything you need to experience
before turning twenty.
What I didn’t tell you is,
my friend hurt me and still,
in this poem,
I’m changing his name.
I’ve got this theory that PTSD nightmares
never get old.
That a part of my brain will forever be nineteen,
like this baby tooth
I never managed
Because for a few years after that
everything felt like unwrapping
Night after night.
For three birthdays in a row
was for the candle smoke
to swallow me whole.
Jo Matsaeff is a neurodiverse queer teacher based in France. Their work focuses on mental health, trauma and queerness. They can be found at their local open mic or virtually hanging out with their international poet friends wishing for a day when a magical tunnel will bring them all together.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.