Matt Callow CC
what’s the word for a body
from my father’s dresser
i devour all the coins
will bleed through this body
only for nickel
down my leg
poison permeates my pores
and my body lets me down
like it always does
when i demand
what’s the word
for a body that is both
alter and arsenic?
you cannot have
a healthy relationship
with a thing that is
the badge, the battle, and the bulls-eye
i’ve been trying to shapeshift
my way to safety
ever since i learned
men feel as though their eyes
deserve more freedom
than my body
but this body
is a sick fucking joke
i was never in on
old white men cackle
from their graves
as i choke
on their air
is nothing but a chattel
Apology comes from the Greek roots of apo- (“away from, off”) and logia (“speech”).
Which is to say, your frugal mouth spent its last dollar on worthless words.
Which is to say, “sorry” never meant anything.
Which is to say, we only ever really apologize with our bodies.
Which is to say, bring your body here.
Which is to say, stand close enough that I could light you aflame.
Which is to say, stay. As an apology.
Surrender. As an apology.
Hang your self-defense on my bloodied fingers.
Self-sacrifice your sins away.
Lay your body beside mine on this bed of coals.
I’ll forgive you when our ashes dance together in the wind.
He will feel like everything you’ve ever lost
He will feel like everything you’ve ever lost, bound up in 5 feet and 11 inches. You will mourn his absence like a curse you cannot break free from. You will not call him. Out of stubbornness or blinding fear of relived rejection. This is your greatest act of self-love. Instead it will replay – all of it – inside your head until you can’t discern the cruelty from compassion. You will grow gaunt from eating thin memories. This is not self-love. You will not ask the questions wrapped around your tongue that refuse to be swallowed nor expelled. You will bite your tongue into tatters. It will take years to braid back. The fraying will feel like a slipping, but it is your shedding. You will no longer search his silence; you will see the selfishness in the stoicism. You will stop licking your wounds. You will scream out all your silence. Screaming out is self-love. Eventually, you won’t resent the cliché of falling leaves. You will grow, despite your best efforts. The days will not be marked by his absence, but something else. Snail mail. Spilt coffee. Sun dogs shining so bright they seep into your skin. Laughter – great guffaws – will not be followed by a pang in your chest. You will breathe again. You will finally lose what you’ve lost.
* “what’s the word for a body” borrows a line from Billy Ray Belcourt’s NDN coping mechanisms: notes from the field (2019).
* “Apology,” refers to self-defense in relation to Plato’s Apology of Socrates, which is an account of the self-defense presented at Socrates’ trial, not an admission of his transgressions. The poem borrows and alters a line from Jenny Xie’s Eye Level (2018).
* “He will feel like everything you’ve ever lost” borrows and alters a line from Jenny Xie’s Eye Level (2018).
Paula Ethans is a writer, poet, organizer, and human rights lawyer from Canada. Her poems are published or forthcoming in Emerge Literary Journal, Ethel Zine, The Quarantine Review, WordsFest Zine, nymphs publications, Bareknuckle Poet, and more. She is also an accomplished spoken word artist, most recently winning the 2019 Trans Europe Expression Slam finals in Manchester, UK. You can follow her on Twitter @PaulaEthans.
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