"thorns and flowers and hummingbird"
art by Jen Rouse
And These, My Least Best Selves
by Jen Rouse
First each leaf shredded from the philodendron vine, followed by a ritual gutting of the stuffed puppets.
What do you want to talk about today?
So many, so many mouthfuls of sand. Gritted teeth and decomposing jaw, I crawl the pale green walls like something damned.
Sit with your feelings.
Nails rake the leather from each couch cushion. Out of the corner of this post-historic eye, the glimmer of a small glass cat in a sand tray. Mine, I hiss, meeeeeee.
Please, let me help you.
And from my chest I wrench it free, this bludgeoned and silent heart, placing it gently, so gently
at her feet.
And you said your prayers and played pretty things. Good girl, Alice. But you cry into your pillow nonetheless, flooding the room with the giant cups, spinning in thimbles and stars.
Mother, why have you left me here? Where they rip at my clothes and tear at my skin? I feel I will never be quite pretty again…
and Tom Petty dances in. You are Alice made of cake. A cold slice from your abdomen smeared on slick and demented smiles. Every greedy bastard standing above you with a piece. And you look down with your giant Alice head and think, Why, yes, it has come to this. A handful of lyrics and a shit-ton of weed. Never the straight teeth and starch they imagined for you, just the lunging guitars and phthalo blue. Devouring, this man in the shiny top hat. And so you say, as your body slips away, under tooth and under tongue, Here’s hoping the frosting is fine, you sad fucks. ♥Alice
The night is ice, blue and burning. Every door is shut now. The snow-glowing streetlamps throw down their shadows. I refuse to look at anyone passing by me. Just the sound of one determined boot slamming the pavement and then the other. Just the sound of breath escaping into frozen curls. There is a conversation with the night I have lived inside of for many winters--walking into the wind without a coat, clawing through brush until bare fingers bleed, waiting for the sky to open. The stars lick at wisps of clouds. The moon sighs. I used to sit inside of houses. Where hands reached for mine around warm mugs and candlelight, where gentle dogs nestled at my feet, where someone else made dinner and stroked me to a contented sleep. So long ago, the softness. So long ago, the days when I felt almost beautiful.
To live in the land of the missing. To hear a voice and not be able to listen or respond: “Why are you fighting me?”
I don’t know.
In the car I put my head on the steering wheel and scream. It is like this and it is not.
I am not the child in the doorway, tripping, tearing a hole in her knee on a loose nail. I am the child in the doorway, waiting, waiting, waiting. For no one.
“I love that little girl very much,” says the voice.
Then I will protect her from you.
The child throws herself against the sky. “No! Not this time!”
But you will get hurt. There are no more houses, warm fires, gentle caresses. There are no more inside places. There are no more chances. Or women to love.
“Let her hold my hand.”
You should be quiet. You should want less. You can’t stay with her.
There is only anger, ice white and flickering. Always underneath the calm.
“I am in pain. And you aren’t listening.”
I have taken care of you for so long.
“You have ignored me.”
I have kept you safe.
“You have kept me quiet.”
I have kept you quiet.
“Let me talk to you.”
I am afraid of what you will say.
She comes back sun-kissed and still in love. Someday, when we leave them. When it’s over. When you have no other commitments. When the tide turns. When your day seems endless, and you can’t stand the feeling of your heart collapsed in your throat. When you can escape for more
than lunch. When you’ve licked the last crumbs from your fingers and all you taste is me. When you come to the garden, and I am there, sun-drenched, hand resting on pelvis. When the hours melt into this one drunken lull. When.
Find this poem and other amazing work from Jen in her recently published collection CAKE, available from Headmistress Press and FINALIST FOR THE 2018 CHARLOTTE MEW PRIZE. Order here.
Jen Rouse’s poems have appeared in Poetry, Poet Lore, Midwestern Gothic, Wicked Alice, Southern Florida Poetry Journal, Yes Poetry, Crab Fat Magazine, Up the Staircase, and elsewhere. She was named a finalist for the Mississippi Review 2018 Prize Issue and was the winner of the 2017 Gulf Stream Summer Contest Issue. Rouse’s chapbook, Acid and Tender, was published in 2016 by Headmistress Press. Her collection, Riding with Anne Sexton, was released this fall from Bone & Ink Press in collaboration with dancing girl press. Find her at jen-rouse.com and on Twitter @jrouse.