STILL UNBUTTONED & UNBOTHERED : On Imagining That Freedom Probably Feels Like Getting the Itis

The table settles. Before you
is a series of well-seasoned scraps
framed in silverware and open
palms. The entire kitchen
exhales and every torso
leans back in unison, a table blossoming
bodies in satisfaction.
Someone pops open a button,
and then another. Several burps
that interrupt, scoff at the hand
cupped around the mouth,
bellow with pleasure
as they fling out of the body
in triumph. Every bra is undone
unceremoniously, straps wilting
out of shirt sleeves or across furniture.
The land of satiation. The land of, if it itches,
scratch it. Land of pleasure. Everything
sagging with joy. Someone passes gas
loudly. It is full and foul, but no one
is embarrassed by the scent
of a body that has gotten exactly
what it needed.

                                              The stench of enough.

My god, to be so satisfied you reek of it.
Smell badly of, I do not want more,
I have had my fill. To stink of gratitude,
to be immobilized by its weight. The eyelids
flutter, nearly drunk with it. Here, the body
so saturated and somehow fears
nothing. What a condition
for the body, so unlike
the state I am in. So enough
that all it must do
is sleep.

-Jacqui Germain

Object Permanence

This neighborhood was mine first. I walked each block twice:
drunk, then sober. I lived every day with legs and headphones.
It had snowed the night I ran down Lorimer and swore I’d stop
at nothing. My love, he had died. What was I supposed to do?
I regret nothing. Sometimes I feel washed up as paper. You’re
three years away. But then I dance down Graham and
the trees are the color of champagne and I remember—
There are things I like about heartbreak, too, how it needs
a good soundtrack. The way I catch a man’s gaze on the L
and don’t look away first. Losing something is just revising it.
After this love there will be more love. My body rising from a nest
of sheets to pick up a stranger’s MetroCard. I regret nothing.
Not the bar across the street from my apartment; I was still late.
Not the shared bathroom in Barcelona, not the red-eyes, not
the songs about black coats and Omaha. I lie about everything
but not this. You were every streetlamp that winter. You held
the crown of my head and for once I won’t show you what
I’ve made. I regret nothing. Your mother and your Maine.
Your wet hair in my lap after that first shower. The clinic
and how I cried for a week afterwards. How we never chose
the language we spoke. You wrote me a single poem and in it
you were the dog and I the fire. Remember the courthouse?
The anniversary song. Those goddamn Kmart towels. I loved them,
when did we throw them away? Tomorrow I’ll write down
everything we’ve done to each other and fill the bathtub
with water. I’ll burn each piece of paper down to silt.
And if it doesn’t work, I’ll do it again. And again and again and—

-Hala Alyan

A Litany for Survival

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours;

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive.

-Audre Lorde

Things you hold

Open your hand. Look at your palm. 
Imagine water there. Coins. The curve 
of a hip. Keys. My finger. All the small 
things you've lost lately. A movie ticket 
stub. A lipstick mark. A ring. The wine
cork from last week. See mercy there
Forgiveness too. A whole lot of love. Let
it be heavy. Achey arm. Then I want you
to take your hand and put it on the 
center of my bare chest while you look
at me. You hold it all. 

-ATS (Amyturnsharp of IG)


Often before our fingers touched in sleep or half-sleep and enlaced,
often I’ve been comforted through a dream by that gently sensitive pressure,
but this morning, when I woke your hand lay across mine in an awkward,
unfamiliar position so that it seemed strangely external to me, removed,
an object whose precise weight, volume and form I’d never remarked:
its taut, resistant skin, dense muscle-pads, the subtle, complex structure,
with delicately elegant chords of bone aligned like columns in a temple.

Your fingers began to move then, in brief, irregular tensions and releasings;
it felt like your hand was trying to hold some feathery, fleeting creature,
then you suddenly, fiercely, jerked it away, rose to your hands and knees,
and stayed there, palms flat on the bed, hair tangled down over your face,
until with a coarse sigh almost like a snarl you abruptly let yourself fall
and lay still, your hands drawn tightly to your chest, your head turned away,
forbidden to me, I thought, by whatever had raised you to that defiant crouch.

I waited, hoping you’d wake, turn, embrace me, but you stayed in yourself,
and I felt again how separate we all are from one another, how even our passions,
which seem to embody unities outside of time, heal only the most benign divisions,
that for our more abiding, ancient terrors we each have to find our own valor.
You breathed more softly now, though; I took heart, touched against you,
and, as though nothing had happened, you opened your eyes, smiled at me,
and murmured–how almost startling to hear you in your real voice–“Sleep, love.”

-C.K. Williams

Where We Are Headed

At first we just say flower. How
thrilling it is to name. Then it’s
aster. Begonia. Chrysanthemum.

We spend our childhood learning
to separate one thing from another.
Daffodil. Edelweiss. Fern. We learn

which have five petals, which have six.
We say, “This is a gladiolus, this hyacinth.”
And we fracture the world into separate

identities. Iris. Jasmine. Lavender.
Divorcing the world into singular bits.
And then, when we know how to tell

one thing from another, perhaps
at last we feel the tug to see not
what makes things different, but

what makes things the same. Perhaps
we feel the pleasure that comes
when we start to blur the lines—

and once again everything
is flower, and by everything,
I mean everything.

-Rosemary Wahtola Trommer

If You Knew

What if you knew you'd be the last 
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example, 
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line's crease.

When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn't signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy 
won't say Thank you, I don't remember 
they're going to die. 

A friend just told me she'd been with her aunt. 
They'd just had lunch and the waiter, a young gay man with plum black eyes, 
joked as he served the coffee, kissed
her aunt's powdered cheek when they left.
Then they walked a half a block and her aunt 
dropped dead on the sidewalk. 

How close does the dragon's spume
have to come? How wide does the crack
in heaven have to split?
What would people look like 
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?

-Ellen Bass


(On the departure of O. Schulerud)

When paths are sundered and friends part too, 
Severed in Life's commotion,
We gaze on the brightness, the heavenly blue
Of Memory with fond emotion.

There glint like affectionate stars, though small,
The memories from days departed, -
Not even Time with its cloudy pall
Can dim the fair radiance imparted. -

Yet midst the affectionate starlets there, 
Our eyes seek out one with much pleasure, 
It gleams with shimmering, wistful air
And yet it's the star we most treasure! --
The name denotes sorrow; to leave-taking time
The name is sincerely accorded, -
Yet mildly it bathes from a blue that's sublime
Each memory of friendship we've hoarded! --

- Henrik Ibsen 
  (translated by John Northam)

I'm so grateful for my treasured friendships, some for a season, some for a lifetime. The older I get the more I appreciate all of these little, yet significant, stars in my life. 🌟


When I lie down with your
back against my chest, I think of how
my grandfather stacked river stone,
one upon another, building a wall
along the edge meadow.
And as my palm holds your hip,
I imagine the ball of bone
beneath the flesh, resting
like the cat at the foot of the bed.
And just as my grandfather would walk
the walls in April to find where
stones had cracked and crumbled,
I meander your body, placing my lips 
along the backs of your legs, the bend
in your back, your neck that strains
under the day's labor. And where lips 
cannot reach, words act like the oval rocks we wedged into crevices, 
saving the wall that keeps the world from our bed. 

-Noah Davis

from A Thousand Days in Venice

“Living as a couple never means that each gets half. You must take turns at giving more than getting. It’s not the same as a bow to the other whether to dine out rather than in, or which one gets massaged that evening with oil of calendula; there are seasons in the life of a couple that function, I think, a little like a night watch. One stands guard, often for a long time, providing the serenity in which the other can work at something. Usually that something is sinewy and full of spines. One goes inside the dark place while the other one stays outside, holding up the moon.”

-Marlena De Blasi, A Thousand Days in Venice

God Bless Your Fingers

Ten sugar-dipped strawberries. Ten humming sailors. Let the church say amen. Let the chapel doors open and open again. Ten gentle explorers who found my body buried inside itself. Who can see in the dark. Who can baptize me from across the continent. Let the church of my legs say bless. Let the church of my breasts say oh god. You have found the presents I hid for you. You have grown in me a basin I can never fill. Ten wise men. Ten pilgrimages across my stomach. Ten lit candles. Ten holy ghosts. I am a séance. I am a séance.

-Sierra DeMulder

For the erotic…

“For the erotic is not a question only of what we do; it is a question of how acutely and fully we can feel in the doing. Once we know the extent to which we are capable of feeling that sense of satisfaction and completion, we can then observe which of our various life endeavors bring us closest to that fullness.”

– Audre Lorde, Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power

from Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power – Audrey Lorde

“The principal horror of any system which defines the good in terms of profit rather than in terms of human need, or which defines the human need to the exclusion of the psychic and emotional components of that need – the principal horror of such a system is that it robs our work of its erotic value, its erotic power and life appeal and fulfillment. Such a system reduces work to a travesty of necessities, a duty by which we earn bread or oblivion for ourselves and those we love. But this is tantamount to blinding a painter and then telling her to improve her work, and to enjoy the act of painting. It’s not only next to impossible, it is also profoundly cruel.”