The Weight of Summer

I had been waiting for life to press into me like footprints in wet mud
when summer tapped at my shoulders,
swaddled me in unasked arms, fingers thick like woolen blankets,
baked me in the metallic scent of drenched cement
after the thunder screams itself to sleep.

I tried to retreat quietly, but I stretched myself out
too quickly, like a teenager just become too long for his limbs.
I wanted to be light and crisp and breathless,
so unsoaked in summer air that I would evaporate,
a blown bubble the second before it collapses onto itself.

Now, I press my lips together to exhale summer from
where it still swims asynchronously across my skin
soaking memories deep into my pockets.
Every now and again, I plunge my fists into them
and breathe out another peach-soaked sunset.

Happiness was an ocean

Felt not
in the surety of its existence
vast and predicable
but when it pulled
back from us, left
the world too bright
but not quite
beautiful,
we persist
in its absence
as our eyes no longer blink back
saltwater on the wind,
when we stand on bare sand
burning our soles
and wait lazily
for the tide
to return.

To Be Alone

Love yourself first
they tell us, as if
they already taught us
to walk chin-up, shoulders-back through
life, after we already have swallowed our
confidence like an elixir, after we learn
how to be small,
how to stack knees together and to
curve inward around our convictions.
Love yourself
even on the days where only
the wind seems to pull you closer
to tomorrow. Sometimes, I catch
her in the dusty glass as the train skips back
into Virginia. I do not know
if it is love that holds her
upright among those suited bodies,
alone in their headphones, alone
in their empty faces, but
there she is—
windswept,
alone among them.

Sestina for California

I thought of California when the sky turned to snow yesterday,
in the still of whiteness, visions of hills all green and brown and gold.
They told me I would feel it deep within my bones,
that winter is a mental game played against our earth
and with their snow-chapped lips, they ask
how I am doing and what it was like there and why I left.

I try to explain that I haven’t left:
Home is a feeling we find within ourselves each day,
clinging to us even when we thought we’d shed it completely, we ask
it to forget us, but the sun always remembers to caress our hair and skin with gold.
We shake ourselves out like beach towels wedged with salt, sand, and earth,
but home holds us up as completely as our bones.

So California lives inside me with my nerves and muscles and bones,
flattening my vowels and turning my t’s into d’s, leaving
me to look back across all the earth
I crossed in some sort of backward manifest destiny. Today,
I remember the sweetness of sarsaparilla in the mountains where they found gold
and the classrooms where I brimmed with anticipation of knowledge to be asked.

Because when they inquire about California, it’s of this they ask:
How we painted our lips clown nose red, pulled spandex over our bones
and marched onto a battlefield of stage lights and sissonnes, glittering and golden,
that spring meant blooming wisteria and autumn tarnished leaves,
how we held our breath, fingers clasping noses, until we burst back into day
from the Caldecott Tunnel, into the fog that sat down uncaringly on the earth,

and the sound of waves banging, scraping, tearing at the earth
as we scrambled across tide pools, grabbing star fish and sea urchins, asking
why they named her Mars Pacifica when she was so fickle and mean in the daylight,
and all the multicultural, multilingual, mixed-race neighbors I left
tied up together like a bag of jellybeans, bumping their bones
against each other despite themselves, not quite golden,

how dusk reached out fingertips of peach and rose and gold,
stretching, sighing, curling up around the earth
and how we strode out into the dewy morning she had left,
exchanging smiles in Royce quad, in pursuit of someone to ask
to join our nights soaked with youth and euphoria, music filling our bones.
It’s all this I think of today—

But no, I’m not leaving, only searching, unfolding, asking
where else to strike gold, where else to rest my bones,
what other piece of earth will be mine one day.