When our breasts arrived
as a kind of currency, we’d tug
our camisoles low, use
our newfangled bodies to haggle
with the ice cream man. The winner
was the girl who received her chocolate cone
for free, who sucked on candy cigarettes
the same way she wore a training bra.
That summer my pockets grew forests
of hand-tied maraschino cherry stems:
tampered evidence that I might one day be worthy
of kissing. In exchange for rides
on the handlebars of their bikes,
we’d let the boys bite
the beads off our candy
necklaces until the chokers
resembled punched out teeth.
From their slobber, blue and violet
stained my throat where the sweetness
had once been, so I suppose,
Your Honor, I was preparing
— Megan Falley, “Beginning in an Ice Cream Truck and Ending in a Court Room”
If I didn’t think it’d make me appear crazy still,
I’d apologize to you for having been so crazy then.
Reading the poems I had written about “us”
resurrected all that nervous heat, reminded me
of the insistent stutter of my longing,
how I could never just lay it out there for you.
The answer, clearly, would have been
no, thank you. But perhaps that tough line
would have been enough to salvage all
that was good and woolly about us: your laugh,
that golden ring I’d always stretch a story for;
the pair of mittens we’d split in the cold
so we’d each have a hand to gesture with;
how even now, the paths we took are filled
with starry wonder and all that bright limitless air.
I’m sorry I could never see myself
out of the twitching fever of my heartache,
that I traded everything we had for something
that never ended up being. But if I could take
any of it back, it wouldn’t be the glittering hope
I stuck in the amber of your eyes, nor would
it be the sweet eager of our conversations.
No, it would be that last stony path to nothing,
when we both gave up without telling the other.
How silence arrived like a returned valentine
that morning we finally taught our phones not to ring.
— Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz, “After Reading Old Unrequited Love Poems”
They hang around, hitting on your friends
or else you never hear from them again.
They call when they’re drunk, or finally get sober,
they’re passing through town and want dinner,
they take your hand across the table, kiss you
when you come back from the bathroom.
They were your loves, your victims,
your good dogs or bad boys, and they’re over
you now. One writes a book in which a woman
who sounds suspiciously like you
is the first to be sadistically dismembered
by a serial killer. They’re getting married
and want you to be the first to know,
or they’ve been fired and need a loan,
their new girlfriend hates you,
they say they don’t miss you but show up
in your dreams, calling to you from the shoe boxes
where they’re buried in rows in your basement.
Some nights you find one floating into bed with you,
propped on an elbow, giving you a look
of fascination, a look that says I can’t believe
I’ve found you. It’s the same way
your current boyfriend gazed at you last night,
before he pulled the plug on the tiny white lights
above the bed, and moved against you in the dark
broken occasionally by the faint restless arcs
of headlights from the freeway’s passing trucks,
the big rigs that travel and travel,
hauling their loads between cities, warehouses,
following the familiar routes of their loneliness.
— Kim Addonizio, “Ex-Boyfriends”
To my daughter I will say,
‘when the men come, set yourself on fire.’
— Warsan Shire, “In Love and In War”
I pretend I don’t love it
when you hold my hand in public,
when you catch a wild hair in the net of your fingers,
when you kiss me right in front of the gas station cashier.
I remember we live in a big city.
I secretly imagine the scandal we could cause
if we lived in a small town, where everyone knew your name
and your bed: how our love would spill like paint cans
across old wooden porches. It would seep
between the cracks of the floorboards,
the way I live beneath your fingernails
when you go home to her.
— Sierra DeMulder, “The Other Woman”
Learn how to say “no.”
Cram that word inside your mouth,
the whole thing, make sure all of it
gets in there. Let it walk on your tongue.
Practice with it in the mirror, push it
out, make faces, learn to love the salt
and bitter of it. Teach it to perch on your lip,
buzz, collect pollen from your sugary gloss.
Make it swarm between your cheeks.
Then, when the days come (there will be
many) where he pushes too hard, speaks
too sweetly, when the hand at your thigh
draws a thump in your stomach, when
the bitch gremlin inside whispers ‘it’s not
worth the fight,’ says you can barter
for your worth tomorrow, when your ribs
shrink, when he unfurls his Almighty Smile,
when four come at you at once, when
you love someone else, when the bar
is closing and your name becomes ‘Take
What I Can Get,’ when the girls hate you
anyway, when you want him until the burn
if only he wore a different face—
pull back your lips, bare the teeth you have
sharpened to their perfect points, flick
your stinger tongue, set free your swarm.
— Jeanann Verlee, “Swarm”
I was a girl torn between love and the idea of love.
— Dorianne Laux, from “Staff Sgt. Metz”
I loved you head over handles
like my first bicycle accident—
before the mouthful of gravel and blood,
I swore we were flying.
— Sierra DeMulder, from “Cycle of Abuse”
Okay so I know we’re already three days into February and if the idea had come to me any sooner then I would have posted this in January to give those who wanted to participate enough time to prepare. ANYWAY, I decided that this February I wanted to do a writing prompt for myself (and anyone else who was interested).
The “rules” (I feel weird writing that, but I figure we need things to make it interesting) are:
- Prose/poetry format
- Has to deal with love (there are all kinds—not just romantic. Mix it up a bit. Sure, it’s always fun to write that revenge piece or take a walk down memory lane about an ex, but love is universal. There’s family love, the love you have for a kind of food, place, pet and/or object. Be creative!)
- Write something each day leading up to Valentine’s Day
- (This is mainly a reminder for me but any of you can feel free to do this too!) On Valentine’s Day (which is Thursday the 14th) I’ll select a few personal favorites and post them on my blog.
- Tag your prompts with “v day prompt” so that everyone who’s participating can see everyone’s work! (Also I know Eve Ensler’s got her woman empowerment thing going on—this has nothing to do with that, but I know it’s easier to just make tags as tiny as possible.)
- You DO NOT have to post something everyday. This is mainly a goal I’m setting for myself because I’d like to get to a point where I can write at least one poem a day.
- If you’ve already written things that you’d like to feature for this exercise, go ahead and share them. Ideally you should try to write new things but because it’s already a few days into the month, tagging already written work is perfectly acceptable.
I’m excited to read everyone’s work. Happy prosing/poeming!
When he sleeps,
the snoring does not bother me:
the rhythmic growl, gravel shoved
across the sidewalk of his throat.
It is the grasping, desperate way
in which he takes in air—his gulping lungs
as if every dream is filled with water
and he is trying to inflate
the life jacket under his skin.
I babble in my sleep. He believes
I am trying to tell him how my heart works,
says he will translate the manual one day.
I want to ask him: am I the ocean?
Are you drowning in everything
I don’t say when I’m awake?
— Sierra DeMulder, “Heart Apnea”
your love is like Russian:
i don’t understand it,
but i like the way it sounds.
i know that if i listened long enough,
i could learn to speak it,
and eventually, to mean what i say.
— Mindy Nettifee, “ЛЮБИМАЯ”
You don’t get to choose who handles your heart. There are simply people who were born with it in their teeth. When you meet them, it is best to build a bomb shelter.
— Tara Hardy
He said “bruja” and she tended the kindling.
She heard love. He said women are sulfur, she offered
her teeth. He said itch, and you have good nails.
Said he was a forest fire. She heard ocean.
Heard troubadour. He said he could dance.
She purchased new shoes. He said pearl,
she prepared oysters. He said anchor, she bought a boat.
Said olive, she made of her arm a branch.
He said secret, she kept it. He said harlot, she spat.
Said hungry, she bought the bistro. He said tequila,
she gave him a grove of lime trees. The sea.
Said veal, she brought a field of pregnant cows.
He said loyal. She carved his name in her thigh.
Said open, she cut off her legs. Said kiss, she mailed her lips.
He said that one. And that one, too.
She delivered pipe bombs to their stoops. He said shank,
she carried the gaping bodies. He said she said
and though she never said it, she nodded.
He said Everything I’ve said to you is true. She knelt
at his feet. He said It is you who are the liar.
She put a shotgun in her mouth.
— Jeanann Verlee, “The Believer”
David Levithan, The Lover’s Dictionary
By the time you swear you’re his,
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Lady, make a note of this:
One of you is lying.
— Dorothy Parker, “Unfortunate Coincidence”