by Jen Rouse
Once there was a clementine
when I couldn’t speak
and a late afternoon on
the steps in the sun when
all I could do was think about
your hands so close to my hands.
And sometimes your voice
when no other voice mattered.
Some days we told stories
in sand and each granule was
a day I might put next to another
day until it didn’t feel so much
like trying. Now every day
feels so much like trying.
When we first met, you said,
Why not get well?
And I believed you.
And then I didn’t.
I woke up in the back of a car,
curled like a nautilus, the sound
of the sea ricocheting inside
my skull. But I was not an ocean.
I woke up in a cornfield and
the stars pleaded my defense,
but I was not a constellation
or a wanted galaxy. I woke up
in a hotel room, drenched
from days of pulled blinds
and constant doses I forgot to name,
as my own name slipped away.
I woke up and tried to go home.
But I wasn’t available.
And neither was home.
I woke up and heard you say
that I couldn’t possibly matter enough.
And I remembered then how important
it would always be to remain quiet.
I woke up and wrote every lie
I had ever been told. About god
and hope and the love of someone
coming to sit next to you
when you couldn’t be more alone.
I woke up and walked away.
Because no one holds your hair back
when you are fresh out of brilliance.
Because there is no well.
Jen Rouse is the Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Cornell College. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Wicked Alice, Parentheses, Bone & Ink Press, Crab Fat Magazine, Up the Staircase, Southern Florida Poetry Journal, Gulf Stream, and elsewhere. She was named a finalist for the Mississippi Review 2018 Prize Issue. Her chapbook, Acid and Tender, was a finalist for the Charlotte Mew Prize and published by Headmistress Press. Riding with Anne Sexton, Rouse’s second book, is forthcoming from Bone & Ink Press in collaboration with dancing girl press. Find her at jen-rouse.com and on Twitter @jrouse.