by Madison Sides
With you, I remember the before. I remember the boys
and their hands they used to shoot clay pigeons.
I remember taking the bus to middle school,
the noisy seventh graders with lollipop breath up front,
bodies draped over seats.
With you, I remember the after,
the missed phone calls, knotted stomachs, and grinding teeth
in the middle of the night with no one there to hear them scrape
and scream, growing extra bone in agony.
Constant and aching reminders, Sharpied-in connections,
indelible and indeliberate elegies for someone still alive: the after
is a song of sleeping bags and backlit memories, and I hear it,
deafening, bellowing, chanting, because now blackberries taste
of Virginia summers, you walking unevenly on the mulched ground;
you are finger picks and calloused thumbs; the way you held my hand
behind your back. Two year age gaps, phone numbers scrawled on arms,
promising to never date anyone who dyed their hair or broke others’ bones; pact be still.
I play piano even though I never learned, looking up chord charts
just to get through a song, a song which I play over and over again, and each time
it starts to sound more and more like you, no matter which song I try it says,
We could’ve kept my espresso pods and your tea bags next to each other.
I have a lot of secrets these days, and none of them are you anymore,
yet I still say things in a whisper. That’s what we felt like, and what we were.
It feels good to have a secret, even with different ways of hiding.
I told myself it was the age gap, but light keeps coming unashamed,
telling me to be braver, while in the east the Appalachian sun melts
your eyes to copper in the mountain light
like it’s easy. Like I don’t know you are beautiful.
After pouring the last jars of my summer honey harvest
I crush the leftover comb with my hand
holding the knife and I watch the liquid bleed out,
basking in violence, my own violence, thinking of how I would’ve let you
suck the honey from my fingertips if you asked.
I drive past a church every day, and neither of us are believers,
but I drive past a church and the sign says
and it weighs on me, in my chest; you are sitting at the bottom of my stomach
with an anchor, waiting for me to try to lift you out of the silt every time
I stare at my hands, waiting for this poem to be written.
You were, until this moment,
the trees waving in the wind after a storm, sprinkling me with leftover water,
even hours after the storm has gone--in this case, months.
I bathe in the rainwater for you and hate the way
the drops linger.
I am hauling you off of my seafloor now, right now, to stop this drowning.
Not to honor you, not because you deserve it, not out of love, but because this is the after,
and in the after things still hurt.
I am transforming you from a symbol of the dead into the proof of my still-living,
paper mache-ing the ending I never asked for into a denouement I wrote.
When I run and my heart skips a beat I hear you in echoes, I see you in lines.
My chest tightens every time. Even now you take my breath away.
I choke on you. On spinach leaves. On the name Emily.
I choke on it all.
Madison Sides (she/her) is a bisexual poet from Lincoln, Nebraska. She studies English and French and loves all things regarding the nostalgia of childhood, Phoebe Bridgers, and cross-stitching. Find her on Twitter at @madisonsides28.