Starting Over

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from October, 2022.

I. light head, n. and adj.

Today is a new day.
I’m going to turn it all around.

Roll out of bed, complete a yoga routine
with my phone propped
against the lamp on my nightstand.

A quick shower, a quick breakfast
that I eat on my way to the bus stop.

Nothing is going to stop me.

II. per fas et nefas, adv.

Headphones in as I approach the stop.
No one is going to ruin my day.

No one is going to bring me down.
Lizzo will keep me afloat.

III. downpressor, n.

Bus pulls up,
everyone files on,
backpacks knock against each other,
people, doorframes, seats.

Bus driver’s voice mumbles through
his expectations. It’s early enough
that people quiet down for him,
but I leave my headphones in,

wait for his voice to stop,
the bus din to return,
the yellow dashes in the road
to scroll by underfoot.

IV. alieniloquy, n.

The thing about
the lines on the road
is that they’re hypnotizing
as they fly by.

An intermittent, off-yellow flash
carries your mind to
some elsewhere
without dimensions in time or space.

And when they end
at the parking lot’s edge,
you suddenly remember
you have to go to first period.

V. bobsled, v.

Hallways are full of bodies—
a current
pulls me right to Ms. Acevedo’s
classroom.
I don’t remember moving
my feet.

VI. rhubarb, n. and adj.

Throat’s tight.
Swallow the past, Tori;
this is a new chapter.
I put a smile on my face
convincing enough
to fool everyone
at my cooking station.

VII. lightning bird, n.

I’m holding steady until
he enters the room.
His hair curling
under the edge of his hat.
A jolt in my chest—
why
do I want to cry and smile
at the same time?

VIII. dump cake, n.

I look down at our counter,
can’t look up,
need to forget
he’s here.

Ms. Acevedo gives instructions;
I don’t hear them.
Shay does, assumes the role
of our group’s leader.

She tells me to measure and pour
baking powder, salt, flour
in a bowl and stir. I see his face
in the powdery mountain range.

IX. dunnish, adj.

Eli asks if I’m done mixing.
I nod and xe dumps
my bowl into xyrs, mixes.

I look up, the room’s colors
seem to be on a dimmer switch—
it looks like the sky
an hour before thunder.

X. folx, n.

Ms. Acevedo address the class
about over safety protocols.
Shay and Eli discuss
how to decorate our cake.

I sneak a headphone
through my sleeve to my palm,
rest it against my ear.
Hayley Williams yells about misery.

XI. ice blink, n.

The bell releases us
to the sea, a long voyage
to our next classes.

Stare ahead at nothing;
looks better than watching
bow waves collide.

Mr. Persson’s display for
the Revolutionary War
overwhelms his end of the hallway.

XII. birdscape, n.

Respite 
among war stories,
since
he’s in math class.
I
can stretch my wings,
restart
the new me.

XIII. bodgie, v.

New Tori
writes her notes in cursive.

New Tori
nods her head while someone talks.

New Tori
asks questions during lectures.

New Tori
has her shit together.

XIV. chugalug, v.

I drink from my water bottle
throughout third period,
which helps me focus
on geometric proofs—
tonight’s homework.

I get in the zone, my homework
finished, ten minutes to spare,
an empty water bottle.
I ask Mx. Archer to go to the bathroom.
They tell me to go fast.

XV. mediocritize, v.

You are never going to change.
There is no “New Tori.”

You are the same piece of shit
you were yesterday.

You are alone for a reason.
It was obvious he’d leave.

You are deluding yourself into thinking
anyone would like you.

I scramble for my headphones,
play the loudest Sleater-Kinney song I find.

XVI. spreathed, adj.

I feel cracks spread across my arms
as I enter the bathroom.
They become deep, wide;
demons rise from the dark crevasses.

I feel the boiling spittle drip
from their open maws,
their claws pierce my skin
as they push off to take flight.

It burns and I scratch, hoping
my nails bury them alive,
but they keep sprouting
like weeds in an unkempt garden.

XVII. ignorantism, n.

Shay enters the bathroom as I leave,
gives a small wave,
looks at my arms—
radiant pink, thin scratch marks
all over my forearms.

She tilts her head, her brows concerned,
starts to ask a question
she doesn’t have words for.
I tell her
I’m okay.

XVIII. monkey bear, n.

I don’t know why I can’t calm.
Why is it so hard
to stand still, to quiet
the thoughts that clash in my head
like marbles against a mirror?

I watch the branches on the tree
outside Mx. Archer’s window
sway in the wind as the bell rings.
Everyone gets up and leaves robotically,
but I just sit there, unable to look away.

XIX. dark thirty, n.

I see it clearly still—
the madrone branches
dripping into the sound 
as we sat in the bed of his truck,
watched the sky above Vashon turn pink.

My hand in his, a blanket between
us and a cloudless sky.
He poured coffee from a thermos,
told me he loved me. He said
he’d never hurt me.

XX. amoretto, n.

I was warm then;
I thought it boundless.
I wrote his name
in different styles in the
margins of my notebooks.

I lost focus in every class.
Doodles— abstract shapes, hearts—
left on every scrap of paper
in my backpack. I wrote
poems, left them in his locker.

XXI. nightertime, n.

Mx. Archer asks
if I want to eat lunch in their room,
if that’s why I haven’t left.
I shrug, nod, but really,
I’m not there;

I’m still lying in bed at
three in the morning, looking
at my phone, reading the last
message he sent me to make sure
I understood each word.

XXII. chuddies, n.

The chill of the metal chair
on my thighs brings me back.
I regret that New Tori decided
her style is yoga shorts and large sweatshirts
regardless of the weather outside or in.

Bell rings and I’ve eaten nothing
again. Frustration builds up behind my eyes;
I’m supposed to be better than this now.
Mx. Archer throws a granola bar at my desk,
tells me to eat it on my way to class.

XXIII. gist, v.

Suffice it to say
I inhaled the granola bar
on the way to English.
I listen to Big Freedia,
need to explode to start anew.

XXIV. menehune, n.

How could I have ever thought
I could start over
overnight, as if
it would ever be that simple?
I need to confront him.

XXV. yo, int. and n.

Chemistry. That’s when
I’ll see him next. That’s when
I’ll tell him what’s on my mind. 
I spend English drafting the words
I need to say to make him understand.

XXVI. drooking, n.

I stand outside the chemistry room,
waiting for him to show up.
I take a sip from my water bottle
when I see him round the corner
holding Melanie’s hand.

There’s a white flash and I feel
my fingers tighten into a fist,
a scratch grow inside my throat.
My water bottle points at
his waterlogged hat and shirt.

XXVII. grrr, v.

In my chest, a beehive
hit with a baseball bat,
their wings bristle against my skin.
I fly away before he says a word,
before an adult makes me talk about it.

XXVIII. mosker, v.

What was once vibrant, warm,
soured, cold and bitter as coffee dregs.
My throat on fire, I heave
by the mailboxes in the
neighborhood behind the school.

It’s over. There was never any chance.
You don’t get a fresh start.
You will always be the second choice,
alone, a fucked up girl
no one will remember.

XXIX. sabo, n.

He knew I’d be there.
He knew I’d see them.
He must have wanted me
to see them together, to see
how he’s moved on already.

They’re probably laughing now
at what a fool I am to believe
there was any possibility
of reconciliation, to believe
I am worth anything to anyone.

XXX. ablepsy, n.

My vision gets blurry, goes black.
I sit on the curb, dig my headphones
out of my pockets. My phone trembles
in my hands; I can’t see the screen,
can’t make the sounds to activate Siri.

Silence envelops me. I drop my phone,
don’t hear it hit the asphalt.
My breathing becomes muted; my chest
heaves, but there’s no sound— no air.
I don’t know what to do.

XXXI. jack-o’-lantern, n.

A light, an arm's length away,
appears, slowly retreats. I reach for
the light, a face amongst the dark, which
welcomes me, accepts me.
Why is it leaving?

I reach, lose balance; my palms,
knees slam the road. Pebbles
make homes in my skin. The light
fades like the sun over the horizon.
I evaporate as mist in the void.

They start the meeting with a breathing exercise.

“Take a deep breath in,” their voice echoes
from a speaker above your head, “and out.”
When was the last time you were able to breathe deeply?

Everyone else closes their eyes, breathes
synchronized and slow.
How do they do it so easily?

Your shoulders are tight as piano wire.
They say to inhale light, exhale negativity. 
What if doing that leaves nothing left?

Your eyes dart around the room
between each calm face — you are alone.
Why can’t you be like them?

Why did they invite you here in the first place?

We went to see my grandfather

A stop before a three-hour drive home.
A subject I, at fourteen, avoided.
A hospital.

I walked in last,
stared at the tiles on the floor until I was nudged to say
hello.

When I looked up, I saw him.
A gown. Wires. Tubes. Shadows from an overhead light.
My mind saw him die and I cried.
No words.

He frowned —
scowled, maybe.
“Get out of here with that!” he yelled.
I remember him raising his arm up to shoo me away.

My mom gave me the keys to her Expedition.
I sat there
trying to find air.

When she joined me, she asked,
“Why were you crying?”

My thoughts intercepted
by arguments and counterarguments shouted across a crowded conference hall.
Reverberating echoes off a tall ceiling.
No words.

I leaned my head on the window away from her,
watched the world blur.

Whatever Home Is

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from December, 2021.

I. flatshare, v.

Someone always there
to take care of the dishes.

Someone always there
to sign for packages.

Someone always there
to watch for red Corollas.

II. amirite, int.

They walk up behind me
as I watch the traffic
two floors below— green Forester.

A hand on my shoulder, they sit
on one of the throw pillows
we scattered on the floor in front of
the sliding glass door
to the porch— blue Civic.

They flick their wrist
toward the street, say,
“Next summer blockbuster!”
Met with silence — yellow Mustang.

III. infodemic, n.

It takes time to sift through it all —
the humans on the sidewalk,
the song of warblers by the window feeder,
the caws of crows by the garbage cans,
the whistle of their tea kettle boiling,
the glare of the sun in the glass door —
in order to focus on the cars in the street.

IV. amscray, v.

Early evening, a familiar shape
of headlights come round the corner.
They slow by our building, connected
to a body the shade of dried blood.
I spin so quick, the pillow slides out
from under me across the fake-wood floor,
and I have to scramble to my feet,
dash through the apartment to the bedroom
closet, slam the door shut.
A suitcase’s coarse fabric rubs my temple.

V. bardo, n.

No light.
Three thumps.
A click.
A squeaky hinge.
Muffled voices.
Silence.
A suitcase’s zipper in my fingers.
Footsteps in the hallways.
A gulp.

VI. fastballer, n.

Everything happens
in the blink of an eye.
The closet door opens,
my arm is pulled,
the suitcase is packed,
and I am planted
in the backseat of the car
staring out the window
as the curb flows by me
like the water of a river.

VII. phantastikon, n.

A man runs along the curb,
jumps over hydrants,
swings under streetlights,
grinds along benches.
He speeds up, slows down
in tandem with the car.

VIII. Fast-medium, adj. and n.

I’m put in a chair in front
of a large desk covered
in loose papers, sloppy folders.
A person in a wrinkled suit
sits behind it, says their name,
quickly asks a bunch of questions, 
checking boxes on a piece of paper
hidden by a beat-up clipboard.

IX. amatorio, n.

On the person’s desk is a small tray,
no bigger than a side dish, which has
a couple stress balls in it. After several
questions I don’t answer, they offer
a ball from the tray, which I accept,
because it feels like the right thing to do.
The tray is thick, uneven, and in the vacuum
left by the ball I grabbed is some writing
painted on messily. “Mom” and a heart is all
I see before the tray is back on the desk.
I squeeze the ball and breathe.

X. fairyism, n.

I am not in my body
for the rest of the interview.
I float through the ceiling fan’s blades,
watch my body’s mouth
answer her questions,
don’t hear anything.

XI. taffety, n. and adj.

When I land back in my body,
my eyes lock on the curtain
over her right shoulder.
Teal waves against
an overcast sky.

XII. scribacious, adj.

She hands me
a composition book with a cheap pen
to express my thoughts, saying
it can help
me process my feelings.
She escorts me to a small room
with a desk and a twin bed,
says we’ll talk tomorrow.

XIII. botheration, int. and n.

I don’t get how writing something is going to help me think about anything. It doesn’t even make sense. I’d just “process” the literal words on the page; there’d be nothing deeper than that. How is writing a detailed play-by-play of me walking to the grocery store going to help anyone do literally anything? It’s just stupid. Fucking pointless.

XIV. slow drag, n.

It was last Tuesday. We were out of milk and bread, so I had to walk to the Safeway on the other side of the apartment complex.

Taylor wanted to have Mac and cheese for dinner, but without milk, they couldn’t make it. I suggested just using water, but they scoffed at me.

The bread was my idea. I thought it would be good to get a fancy sourdough instead of our usual 12 grain loaf. It’s December; people get to splurge during the holidays.

I didn’t realize how icy it was. I saw it snow that morning, yeah, but I figured over the course of the day, it must have thawed out.

I was wrong.

I only made it around the corner of our building before I slipped. I landed hard on my hip. That’s why there’s a bruise there. 

Nothing else happened.

XV. ballyhack, n.

Wake up. Breakfast. Write. Group. Write. Lunch. Write. Solo. Dinner. Write. Bed.

XVI. lachrymabund, adj.

It happens suddenly,
middle of the
the second night.
A weight presses
on my chest —
I can’t breathe.
Every memory alive
full-throated screaming into
a flat pillow,
wet with tears.

XVII. fairwater, n.

Around three, I give up
on sleep, stare at the
constellations in the ceiling tiles.
Maybe there is a future
where my brain doesn’t eat itself,
where my ribs aren’t a windy cavern.
I slide the notebook off the nightstand,
scribble in the dark.

XVIII. autokinesis, n.

There’s a streetlight visible
through the metal mesh
of my room’s window.
It swings in a wind
that doesn’t affect the tree branches
or the pole that holds it.

XIX. popskull, n.

The first time was the morning after Taylor shared some moonshine they made in their apartment’s detached garage.

It was their first attempt. They were so proud of themself. So I tried it. You have to support your sibling, right?

My mouth and throat felt like a python had contracted around them. I took each punch as well as I could. I hadn't had liquor before, but people at my school talk about it all the time, so I figured it would grow on me. A rite of passage or whatever.

When I woke up the next morning, my head throbbed. It felt like Neil Peart was doing a drum solo on my brain.

The pain was unlike anything I’d felt before. Felt like it would never go away. I wanted to let it out. So, I dragged myself to the craft drawer and found the X-Acto knife. Took it to my thigh.

XX. medium coeli, n.

During every solo session,
the lady talks to me
about what I wrote
during the previous writing session
as if
I’m the protagonist of a tv show
she’s binging.
Like I fit into some archetype,
some box, and she already knows
everything about me.

XXI. sunstay, n.

There’s supposed to be
some epiphany
I have while locked in this room.
That’s what they tell me.
That’s what happens in movies.
Where the fuck is it then?

XXII. supervacaneous, adj.

I give up on correcting her
the fifth time she calls Taylor
my “brother.”
She must have selective hearing
or selective memory, at least —
whatever fits the narrative.
I only need to last
one more day.

XXIII. toyi-toyi, n.

“… and that’s why I believe it would not be in your best interest return to your brother’s apartment.”

“You can’t.” I stand up. “You can’t.”

“It simply isn’t a safe environment for you. Your writing indicates,” she flips open my notebook on her desk, “he served you alcohol, thus creating a situation in which you purposefully harmed yourself,” she flips to an earlier page, “and your bruises have dubious origins that you are not being honest about.”

“You can’t. You can’t. You can’t.”

XXIV. belsnickel, n.

Everything feels
slow motioned and fast forwarded:
my hands slam her desk,
two nurses grab my arms,
hallway doors like trees along the highway.

Last year, Christmas Eve,
Taylor spent hours
making dinner for the two of us.
Because that’s what you do
after your family exiles you.

XXV. jough, n.

Christmas night, two years ago.
After a day of small talk,
stories from decades past,
unsolicited advice from aunts and uncles,
I escaped to the patio
just outside the porch light’s range.
Taylor came by, placed
a warm mug in my cold hands.
We sat in silence under
cloudy sky, falling snow.

XXVI. gombey, n.

I put on a stoic face when they come
to pick me up with my suitcase.

I put on a grateful face when I arrive
at a foster home full of strangers.

I put on a welcoming face at dinner
while I tell stories about a made-up past.

XXVII. lime, n.

There are three other kids
around the dinner table.
They nod along with my lies,
introduce themselves, but
their names
don’t register in my brain.

XXVIII. ginny gall, n.

I hate it here. It doesn’t matter
how much food they give,
how much personal space is provided,
how much anime we watch.
It’s a strange house full of strangers.
I hate it here; it doesn't matter.

XXIX. hen-cackle, n.

Under the shroud
of pre-dawn twilight,
snow crunches
under my weight
with my suitcase.

XXX. sinigang, n.

I don’t recall
these streets,
these cars.
I try to remember
Taylor’s soup —
how it made me
feel warm, like home
even on the coldest nights —
and use that to guide me.

XXXI. willie-waught, n.

The place I sit, a bus stop bench,
is co’ered in ice and snow.
I guess I’ll sleep till morning comes.
I wish I had my phone. 
The cold consumes my fingertips
and gulps my soggy toes.
While snow upon my hat does pile,
my eyes begin to close.

I hear my name, a frosty crunch,
familiar to my ear.
I struggle up, but cannot see;
the streetlight's reach too short.
But once again, my name is said.
I rub my eyes and blink.
Then from the dark is Taylor’s scarf
unraveling from their neck.

They wrap their scarf
around me, hold my face
in their trembling hands.
Sitting beside me, they ask
what happened, dig out a flask
from their jacket.
After a swig, they offer it to me,
then take me back home.

a tether loosening

i fade in and out of the present
like a maple branch’s shadow on concrete
like the stars in a city’s sky
like a siren’s doppler effect
like the public’s interest in climate change

i fade in and out of the world
like a radio’s static on the highway
like a cell phone’s reception on the coast
like the tide of a rising sea
like a retina scar against clear blue sky

your lips keep moving, but words don’t make it ashore

Asleep in a Campfire

The sun is orange, the sky a textureless grey.
	Haze. It’s hazy.
	‘Haze’ is a kinder word than ‘smoke.’
		What does a deep breath feel like?
		When was the last time you had one?

The sun turns red, the sky a uniform pink.
	Tree line looks rubbed with a cheap eraser.
	Ash floats soft as snow.
		Will it bury you?
		Will you ever see light again?

All is greyscale.
	Lay awake. Toss when you finally fall asleep.
	You may not wake up.
		Will smoke consume you?
		Will embers swallow you whole?

the spring we lost

i remember
the morning the order came that said
          we had to stay at home.
snow dusted the streets, coated the soccer field of my school
a week before the equinox.
my coworkers gathered around a computer to hear the governor say
          our schools would close,
          we would learn at a distance.

i remember
the morning i set up a workspace in our apartment.
each of my computers started updating—
spiraling dots, loading bars, flickering numbers.
stuck sitting and waiting as
          the sun rose through the blinds,
          spruce leaves swayed in the wind.

i remember
an afternoon— maybe multiple— where i laid on the couch,
papers to grade scattered on the coffee table.
i turned away from them and watched
          warm light come in though the sliding glass door,
          flowers bloom in the planters across the alley.

i remember
the afternoon where i forgot what day it was
after marking the day off the calendar in our kitchen,
after checking my phone multiple times to make sure, even
after saying it out loud.
maybe time is one of those human constructs that only exists insofar as it is useful.
          matte grey sky gives way to patches of blue.
          crows peck at the garbage bag sticking out of our neighbor’s overstuffed bin.
          squirrels jump between the thin pine trunks outside the window by our mantle.