dragging a mattress

wake up to bleary shadows.
drag a mattress across the bedroom.
wedge it through the threshold.
lay it down on the kitchen floor while coffee brews.
move to the couch when it’s ready.
tell myself to stay awake.
the mattress thrown askew at the edge of the rug.
a rope leading from its corner to my ankle,
layered knots my fingers can’t maneuver.
take a sip.

balance the mattress on my back with my backpack.
fit it in the trunk of my car.
close the door and walk around—
the rope phases through the frame.
lines blend with the headlights’ glow.
the asphalt, visual white noise.
turn the stereo up.
stay awake.

drag the mattress up two flights of stairs.
hide it under my desk.
nudge the corner in when coworkers come by to talk about weekend plans.
hold firm as it pushes back.

a river drone as I drag its edge across the parking lot.
drive off without putting it in the car.
it bounces on the road, thrashes in the wind.
unharmed in the driveway.

lean it against the coffee table while I eat dinner.
scroll through twitter on my phone.
a snake’s tail coils around my forearm, constricts.
sigh, flick my thumb, take another bite.

A Tsunami Advisory

She asks if you’re awake.

Your eyes struggle open.

Her silhouette blurry in your tent’s doorway
against the morning’s overcast sky.

Your throat attempts a word.

She tells you not to panic —
a volcano erupted across the ocean;
the National Weather Service said
there’s a chance for a tsunami
along the coast where you’re camping.
“Not a warning, an advisory.”

You nod your head, eyes closing.

She zips the tent flap closed as she leaves.

Brisk air bites your face,
which peeks out of your cocoon.
You see waves tower over the shore,
lift your tent, rip its stakes out of the ground.
You wonder whether
you and your sleeping bag would float
along the surf to the cranberry fields down the road.

You wonder whether
that would be the worst outcome.
You see your classroom; your students;
a painted rock gifted by one, defaced
with a slur by another, left under your desk.
You feel failure, consider the possibility
they would be better off with another teacher.

You remind yourself:
your brain does this all the time,
there is evidence to the contrary.

You can’t see any.

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

Through a Fog

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

I. padfoot, n.

They sit cross-legged,
back against the fence,
head low,

next to a rock
the size of a football
painted in blue and green swirls.

They murmur between deep breaths,
place a dandelion by the rock,
walk back inside their mom's house.

II. mycophilia, n.

Their stepmom is in the kitchen
humming to herself,
slicing white mushrooms,
throwing them into a saucepan.

They walk along the wall opposite her,
a balance between quick and stealth,
in an attempt to avoid any opportunity
for her to ask how they’re feeling.

III. whangai, n.

Successfully back in their room
unnoticed, they sit on their bed,
open their laptop from school,
get greeted by a log-in screen with
a first name
they wish would die,
a last name from a woman
they wish would leave.

IV. good-sister, n.

“Hey Z,” Layla, their brother’s wife, says
as she enters their room.
Since their brother’s deployment,
Layla has come over each Sunday
after her morning shift at Applebee’s.
She flops on the bed,
releasing a wave of french-fry-scented air.

V. goodsire, n.

“Your grandpa told me
dinner should be ready in about an hour,”
Layla says as she digs through her apron.
“Should be enough time
for the next episode
of Wild Wild Country.”
She retrieves a joint and her lighter, 
as is tradition.

VI. micromania, n.

While the citizens of Antelope
describe how the Rajneeshees
overthrew their local government,
Z stares at their toes
shrinking in the foreground
of their laptop’s keyboard.
Maybe their whole body with shrivel,
finally take up less space.
What kind of life is it 
when your sister-in-law is the only one
who uses your name?

VII. mumblecore, n.

They lose the thread
when Layla goes on about
a movie she watched last week
they’ve never heard of.
Everything spirals back into place
as they realize the episode’s credits
are scrolling by.
Dinner must be almost ready.

VIII. humidex, n.

After establishing an alibi
for their bloodshot eyes,
they walk with Layla
into the dining room.
Sweat drips down their spine.
Their neck aches,
their breaths shallow.

IX. urbanscape, n.

Luckily, their stepmom doesn’t notice
Layla and Z enter the dining room,
too busy going on about
her trip to the glass museum downtown
with her friends and their kids
which Z wasn’t invited to.

X. boody, v.

Z experiences dinner
through a fog.

They eat silently,
can’t hear anyone.

XI. gribble, adj.

You can’t be that surprised. You’re not her real kid. She wanted to be with your mom. You were just part of the package. Maybe Nevaeh left your mom because she just wanted to get away from you. You’ve probably always stood in the way of your mom's happiness. You are just a burden. When people talk about pride, they aren’t talking about you. When people talk about liberation, they aren’t talking about you.

XII. necessarium, n.

Put on pajamas. Go to the bathroom. Brush your teeth. Go to sleep. Go to sleep. Go to sleep. A bottle of melatonin. A bathtub and hair dryer. A razor with a loose blade. Go to sleep. Go to sleep. Go to sleep.

XIII. human, adj. and n.

While dreaming,
Z isn’t confined
to the body they were born in,
which locks them in a box
 people force on them.

They can exist
in a body
free of gender.

XIV. hens and chickens, n.

When Z wakes up, they feel it
wash over them in waves.
Dread of confinement
in a body that doesn’t fit.
Pressure to be someone else
by everyone around them.
Hunted by an idea
of who they’re supposed to be.

XV. yom kippur, n.

Not wanting to be a burden
to everyone around them, 
Z takes up less space.
They don’t eat.
They don’t speak.
Maybe this will make up for
how much they’ve worn out the people
who have had to put up with them.

XVI. spiritdom, n.

After school,
Z sits in their backyard
watching their dog’s ghost
chase squirrels
through their mom’s garden.

XVII. min-min, n.

Lights float somewhere
above the roof of their house.
Closer than a star.
Blurry and flat
like an out-of-focus comet.
They imagine
Herry chasing a bone
across the Milky Way.

XVIII. urbs, n.

Z thinks about graduation —
just a few months away now —
then moving to the city
for school, maybe, but mostly
to get away from this house.

In the city,
they can be their true self
without the shackles of their family,
knowing it is also
without the stars they can watch
Herry chase bones across.

XIX. hearty, adj., n., and adv.

Sometimes, Z isn’t actually sure
they’ll make it to graduation.
They drag an anchor
down every hallway
until exhaustion grips
their heart and brain and
nothing seems worth all the effort.

XX. boohai, n.

alone, engulfed
in the smoke from pickups trucks
without mufflers.

XXI. tziganologue, n.

What if
there is nowhere
you will be accepted
you for who you are?

Maybe
no one else will ever
call you your name.
You may be alone
forever.

XXII. paddling pool, n.

Z sits on the side of the cafeteria
with friends who forget
what their name is,
who say it changes too often
to deserve extra effort.

If high school is this
and the future is made of
people like them,
then why would it be
worth getting to.

XXIII. almondine, adj.

Z walks in
from the backyard,
past the living room
where their stepmom
sits on the couch
eating almonds.
She asks “Aaron”
if they want any,
clearly forgetting
their name, their allergy.
As usual.

XXIV. garden room, n.

From their room,
Z stares out the window
toward the backyard.
They wonder about the height,
how fast they would fall,
the force with which they’d land
on their stepmom’s tomato plants.

XXV. feastly, adj.

At dinner, they savor every
last bite.

Their mom,
home for dinner for the first time in weeks,
takes a large scoop of
the macaroni and cheese
she spent the evening making.

Z eats
until their stomach hurts.

XXVI. slow-bellied, adj.

A full stomach,
they take slow, deliberate steps
up the staircase.

Committed, still,
to the plan they made
completely.

XXVII. pacable, adj.

It used to be bearable,
when Herry was alive,
when he could comfort them
after a hard day.
But since he died,
each day
feels more torturous
than the last.

XXVIII. almuten, n.

A force beyond words.
A slow crescendo inside their skull.
Words they cannot ignore:
You are a burden;
Nobody wants you here;
You do not belong;
Everything you touch decays.

XXIX. hat tip, n.

Cold air through an open window.
Cold words on crumpled paper.
Cold acrylic of a bathtub.
Cold steel of a razor blade.

XXX. alogical, adj. and n.

There isn’t really a word
for the grief that drowns you
when you find your child
dead in their bathroom.

There especially isn’t a word
for the waves of grief and guilt
when you find your partner’s kid,
who you never particularly cared for,
bled white, their final note
in your trembling hand.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

A poem

by a white man in his thirties

with undiagnosed depression— undiagnosed because he’s afraid of seeing a therapist and discovering that problems are deeper, more destructive than he thinks they are—

who works through his feelings and insecurities in his writing; 

who buries himself in work because it’s the only coping mechanism he knows for quieting the spiral inside his head;

who puts the needs of other people ahead of himself, telling himself it’s the polite thing to do, when really he believes he is not worthy of the time, effort, and support everyone else is.

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.