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.

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.