in for a penny, in for a pound

Seaside Improvisation, by Richard Siken

I take off my hands and I give them to you but you don’t
want them, so I take them back
and put them on the wrong way, the wrong wrists. The yard is dark,
the tomatoes are next to the whitewashed wall,
the book on the table is about Spain,
the windows are painted shut.
Tonight you’re thinking of cities under crowns
of snow and I stare at you like I’m looking through a window,
counting birds.
You wanted happiness, I can’t blame you for that,
and maybe a mouth sounds idiotic when it blathers on about joy
but tell me
you love this, tell me you’re not miserable.
You do the math, you expect the trouble.
The seaside town. The electric fence.
Draw a circle with a piece of chalk. Imagine standing in a constant cone
of light. Imagine surrender. Imagine being useless.
A stone on the path means the tea’s not ready,
a stone in the hand means somebody’s angry, the stone inside you still
hasn’t hit bottom.


I’m going to Seattle today, a two o’clock bus that should get me there around six. It feels almost criminal because of the weather outside, crisp, bright, so promising. There was snow on the ground last night when my lover drove me home, my bare feet sank into it by an inch while walking on the gravel behind his home. Earlier lightning, small dark rolls of quiet thunder.

My body bleeds today where I was rough with it last night. I am torn. Bruised, too, with carnations of gentle blue and yellow across my back like insomnia’s physical manifestation, a rebellion of capillaries protesting against lack of sleep. I am shamed that I hurt so much, so easily. The mirror will not meet my eyes. Everything aches – my devotion, the stress of it, the one drop of blood.