Christmas, 2005 / No. 15

As small as I was, before my hair ever darkened,

when I was still a flash of white, my platinum locks,

my baby teeth, the white sclera that had never shown

the blood vessels already burrowing like pinworms

into some distant morning’s hangover, some rage

at grown-up failures. When I was still that flawless,

that twenty-four–carat pure, I knew it was you

who came into our house and weakened my father’s heart,

who choked my mother’s laugh into a cracked and arid rasp.

I saw you loitering in our kitchen, clinging to our windows,

wearing your crude perfume, when in my nightmares

you were always hiding in the closet or under the bed,

or curled up like a polyp in the dog’s nostril, waiting

to explode. You lived with us. You touched everything.

We met again when I was sweet sixteen, you so neat

and slim in your white slip, and me sliding, glass by glass,

into my first drunk. At night in a friend’s backyard,

fifteen years ago, the fire-lit trees spread their branches

into darkness. The stars above them seemed a little nervous

when they twinkled. The chatter was coming unravelled;

voices walked across the lawn without their mouths,

saying words like “punk,” and “fuck,” and “faggot,”

words without targets, exempt from meaning, so that

the edges peeled away from everything, every memory.

When someone refused to kiss you, you came to me,

surprised at how much I’d grown—taller, darker—

and though you hadn’t changed, I wasn’t frightened.

I brought you to my mouth and breathed you in all night.