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Kami Westhoff

How to Do Disaster

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You asked me to write you a poem, but all I know how to do
is disaster: the barrage of body becomes blood becomes bone.

If we skeleton, at least we can etch our ache into ulna, fleck the femur
with each fuck up, slash the scapula where its curve wants to wing.

So many moments are birthed without our blessing, but we can still slick
our throats with split-seconds of what we want. I guess what I mean to say

is that I want you like a virus wants the pretty pink mouth of a healthy
cell: to slip through your membrane, hide in the cytoplasm until I'm all you

can think about. You say we're something you could never do, but what
if we've already done? What if I've multiplied in your malleable tunnel of bone?

Can't you already feel that snag in the hollow of your lung? Or in the red hot
squiggle of vein in your eye? Or maybe I'm one of those you don't know

you've got until it's too late. There are easier ways to say you've got
what I want: my mouth on yours, fingers finding what aches, skin

shivers in the shape of your lips. But you asked me to write you
a poem, and all I know how to do is disaster.

All the Wrong Words

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You are sitting in the shower again, naked though no one has told you
it’s the day the woman who is intimate with you in ways your own
family cannot stomach will drag a washcloth, hissing with heat, pocked
with bubbles of lavender, over places that haven’t been touched in decades.

Copper cuts hyphenate your chin from the razor, shedding skin
scatters your lips like salt. It seems today you are not yet a mother,
which is to say you are still someone’s daughter. When you see me,
your fists stamp the air like it’s to blame for pressing itself into your lungs.

Help me, you say, and I try to think what your mother would’ve done.
It’s times like these I’m never sure who I should be. I’m still learning
to mother my own children, to crave their bodies, still shivering
from the nightmare, stilled in the cave of my body.

Outside, an enraged rain, one you’d find in a story about loved things lost.
I think about calling for my father, who sits in the kitchen feeding page after page
of ancient bills into the shredder. Or my sister, who would’ve had you
washed and ready to go by now.

I stand in the doorway, heart-socked, knee -buckled, mouth full of all the wrong
words. But somewhere there’s a me that twists the faucet, tests the water’s temperature
on my wrist, turns the bar of soap in the washcloth until it offers its foam, cleans
you in all the places you can’t reach.

One More Morning

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At your age, I was already decomposing from all the ways I would die.
Most often at the hands of meaty men—rubber soles silent against the fire
escape's thin rungs, the tat-tat-tat on the glass front door of a man selling
encyclopedias, the thrip of the tent's zipper on the first night warm enough
for camping in the yard— men with knives or axes or the spine-sized
hooks dangling from the ceiling on butcher day.

I can't tell if I've done wrong or right by shallow-ending you. You haven't yet
learned how much a man can hate what he doesn't own, how easy it is for him
to claim it. You come to breakfast in shorts so tiny I can see the halfmoon curve
of where butt becomes thigh. You lift your shirt to reveal a zebra-striped bra
covering your barely-there breast buds. When I was eleven, I was disgusted
by my own body— the bulge of flesh hanging over my belt, the smear of rust
on my underwear—but you are fascinated by the way your body does what
it is designed to do.

I want to slink upstairs, rifle through your funnel-cloud clothes, find
something longer and looser and less likely to be taken the wrong way
by someone used to taking. I resist. I know this isn’t enough to save you.
I crack an egg into a cast iron pan, squiggle the yoke. I butter the toast,
careful to spread it all the way to the crisped edges.

While you eat you sketch a one-eyed girl, purple tears tug on both corners,
in your best cursive write, You are beautiful, no matter what they say.
Somehow, we step into one more morning where the man on the fire escape
is a fireman coming to rescue you, the man at the door in the brilliance of girls,
and the man unzipping the tent is just your father calling you inside
before the sky bursts into an early summer thunderstorm.

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