il fullxfull.355418326 jeyuVia bluegrassloft/Etsy

When Faye came back from summer camp
it took exactly seven days for her to forget about Jesus.
Our middle school hands clung tight together
while she wept news about the imminent apocalypse.
When she cried out in fear I imagined trapped animals stuck
between worlds, our lawn charred black.
Out the window summer leaves rustled in their green skin.
Dad told me they wouldn't feed you if you didn't pray
at the camp, so even then I knew the kindness of a lie.
We believe, I said and watched out the window.
Accomplices under wind’s gentle hand, I blinked
and the trees one by one turned their faces away.

Seven days later, Faye was back to painting our eyes
the color of koi and juniper. We outfitted in shiny vests
with just bras beneath, arms pressing new breasts
together to erupt into cleavage. We posed with tigress mouths
on her kitchen table, beneath the stark interrogation lamp.
When we developed the photos from the disposable camera
at the drugstore, we wondered if the clerk checked us out
and put our fingers to gag our throats, secretly admiring
this small but actual taste of sex blooming through skin.

Unlike my house, where my mother’s nose was a power
tool used for sniffing out the most microscopic sin,
Faye's mom had died sleeping when she was eight,
and that’s when her dad took up the stance of the trees.
When Faye came to my twelfth birthday, hiking up
our next door hill-sized drive way in platform shoes,
she propped on the swing set in magenta zig zag pants,
make-up thick as a mask that I imagined she peeled off
in one swift motion before sleep and hung on the bed post.
When the party ended, dad quietly worried Faye looked
like a prostitute and he didn't mean it in a cruel way.

Faye kept a tiny gold cross around her neck on a thin chain.
When Faye sang she belted out harsh like Broadway.
When Faye wanted to pluck my eyebrows to bring
hyper-femininity to my face, mom worried I’d come
home with her skinny sideways commas arching my eyes.
When Faye teased it felt like the earth was opening
its mouth to swallow you in its hideous laughter, not unlike
apocalypse, and it was sure meant to be cruel.

When Faye snuck out at 2am, I followed her pink boa
to tickle the face of handsome men. We studied their strong
backs, the veins that pushed through the neck like roots.
When Faye fell in and out of love, she spent more time
excusing herself to the bathroom, a trip after every meal.
It wasn’t noticeable at first, but once I saw, I could not stop
seeing, balloon-sized, exaggerated, her swollen knuckles
nicked by teeth, fresh lipstick applied to her succulent lips,
perfume dabbed on behind each ear and I knew, I did.
I knew exactly what her breath smelled like

but —

                                                                               .seert eht

 

Poet's Note

Of course, we know trees are neutral characters. They hold no opinions, they do not have eyes. The trees are silent not by choice, but by nature of being. It is ludicrous to say one has learned their own silence from a tree. But when we look away, which we do often in the face of a difficult humanity, isn't it hard to admit that such act is our own choice? We scapegoat and blame to avoid facing our own pain at dismissing another's pain. The young narrator admits to knowing her friend is in danger at the poem's end but... can't accept the full responsibility of turning away. I am drawn to poems that hook into the writer's own vulnerability, that reveal a personal sting, a confession, an implication of the speaker in the problem. What does that looking do? To look simultaneously outward and inward?

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About Caits Meissner

Caits Meissner is the author of the hybrid poetry book Let It Die Hungry forthcoming October 15th, and The Letter All Your Friends Have Written You, co-written with poet Tishon Woolcock. Her work has won awards and is published in various journals and anthologies. Multidisciplinary by nature, Caits experiments with writing's relationship to illustrations and sound. In 2010 her album, the wolf & me, was released to accolades on platforms such as Okayplayer. "Fresh, honest and loving," Erykah Badu called Caits' blend of poetry and music, naming her, "a delicate heart like mine." With a long history in community arts, Caits currently teaches in prison, public school, and at City College and The New School University. Follow her on caitsmeissner.com, Facebook, and Instagram.

About Let It Die Hungry

"Caits Meissner's 'Let it Die Hungry' is a stunningly potent archive of surviving. In poems, drawings, notes, and workbook-style experiments, Meissner generously shares her tools of becoming while simultaneously reinventing what a book of poems might be. In each of these modes it is clear: Meissner believes in the powers of seeing, testifying, and saying what is most difficult. "

- Aracelis Girmay , author of The Black Maria

Recklessly sensual, provocative and profoundly curious, Meissner's coming-of-age poems seek to anchor their place in a messy world, blurring the edges of hard borders and disparate identities. Finding joy, connection and determination in desperate spaces, as well as the slippery terrain of a changing self, Meissner's voice is at once a reckoning, a proclamation, and an open question. Sprinkled with the author's illustrations, the book's multidisciplinary approach also includes lesson plans, originally utilized in a women's prison, that invite the reader to write their own way out of polarizing dichotomies — and into the vast grey space of what it means to be alive.

Order the book via The Operating System's catalog.

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