Jendi Reiter is the author of the novel Two Natures (Saddle Road Press, 2016), the short story collection An Incomplete List of My Wishes (Sunshot Press, 2018), and four poetry books and chapbooks, most recently Bullies in Love (Little Red Tree, 2015). They are the editor of WinningWriters.com, an online resource site with contests and markets for creative writers.
In these cold cracked hours
after hours dripping days away
in the brown steam of the coffee shop,
traced rings of bitterness on the counter
left behind by the lifted cup
are darker than the water that drained
from my smashed glass
into the sink white and hard as a tooth
the night you
tore each other's flesh,
the flesh I came from.
The sky was a bruised
purple-orange like the thighs
of a woman squeezed through other bodies
onto the last train anywhere.
It was cold then, too.
Fog smothering the city spires sharp
as a needle sinking into flesh,
inoculating the water-swollen clouds.
Soup is thicker
than water, charity in a chipped bowl.
How the smell stains the memory of your hallways,
the air grows closer, though the gas flame's out
and the pot empty, and the farmers
of beans and peppers will sell no more this winter.
For my own good
you extracted promises
from one another like wisdom
teeth smashed inside the gums,
drawn out in pieces.
Where's that old blood now? Is it mine?
What you wanted
was my judgment.
But I'm no hangman, no train conductor
who closes the doors.
Ice traces fault lines on the pavement
like a cracked eggshell still holding together,
melts and reforms under passing feet
a skin of ice puckered and rippled like scar tissue.
Outside the winter was empty
and inside too close, thick with electric heat
neither of you claimed to want
save for my sake,
but kept it on and paid the bills.
I craved the cold air, free, but not enough
to stand out in the snow,
under the bright eyes of the stars.
Even now I ask
what we all do:
help me, leave me alone.
What you want
is my confession. There it is.
By my window, I wait
for your turning back;
invisible your paths through the lines
of frost echoing the stripped trees.
So easily blurred
by the steam of current desire,
evaporating coffee, a craving
obscuring the view of your road,
as you stumbled into the burdened future,
to love unrefunded.
Other changes, other moments wait.
My door is thin, made of wood.
Come in, I said, though only
the wind pushed it open.
The universe is That Guy's apartment.
When it says You chose your parents
you hear Take off your bra.
Awareness narrows like a birth canal
to this barefoot moment
and someday on another couch you'll recapitulate
the decisions that wisdom and will,
your astral progenitors, surely
swear you made.
Consent's presumed because you're here
soaking up gravity, binge-drinking air.
The universe doesn't require enthusiasm.
When it says You chose this struggle
to help you grow you're sure
that's why wishes don't swallow you
like car keys dropped down a night-time grating,
why you couldn't shrink and strangle
your body's inhabitant.
The universe says You'll meet again
ones you tried to ghost, pass by whistling,
bounce off with a smile.
When you stumble back to your good locked place
in why were you wearing those shoes,
the universe is waiting
for you to see it in the bathroom mirror
where only your face should be.
Lower East Side Playground, 1974, 2014
The home I got away from has become beautiful
with a gate around it. I trade entry for gossip
with a tortoise-faced man in a brown fedora
who used to compare me to his successful daughter
when we rode the same elevator.
I was born here, in a bedroom above the garbage depot,
when this back playground was open to the street of grandmothers
Yiddish and Spanish, in housedresses and pantyhose,
and I offered myself to their lonely laps.
Puerto Rican fathers showed off their baby girls' earrings
and their heaving, black-tongued dogs.
Between two sheet-metal corners of the jungle gym
I made my tiny throne, a story
I couldn't share with my temporary friends.
Beauty in Manhattan is a far-off flier
of a newspaper riding the thermals
and anything communal is nailed to concrete.
I married a calm man with a gold necktie
who remembers me surviving here
behind a fortress of hair and books,
who remembers me in the mouth of my mother.
For eleven years we have grown our garden elsewhere.
Everyone flipped their apartments and the building planted
ornamental cabbage behind a fence of wrought-iron birds.
A gourmet donut shop edged out the kosher butcher
who casually hacked yellow-skinned chickens in quarters
over a sawdust floor.
The old turtle neighbor asks after my mother.
She's not, she's never been, but I tell him she's fine.
My two-year-old son climbs on bars I don't recognize.
The metal is tender, the ground rubber padded,
the riding toys leave less to imagine
of horse and hippo. He smiles bright as a medal.
He is the scrambled eggs on my admiral hat.
He is happy as a rubber ball.
Across the cloud-marbled sky the June treetops sweep
like Scarlett O'Hara's green velvet curtain-skirts.
My mother's lies are a stopped phone.
I've mislaid her bracelet of bruises.
A soda can bangs in the gutter and the bus that never comes
more than once an hour sinks to a stop
with a contented fart. Was this place never terrible?
We can no longer afford to live
in its smallest rooms.
Forty years on the wind, tomorrow
becomes another day.
"Close" was first published in A Talent for Sadness (Turning Point Books, 2003), now
out of print.
"Lower East Side Playground, 1974, 2014" was first published in Cog, the literary
journal of Cogswell College, in 2016.
Martyn Tok is a student in Singapore. He enjoys writing poems about unfortunate life events and unfortunate happenings in society. He seeks to pursue an arts degree in university, hoping to make a living as an essential member of society.
a semester of secondhand catastrophizing
I wake up in your hell
After another of your suicidal Sundays
Mondays are for me to writhe in the toilet before I
Quickly, race, with my heartbeat
Until I am convinced you aren’t gonna
Eat a few too many pills or
Sulk at the ledge of the 11th floor
Threaten to cut yourself
If I don’t respond in 10 minutes.
Opening the chat is another horror.
Never imagined how best buddy's trust could be a life-and-death burden
I don’t remember who you were,
Nor how we became friends, but everyday
Greetings sound like the last ‘goodbye’....
It’s been five months since I saw a real smile
Fake them easily through a surgical mask :D
I don’t know how to act in front of you
Accuse me, of betraying your trust
Desperate situations call for desperate measures
Emergency call, call for moral salvation
Truth used to be our favourite cup of tea.
Had I not told on you, could you
Expect a chance at recovery?
Relapse: you are UNSALVAGEABLE,,,
Infection: dragging people down into your downward spirals,,,
GO AWAY!: I can’t fight your battles if you beat yourself down all the time!
Have a great day!: You think I live better than you; I wished!
The truth is terrible. I despise myself. I sent your burden off to the hospital.
Calm after the storm; you wake up drugged, in a safe land. Unburdened.
How shall I get to oasis? Stranded, surrounded by quicksand....
One day I will get my peace, and your sunny smile will shine unwaveringly....
I don’t know if the day will come. All I know is that I want to have faith.
Choices are all we have and I made mine.
Eventually when we heal, will we be able to face each other on the same ground?