8.02 / February 2013

Three Poems

On Learning to Open My Eyes

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The brightest sky is a blindfold stitched
with black rain. I think of the dog pacing
by the back door. Control clocks the moan
sprinting past the flinch, how her teeth
make me dream of doorbells crashing screams
into a quiet house. I once trained myself
to tiptoe; to gag the yes tapping underneath
the ice; to vault the rip-roar tripping from
my tongue- a parade of magician’s scarves
I want to keep pulling, pulling.

I am a master of Escape. Show me a body,
I’ll show you an exit ramp. Follow the thrash
to Oz, to 1998, to a woman too ghost
to ever raise the alarms.

The first time I opened my eyes, I thought
of surfacing from chlorine. O, the sting
and the entire hive swarming into the
swimming pool outline of me. I look into
her eyes when the honey begins to drip
from her lips. She swallows my windows
whole. There is nowhere left to go but inside.


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Once, I kneeled in an alleyway and clung to shrubs
until they fainted in my hands. My throat was an
escalator of snake venom; a vodka curtain snapping
its wet fingers against the asphalt sky. The tornado
in my gut motoring on, and on, and on.

Inside the bar, the girls shrieked and licked salt from
their palms. I couldn’t grab hold of the wheel of their
laughter. I wore a dress of pennies. I thought of pictures
in the zoo of dead seals with their guts slit open, coins
spilling everywhere.

I grabbed the phone and slung my voice onto the wire.
My friend came running through the ceiling. Why would
you do this?
she asked. I’m sorry, I told her. I’m sorry. I’m
sorry. I shivered on her floor all night as the wires
unsnapped, one by one.

This was my second brush with death in three years.
I never told my parents about this one. After the first,
I called them from the ER to tell them about the
scorpion, the blood on my shoes and the $2,000
helicopter ride to the hospital.

As I held the phone, I could feel the shrivel in my
mother’s voice. How her hands couldn’t untie this
knot in me, or even call it by name. All she could
do is say, please take care of yourself, and hang the white
flag of her sigh from the highest tree in the yard.

Trap Door

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In another life, I was a programmer, or an engineer.
I love wires-flickering bones of a homemade God-
and how thy will be done or you buy a new battery or
you Frankenstein a scavenged perfection. Here, I can
teach my blood new tricks. Curve my tongue into a
conch to sound out words I have no shape for. Claw
safety into the bathroom mirror. Train my spine to
straighten every time I wince. Yes, I love you, and this
is something I hope I’m not dozing through. I keep
waiting for the wire to scratch the air, a record needle
that sings even when its throat has been cut. When the
bells ring, will I remember how I used to pray to my own
loneliness? All the hymns of waking in a quiet house
boom through the headphones. I taught myself that
wanting only bends us further into ourselves, turns
us into commas not trusting ourselves to ever declare
anything finite, a dictionary written in soft pencil,
last night you told me you loved me and I said, thanks,
not because I don’t love you, but because I’m a rat
in a maze I keep forgetting I built myself and you
are the trap door I didn’t see coming.

Joanna Hoffman grew up in the Maryland suburbs, and now lives in Brooklyn. Her full-length poetry collection will be published by Sibling Rivalry Press in August 2013. She enjoys running in the park, brunch, and teaching her cat to fold laundry. Please visit her at www.joannahoffman.com.
8.02 / February 2013