Poetry Talk

Poetry by Leslie Cairns

Birthstone

A garland of mortician’s rubies hangs

Itself, drooping

Over now marred, once

Porcelain skin

Does anyone else hold themselves up like rubies?

Birth stone rare

Collecting each moment like it could gleam off the titrates of my once-too-there

Collarbones.

The collarbones drive you away,

The collarbones caved inwards until you, at last, completely

Stared there.

At least I have a garland of rare,

As I’m shouting at the black hole that is depression, or a set of dampened stairs.

Slicked shouting at the stars to marry me – stone cold soberly,

Notes tinged with once almost vertical sunsets,

The depths of whom eclipsed me.

At least I resemble a ruby

Born after a Hart concert on a humid, upstate, NY

Night, with so much ruby, spread around like overused tinsel:

Red on lipsticked, pock-marked mouths,

Red thin welts I give in the last days as my mother bloomed like a pumpkin or a peach.

Red is a ruby, the concert was Hart which would be remiss to not think of cutout hearts in elementary schools, littering the floor with promise.

Hart sang the song that would unearth me.

Mark me like a trail of blood cascading into the summer-heated grass completely…

Turning the wildflowers: gasping, ruby,

And red.

They Called You Waif: A Letter

Dear Former Self,

Just because you have no money and you brush your teeth with your fingertips, doesn’t mean that people with a house are right.

Dear Former Self,

I wonder if we’ll ever feel truly loved again.

Dear Former Self,

A controlling friendship, a controlling foster/host family, a controlling family who lets you stay is not a family at all.

Dear Former Self,

You should have known when they called you ‘waif’ over and over again, like pennies in a deserted lake.

Like the day you forgot to dust and went to sleep, and they texted you to do it at 8 at night, or how when you said you had an eating disorder, they said you were dishonest and

Dear Former Self,

It’s okay to be grateful for how these unhelpful houses led you to a better life, even though you defog your own mirror and still remember being in all of their bathrooms, keeping your toothbrush in your room, not in the holder with the others. You knew they didn’t want your stuff near theirs, you share a house but not places like that — it’s just too much.

Dear Former Self, Remember that you never entered houses to mystify them. You entered fearful and afraid from your mom telling you you were a barbarian and you had educational degrees to finish and were afraid and people loved you at first, then sometimes changed their minds. But that doesn’t mean a thing about you. The changing of the minds is independent of your unstable graphing of your line.

Dear Former Self,

It’s okay to remember things about each of the eight houses like looking at museums you still would visit if they were open. Tasting macaroons for the first time, or beef on weck, which you did not like but everyone else had seconds of, laden on paper plates you found for her in the basement while she baked. Or dogs that grew to love you or looking at lamb butter on Easter or Lamb Cakes in some families instead, where the Mom spent hours constructing a sheep out of white frosting and it’s okay to wish you could go back there. It’s okay to curl into a ball when you realize you no longer fit. That now you prefer to grab your ankles when you compress, instead of your bones.

Dear Former Self:

They loved you but they didn’t know how. The shadow repeats behind the wild blame: we loved you but you weren’t ours to fix, even though, even though, isn’t that the reason everyone took you in?

To get some praise for fixing. People love fixing broken people, as if they were bent moth wings, or a spade that needs polishing, or a table setting that’s almost right,

Except you need to find the extra leaf for the table to sit right.

You are not an extra leaf: you’re a fig tree. You are not meant to beg for scraps of acceptance from peoples’ sons and daughters, you are meant to be loved upon wiping your feet upon the mat that says ‘welcome home’ in frayed logic. When you think of her, you can still cry, forever, and that will still be okay.

My cat has three legs but her instinct is to knead the bed with both, you still see her stump move like it’s pressing down on my thighs to show she loves me. She will always be broken, but she continues to love. There’s nothing wrong with how she tries to fit in, whole, like all the others. Even with less weight, she fits perfectly between my feet, when she falls asleep at night., like she’s meant to belong there

Black Blouse

I went to a funeral of my friend

I had been fighting with, riding shotgun

with my abusive mother, finally.

She picked her neck and looked at me

To remind me that even with my pancake makeup

I still had stress acne. Her blue iris just quivered and stared

At the one on my chin, hidden yet blooming,

Then continued to drive.

I went to a funeral of my best friend and my abusive mother hung near the fake grapes hanging down in vines like vices over the

Light wood slatted awning

That seemed light but would not break.

Watching us friends slow dance to hip hop music,

Arms slowly draped across one another

Lightly crying, in pear shaped pools to songs my Mom didn’t even know I was listening to.

I went to my first funeral and my abusive mom veered through traffic.

Gracefully,

and , for once, I fell asleep

Dogged, humbled for her fool-

Proof navigation.

I wore a tight, pretty black blouse

Straightened my hair with a hissing iron that curled smoke like the ashes of Hope’s once warm body and

All I repeat in my head at my dead friend’s funeral is a mindnumbing I’m sorry,

Over and over again,

As my abusive mother hovers behind me

As I flutter my eyes closed

Saying my goodbyes

To her father.

Wondering if my Mom, behind me,

Is saying sorry to me

As I stand in front of you

Saying sorry

For what I did with you.

Bio: Leslie Cairns is an MA graduate from SUNY Fredonia and pursuing Sociology at CU Denver as a graduate student. She has published largely microfiction, as well as one act plays. She is currently a Denver Poetry Fellow at Denver Lighthouse Writers, under the mentorship program of Carolina Ebeid. You can find her work at Green Buffalo Productions (plays) and Flash Fiction Friday (microfiction). Her chapbook is coming out under Denver Lighthouse in July, 2021.

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