Blue Coen

HOW WE SCREAM WHEN WE ARE BURNING

(TO EMILY DICKINSON)



THIS IS TRUE: YOU DESCENDED A STAIRCASE TO MEET A SUITOR FOR THE FIRST TIME DRESSED IN A WEDDING GOWN & THAT’S A FUCKING MOVE.


THIS IS TRUE: FIVE WEDDING GOWNS HANG UNDER PLASTIC WRAP IN MY CLOSET, WHICH DOESN’T EXPLAIN WHY I SCREWED MY HIGH SCHOOL BOYFRIEND EARLIER THIS MONTH & THAT’S A FUCKING MOVE TOO, IF YOU INTERPRET FUCKING DIFFERENTLY.


TWO MEN FELL OUT OF MY BED THIS WEEK. ROLLED OFF ONTO THE CARPETED FLOOR. WOKE UP WITH RUGBURNS ON THEIR SHOULDER BLADES. NOW THEY THINK THEY UNDERSTAND BURNS— UNDERSTAND FIRES. ONE SMELLS LIKE TEQUILA. ONE SMELLS LIKE RUM. THIS MAKES THEM HIGHLY INFLAMMABLE & I WISH I COULD BE THE ARSONIST. I WISH YOU COULD BE HERE TO SPIT SALT INTO THEIR SCABS AS THEY STUMBLE TO FIND FLOORING IN THE MORNING.



I TOSS A CONDOM FROM THE FLOOR IN THE TRASH. DUMP STALE DRINKS DOWN THE DRAIN. ROAST PORK SHOULDER SO THAT IT FALLS OFF THE BONE. SOFT BOIL AN EGG SO THAT YOLK CAN POOL WHERE MY LIP MEETS MY CHEEK. HARNESS THE FIRE OF A GAS STOVE. PLUNK IT ALL IN BROTH & TRY TO BOIL OFF THIS FEELING IN MY STOMACH. BUT THE ONLY THING THAT BURNS OFF THIS FEELING IS BOOZE & THIS MAKES ME A TIPSY HYPOCRITE. INHALE CAVA & WATCH MOULIN ROUGE & MASTURBATE TO A YOUNG EWAN MCGREGOR & DISASSOCIATE LOOKING AT NICOLE KIDMAN’S WAIST.


YOU ONCE WROTE INEBRIATE OF AIR — AM I— & I WISH BREATHING FELT AS INTOXICATING FOR ME AS FUMBLING AROUND FOR A ZIPPER AFTER I’VE HAD A FEW TOO MANY DOES.


THE ONE WHO SMELLS LIKE TEQUILA HAS LOST EVERY BOOK I HAVE EVER GIVEN HIM. LEAVES THEM TO DIE ATOP HIS PARENTS’ PIANO. LETS THEM PROP UP LOPSIDED TABLES. ASKED ME TO SCRATCH BEHIND HIS EARS LIKE HE IS A DOG. BUKOWSKI SAID LOVE IS A DOG FROM HELL.


THE ONE WHO SMELLS LIKE RUM ASKED ME TO HIT HIM IN BED. ASKED ME IF HE FELL DOWN MY STAIRS LAST NIGHT. ASKED ME TO PICK OUT A BOOK FOR HIM. ASKED ME TO MAKE SURE IT WAS ONE OF THOSE BOOKS WITHOUT A FEMALE LEAD. ASKED ME TO MAKE IT HURT. ASKED ME IF I HAD READ FIGHT CLUB. I THINK HE’D LIKE BUKOWSKI. I THINK YOU’D HATE BUKOWSKI.


I AM A HYPOCRITE. I LOVE BUKOWSKI & I THINK THAT MAKES ME A FAILED FEMINIST. I ALSO LOVE SPARKLING WATER & I THINK THAT MAKES ME A CLASS TRAITOR BECAUSE ONE TIME A BOY IN A RED ZISSOU HAT TOLD ME IT DID WHILE HE SLUNG MANHATTANS & SPELLED PROLETARIAT WITH HIS TONGUE & PLAYED SWANKY VINYL SOMEWHERE DARK & THE MORAL OF BOTH THESE STORIES IS I BELIEVE WHAT MEN TELL ME TO BELIEVE & I WANT A MAN TO INSULT MY RECORD COLLECTION THEN LEAVE ME IN THE MORNING FOR A CIGARETTE & YES THAT IS A THINLY VEILED METAPHOR & YES I’D LIKE TO BE STRONGER & LESS CLICHÉ, BUT I’D ALSO LIKE TO WAKE UP NEXT TO SOMETHING WARM, EVEN IF THAT SOMETHING IS THE SAME MIXTAPE WITH DIFFERENT SONGS & THE SONGS ARE ALWAYS ABOUT LEAVING & YES I WOULD LIKE TO PUT THE WEDDING DRESSES ON, MAYBE ALL FIVE AT ONCE & SOMERSAULT DOWN THE STAIRS UNTIL EVERY SEAM IS RIPPED & MY FACE IS SINGED WITH RUGBURNS, BUT I DON'T KNOW IF I CAN LET GO OF THE RAILING.


THIS IS TRUE: YOU SAID YOUR FATHER READ LONELY AND RIGOROUS BOOKS. YOU WERE AFRAID OF YOUR STOIC FATHER.


THIS IS TRUE: I HAVE A MEMORY OF MY DAD BURNING BOOKS IN THE FURNACE TO KEEP A WOODEN HOUSE HEATED, TOSSING THEM IN PAGE BY PAGE & THERE IS PROBABLY A THINLY VEILED METAPHOR HERE TOO.


I WOULD LIKE TO BE HYSTERICAL ENOUGH TO SET ALL FIVE DRESSES ON FIRE. CACKLING. RAVING. UNDER A FIG TREE WITH A LIGHTER & GASOLINE. SET FIRE TO A GIRL WHO WOULD LET A MAN SWALLOW HER, INSTEAD OF HER SWALLOWING HIM, BUT DEPENDING ON HOW YOU INTERPRET SWALLOWING, I AM ALWAYS THE SUBMISSIVE ONE. HOW DO YOU ESCAPE THE PARADOX?


ONE OF YOUR POEMS IS PASTED ABOVE MY BED. OR IS IT A LETTER? CAN A LETTER BE A POEM? IS THIS ANOTHER PARADOX? ARE ALL PARADOXES POEMS? THERE IS A SOLITUDE OF SPACE YOU SAID.


SPACE CONSUMES US IN BOTH SOFT & HARD WAYS & SOMETIMES WE CONSUME SPACE. WE EAT IT UP OUT OF THE PALM OF THE UNIVERSE OR OUT OF THE PALM OF A LOVER’S CALLOUSED HAND & SOMETIMES WE EAT IT UP JUST TO SPIT IT OUT BECAUSE WE HAVE FORGOTTEN WHY OUR LOVER’S HAND IS CALLOUSED TO BEGIN WITH— THEY WERE HOLDING US WHEN WE CAUGHT FIRE. THEY ARE THE REASON WE CAUGHT FIRE. THERE IS A SOLITUDE OF SPACE & THIS IS A PARADOX BECAUSE SPACE IS NOT A SYNONYM FOR SOLITUDE & SOMETIMES IT IS & SOMETIMES I CAN’T TELL IF YOU WANTED TO BE CONSUMED BY LOVE OR WANTED TO BE LEFT ALONE & I’M NOT ENTIRELY SURE THEY’RE ALWAYS DIFFERENT THINGS.


THIS IS TRUE: YOU SPENT SO MUCH OF YOUR LIFE TUCKED AWAY.


THIS IS TRUE: I CANNOT HANDLE SOLITUDE, WHICH IS TO SAY I CANNOT HANDLE MYSELF. WHEN I SAY MYSELF, I AM NOT SURE WHO I MEAN. I MEAN TO SAY, ONE TIME I SLEPT WITH A MAN & I HAVEN’T SEEN MYSELF EVER SINCE.


I LAY AWAKE WITH THE ONE WHO SMELLS LIKE RUM ON THE NIGHT I TURNED TWENTY-THREE AS HE SLOPPILY CURLED AROUND MY BODY & SNORED & SWEAT. I CAN FLIP MY AGE AROUND TO GET HIS & HE CAN FLIP ME AROUND TO GET HIS & NO MATTER HOW YOU INTERPRET GET HIS THE STORY IS THE SAME & I TRIED TO BECOME SOMETHING LIGHTER THAN WHAT I AM, SOMETHING WEIGHTLESS. I TRIED TO BECOME SMOKE.


THIS IS TRUE: YOUR MOTHER, LIKE YOU, RARELY LEFT THE HOUSE. SHE LIVED HER LIFE SEMI-SHUTTERED.


THIS IS TRUE: MY MOTHER SPENDS HER DAYS ON A CHAISE LOUNGE WITH THE CURTAINS CLOSED.


I CALLED MY MOM & TOLD HER I WAS SEEING A NEW MAN. A MAN WHO SMELLED LIKE RUM. SHE ASKED IF I WAS STILL SEEING THE MAN WHO SMELLED LIKE TEQUILA, THE ONE WHO SMELLED LIKE OLD FASHIONEDS, THE ONE WHO SMELLED LIKE LAKE BEER. THE ANSWERS WERE YES & I WISH & YES, BUT ONLY WHEN WE ARE DRUNK ENOUGH TO SEE OTHER PEOPLE WHEN WE FUMBLE AROUND EACH OTHERS NOSES IN THE DARK. SHE ASKED HOW OLD THE MAN WHO SMELLED LIKE RUM WAS. I TOLD HER & SHE SAID SHE WAS GLAD I WAS WITH SOMEONE OLDER, BUT SHE’D ALWAYS LIKE THE ONE WHO SMELLED LIKE TEQUILA BECAUSE HE REMINDED HER OF A DOG.


THIS IS TRUE: THE FLOORBOARDS OF YOUR STAIRS KNEW EXACTLY HOW MANY TIMES YOU WENT DOWN THEM. COUNTED OUT LOUD IN CREAKS. WAITED WITH ANTICIPATION FOR THE HEM OF YOUR WHITE DRESS TO DUST THEM.


THIS IS TRUE: MY FATHER PUSHED MY MOTHER DOWN THE STAIRS IN HER WEDDING DRESS. CALLED HER FAT. CALLED HER SLUT. HEARD EVERY SEAM RIP OUT OF HER DRESS. HEARD EVERY SEAM RIP OUT OF HER INSIDES THROUGH THE SOUND OF A SCREAM. I DON’T KNOW WHAT SHE DID WITH THAT DRESS AFTER THE DIVORCE, BUT I KNOW IT’S NOT HANGING IN MY CLOSET.


I WONDER WHAT SPACE I WILL OCCUPY WHEN I DIE. I WONDER IF I WILL HANG LIKE A MEMORY IN MY DAUGHTER'S CLOSET, COVERED IN PLASTIC WRAP, PROTECTED FROM MOTHS. I WONDER IF SHE WILL USE MY BONES LIKE KINDLING TO KEEP THE MEMORY ALIVE—MAKE ME INTO A CAMPFIRE THAT WON’T GO OUT .I THINK BETWEEN A MEMORY ON A HANGER & A BUNDLE OF BURNING BONES I’D RATHER LET MY DAUGHTER STAY WARM. YOUR LEGACY ISN’T ASH, IT ISN’T FROZEN IN TIME. IT IS AN ENVELOPE OF EMBERS. HOW DELICATE YOU MAKE FIRE SEEM. WHEN THE WORLD WAS AT WAR ALL AROUND YOU, YOU BOUND YOURSELF UP IN YOUR ROOM & LET THE WORLD PEEK IN AT YOU THROUGH SEALED LETTERS & SILKEN POEMS & THOSE WERE THE SLATS THROUGH WHICH YOU SAW THE WORLD.


HOW CAN YOU REMIND ME OF DAYLILIES & FIRES AT THE SAME TIME? ARE YOU A HYPOCRITE OR A PARADOX


OR A POEM?


THIS IS TRUE: YOU LOVED GERANIUMS & CROWN IMPERIALS & ROSES.


THIS IS TRUE: I LIVE ABOVE A FLOWER SHOP, BUT NO ONE HAS EVER BOUGHT ME FLOWERS.


HOWEVER, ONCE THE ONE WHO SMELLS LIKE TEQUILA PICKED WILDFLOWERS FOR ME. WHEN I DIPPED MY NOSE INTO THEM ALL I SMELLED WAS CONDITIONALITY. GOMPHRENA IN EXCHANGE FOR LIPS ON SKIN. CONDITION THIS RELATIONSHIP TO BE TRANSACTIONAL. I NEED A MAN TO FIX MY PRINTER & I CAN CALCULATE THE COST IN BODY PARTS, THE NUMBER OF BONES NEEDED TO FEED THE DOG & NO MATTER HOW YOU INTERPRET BONES PART OF ME IS BEING REMOVED FROM MY FLESH.


THIS IS TRUE: YOU MET A GIRL NAMED SUSAN & SHE SMELLED LIKE FOREVER, SO YOU CALLED HER INFINITY & EVERY LETTER BECAME A POEM.


THIS IS TRUE: I HAVE MET MANY BOYS & NEVER WRITTEN ANY LETTERS. THEY ENTER INTO MY LIFE THROUGH DIRECT MESSAGES & DATING APPS & ANY WAY YOU SLICE THE STORY IT IS NEVER A POEM.


I IMAGINE YOU TUCKING DRIED FLOWERS IN WITH PARCHMENT BEFORE YOU MAILED YOUR HEART OFF TO SUSAN. I IMAGINE EVERY TIME YOU PUT A IN A POEM YOU THOUGHT OF THE WAY YOU HAD TO SUCK IN YOUR BREATH AT THE MEMORY OF HER LIPS ON YOUR CHEEKBONES. THOUGHT OF ALL THE WAYS YOU COULDN’T BURY YOUR FACE INTO HER. EACH — AS A PERSONAL SCREAM INTO A PILLOW DRESSED IN WHITE LINEN TOO.


WHEN WE CAUGHT FIRE WE WERE IN OUTER SPACE, OUTSIDE OUR BODY SPACE, WHICH IS STILL OUR SPACE BECAUSE SOMETIMES IT IS THE ONLY THING WE CAN CONTROL. SOMETIMES, LIKE WHEN WE ARE BURNING. PEEL YOURSELF OUT OF SKIN, DISSOCIATIVE DIS-STATE. ASHES ARE WHAT HARD-BOILED HANDS ARE NOT. ASHES SLIP THROUGH FINGERS & I THINK YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT I MEAN WHEN I SAY I AM NOT ALWAYS IN MY BODY. I THINK YOU UNDERSTAND SETTING YOURSELF ON FIRE, SO THAT WHEN THEY REACH TO TOUCH YOUR HIPS OR YOUR CLAVICLE, YOU ARE SMOKE. I THINK YOU UNDERSTAND WANTING TO LEAVE MEN CHARRED. I THINK YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT IT MEANS TO BE THE ARSONIST— BURN THE WHOLE DAMN THING DOWN. I THINK YOU UNDERSTAND BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT YOU WERE DOING ON THE STAIRCASE THAT DAY— LETTING GO OF THE RAILING & LIGHTING THE MATCH.


YOU LOVED THE WAY INFINITY FELT SO MUCH YOU SAID AMPUTATE MY FRECKLED BOSOM! MAKE ME BEARDED LIKE A MAN! YOU FANTASIZED ABOUT BEING IN A DIFFERENT BODY. YOU FANTASIZED ABOUT FEELING LIKE A MAN. I FANTASIZE ABOUT MAKING MEN FEEL ME & ANY WAY YOU INTERPRET FEEL I AM JUST TRYING TO BE LESS LONELY TOO. I’M JUST TRYING TO AMPUTATE BITS OF ME UNTIL I FEEL A LITTLE LESS PERMANENT TOO. I WANT THEM TO UNDERSTAND THAT THEIR RUGBURNS AIN’T SHIT, SO I REDUCE THEM DOWN TO THE HIGH PROOF ACCELERANTS I’D USE TO SET THEM ON FIRE. MAKE THEM UNDERSTAND THAT WHEN YOU’RE BURNING FOR INFINITY, YOU HAVE TO FALL IN LOVE WITH THE WAY IT FEELS. MAKE THEM UNDERSTAND THAT I LEARNED SOMETHING FROM MY MOTHER & IT’S SOMETHING SHE LEARNED ON A STAIRCASE & IT’S THE SAME THING YOU LEARNED FROM YOUR MOTHER & IT CAN’T BE TAUGHT THROUGH A ONE NIGHT STAND OR AN UNREAD BOOK LEFT ON A BED STAND. MAKE THEM UNDERSTAND WOMEN OWN FIRES & THEY ARE MERELY GUESTS IN OUR HOMES.


YOU SAID YOU CANNOT PUT A FIRE OUT— & I KNOW THAT IS WHY I CAN STILL HEAR YOU SCREAMING.


YOU SAID YOU CANNOT PUT A FIRE OUT— & I KNOW THAT IS TRUE.

Blue Coen lives in Lawrence, Kansas, where she is attending the University of Kansas for creative writing and secondary English education. She is on the literary staff for the Kiosk Literary Magazine. Her work appears in Queen Mob's Teahouse, Grimoire Magazine, and KIOSK Magazine.


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