Maggie Nelson


You came to me

unable to breathe

So many heads

I guessed

you needed

breath so

I took off

the heads

The last one

the clown mask

The one baked

onto a box

Clammy, gray plastic

Adhered tightly

to your face

It had to be peeled, snapped

Sweaty, tan, crying

Your hair shorter

than I’ve ever seen it

Aura of teen

in winter clothes

you wept

Earlier I had watched you

get beat up

in representation

You were performing

the unkillable

The sign for which

was a painted trail

from your nostril

The room simply boomed

with your charm

In another

a heart swung

between lungs

grilled by their ribs

Another asserted



Eventually, the bruiser ran

Now there is no

aggressor, only cancer

We sleep in twin

American cities

as our second marriage


The one in which

we will die

having perfectly



You went there, by air, to a series of rooms.

There, in the lap of the arbitrary, you said goodbye.

I picked up your body

when you came home.

I want to tell you about these three years.

I want to tell myself.

The 8-ball rotating its messages in blue juice, coming up with a foul.

A thickening in the X-ray, some gristle in the lips.

You know the limits of the skin job.

What rough crayon you hold in your paw.

Sometimes you radiate heat, but your mouth stays cool.

That’s when I know you are an animal. I know you are an animal a lot.

The way you impress me hurts.

I keep waiting for it to be mine.

Don’t want to write about my jealousy.

Want to treat it like this storm, behold its purple burden.

I would wait for you in the room with striped paper, forever.

You make me laugh, you and your Judy Grahn.

Vow to begin again, without being hard.

I lie on the table, butt propped up.

Invite you to make a fort of the caul.

After three years of no poems, I feel better

just knowing I have these flowers to give.

Turns out your mother kept a gratitude journal

that somehow made it to us, from Detroit.

For a single day, I keep one in her honor.

I am grateful to you, Phyllis, for raising my love

My love, otherwise birthed

from rocks


for Lisa Duggan

Did you just say

our policies are based upon

a serial killer

who scooped out a girl’s internal organs

filled her torso with towels

and wired open her eyes?

Yes: that way her parents would pay

the ransom, thinking

she was still alive