Speak up,

            sweetheart, don’t stutter.

I’ve been told: I’m brother’s sister,

prisoner to genetic code.

Born into the body

with a blueprint.


Since he went to high school

first, I became his last name


I wore with pride painted on

as a medal meaning people

might address me. Because


being in his shadow means

I’m at least a footnote now.


At work, I’m asked to leave for

the man in the back because

I can’t be the tech savvy one.


So I slip on a stage-play smile,

I’ve been told, I’m better

as a backdrop hum.


Maybe there’s a mason jar

where my mouth used to be.


Watch me carve apologies

into the cracks in my spine

until you’re uncomfortable

with my quiet.


Say it’s my fault

they shout girl

on the sidewalk, girl


why can’t you just keep

your head down?    But didn’t I

bite the bullet?

Place the barrel

between my teeth?


America, bring me the bedtime

stories where my sister doesn’t

belong backstage.


Stop asking my mother what

her husband does; let it be

a sign of respect

when she keeps her last name.


America, I know you will teach

my daughter about her body

as a bruise, but

I won’t let you–


temper her tongue/tell her

it’s a tight-rope tied to her

skirt-length/that her brother

is the bright one, because


you find it safer to place her

in the form of fiction is written

on a page she’ll turn


My mom washed my mouth out with soap, but I still wake up silent. Sometimes, the bubbles line the inside of my throat. At school, my class diagnosed me with a bad case of halted tongue. Have I learned to expose my ribcage yet? and didn’t my folks raise me right? and teach me to carry my skin on the outside. How dare I steal words for myself when they wake up starving.

As my body becomes an ill-timed tap-dance, you  


tell me it’s a choice. Tell me

I hold my own head underwater.


That I asked for this first

panic attack at age eight

in grandfather’s car, anxiety

became an unwanted birth-mark.


matchbox I can’t scrape

my name from.


Inside a crash-test car,

I watch the body

become the crime scene and try


to escape. Each time my head

hits the dashboard.


Go ahead: Call me quick-sand.

I’ve known both strength and

setback and setback and how


there’s a tourniquet around

my tongue, but I’ll fight that

house-fire each day.  I know


I was born a winter storm that

takes up so much room I keep

the whole house unfurnished.


Tonight, I will love myself flash-


turned trigger-warning and how

I still search skin for splinters.


But each day, I unearth  

someone stronger.


Disguise myself as sturdy

to find it built in-

              to my bones, dear,

watch me bite the bullet holes.


As my body becomes an ill-timed tap-dance,

As my body becomes

an ill-timed tap-dance, you


tell me it’s a choice. Tell me

I hold my own head unwater.


That I asked for this first

panic attack at age nine

in grandfather’s car, and how anxiety


becomes unwanted birth-mark.

A matchbox I can’t

scrape my name from.


Inside of a crash-test car

I watch the body

become the crime scene & try


to escape each time my head

hits the dashboard.


Go ahead: call me quick-sand.


Each time I tell myself

pull the hair off your neck,

the body hits boiling point. Again,


I learn heart-beat means

trigger warning.


Disguise myself as sturdy

and find it built-

in to my bones.


Dear, watch me

bite the bullet holes.


Customer Service

As you slip on summer-

camp smile, slip pride into

       your change-purse.


Become an employer’s dream;

        tuck thoughts into dress-

        sleeves come out steam-

        cleaned & professional.


Remove old scars/tattoo

marks/impress with high morale

and how you process words

into pamphlet form.


Pour bleach down

    your throat 

to talk hallmark-card.


When the customer’s tongue

turns switch-blade/come out



each phrase about

the same great day

since you turned sale-stat.


Now, learn to string sonnets

         as you speak,

talk until you taste floral.


As you find coffee stains you can’t remove, bandage each bruise with fluorescence. With the first dose, it feels better to feel less. On four hours of sleep, you swaddle yourself in red-tape. Switch to safety scissors that round out each edge.  Now, it takes twenty milligrams to taste saccharin sweet.  Until, you cannot sit still to write. To find your tear ducts drained. Wide awake in this half-wake state. With just enough want to undo auto-pilot. Words turned inert and reduced to replicated view. So I erase smiles mask-taped to my face. Brew my coffee bitter. Again, I play the uncut jazz tape.

After they remove the burnt bits


they wrap pink ribbons in your curls

to twist them around your neck


Dear child: they tell you what it ‘is’

not what it ‘does’ and how you are

to be obedient.  You are the polite sex


who does not offer to hold

the door in case you offend.

As you begin you learn to love


your mouse-trap mouth you

are told to choose between

bold & beauty between


black-rimmed heels and his pride.

As you remove them he does not

feel small & you can root yourself


to the ground. This is perfection:

an art form called shadow-play.

You try your hand at construction-


paper houses to be told: Hands

to yourself; your brother becomes

the bright one. Yet you can drink


embers. Your waterfall of words

turns severed speech. Then:

Sweetheart, no— don’t


pick azalea petals to crush them

in the palm of your hand.