notes on poetry, grief, and the ghosts of boyfriends-past

To my best friend, who has swallowed the parasite of her grief and hosted it happily in her lungs for nearly twenty years …and has written yet another poem about it:

  1. For fuck’s sake go to therapy.
  2. Maybe the first hundred times this was novel but now it’s boring; you can write better poetry than this.
  3. You can write better poetry than this.
  4. I will say it until I’m blue in the face: you can write better poetry than this.
  5. Most importantly, though, and I really want you to remember this one: this isn’t how love works

You’d think you would know.

After all, everything you write is about love. Even when it’s about student loans or your relationship with your mother or how desperately you think running away to Paris will solve everything– you always bring it back to your lack of romantic love like romantic love is the only kind that matters

like a girlfriend will solve all these problems overspilling your palms

like you think dating people you only half-like will be the thing that makes you less lonely

like somehow a boyfriend will give your life stability despite statistical proof that most long-term heterosexual partnerships are unstable crapshoots.

everything you write is about romance. and everything you write about romance is a car crash metaphor or else a drowning metaphor or else a black hole metaphor. love, in your view, is something that is done to you. an implacable outside force you don’t choose or work for or even necessarily want. it wreaks destruction from which you either walk away or you don’t and that’s all there is to it, nothing more.

maybe if you saw all those poems laid out like dying starfish in the sun, all those hours of your life spent telling the same stories, all those years wasted asking the same questions and refusing the answers because they were hard—

I don’t know what would happen. I’m not fucking psychic.

But I like to hope that maybe, just maybe, you’d work this shit out once and for all. That you’d start something new instead of pretending you’re well-adjusted and able to cope with the weeping, concave wound in your chest that’s never healed over. That you’d stop feeding the wriggling thing living inside the meat of you that’s been stealing your lungs and dissolving your bones ever since you were a little girl.

Of course, I don’t say any of this because it’s not what you want to hear. Maybe that makes me an asshole.

Sure, okay, I’m an asshole.

I’m also tired of watching you feed this thing that is killing you. I’m tired of reading this poem. I’ve read this poem. I’ve read this poem and I’ve read this poem and I’ve read it again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again–


Aren’t you tired of writing it?

get skinny or die trying

mmmmno.jpegCapitalism has found out about body positivity– I’m sure y’all’ve noticed:


A body for everybody.

Choose beautiful.

#Lose hate not weight.

It’s everywhere. Self-love and a healthy relationship with food are only one purchase away!

You think these things sound familiar. You think it might be nice to fall for it. You think these people are goddamn fools if they think I’m going to even consider loving a thing that has been trying to kill me since the day I was born.

You think of your mother. You think of her taste in men.

You look at your body again and you think maybe I can be tricked into loving you after all.

This kind of abuse runs in families anyway.

rlb 9.21.18


You walk back into my office.

Entire universes live and die on the fingertips of choice.

“I feel like an asshole–”

I stop breathing. Look you in the eye for the first time in a year smell the warm denim jacket skin unscented soap crushed lavender from across the room. In the winter of your pause I am in suspended animation living the memory of my arms around your perfect waist, soft, pulling you back into bed.

You aren’t looking at me.

I’m looking past every time you said I was something that could be fixed and into a future where kickstart apologies sputter into something bruised burning wilted growing up out of ashes the way forests do after wildfires.

“– I didn’t need that appointment after all.”

The splitsecond hairsbreadth moment passes.

I exhale.

“If” is the biggest word in the English language.

rlb 4.11.17



Death made me

a little giddy i’ll confess

brushing past on the ballroom floor, an

accidental meeting beneath

lead crystalglass refractions,

a not-quite-teasing

glance that i can’t

be bothered to return because

She left me

the courage to kiss




rlb 4.5.17


sometimes you just have to curse someone

Listen to me you godless, lying crypt-keeper-looking, knock-off Gucci handbag with your outdated degree and an undeserved sense of smug superiority: you are a living beacon of shame. (Did you know that if you walk around looking like you stepped in dog feces all the time your face is going to stick that way? Or has it already stuck that way, and that’s why you resemble a livid corpse?) You are a greedy and meretricious worm incapable of admitting the truth or others’ humanity. Your friends ought to be ashamed to associate with you. Your ancestors in the halls of the dead are ashamed that their line has produced such a foul pustule as yourself. As you have no shame I don’t expect you to feel a thing (except perhaps cold and narcissistic outrage that someone has the nerve, to be honest about you) but that hardly matters.

You will henceforth experience perpetual inconvenience. Visceral discomfort since you cannot experience its emotional equivalent. May your punishment only begin with this:

  • May every dog you come near or try to pet shy away from you in fear.
  • May you always suspect that your friends’ smiles are disingenuous.
  • May you always run out of toilet paper when you have explosive diarrhea in public.
  • May you walk around with the sensation of popcorn kernels stuck into your gums but never find relief.
  • May you never live without a sense of fear of losing your money.
  • May you never be able to identify the stench of body odor that follows you everywhere as yourself.
  • May you forever be seen as the truth of what you are even when your words and expression try to hide it.
  • May every meal you ever prepare, serve, or receive be oversalted to the point of inedibility.
  • May you be given the same amount of empathy that you have shown to me whenever you are at your lowest.
  • May you never be able to find a truly comfortable and peaceful sleeping position.
  • May you always look directly into every too-bright light by mistake.
  • May you continually bite the same spot on the inside of your cheek.
  • May no person ever treat you as if you are wealthy.
  • May you never be given the satisfaction of making another person cry.

rlb 5.22.18