Letter poem to my lover: Cops at home, your tenderness, and what Buber said about relationality.
“An equality of survival does not exist…
we have both the responsibility and the ability
to protect one another.”
- Elaine Scary from Thinking In An Emergency
Dogs know sounds have stories. What’s the story in
increasing sirens sounding from the main street
one block up, building only to disappear? The neighbor
dog knows when the story is worth howling about
when to stop
when to sleep again.
One night in January I heard shouting outside my window:
just kill me sounding nearly inside.
You know the way
I curl my body around itself, the way I sink
into the couch, the way I play music over the rain,
the way I keep the curtains open, the way I blow smoke
wherever: you know the way I am home
sprigs of tiny pinecones still make me think of fairies.
A houseless human with buckets of belongings
settled under the plum canopy –
you know the plum tree on the median strip between
the sidewalk and the street
the one with daffodils at its roots –
the houseless human, again
just kill me
You know the way
my porch light fizzed out, security camera dead when
the wifi got bumped off as I cleaned, how light traps
between the glass of the window and screen reflecting back
– all makes me comfortably blind in the dark.
just kill me again.
I’m a scared woman now:
Scared Woman Lives Alone. Defined by Drew Barymore,
Audrey Hepburn, Liv Tyler in the movies – how easily
my body plays in terror. who is responsible
I don’t know if you notice how the plum tree has leaned
and reached North considerably
since the pandemic started. some neighbors now hunch
to follow the sidewalk under reaching plumed limbs – is
that my tree to trim? On the median?
I should call the city
regardless, I had to squint to see
the shadow of leaning plums overlaid by shadows
of body and buckets. Squint to see the houseless human
was not at my window and still, mumbling enough
for my terror alone.
I told you how, when the 6 and 9 year old neighbors next door
fight, I nod along with their grievances as I wash
the dishes. What
The neighbor texts: her husband already called the cops
who came and just left this
houseless human: only nuisance, not crime
as far as the cops created
buckets of belongings under
the overgrown canopy of plum brush.
How can I call this human
the plum is keeping him dry?
We have so many synonyms
Buber defined relationality by that which
we call you and that which we call it. he said
I am nothing in the face of you, only what we
create relationally. however, it
objects for consumption – which shelf
will you put it on? There: right next
to the other one.
Did you ever see a bird get trapped in
the cell block? how hard did you
regard that bird’s freedom? how hard did you
work to remove the barrier he bumped against?
Why does prison still feel like home.
I picked up food from my favorite restaurant just
after open. The owner bristled
alert: eyes at the shop window. She explained how a
houseless human who’d slept under the entrance awning
for years –
now declining in his connection to time and space –
demanded his room
at the Hotel Smeede. Shaken, she watched the window
troubled by her options: it’s troubling, she said.
Did you ever end up witnessing how a human shakes
when a houseless human moves reality? Insisting
if you ever get a house you’ll be just: human. we
don’t say housed human. We’ve named it wrong.
With my food I leave the restaurant through the alley
walking to work. Chipping paint on the building’s
brick in the alley reads:
Who is this houseless human according to his life?
My neighbor called the cops on you a different time.
One way or another someone is always sent packing
they didn’t check to see who is good –
neighbors or cops. There are lessons of dominance
this neighborhood isn’t for you. By whatever
route you wandered in, we’ll let you pass
back through: generously. The Hotel Smeede
is now only novel-vintage soothing the discomfort
of old shit. If we could, we might
erase history. Easier
than trying to convince houseless humans that awnings
and plum trees
aren’t home anymore. Judgment and definition
are different things.
In prison, are you houseless or at home in a cage?
Early Sunday morning on the front porch
I see the neighbor come outside in her
plush robe – the weather is turning
the way she holds the fuzzy collar
around her neck.
She scowls around: is there
a nuisance or an intruder on her brow. She
goes back inside. Nuisance, I think.
A short time later I hear a Kazoo
I’m not sure. An early nuisance sound
like a middle-school jazz band solo. It stops and starts
building to a confused speculating threat in my head: I become
hostile to sound
foreign at home. There’s threat in the question who has time to play
I know the neighbor’s football scream.
The sounds of the neighbor’s lawn service.
My cat howling is not an abandoned
baby. I know the sound
of the garbage truck a block down in my sleep.
Do you remember learning math on an overhead projector? One
transparent layer of problems
another transparent layer of answers. Another
to show your work
then wipe it away.
How we write on windows
and draw the blinds.
What world are you living in? Pen smears
stain transparency. It’s getting so cloudy
on the sidewalk
when did you decide to make eye contact or not?
When did you decide what danger looks like.
I was suddenly talking with friends on zoom
about suicidal ideation. There’s so much
unison, we laugh. There’s unison in
the relationship between suicidality and homicidality –
the fuck-its I’ve called it since 22. There’s unison in
the school-psychologist naming fuck-its in school.
There’s unison in witness:
You remind me how important it is
to survive all this.
A stripper-writer who I follow on Instagram: her partner killed
himself with a gun nearly a year into this pandemic.
I imagine I might see the loss in her
pole work like her pictures. Functional not stable
she says about society, herself, other things:
capitalism is already killing us, please don’t
throw dollars at her face.
You know about prison suicide pacts: Stay out
of the cell when your cellie gives the nod so
you’re not called a murderer. We want
to die without casualties.
Anway, what do I need so this doesn’t feel
like birds running into glass? Everywhere: reactive
violence feels like a premature turn toward
the feeling of even ground. We’re slipping –
slipped at the same pinch point.
Tethered together over and over.
Will you tell me when you’re home?
When is it well and level here? You decide
it’s urgent to be home again since my grief
is coming home. Are we wrong when we call four walls