Even at night
the heat comes down from the sky
up from the earth at the same time
to meet in the middle, chest height,
all parts of the body melting into
the center: the heart: beating thickly:
cicadas in the pecan trees, aloe vera,
lush palms and roses tangled in your hair
as you walk by, and by, and
by the bungalows, the trucks strung with
lit bulbs, round and warm,
by the broken glass shimmering in the gutter,
by the sidewalk tabletops, by the roses,
the palms, the roses strong enough to
follow you through the gate,
your heart: beating: submerged
into a pool surrounded by roses,
this middle place between two heats,
your skin like the surface of that still
pool at night: there is a layer that
holds for a moment against penetration
when you dip a hand into that wet
green, lit from beneath, looking for
For my little brother
I am teaching you to wash your hands
with foam soap: the special kind that smells
pink and sweet and froths from the nozzle
in airy peaks, a merengue on our small palms.
I am eight, you maybe four.
I have shut the bathroom door and
this makes your shrieks louder when
you laugh at the endless slurps of soap
growing bigger in the sink—
we imagine it overtaking us, filling
the room until we are suspended in it,
sounds muted, the rosy froth buoying
us up, hold us together inside.
I am a cruel sister to you, bitter
with my suspicions: they love you
more than me.
I take every opportunity to
make you cry.
When my mother tells me fifteen
years later about the child she lost
after me—I always wanted you
to have a sister, she said—I knew it was true:
love is not undiscerning.
I do not know why, that day,
I decided to be kind.
It made you so happy to wash
your hands with me.
I wish many things about
our childhood but the most
is that you knew how much
I loved you. I tried so hard to
convince you otherwise.
Is it unfair to blame a ghost
I never knew was there,
a filmy web between us?
It is a relief to have something
to blame. I should not
In the bathroom you could not
reach the sink—I had to take the soap
bottle down for you.
It was afternoon, summertime.
The sun a ripe tangerine low and
heavy in the sky.
I could hear our mother calling
dinner on the stove.
But I kept the door closed
a little longer.
Everything we both wanted
was inside, right there,
The Red Parts
Maggie Nelson, 2007
Pros: Maggie Nelson is a master of memoir, and this autobiography following the trial of her aunt’s murderer is a brilliant examination of violence, gender, loss, and voyeurism. Nelson gets uncomfortably close to the underside of our interest in true crime and pain, and asks the reader to consider what the re-telling of such stories means to both the subject and the object. A perfect extended lyric essay.
Cons: For fans of clarity, Nelson still plays coy with some aspects of her life, though not nearly as much as in, say, Bluets or other more self-focused writing where lyricism takes precedence over plain old information.
The Verdict: A great introduction to Nelson, if you’ve never read her work, and if you have then snap this one up immediately. This is writing at its finest.
We’ve never met,
but he wants to know if I’d
hold his hand on an imaginary
walk through the woods—
would I let him lace my
skates before we skim
over the frozen pond
scratching designs on a flat
black surface that only
sometimes lets you see
how deep it really is