the way i listen to you read poems.
only the couplets, and only the shorter ones.
i like to get out of them quickly. i don’t like
the way warm water feels inside my stomach.
you are playing with old versions of yourself
in my mind. the game is marco polo. you don’t
know i am still learning to swim.
i’m five again, and my cousins call me mannish.
my torso is flat and i am not yet shaped like a woman.
sometimes, the neighboring counties flood, so i
am planning tomorrow’s route and wasting time.
earlier tonight, something entered my spirit.
i would call it loneliness, but it’s more stiletto.
i watched a movie about a stripper killing her tricks.
i used to believe only certain women could be stupid.
fall in love with pimps and get diseases.
now i am thankful for wanting nothing but my labia
to stop twitching for hours after i use my hands.
the nurse says the first hepatitis enters through the mouth:
through ill-prepared food, contaminated water.
i am one of the vulnerable populations.
she swabs my arm and tells me to relax.
it’s the first disease i’ve googled in a long time
without fearing i have it, because i already do.
in a way: i take you in small doses, trying to build
immunity. all day long, i’m watching the walls,
trying to see them the way you might see.
i step outside my body like i’m lap-dancing.
i watch you watch me do sit-ups, braid my hair,
brush flakes from my shirt. practice what i’ll say
the next time the doctor asks when the symptoms
began. sometimes, very briefly, i want to be pregnant.
sometimes, i want you there, amazed and embarrassed.
since it lasts for less than five seconds, it doesn’t count.
i use headphones, so your voice doesn’t enter my house.
what i mean to say is that neither of us is holy,
maybe we just don’t belong together that way,
which is what my mother once told me about women
and your parents. she’s older now, and still lonely.
if i asked her again, she might say something different.
Destiny O. Birdsong is a poet, essayist, and editor whose poems and essays have either appeared or are forthcoming in African American Review, Bettering American Poetry Volume II, The BreakBeat Poets Presents: Black Girl Magic, The Cambridge Companion to Transnational American Literature, Muzzle, Indiana Review, Split This Rock’s Poem of the Week, and elsewhere. Destiny has received fellowships from Cave Canem, Callaloo, and Jack Jones Literary Arts, and residencies from Pink Door, The Ragdale Foundation, and The MacDowell Colony. She is also a poetry reader for The Adroit Journal. Read more of her work at www.destinybirdsong.com.