“Notes to Self” by Alexis Sears

Forget the poetry workshop when a boy told you to stop
using your pain as scenery. Years later, you still don’t know
the meaning, though you hear it in the mornings in the mirror, 
when you run your hang-nailed fingers down your arms.
You think he’d been wanting to say it since he met you, forming 
words the way a painter plans his strokes, pale lips curving into an O, 
contorting into sharp-edged shapes. Stop. Your pain. Scenery. Now 
you’ve learned pain is scenery: encompassing, everywhere.

Forget that other boy, this one you dated. He called himself
“a laptop, computing all your beauty and your innocence.” 
Your first date was at a coffee shop downtown, and you 
drank excessively, your mug a crime scene, lipstick blood and all,
his olive eyes too succulent and bright. You two are through, 
but in your dreams, you talk over the phone. Your voice begins
to crack when you hear his. 

Forget that Monday is Migraine Day. 
Forget that nearly every day’s that day. 
Fetal position on the bathroom floor, 
remember that eggplant in Italian means crazy apple
Remember that your favorite author packed meat for 
a living. Remember that you were not born lonely. 

Someday you’ll take a lover on the dusty streets
away from there (wherever there is) just you two
and a van, the dirty carpet littered with receipts 
and albums. Counting Crows or Wu Tang Clan? 
Your friends, your mother— everyone will want 
to know when you’re coming home. (Don’t tell them.)
Wear golden skin like incandescent sand.

Visions leave you restless every night: 
insects crawling from a hole in a café wall; 

men in uniform dropping to a knee; 
your hometown gardeners bent over 

their radicchio and tulips, the curves of their backs 
ingrained in your brain like a fossil in rock. 

Do you think Richard Wilbur wasted days
worrying that his poems were getting worse?
a hip professor laughs when you exclaim
your talent’s gone. You laugh, too, grab your purse
and offer him some gum, relentless flame
of cinnamon setting your tongue ablaze. 
You chew, then spit it out, the wad asleep 
inside its wrapper. That same night, you weep
reading your work: the moon’s a bride in white
oblivious to suffering and plight

This is the last time // you write your feelings // down //

for anyone // to find // to hold against you. A hardcore

embarrassment. A threat. // Look outside // yourself

for once // eat beet salad // hear your mother’s voice // 

Are you coming home soon? // Come home! // Come home! 

Alexis Sears‘s first book, Out of Order, won the 2021 Donald Justice Poetry Prize and was published by Autumn House Press in 2022. Her work has been anthologized in The Best American Poetry 2022 and has appeared in Hopkins Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, Cortland Review, Cimarron Review, Poet Lore, and elsewhere. She earned her M.F.A. in poetry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her bachelor’s from Johns Hopkins University.

Image: Overhead view of library’s first floor, 1951, from Saint Rose Archives

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