I Am the Type To Talk With My Hands

In 1975, my father sits on the fraying, brown couch 

counting out dimes on the table in front of him.

Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night 

and wonder whose house I am in.

From across the street, a black girl with a red bandana 

says to my only friend Why you playin’ with that white girl?

In 1976, stacks of magazines collect on our porch. 

My mother promises they will be worth something someday.

In 1979, a neighbor tells me all ladies have fine, 

delicate collarbones and wrists.

I have a crush on the Jamaican boy across the street and my father slaps me, says It was a mistake moving into a black neighborhood. 

Often, at school, I can see myself from above and my body 

feels like a country I am visiting.

In 1981, I cut my inner thigh with a razor 

and the blood streams out like a billowing red bandana.

Hundreds of pieces of cut magazines litter the floor of my bedroom 

as I collage the walls with pictures of models’ collarbones and ribs.

After I get my first period, my mother buys me sanitary napkins. 

Tampons, she says, are for people who’ve already had sex.

In 1978, I do as I am told and save all my coins in a bank for college.

Blood rushes down my leg in math class 

and a boy points at me like I’m a disease. 

In college, I learn that race is a social construction and the words 

replay over an image of my father shouting the n-word at our neighbors. 

After my father enters my room at night to touch 

the insides of my thighs, he leaves a shiny dime to remind me he was there.

When I look at my mother, her face is a rearview mirror

and I can only see what is behind me.

I am the only person in my family to go to college.

I am ten when my father tells me 

Men want a whore in bed and a lady all other times.


I am holding my first boyfriend’s hand. Two boys throw a bottle at us and yell jungle fever! He immediately lets go, says No white girl is gonna get me killed. 

I eat less and less food in order to feel more and more of my bones.

When I am eleven, my aunt gives me a lacey teddy 

and says You may as well dress like a whore if you are gonna act like one.

In 1979, the only safe place left is at a small card table 

across the street, eating Jamaican food with Mr. and Mrs. Christie. 

My house is filled with useless items my mother is desperate to find uses for.

A girl in school says You can’t trust someone who talks with their hands.

One morning, it happens:

a thousand forsythias bell the air

& daffodils sing out their lusty throats—

winter opens her dark curtain to spring

& without warning or desire

I remember 

you: flowers in your ripped 

jean pockets, that spaced 

out smile of the newly high. How I followed

you through sterile high

school hallways of prom posters

& sweat glands. You were

a constellation I charted

from my simple post back

on Earth. Being gay didn't stop 

you from kissing me in the back

of a cab saying You are the only girl I could ever

love. You taught me how to take the longest drag

off thickly rolled joints so I wouldn’t

cough & gasp for air. When I spun

faster & further out of orbit, you put your nose 

to the bone of my cheek & said over & over 

on the purple velvet couch, You are here 

and beautifully alive. It was always you 

who reeled me in when I floated beyond

where astronauts know is safe

& damn it, I was supposed to die first

wasn’t I? It’s what our friends meant when they changed

the lyrics of Girlfriend in a Coma to Terri in a trauma

& laughed sarcastically, casually 

taking tabs of E or bumps of K under the canopy

of rave club stratosphere. They knew I was 

our group's biggest disaster. But you, my

beautiful mischief-maker, with your daffodils, 

Smiths shirt & smile of galactic

dreams—you were 

to be the Keith Richards to my Kurt Cobain. 

I was ready to hit the atmosphere hard & 

fast & let it all go to yellow stardust while you

swaggered, triceps pushing out from a

t-shirt too small, veins snaking down years 

before the needles, spoons & viruses 

lay waste to the blades of your perfect 

cheekbones. I remember 

the mission we set out on together,

to float far above the moon

before you became the comet

I could no longer chase.

This morning, you return 

beckoning me to follow you

one last time to the end

of 10th Avenue where 

Junior Vasquez will trance 

us with a playlist under 

a ceiling made of stars.

Terri Muuss is a social worker, director, performer, speaker & author whose poetry has received three Pushcart and two Best of the Net nominations. Her first book, Over Exposed, was released in 2013 and, in 2016, Terri co-edited an anthology of NY women poets entitled Grabbing the Apple. Terri has performed her one-woman show, Anatomy of a Doll, around the US and Canada since 1998. Her second book, godspine, is forthcoming in January 2020 from 3: A Taos Press. www.terrimuuss.com