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.
a thousand forsythias bell the air
& daffodils sing out their lusty throats—
winter opens her dark curtain to spring
& without warning or desire
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
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