Say It Straight and Humble

I'm Alison. I'm twenty three. I live near the ocean. I'm trying to learn how to be a writer.

"Present the luminous detail and do not comment." - Ezra Pound

cup after cup of tea that tastes like crushed dried flowers, watery perfume/always wondering what the cupcake lady downstairs is doing/what sadness she is folding into cupcake dough/if I walked in at eight in the morning what would she say/teach me how to use my hands again/damp three hour naps, nap dreams always the most violent/my poetry professor used to say nothing makes you feel the gristle of your own mortality the way naps do/go easy, light steps, careful words/stop touching your face all the time/stop holding yourself up on your hands/remember when you borrowed a dining room table/dragged it up two flights of stairs into your tiny living room to surprise me/we made dinner and ate across from each other/red wine and candlelight/all the blood rushing to my face/I couldn’t look at you/remember

friday, 7:50 AM: the smell of freshly cut grass and freshly smoked cigarettes - that ragged inhale of early early morning.


In Los Angeles in early March, everything is cracked and faded, sun-stroked with heat. We nap during the damp dog-heat of the late afternoon and I wake up at four in the morning startled by the metallic whirring of your fan on the highest setting, the hurricane of air it creates above your bed, deliriously half-dreaming a tropical thunderstorm outside your window, warm rain blessing the ashy knees of the desert. Here, I am always half-awake, always on the verge of falling asleep. Here, I drink iced coffee and call it lunch. Hours later, we eat dinner downtown, at a restaurant we can’t really pronounce, and the waiter, salt and pepper with a broken New Zealand accent, gives us free wine and dessert after we tell him that we are broke and can’t afford them, after he sees how giddy we get when our food arrives, how carefully we split a sandwich bite for bite. We leave sketches of cats and hearts trailing across the bottom of our bill and wonder fleetingly if he wanted to sleep with one of us, or maybe both of us. This is us in Los Angeles in newborn March: eating oxtail and beef tongue and bone marrow and fried quail at restaurants we can’t afford, thinking everyone in the world wants to sleep with us and we only want to sleep with each other, pushing through the heavy doors after our meal into the jasmine-scented night, skyscrapers winking above us, laughing as we trip down the uneven streets of downtown, sweaty and tipsy and full. We walk and walk and around us, the air turns crisp, and everything seems to breathe a sigh of relief that the sun has finally fucked off for the day.

The next day, you leave for work and I walk all afternoon. I wear a sweater so I don’t seem like I’m from out of town and sweat and sweat and sweat but no one even cares what you do here as long as you do it with an effortless purpose, a mild passion, a hazy carefulness. I drive hours down bleached highways, from Pasadena to Santa Monica, and love every goddamn heat-blasted minute of it, because I am alone and alive in a new city, a city blanketed with a heat that turns everyone bizarre and lazy, a city that laughs in my face when I say I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing, that singsongs back to me - the palm trees and perfumed air, the faded turquoise houses, the Jacaranda trees that weep lavender flowers onto the concrete, the balding sunburnt mountains - nobody does, nobody does.

We eat mangoes and drink coffee half naked on your patio the next morning and I take three aspirin with my orange juice because I always have a low-grade grinding headache from glaring into the sunlight like it has done something to offend me. The day drifts past us lazily like a slow river, heat rising in waves from the concrete and we fall asleep in the backseat of your car in Echo Park, curled around each other, waiting until it’s late enough to go to a house party where we only know one person without it being awkward. Outside, men laugh and curse and a tiny black dog barks over and over. We do bumps off your house key to stay awake but only after the sun goes down because the sunset is sacred, you say, LA sunsets are a religion, and I roll my eyes and take another sip of my gin and tonic but here we are, every night, sweating on rooftops or stuck in traffic headed home, open-mouthed, face upturned, saying holy shit, holy shit.



July 16th

The full moon, egg-moon, searchlight-moon. The too full, leave me alone, get out of my face, moon. The moon huge and unashamed in the charred black sky, the moon looking at me with a raised eyebrow and a frank expression on her face. The moon always tired of my shit. The blonde boy sprinting down Telegraph Avenue at a quarter to midnight on a Sunday night, carrying sunflowers in his right hand, his backpack bouncing wildly on his back. The look on his face: huge, unashamed. The concrete sidewalk warm beneath my bare legs, warm like the earth has a low fever. Brushing my hair out in front of the mirror, stroke by stroke, my hair more straw than silk, dry and staticky, listening to Danielle talk to her ex-boyfriend on the phone for the first time in the next room, her voice rising and falling like waves: wind-chime laughter and dragging desperation. Not knowing where you are tonight, knowing that you are somewhere on the border of California and Oregon, knowing the ground is hard beneath your back, knowing the way the moonlight is falling on your freckled shoulders, remembering (that fierce scrape of memory) the first time I woke up, panicked at four in the morning, and saw you sleeping next to me: freckles and moonlight, the soft dip of your upper lip, realizing that I could run down every backstreet, could ignore every ringing phone, I could try my hardest to keep this from happening and I would always end up here and here and here.

it is a serious thing
just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in this broken world

mary oliver

(every morning, when i leave for work, when i open the front door and step out onto the porch and breathe in, this pops into my head, like clockwork)


I’m sorry to all the blades of grass I have picked and pulled and split open because I was bored or anxious or distracted or didn’t want to look at someone’s face while I was telling them something important.


I’m sorry I have a heart so big it could fill an elevator but the doors open on every floor and it is always too scared too scared too scared to get off.


I’m sorry that I don’t trust my mother to be stable and whenever we fight, as I turn to walk away, I worry and worry and I feel the soft tug of fear pulling me back towards her like a stretched out rubberband.


I’m sorry that I’m just as unstable as my mother but nobody knows except me and I keep it wrapped rubberband-tight around my big elevator heart.

I’m sorry that I’m so sorry all the time. I’m sorry that I was taught to fold myself neatly against everyone else, I’m sorry that I taught myself to swallow everything sharp, I’m sorry I swallowed so much that I should have spat out, I’m sorry it all lives inside of me now.


I’m sorry that I hurt the boy who loved me when I was my sharpest, who loved me when I had a mouthful of rocks and a clenched fist where my heart should have been, who loved me for two years as I darkened like a wine stain from sweet to bitter, who always answered the phone, who always opened the door, who always walked me home, who watched me stumble through my twentieth year of life trying to find some brokenhearted way to love the world again. I’m sorry you weren’t there to watch me find it. I wish it could have been you.


I’m sorry I almost hit a dog on my way home because I was driving without my glasses and I wanted to get home quickly because I was hungry and I wanted to make a pizza. I’m sorry I scared you, dog. I promise to be more careful.


I’m sorry you died.

I’m sorry you died and I still get to live.

I’m sorry you died and I still get to live and I’m sorry I’m too scared to even do that.


Last week, I read an interview with a woman who said, when I write, I am an ugly woman. I’m sorry I can’t find a way to love and respect this ugly woman that pulses inside of me, wailing and wiping her snot on the sleeve of her sweater. I’m sorry that sometimes I try to make her quieter and prettier. I hope someday I will be less scared of her, that I will forgive her for being ugly, that I will embrace her for being ugly.


I’m sorry that there are people who still feel sad while looking at mountains, who can think only of the canyons of loneliness inside their own chests.


I am sorry that you’re dead and I am crying in a botanical garden staring at the green swelling wall of mountains in front of me and worrying about my mother, her thin skin, her tired mind, her collapsed lung, her soft heart.


I’m sorry I judge people who call their husbands “daddy” instead of their actual name. I’m sorry that makes me assume that you no longer have sex with him. I’m sorry I can’t stop listening to Cat Power in my underwear long enough to live my life. I’m sorry I felt a small electric flicker of happiness when I heard your new girlfriend is boring. I’m sorry your new girlfriend is boring. I’m sorry I always hoped we would end up together. I’m sorry I always knew we wouldn’t.