Jessie Lynn McMains
Racine Poet Laureate, 2015-2017
Online: Reckless Chants | Bone & Ink Press | Facebook | Tumblr | Twitter | Instagram
The following poem was previously published in 10 Poems by Jessie Lynn McMains and A New Beat

top tax write-offs for the self-employed poet

The money you haven’t made selling off pieces of your life. The slope of a hill you slid on as a child more careless than carefree. The porcelain dolls. The basement and the cobwebs. The stiff pink dress you hated. Your uncle’s hands. Your teenage yearning. The Leonard Cohen record borrowed from your first boyfriend. How he wasn’t your first. His gray trenchcoat, cat-soft in the fog. How you wore his trenchcoat and listened to his records, not like you loved him but like you longed to live inside his boy-bones. His collarbone. The stolen lilacs wicked with raindrops. The longing. How the tongue can almost taste the ghosts of things you never knew. The ghosts, the moaning memories and phantoms. The bump in the night and the hush before sunrise. The trees outside your bedroom window materializing, streaks of ink against the early blue. The bedrooms of strangers. Wine-soaked sheets. The flinch as your bare feet hit the freezing hardwood floor. Arms and eyelashes, dark hair spread across pillows. Bottles. Pills. Needles and smoke. How you used to take severe liver damage may occur as less of a warning, more of a challenge. The warnings not received. The ones heard but not heeded. Sirens and crimson flags. The windows of houses, apartments, trains, bars. The summer bonfire that crackled the backyard beyond the glass. The boy that haunted the summer street on his skateboard. The woman shedding her dusty peach lingerie, back-lit in her bathroom. The neon light spilled on the sidewalk. Your blurred reflection blending with the scenery flashing past. The map of the train line, the one that runs north and south along the lake, the one that brought you home. No, there. And there. How the map is the labyrinth you live in. The read thread. The railroad tracks. The ravening minotaur. The myth. How you make myths out of pocket lint and crumbs of tobacco. How you romanticize things that are bad for you. Metaphor, simile, the same imagery over and over. And over. Again the ghosts, the longing, the bones, the smoke, the moon. The bone moon, blood moon, lakeice dusky moon. The moon-blur caught in a photograph. The faded photographs you can’t bring yourself to throw out. Your once. Your now. The unfinished books lining the shelves. The layers of dust. The seven decks of tarot cards, covered in a patina of fingerprints, bent from years of shuffle and cut. How there are days you swear if you have to fold another load of laundry or wash another dish you’ll douse the house in kerosene. How, yes, there are days when you could peel out of the driveway so fast your tires would stain the pavement with rubber, and yet. The coffee ready in the morning before you wake up. Your lipstick stain on the rim of the mug. The mousetraps. The mice. The secret funerals you held for them, the hymns you sang in your head as you placed their plastic coffins in the trash bin. How mama never said there’d be days like this. How no one warned you it’s hard to make a living writing about your heart. How you don’t make a living, but you sometimes make enough money for wine. Or lipstick that you name after tarot cards. The Lovers. The Devil. The Three of Swords. Your heart. How it pays out its own dividends. Like the park bench where you sit and watch your son run down the hill. Where you sit and think of metaphors for the birds. A volley of arrows shot south, musical notes inked on a wire. Like the porch light in the summer night, a small moon for the moths. The smell of rain and crushed lilacs, of burning paper and wax. The shortcut, that road that goes under the bridge over the river. How the light is blue in the early spring evenings, how you come around the curve and drive up the slope and there at last. Your life.