after TJ Jarrett
your therapist wants to know where
in your body you most feel your anxiety.
you tell her in the bones
behind your face. they have their own
music, like ptolemy’s universe,
and chirp like shuriken
dancing in the road. your therapist says
you hurt because there are things
you’ve never been taught to do:
how to hold yourself in sleep.
how to drive. how to live with men.
back when you were five—or maybe four—
your father knelt before you for the last
time, close enough
that you could smell him, a zephyr
of kool’s filter kings and leaving.
he pushed the tricycle toward you, purple and white
streamers limp as hair on the handlebars.
by the time you mounted the cranium-shaped
seat, he was gone.
your new goal is to learn to breathe
through bones, to make flutes of them.
although, in reality, you are much more supple:
a crooked fold of flesh that comes so quickly
when called. you are the warm-bellied
animal on the shoulder,
coated in sunscreen and your father’s curiosity:
white-haired possum with his green, green eyes.
you’re now the oldest you may ever be.
you have never before been this afraid.
there are no bodies bound to rush in the room
when your own becomes a bullet ringing the tiles.
you know all about “love’s austere and lonely
offices”: checking your stools for blood.
checking your breasts for lumps. checking your neck
for swelling nodes. checking the locks,
the coffeepot, all the cracked
eyes blinking fire on the kitchen stove.
your own weep against a pillowcase
you haven’t washed, stiff with the
miasma of your hair. you stare
at pictures of the girlfriend grinning in sunlight.
you feel bad for not being taken with yourself more,
but your body is all asymptotes and fractals.
your own skin splinters in the dark
from your dense heat. the pieces
come back together under a halo of prescriptions
steeping your head in yellow light. sometimes,
while combing your hair, a sliver of cartilage
lodges in your finger pad. you lick
the glittering blood and spit out the shard.
compared to your father, this is not unkind.
somewhere between your skull and the skin
that swaddles it, all the songs you didn’t know
you needed to learn from him appear
and vanish with the rhythm of your breathing.
Destiny O. Birdsong is a Louisiana-born poet, essayist, and editor who lives and writes in Nashville, Tennessee. Her poems have either appeared or are forthcoming in African American Review, The Adroit Journal, Muzzle, Indiana Review, Best New Poets 2018, The BreakBeat Poets Presents: Black Girl Magic, Split This Rock’s Poem of the Week, and elsewhere. Her critical work recently appeared in African American Review and The Cambridge Companion to Transnational American Literature. Destiny has won the Academy of American Poets Prize, Naugatuck River Review’s 2016 Poetry Contest, Meridian’s 2017 “Borders” Contest in Poetry, and the Richard G. Peterson Poetry Prize from Crab Orchard Review (2019). She has received fellowships from Cave Canem, Callaloo, Jack Jones Literary Arts, Pink Door, The MacDowell Colony, The Ragdale Foundation, and Tin House, where she was a 2018 Summer Workshop Scholar. She earned both her MFA and PhD from Vanderbilt University, where she currently works as a research coordinator. Learn more at destinybirdsong.com