when solar winds stream from the sun down to earth, they follow lines of magnetic force generated by the earth’s core. the path across two parking lots and one busy street takes me 230 seconds to cross, my apartment to yours.
collisions of atoms occur and flow into a teardrop shaped sphere of charge. the light of the aurora borealis dances across the sky, atmospheric current. your thumb pressed into the arch of my foot.
we were once unsustainable recourse of action and dark fumbling out of straps and sleeves. you were a moon bite away from howling. I counted finger strokes like mapping galaxies.
in the kitchen in the back of the restaurant that belongs to you, we are discussing God and preparing fresh vegetables to make into soup. my voice shakes a note or two as I unload fear and gut a ripe red pepper, slowly peeling the roasted outer skin away from the fleshy surface. I scrape seeds from the insides, bright orange and pulpy like a gaping mouth. I look at your mouth. across the metal table you are dicing onions in a symphony of movement between your fingers and the knife.
the stickiness of whisper sounds.
excited states of oxygen make up the red and yellow-green colors of the aurora. there’s a red light from the building next to yours that bleeds through the slats of your blinds at night, making the outside city seem a looted universe. I forgot about poems for a while and days moved like a prayer’s beat.
you are grief on certain days. I am heavy with it. I accidently peel dead skin from my chapped lips until they sting. what can you do with a sad like that except let it sit? it could ruin me if I let it and my bird shoulders can’t hold the frame.
the only thing preventing metal from welding together on contact is a layer of oxidation. you and I have never been in the same bed unthreaded, anything but a merged scenescape. a blue velvet song.
a white mouth gape. bathroom procedures like daily prayers. can I get in with you? we scrubbed clean you knelt and picked up an ankle. washed the bottoms of my feet. I understood that it was an apology for truths you didn’t speak.
I feel secure in your sickness. is this love or self-abuse? are they different? a calming hollow makes me shrink and stay up all night, forgetting or refusing to eat but drinking coffee like water. my hands shake for three days. google gives me 20,200,000 results for “how to love someone with mental illness.” none of them mention that oxygen is essential for combustion, though it may seem the opposite in our weeks apart. I thought I would sneeze but cried instead.
I would leave you poems on the counter when I left in the morning if I thought you would want them, scrawled on the corner envelope of your phone bill. I like to think you would tape it to the fridge if it was particularly lovely.
why do you hurt people? I do not ask you, what does their pain mean to you?
in the kitchen of your apartment at 1 am, we are discovering the fluidity in which we wriggle in and out of affairs. I didn’t ask about the earrings in your drawer. the name for oxygen comes from the Greek roots oxys (literally "sharp", referring to the sour taste of acids) and gοnos ("producer", literally "begetter"). you projected onto my youth a red wintered tethered baggage I dragged for much too long.
in witching hours I feel the presence of absence and once again am leaking back into your bed. threads and patterns, you smile a moonbeam, threads and patterns.
the texture of shifting pangs of dependence.
you felt wrong to me that morning. it always feels like jaywalking being with you but today it’s criminally toxic, thick and fucked. most of the time you are a layer I brush from my skin, a grime to inhabit and step out of.
some days breathing takes practice. without enough particles to bounce light, the sky becomes charred.
driving in the car across the 30 feet of bridge that once took me home my mother says, “writers acknowledge” and I think but do not speak of showers and sky and the rust crumbling from oxidized metal. in the ditch of the interstate running below us a dead deer lies breathless unblinking. I briefly consider feigning resonance but observing loss of life is not always significant.
when we pray over dinner later that night I cannot bear to shut my eyes.
without oxygen, concrete turns to dust. I spent four nights in the cycle
of your bed before I missed the sheets of my own.
it becomes too familiar. is this therapy or self-sacrifice? are they different? it begins to seem that my prerogative is to risk rawness that invites pain, risk myself to hurt, and learn to medicate or soothe it once it happens, rather than never have it at all. does it make me strong if I know I don’t deserve it; it doesn’t touch me?
I remembered poems and wept through autumn,
soft petals on mouths on hands
on making mounds in dirt.
is the chemical union of the burning substance with a gas named oxygen.
the space of a city is never enough when I miss our mess.
we are always flaming whether I’ve breathed for myself today or not.
element reactions follow a pattern determined long before my continual surprise. there’s always someone smeared on the insides of my eyelids and damp hair in the drain. the universe only feels like a betrayal if you let it.
Ashley Wilkinson is a recent graduate of the University of Iowa's undergrad creative writing program. Her work has most recently been published in Green Briar Review. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin where she is currently working on her book, Incantations.