don’t ever play yourself, poetry by mica woods

mica woods teaches at Columbia College Chicago, where they are an MFA candidate and editor for Columbia Poetry Review. She received the Merrill Moore Prize for Poetry in 2015 from Vanderbilt University. Her most recent and forthcoming works can be found in JukedFoothillHollowPretty Owl PoetryHeavy Feather ReviewYes, PoetryThe New Territory, and Minute Magazine

do not leave / the train inside a tunnel or on a bridge


          drops on the window       a window
          you can pull a red handle from then firm
                           Pull handle. Remove rubber [strip]
and well hello
                           rain slipping

inside the train car no       one’s around
so i’ll take it         i could soak a little
                            rely on some mildew when undry

i’ll take what i can
             growth going
like when i was a quarterback
and hype man for the person team
                          sounds like

the rain in the mud, or shoelace aglets
tickling an ankle in the soppy locker room and
coach i ever had saying Strip down

and You look like a faggot and i am a bundle it’s true
i must be collected // i am rare // and worth
more as a set
              aside and apart from the first tear into

              a new gift
A collectible shouldn’t be played with my
parents told me i’m listening       the knife made of bear
              is still       in its case           folded in on itself


loading zone


in another night the leaves
why did i think this was going to be any different

two are song with humdrum wells
i fish for the bucket eyeless

in the dark the stars are minnows
how many frozen dozen can i take for bait

the vest pocket with brass snap holds a treble hook
brass itself is a natural antimicrobial

what would it take to wash my hands
in lake water a white bread sandwich floats

this has become a kind of bloodbait too
copper alloys do so many things

i see them in your hair those ringlets
in the morning somehow it comes

a cord to tether boat to dock
a splash and rinse and lilt of whippoorwills


don’t ever play yourself


open mouth, the president swallows an egg
shell and yolk and white in an animated GIF.
this happens endlessly. you could say again and again.
i swallow when i can. it’s a gesture, a performance

enhancing drug to some. not to me—i need
less theatre, less lighting cues and less ruffling
of the curtains, less audience like this black-and-white

spotted cat, but i still say Yeah like i am crazed,
worthless thirsty in a desert and someone asked me

if i wanted a drink (neat) but it was actually a cock
and the question was Do you like that. i do like
to please, however many drinks i am past consent (five)

or however many joints and bowls we smoked (six). while i
write this memory the bartender and a customer swap
stories about testosterone supplements You’re only twenty-five!

the exclamation comes from the beard-hair, and the bartender
says My plug says take five a day. i take two supplements

for the opposite and it supposedly interferes with my drinking,
so i try to say no to the question of Can I get you another

porter but i’ve been saying no to myself no passing no
parking no loading no turn do not
enter dead end wrong way stop no entry no exit no
loitering give way yield and yield and yield and yield so i do

sometimes just say Yes and Yes fuck me like i’m your
constituents, like you’re Gerrymandering, my ass, like

i’m an egg and i’m not hard(at all)boiled, so be careful
because i don’t think i meant Yes. i just said it because
it sounds so fresh and fits so neat in my mouth, and like you said
Practice makes perfect.


we’ve given each other permission to break what we need to break


the only divinity i’ve ever known is the frog
between the garden snake’s jaws
beside a pond in the Kettle Moraine.

the only salvation—the Yellowstone River
accepting the Poplar Pipeline’s oil—
one thousand two hundred barrels of heaven.

i learned sacrifice from a wine cask and blood-soaked
cloth as t-shirt, that one mouth could swallow
a city full of lead,

to fold up the skin and offer every crease of a scar.
the balloons hanging from a ceiling
for my best friend’s sister when the necrosis ate

handfuls of her brain tissue. i was certain
a name could be placed on a crucifix,
gutted in the evening sun, and could guide the hand

through its hollow like a toothpick into the gap
of my teeth. i knew
a camel couldn’t walk through eye of a needle,

but its freshdead body could keep you warm
through a freezing desert night,
and i wanted to be yours and yours and yours,

before i knew one night could be a thousand / and one
story could let the snakes trail from its stomach
like a slow, muddy river to eat the cold

from an outstretched hand with nothing more
than a tickle and this is meant to be
laughter, not because danger has passed,

but because i have stopped trying to turn
every kiss and snake and prayer into a trans-
action. is there no change? no handing over

a receipt and no returns

all the edges are perforated


the crab apple tree holding a home security sign in its trunk,
the small green bodies on the ground
behind the gate which they said is always unlocked.

what good is a lock/set of blue eyes

or three pairs of needle-nose pliers

trying to decide how many buttons

should be left open.
sleep and the self is not the wooden privacy fence

i was taught to believe in—no

razor wire let alone a latch, unless you build it
yourself. the package drop the upstairs neighbors
made flakes off particle board.

any God, yes! for any kind of slush fund,

any uneasy atom smasher.

rinse and repeat
i am told if needed

when i get home to shower at 11 pm,
from viewing a new apartment.
i tripped the breaker / again

the basement is locked, but i discover a box

in the hallway and a mess

of cables like an old phone switchboard operator. now if
and this is a big fucking if
i could just find the right opening.


and so I have survived


no one has come                     to clean the fireworks       off the streets
no one stayed                         for the beer cans               the cigarette butts
lining the sidewalk                 there is some work             my body is unhurried
unsuited for                           the way bare feet                     meet the ground
                                                      more a jostle of gristle
how the spine             against a morning sun
certainly a tongue                   calcifies or not
in excess vitamin D                               in saying i miss you
when it is swayed                   and wanted         to snag a bottle
from the grass                       to fill it with packaging
carry it up carpeted               stairs and set the mail
aside for each neighbor                       to be so surprised
to hear another speak                         to me and not make
                              a single sound

only move the hands                           rotate the head on a neck
like a pig roasting over a low fire
apple of course                       plugging the mouth


no passing zone


homemade pasta means this is a home
my bed is here. i sleep on it.

we’ve been doing alright, right?
trying to mix eggs and flour together,

not letting the volcano erupt.
some fell on the floor on the way to wash our hands.

300 TONS OF NUCLEAR WASTE, reads an alarmist blog,
spills into the Pacific Ocean EVERYDAY.

the Fukushima reactor they say
cannot be stopped by human or robot hands.

it is too hot to approach,
when i told you i was thinking of going on estrogen,

i heard what you said
The peanut butter cookies crunch in my mouth

well mine too.
i’ve never baked cookies by myself before.