Natalie Eilbert is the author of the debut poetry collection, Swan Feast (Bloof Books, 2015). She is the recipient of the 2016 Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellowship at University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she will serve a one-year academic appointment. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from The New Yorker, Tin House, jubilat, The Boston Review, The Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. She is the founding editor of The Atlas Review.
Panic Attack (for Wretchedness)
Regardless of my sins I return to the mess. I approach
and the mold sighs. I must check my messages. I was
afraid, even before I had teeth, that life would be another
bad entrance in a series of doors in a series of series.
At my best moment, I could look at the scar on my fist
and know the other neighbor did this and it was a dumb
accident. At my worst, I see the bald swirl of my neighbor’s
head in the tissue. I did what I was supposed to do but
that doesn’t make breath more seamless. All objects must
have a seam. I must breathe. A lily bleeds from the seam
of being touched. Me too. There isn’t much precious about me
that isn’t a result of my patriotism. Regardless of my discipline
you won’t believe me. A window inside me breathes, it
leaks ambition to leave my red interiors, it is courage
or it is ritual. That all selfless acts require defining
doesn’t bode well for me, the mimicry in the outcry
to save. I have only helped others by being my own body
and the body craves definitions the way it does lines in order
to be whole. My skin breaks open in the sun in southern California
and there are so many voices whom I’ve failed. So I breathe.
My neighbor’s house. When I sat inside it I let the insects
of my childhood eat through the carpet. I killed every one of them.
Portrait of the Tongue Forgetting Itself
And so I plunge, pointing my finger in the direction
of a dead lightbulb. Instead I draw a house. It always
starts off like a dream, then a broken doll. The ceiling.
I am given a pill and shears. In the darkness with our hands
we must interpret each object as a choice. Human beings
put human beings in boxes. I ignored the letters of the one
incarcerated man I knew. In his final message, he asked
what he did wrong. There was a photo, him bloated uncomfortably
in front of a yellow backdrop. I never answered. I once
showed him the tiny heart between my legs as a girl.
To look at his face was to hear its inexorable beat. Now I talk
about darkness. And so my freedom lies in the figurative.
I am surrounded by so many doors and all of them open.
And so to announce sobriety is to acknowledge the click
of a turning knob, to note the eyes who made the tongue
of a bell scream. Yesterday I considered America’s faux
nationalism as I forked spiralized vegetables into my mouth.
Today I have a negative balance. I worry the more I stare
at screens the more reliant I will be on ego-driven “work.”
I, like America, do not possess a long history. I grow
from the seed of A-minor and the many worlds buckle.
I think too much about childhood and this thinking
is the hope of deliverance. As desire might lead to love
the hands might learn tenderness as they are also tender.
It was an accident to say anyone’s name when I wasn’t missing.
I lean on the advantage of a word like world, its immediate
empty relevance. I didn’t want to show R my world
that day but I did it on my own. He was not a criminal
for choosing to look.
All the paper smells like mint. My chest
has dried into bank of seeds. I compose letter
after letter to a new geography. You tell me
to write about rocks. Well I’m stagnant now.
I’m disheartened by all that’s left, an ending
not driven by things. I repeat my fleet of subjects
but am stunned by the degree to which I’ve imagined
harm. I become vivarium, a green fundament
scores my pretty skull. You tell me to write
about rocks. Look. Today in meditation I drew
circles with my eyes shut. I lay a dotted circle
around my elbow, then my shoulder, my hip.
I attempted to center myself but all I could do
was diagram my disappearances, holes linking me
to other holes. There is joy in a series made only
for combustion. There is joy in the glitch of combustion.
We have done all we could. We have turned every
shape into a tool, every tool into a weapon.
When I lift a book to my lips, it’s all I smell.
All day I’ve thought of ways to save us. I told
my family to lift the carapace from my eyes
so they could see the way I’ve watched them
all these years. You ask me to write about rocks
so let me show you my afterlife. It is a light so light
against the eyelids I become a specimen I beg
the sun to obliterate. Please don’t obliterate me. I hold
your hand to my afterlife and tell you to meditate
the perfect shapes that cauterize me to the story. Please.
Never put value in a belief. All I do is repeat.
I’m astonished by every mouth I’ve had. An orange
pushed down my throat. This afternoon I left
the office to run in line. My discipline is straight.
A crystal falls through me. Fiber drips down my chin
as I assess the world smashed into me. I ran
in a line to a window. Every object on its side
looks like a beached whale. I think the problem
with scene is my death can’t fit inside it. I’m hurt
by narrative, the promise of humans to be their verbs.
The times I’ve been intellectual, my lips were wet.
I pantomime in the pretty gloaming of my youth
and push myself through a disc so I don’t have to look
anyone in the eye. I need more space. I repeat.
I lay down in the road as a girl because I wanted
someone to stop me like no one stopped him.
Because the car never came, they called me
an attention whore. I’m relearning inventory
to repeat myself better. Tonight, Paul said the word
ichor in their poem. I can still feel the god blood
melting through the snow. My landscape flattens
to one without snow, without rain, without land.
I draw the word ichor in the steamy mirror. It drips.
I splash the glass with bleach. It drips.