To the Boy I Wrote Stories About (and Other Poems)

                                     Sunrise on Upper East 
                                        New York City, 1988
New York sunrise over Harlem River. Rising so amber,
so Amun-Ra against the miniature scrapers, walls of humble
steel and glass, hot orange on pavement. Morning sun
brilliant, across the luminous metal scarab of the Third Avenue 
Bridge or the Willis Avenue Bridge. I really don’t know.
My first time to the Bronx, anyway.
I return to sun waking the city, dipping his pitcher into the river, 
white-gold crucible of dawn. Inclined in the back seat of a taxi, 
smells of upholstery. No cigarette ash, no paper pine. Squinting 
at the morning through stains of mascara from crying mostly, 
sleeping some. Too young to anticipate if I’ll always feel this thrown. 

I still don’t know what the Bronx looks like in the light. But East Side 
surrenders to Daybreak like she’s just waiting for him to rise.
God. Like, just ready.

I’m costing a boy a mess of money to send me home with this view. 
He’s not even frustrated. Not even mad. Careful with me like 
he’s known a real fight. Blond as this morning sun, streetwise eyes 
and a cross on a chain. Irish Catholic, his family is tight, he says.
Tight. There’s a river of knife scars across his chest, 
it’s okay, you can touch them. 
I run my fingers along the car window glass that is still morning cold.
I never surrender to anybody. I save all my misguided refusals 
in a jar of lament. Just a cry-baby tangled in the patience of 
heedful men.
But not this city. Not the Upper East Side. Bold and fierce 
and fearless and wanting. Watch her arching backwards 
for the morning light, running hands along the spines of the streets. 
Supplicating to the sky, mirroring lustrous in the glass 
and limpid Harlem river. New York beckons and embraces.         
The city says yes.


                                    Aphrodisia on Bleecker
                                        New York City, 1989

Aphrodisia on Bleecker Street. Shoppe in Greenwich Village. 
I guess it’s gone now. 
Like the jumbled altars of esoteric bookstores 
and the smell of printed paper. 
Aphrodisia. The world’s muffled library of wildcrafted secrets. 
Memory sleeps, cradled in the lap of scent.
Every dream forgotten, langours in these cabinets.
Wooden mantles of herbs, cloaked in brown paper and twine. 
Mandrake to Patchouli to Saffron. 
A plant to anoint a maiden. Or a plant to stop a heart.
Canisters lining the walls, adorned with dried botanicals. 
The air rippling from the embroidered essence of clove buds, 
cardamom. A calliope of spices whirling behind the whispers 
of outdoor rain, along the pavement of the city, wanderers 
rushing by; forgetting or not remembering or never knowing 
Aphrodisia. An apothecary castle for the senses.
And the oils. The soulblood of ylang ylang. The queen, Bulgarian 
rose, prying open cobalt bottles, jasmine, king of flowers. 
This table of potions, aromatic nest of liquid bouquet 
seeping into porous walls, Everything exudes perfume. 
Like Monstro the whale breathe and I’m just a puppet of twigs 
losing all my ways on the crooked, village streets
dancing for copper pennies with pretty marionettes.
Unremembered now in this sanctuary of balsams 
that echo of wooden chimes and clinking tinctures. 
Frankincense. Dragon’s blood. Copal. 
Speaking the languages of resin, speaking the tongues of 
labdanum, syrupy tar and gilded sap. Breathe. 
Aphrodisia. I am only beginning to learn that everything I understand 
is right here.


                              To the Boy I Wrote Stories About 
                                     Juneau, Alaska. 1990’s

This poem won’t even matter because you’ll die so young, 
tearing shadows into winters over winters, never to be sewn 
with the sinews of branches when the sky hangs in ribbons 
of cobalt and absence. I hurt for your family. 

I might know as my father died like so, 
before the first quarter month of thirty.
You might know as I’d write about him in class, 
when you sat across from me, first 
and next to me, later. 

Your hair all burnt bark and tangles, 
like how tree roots knead soil 
and you never talked, I think I could read on one palm 
how many times you spoke at all 
with your perpetual 5 o’clock shadow 
and your careless handwriting 
and your poems about snow. 

I wrote stories about you in class. 
Since I’m a loud mouthed, know-it-all, can’t shut up 
waves crashing against Let me tell you a story 
waves crashing against It’s okay to play rough with me 
Makes for one hell of an undertow.
That frantic sea-tongue swallow 
clutched in deafening foam 
dragging towards the fissures 
where quietness dwells.

Or even just across the table in class.
If I could crawl into that thicket of noiselessness
since you would have let me 
if I’d been unflinching enough to ask.
You’d move closer next semester, right next to me 
quiet like drifts in the ice of the forest, 
beneath the vigilance of ravens.

Listening to my shape shifting, contortionist fiction 
as Fiction is just Memoir’s outcast cousin 
with the compulsive lying problem. 
I changed your hair, changed your eyes, changed your face, 
changed your age, changed the time, changed the place
still, you knew it was you.

All up in my secret in a room of peer reviews
workshopping away on the nuances of metaphor 
anonymous tips in a stack of sedimentary copies.
Except yours, since I already knew your handwriting 
from your poems about snow 
and you just scrawled 
this sounds like me 
and leaned back to watch
me reading you reading me 
writing you.


Featured Image: Dusk
by Bebhinn McIlroy (2000) 







About Author

Bebhinn McIlroy-Hawley

Bebhinn McIlroy-Hawley is graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies from Antioch University in Santa Barbara, California. She previously studied writing, contemporary literature, and art at the University of Alaska Southeast in her hometown of Juneau, Alaska. Bebhinn is joining the Creative Writing MFA program at AULA with a dual emphasis in poetry and fiction. While in graduate school, she will continue her work in AUSB’s Writing Center. Bebhinn enjoys spending time with her children and visiting her family. She is particularly inspired by the Central Coast’s gorgeous natural landscape.

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