I’ve never had a home that I haven’t
found at the bottom of someone else’s
It seems an odd thing to say,
but when you rifle through
other people’s lives
sometimes you find leafs
of your own pickled
in the refrigerator.
These things taste like sauerkraut
at a time I prefer pickled cabbage,
and that’s why I refuse—
to return to every man
In New Hampshire, I learned
to paint roses red, smiling
as a safety beam.
Could I would not discuss the emptiness
of goodbye homes or—its inversion,
the mosaic of furniture
stacked in storage units.
I looked to my packed bags
as at least a proof;
I was going somewhere.
In New York, I tried
to assemble a person
someone might be
That person was me,
and I could not
open my arms
to the girl zeroing out
on the sidewalk.
In Bushwick, I let G belt my wrists
over my head. In Williamsburg,
the Waiter pressed his chest
against my back, pinning me;
a butterfly to bar.
Flapping desiccated wings,
I poured hours into wine
glasses, wearing fishnets
and a smile I was unwilling
to let wilt.
I didn’t want anyone to see
my eyes drifting over candles
to the lovers crossing their feet
under each other’s stools.
But when the Waiter waved his cigarette,
asking me what my addiction was
I opened my mouth and told him,
and when he kissed me into a corner,
I left lipstick on his collar, an accident
he’d wash out before going home
for the night.
Later, I learned it was all like this
with him; globes of ice down the backs
of white blouses, threatening
spilled water over hostess’ breasts,
his finger trailing spines.
In Gravesend, I read
Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse
in the bathtub, believing myself
Odysseus while feeling like
Penelope with suitors’ arrows
pointed at her chest.
For ownership, I crossed
my arms, curling
my fingers into my neck.
In London, G pulled my body
to his mouth. I held the wall
and watched vehicles shatter
I didn’t see this man in my future
but that just goes to show
how little of my future
I could see.
I have had to leave so much and many behind that when I am left behind,
I feel there is less of me each time. It’s not like a ghost
being tethered to its former homes. It’s like a ghost
forgetting it ever had a home.
On the platform I told him I could help feed his cat.
“Here kitty, catnip,” I said,
tossing air catnip to air cat.
“I have to wake early,” he said.
“Do you not want to hang out with me?” I asked.
“I do,” he said. “But I’ve mapped out my life.
There’s no room.”
Sometimes, it surprises me
that I am still not small enough
to fit inside
someone else’s world.
I can take a nail and scrape any surface
for ocean. I lift floorboards
for pieces of sky.
How many times can I survive
winglessness? How many leagues
do I surrender without gills?
They don’t tell you in biology
that the moon pulls the tides
of our chests. Our breaths
away from our ribs.
I think about slipping myself out sometimes.
Could my body be a door? Could my soul
slip out through the mail slot?
I believe in all worlds connected,
as if we were all part of a bleeding
watercolor map. Everything is
a little blurry, but I can’t—
be the only one who’s here.
Cathedral in a Love Song
If eyes express desire, maybe I should stop
trying to suck attention from your fingernails.
Writing the chokehold mentality
from your spinner
is like pretending
I’m willing to hold myself down
when you jut into my pie-graph.
If desire is a color-coded bookshelf,
which color do you demand my skirt
between your edges? Like the 25%
of a future you offer, I consider
Just because I look younger than I am
doesn’t mean I haven’t been a kite
in someone else’s sky. Love,
this language, takes many tongues
and though I didn’t intend to be
in a place of no with you, your proposal
of quiet when you say quiet
resembles a story I once read
where the heroine
was written to unveil
someone else’s victory.
Tess Congo creates poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Publisher’s Weekly, PANK magazine, Curlew Quarterly, Bowery Gothic, and the anthology Ripe (Afterword Books). Tess has studied writing at Harvard University, the University of New Orleans, and the University of New Hampshire and has received scholarship from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. She is currently earning her MFA in poetry at Hunter College.