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Tess Congo


I’ve never had a home that I haven’t
found at the bottom of someone else’s

change jar.


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

I’ve kissed.


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
okay with. 


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

crest skin

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. 

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