self-portrait as the mirror who shows every face but my own (embarrassing, I know)

by Lily Darling


               “turns out there’s no good way to become dust”

                         —Hanif Abdurraqib, “Ghosting”


in the bathroom, after (him)
the stranger pinches her cheeks together
with a thumb and index finger, unblinking
and tells her friend
her face has been
          “doing something weird lately”
          “i don’t look like me”

i watch them, a starved ghost
dark circles
strings of mascara falling from smudgy eyes
cold coffee hitting empty stomach (fearing nothing more than a swollen gut)
i run the water too hot
hold my hands under the faucet long after they leave

hours before this, while (he) still slept, i whispered a sore-necked apology to the sheets
pulled away from the mattress with our movement:
thank you for withstanding my bare skin
sorry, about the racing heart, the too-hot flesh
         “get too much vodka in me
         and suddenly i’m a furnace.”
i meant to say, forest fire, i meant to say all i wanted was to lay my head on your
chest so i let you come inside me. you see, i am only happy as an empty space, a fill
in the blank, all this sweat and heady breath is something worth apologizing for.

could you give me a shirt
         an arm around my waist
can you smile down at me again
         yeah, like that,
         and dig your fingers into my scalp, thank you, like that
can i call you by a different name
         or no name at all
could you drive me home
or at least open the window for me
         to slip out of and into a clouded morning and dissolve into nothing
i think i can start to see myself
         in your varnish


the only time i felt present in my own body was with a pill at the bottom of my
stomach. the next morning i purged and the river water i pulled forth was clogged
with only blood, pinkorange and clotted in the porcelain curve of the toilet. 
in the memories of the night i had just left, the lights of the party filtered the lines
of my friends’ faces until they turned into redgreen static. my jaw worked so
hard i gave myself a headache i didn’t even notice. we were writhing silhouettes. swallowing smoke, caterwauling into new bodies that we did not ourselves own.
i didn’t think about the possibility of the stranger in the bathroom. the room
escaped before (he) woke up. i couldn’t stop swaying, and laughing. dancing like
i could recognize myself in a photograph.

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