Winter 2022 - Poetry

Gabrielle Griot

Torch Song

 

They say you can tell a lot about a person by looking through their bag.

I always wanted to be the kind of woman who carried a reusable water bottle, the kind who never lost her tube of Chapstick. Instead I carry empty packets of blotting papers, unopened billing statements. Earrings with missing backs and fistfuls of chalky magnesium. A single tampon with a torn wrapper.

I carry you around like a holy ghost. I carry you like you’re dead.

 

 

I mourn you like you’re dead. You’re just as good as dead, all those miles away. That’s the problem.

I leave my apartment and remember to take you with me. I run through the inventory. Wallet-keys-phone-memory-of-person-who-does-not-care.

You’d tell me that’s unfair. That you do care. I can’t decide what’s worse.

 

 

Summer comes and I starve at my altar. I devour my offerings. I burn at the cross and resurrect myself in grainy webcam selfies and late-night dating app downloads.

I pretend to cleanse myself, all opaque triangles and diagonals snaking through the still August air. I don’t believe it will do anything, but I do it all the same.

 

 

I think about Laura Mulvey. I think about Margaret Atwood. I think about the UK Border Agency. I stare at my reflection until I no longer recognize myself.

I watch you watch me through a screen and think about how I want you to love me more than I want to love you. But when you did love me more than I loved you, all I wanted was to run away.

Maybe that’s all I’m looking for. An escape route.

 

 

My dad tells me that he thinks you and I will always have a “unique relationship.”

I hope not. I hope so. I hope we never speak again.

I text you that afternoon.

 

 

I think about how I would leave everything in my life for you and how I’d probably regret it immediately. I think about Gladys Knight. I think about motion sickness and back gardens and cold Pimms from the can. I’m tired of being the one who waits.

I wonder what it would feel like to win, just for once.

 

 

You mail back my things. You write me a letter. It says that you don’t know if you’ll ever move on. That you don’t know if you want to.

I try to unpack what part is you and what part is London and what part is me wanting to prove to myself that I’m someone worth marrying after all.

My therapist tells me to date an older man. My therapist tells me that it’s okay that I’m angry‚ that it’s because I’m a Leo. I stop seeing my therapist.

 

 

Months pass like sea glass, time-lapse days salting down the razor edges.

I drink an entire bottle of wine. I cry to K-Ci and JoJo. I cry to Sinéad O’Connor and shuffle my tarot cards until they tell me what I want to hear. I almost believe it.

Seven months later, on the Eurostar to Paris, I press my thigh against yours and wonder if I am even a good person.

 

 

I ask myself which of my feelings and desires are real, and which are just projections of a compulsive need to be affirmed, to be validated.

I ask the cards, too. They say don’t you already know?

I think I want to be seen by a person more than I truly want any person.

Everything I do feels disconnected and filtered through a narrow lens. Like some kind of self-destructive performance artist who doesn’t know how to switch off her own camera.

 

 

I listen to I Think I Need A New Heart. I listen to Silver Springs.

I listen to Taylor Swift.

I text you from three separate beds.

 

 

I think about ginger root, about root chakras. About a flowering plant taking hold of me by the ankles, setting a match to my chest and wresting me back down to earth.

I tell myself I manifested abandonment because I feared it so much. This is probably true, even though you tell me it’s not. I think about push and pull. How no one is ever really on the same page.

I blame my parents. I blame the planets. I blame my ninth house stellium.

 

 

When I was nineteen, I made a collage from haphazardly glued NYLON magazine clippings and glittery card stock.

They’d interviewed Stevie Nicks for the issue, and I cut out a pull quote that said “I wanted the artist’s life, and that’s why I’m sitting here alone.”

I hung it on the wall beside my desk.

 

 

“Sadly, it looks like time travel to the past is never going to happen,” says Stephen Hawking. I cry about that, too.

 

 

I think about the speed of light. How the sunbeams we see have actually been gone for tens of thousands of years. I decide that nostalgia is its own form of purgatory.

I say it out loud so it feels real.

I tell myself that if you wanted me then you would have me.

It isn’t actually that black and white. Nothing is. But we just don’t have the time for nuance anymore.

 


Gabrielle Griot is a Massachusetts-born writer currently living on the west coast of Florida. She holds a master’s in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, where she wrote across both poetry and prose. Recent work can be found in The Moth, bath magg and elsewhere.


 

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This project is partially supported by the Illinois Arts Council

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  © Ninth Letter, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.