“33 Thoughts on a Winter Birthday” by Christina Continelli

33 Thoughts on a Winter Birthday

“I’m lost.” says the inner critic
as She crosses the police tape
Her skin a chalky outline
Her mouth a three-day ashtray, a garbage bin, an ambulance

I panicked when my hair began to turn like salty bones
twisting charnel lithe in filthy wanting
lying in bed with a hangover
a festival of sinusitis and bird flu

This Man and I were brothers of the same body
when he expelled me from the garden like God
I emptied my pockets and cried foul
stepped out for some air, permanently

I think back to when I was a girl
sick on too much birthday candy
falling off my momma’s lap
into the wheel well of the car

this does not bring comfort
only the realization that I haven’t fallen far enough
never been the one with the loosened ties
never been the girl with saturated braids, a swallow’s nest

I wanted to be the red-headed degenerate
wanted to be the azure that kept a mouthful of clouds
wanted to be a black eye on the face of a beauty queen
wanted a jack o’ lantern head just to scare off the kids

Oh! To run to the ends of the earth in nothing but my underwear!
tortured and silly, dreaming of moo-cows and Tesla coils
the convenient disorder of the compulsive adulteress
all unusual poisons and girl smells

and I, the proper lady
a spray of gardenias pinned to my blouse
sit on a park bench with my legs crossed
wearing sunglasses

calm and beautiful as a white wall
secure as an umbrella
patient as the moon
unrepentant as de Sade

But– This Man and I were sorority sisters
bleeding at the same time, tails fluffed
circling in the same place
housecats flea-bitten but purring

we never kept well, always blue in the face
arctic swimmers with icicle fingers
cold burn
snow angels

Should I divide the world into victims and polar bears?
never mince my terms
live as a muddy hermit
waving my fist at schoolgirls

Or should I place uneven footfall at the edge of the five mile mark?
trace my smoky fingers along the cold, damp pane
to fashion shapes that look like sex and roses
an undecipherable language all my own

He said I screwed us both, big time,
and I the handy carpenter, the mechanic,
nodded in sober agreement
and adjusted my stride

but my machine kills fascists, sews curtains,
keeps date and time with precision,
mows the weeds, and keeps out the cold
it is neither a benefit, nor a hazard

It is merely a fact of life
like pollution or soap operas
or a man in Arizona still hunting
for the face of Jesus in a tortilla

This Man and I were kissin’ cousins
just like the Elvis movie
fabulous Technicolor tragi-comedy
an award winning statistic

Stagger Lee and Billy Lyon squabbling in the dark
never a knife or a gun shot
never a word uttered in hostility
but a bloodletting nonetheless

a skirmish, a blackout
these things I vaguely remember
like tracing the corner of his mouth
with the tip of my nose at 4am

Tenderly the path of embers leads to a puddle
She says: “You’ve never been eye candy,
more like eye meatloaf, or eye spinach, just hearty
and easy for people to get their fill”

But that’s not true! Not true!
granted, my ambition often outweighs my ability
but think of the possibilities– think of how far I’ll soar
when I finally lose the fear of jumping from the skyscraper

She scowls: “But don’t you feel like the last of the dinosaurs,
constantly pulling threads from your pinafore till it won’t cover your garters?
You’re a writer who only does poems,
that’s like a whore who only gives hand-jobs!”

I refuse to argue with Her anymore
and stuff her back in the box she came from
back across the police lines What else could I do?
concede and regret, two steps back, one step forward

This Man and I were bastards
we were our own parents– bound umbilical
gnawing into each other’s bellies
burying ourselves alive hoping someone would find us

in a four-cornered tract box in Rancho Penasquitos
little babies, cart them here, cart them there
girl scouts selling cookies, kids on skateboards vandalizing post boxes
bigger fences making better neighbors

Xmas family gathers, BBQ in the summer too
cart them here, cart them there
shock at hip huggers (where have my babies gone)
shock at pink hair (where have my babies gone)

anger at beer drunk, pot smoke
forget what I was like at that age
regret what I was like at that age
waiting for the lights to go up over the city

My life as it could’ve been— every day more salt on the bones
a gaggle brats and a half empty kettle
my first viable and ridiculous instinct
is to run for the hills

and wait for strange men
to put their calloused fingers on the error of my skin
to wait in the dark for me like murderers
to speak my name like a stone falling out of their mouths

These aspirations to shoddy eroticism
a carnation on my lapel and a bottle of champagne in my hand
always the bridegroom, never the bride
one foot in the grave, the other in the holy water

She asked me to be brave, but I couldn’t
He asked me to be honest, but I spoke into silks and called it earnest
I tripped down the long hallway
blindfolded, and holding a lamp

It was the best decision I could ever regret
just sitting here, waiting for the lights
to go up over the city
every night for the last three years

I loved This Man like a child loves Santa Claus:
with a constant, unflagging, and utterly innocent devotion
that later tapers off as the years progress
into a warm nostalgia


Christina Continelli is a poet, fiction writer, and essayist living in San Diego, California. She is an alumnus of  the California College of the Arts MFA program in San Francisco. She has also performed spoken word throughout California, both on her own and as a member of Goatsong Poetry Conspiracy. Her work has appeared in The Bees Are Dead, Blast Furnace, Hobo Camp Review, Slice Magazine, How2, and Monday Night Lit.



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