Rigorous
Volume One, Issue 3



Dara Lyons


Dénouement

I have sadness around the ending of things.
Stories, mostly.
When they’re over, it always feels too soon.
Like aging –
premature.

The day I saw my first gray hair, I thought,
Thus begins another chapter.
The day I sent my manuscript –
final,
finished,
I thought, Well there it goes
Like a baby
floating down a river –
alone.

I try to control
endings.

With my novels,
I am God –
Killing this one, or that one,
Bringing people to life on the page.
Yet, also, powerless to save.

Characters overtake a thing.
They leave me
before I’m ready to let go.
They do things of their own volition,
things I do not understand,
and leave me, brokenhearted,
staring at the page.




Perfection on the Page

Have you ever been a slave
to a sentence?
No?
Well, then, you’re not a writer.

My ancestors
– half of them, anyway –
were slaves.
They knew how to bend
their backs, without
breaking, and labor
over a thing
until it was done.

The other half brandished
whips. I like
to think that’s why I can
painstakingly stoop
over a piece,
slump shouldered and seething
at the part of me
that forces me
to work. This time,
there will be no revolution.
No Civil War.
No dividing
along racial lines.
Any such solution would
pull me apart at the
carefully stitched seam
which holds me together.

My people, the slaves,
were storytellers.
The narratives they weaved
kept them alive.
Just as I –
imaginative dreamer,
visionary,
worshipper of words,
consummate liar,
stealer of sentences,
capturer of souls,
whipper of myself,
breaker of my own back,
lasher of language –
torture and redeem and reclaim
in equal measure.
So did my ancestors.

History is a nuanced,
multifaceted
thing.
Perhaps that’s why
it doesn’t interest me.
What does grip the fish
of my mind?
Tear it from my inner
ocean? And drop it,
flopping, on the shore
of my imagination?
Her story.

Mine, yours, ours.
Real and imagined.
Blasted through a megaphone
or quiet as it’s kept.




Novel: Textured, Like Lace

So real, they say.
The critics.
You have breathed life into this piece.

Stupid, self-referential.
They cannot see beyond themselves.

And so they do not know
That this piece
has breathed life into me.




Penetrating Punctuation

You look like a penis,
I tell the semicolon.
And it’s a good thing too,
Coming as it does
before the dangling participle.
Editors hate semicolons.
Often, they insist on swift
and complete
removal.
Off with their heads, they say,
Insisting on commas.

For five years,
I lived my life
as a lesbian.
Only, I wasn’t one.
I danced amidst
the severed heads
of commas.
I even wrote a book about it.
Confessions of A Straight Gay Woman

The girl’s name was Laura.
For me, she was little more
than an apostrophe.

We fucked.
Over and over.
In the end,
I fucked her over.
I didn’t mean to.
I loved her.
Truly, I did.
Insofar as I was capable
of loving anyone
through the reverse peephole
of my sexuality.

Reduced to nothing, she was.
This poor girl.
If only she’d understood
my propensity for cutting off
the heads of commas.
Or ripping out the hearts of people.
Severed. Bloody. Dripping.

I loved her
as much as every semicolon
I’ve ever carefully inserted
into a sentence;
then dispensed with,
so casually,
after an editor told me
to take them out.

Poor Laura.
Someone should’ve warned her
that she was as erasable as
a dangling participle,
or a semicolon.
Or a penis.

Only, in the case of the latter,
I feel I’d be remiss
if I failed to warn you
That I have erected monuments
to them.
In my basement.
In my bedroom.
In my body.

Between three thousand
thread count sheets,
I wrap my legs around
the man attached
to punctuation that
I am told
my work would be
better off without.

I ride the tide of useless insertion –
interruption.
Ecstasy, I say.
You call it intrusive.
Penetrating, we both say.
Only, you mean it as an insult
Whereas, for me,
it is a compliment.

If only I had been content
with my lesbian life.
And poor, unassuming, Laura.
But I was not content with commas.

I cheated.
I snuck in a semicolon.
Or two.
Or, once
– on vacation
in Turks and Caicos –
four.

Not all at once, mind you.
Even I am not
such a slut.
Not so mindless of the rules
of punctuation.
She promised me fidelity,
but I was an ocean away.
Beyond the scope of monogamy.

I came back
and told her the truth,
and she forgave me.
And cried.
And wished she had a head
to offer me.
Me, who severs heads
and swims amidst
the shark sea of commas.

Vaginas taste better than expected.
Dick is an acquired taste.
I ought to know.
I’ve been sucking them
since I was ten years old.

Editing is such a strange business to me.
To me, they’re all interchangeable:
Commas, semicolons, emdashes
or even ellipses…

Under the right set of circumstances,
they can all be useful.

If you should see Laura,
on the street,
or at the hospital
where she works,
patching people up
who have been wounded
by others
as vicious as me,
please tell her I’m sorry.
Tell her she was more than
mere punctuation on a page.

I’d tell her myself,
only, I’ve severed all ties.
As I should.
As I must.
Redacted.
Edited.
Cruel red pen applied.

We tried to be friends.
It didn’t work.

She kept wanting to undress me.
I kept letting her
and then confessing – later,
afterwards, while she held me
in her arms,
and I held her
– as a character
in my mind –
that I retained
an affinity for dick.

Never mind that dicks may be
as useless as semicolons.
I long for them.
A smattering, interspersed
amidst the words
that comprise my life.

She tried to get me
to edit them out.
Brave, stupid girl.
I have never been one to cower
under the whips
or at the whims
of editors.




Why I Don’t Write Poetry

Am I an asshole?
Their words all sound the same to me –
Sweetly resonant
Dripping in metaphor
Too beautiful to be brutal
Or honest or real.

I do not write poetry,
lyrical and lilting.
I can not comprehend
Voices that dance
together at night
by the firelight
or make love at daybreak
or stay out ‘til dawn.

I write about the
desperation of
my sixteen year old self,
or seventeen,
or eighteen,
filtered through the lens
of someone else’s experience.

Fingers down my throat
Skeleton form
His body hard – unwanted –
pressing into mine
The time I brokered a crack deal
in Mexico
for the Irish Fire Brigade.
The time I thought I was pregnant.
I wasn’t.
I said I was anyway,
So he would know and remember
and be sorry
for what he had done.

To me, all these things
are window dressing.
No one wants to read
my poems.
Who’d believe them anyway?
Not me.
And I was there.

I lived to tell the story.
In a novel.
In a photograph.
Art imitating art
imitating life.

I don’t bleed onto the page
in poetry.
As I write about all the
varied parts of me,
I beg you don’t believe me.

White Irish blood
peeled like potatoes.
Catholic lust.
My mother,
one of ten
indistinguishable children,
gave birth to me – half-black,
illegitimate,
accidental.
Unwanted?
Perhaps.

I have a half-brother
two weeks’ age difference
from me because, apparently,
my father couldn’t keep it
in his pants.

I don’t blame the other woman.
Or my mother.
Or myself.
Not anymore anyway.

Maybe I should write a poem
about how I never
met my father.
How he wanted my brother,
but never wanted me.

Impossible.
Who would read such a thing?
Mental masturbations,
pornographic and cathartic.
The disgusting revelations
of reality,
pressed onto the page by my pen.
Too fictional to be real.
Too real to be written.

Am I an asshole?
I suppose.
Or, maybe, just maybe,
I don’t dare expose
the facts of my life
that no one
but my mother
would ever care to read,
and, if she read them,
she would slit her wrists
upon completion.

No.
I cannot do that to my mother.
I want her – alive and unperturbed –
Even if she didn’t want me,
even if she contemplated
using a curette
to scoop out her mistake.

No.
No one would read that.
I think I’ll stick to novels.


Dara Lyons: "I am a summa cum laude graduate of New York University and my work has been read by over half a million readers. I have written twenty novels, two children’s books, a nonfiction book about yoga, numerous articles, short stories, and two full-length screenplays."




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