Jill M. Talbot
A Picture of Me When I Was Young and Dead
They say this picture is pretty,
This picture of which I was dead for.
They like me this way.
Taking a photo with a laptop
After a wedding.
It’s already gone—I blinked, I moved.
I grew teeth, I found a pulse.
Am no longer pretty—
The way the cashier took my change
When I stood there naked.
I have the evidence locked in a teacup.
I was pretty, wasn’t I?
They loved me more when I am pretty.
They loved me so much I couldn’t breathe,
Which only made me more pretty.
Was I alive
I was alive on certain terms.
I was alive without knowing it.
Which is sort of like being dead.
I was playing dead, it suited me.
I could play at anything but living.
Throwing up in the bathroom.
Too many pills again. It hurts to move
So I’ll settle for fetal position.
It’s all in the memoir. The future memoir
When I am no longer alive
And you can all mock me in safety. I asked
Somebody else to write it. Somebody
Who knows better.
Was I alive when he said, I’ll kill you
And I laughed?
Hardly. That was what made it funny.
Me too, they said when I laughed.
None of us were alive, that’s what made it
Even more funny. “Me too” kept echoing
Across the land. But nobody could really
Do anything about it but laugh.
If You Grant Me Anything, Grant Me This
Lately I don’t even trust my cereal box, it says AND/OR in the ingredients. Cyntoia Brown’s back in the news because a celebrity decided to take up the case—I swore I seen that on the back of my Apple Cinnamon Cheerios.
Life in prison for killing a john, for the first time in my life I can’t say I’ve done worse, though I also can’t say I’ve done any better. I can’t say much of anything.
The number fifteen keeps coming up in my newsfeed and the local paper, as if they’re all out to get me—all fifteen jurors. I wish I could kill the person too cowardly to write this poem. I wish I could sit calmly in a café without waiting for murder—waiting for the falafel to start talking back. Cyntoia Brown was everything I was, but refused to be. I thought I could erase fifteen from existence. One celebrity—
I follow God on Twitter but he doesn’t follow me back. I even tried to believe in him. I even tried to smear him. I even quoted Nietzsche at him. I keep getting Cyntoia confused with Amanda Todd, with a local girl who disappeared recently. Cyntoia probably thinks she’s old now—I did two years ago, now I feel twelve. Because they all show up at once, and I can’t take any of them home. I’m sitting in a café that keeps playing cheerful music and I want to drown. Keep thinking about how happy music should go kill itself. About how the red/blue open sign makes me think of Prozac and I’ve made it an hour in public without screaming.
Why there’s no rule on the record that you can’t spend more time behind bars than you’ve spent out? I try to remember that even though I don’t want to be free to scream, it’s better I am. Because it’s possible to have nothing left worth saving.
I’ve got nothing left worth saving—but my freedom. But my freedom. Ten years in prison and an overnight sensation.
Blah blah sex trade
Blah blah redemption.
Blah blah bloody murder.
Which is the coward?
I wonder if anyone wants to know what prison food tastes like, or if that would be trauma porn. If that would be the end of the story. Every institution I’ve been to
I’ve had to crawl my way through. At least you can’t sell yourself in prison. Well… at least you can’t kill yourself easily. I’m talking shit. All I know is that I’m rocking back and forth in a café where the music is trying to murder me, and nobody is paying attention. I’m in a café when I’m thinking how long I can go without screaming. Pretending getting off denial wasn’t worse than getting off methadone. Pretending I don’t follow God on Twitter on the rare chance somebody might be sincere.
Thinking about how justice is just ice put together. And the drinks I wish were just ice. The ice I wish didn’t come so cheap—the lightbulbs I wish would stop trapping the moths. Trauma makes everything turn upside-down and inside-out. Exiting denial feels like flying straight into the sun. Maybe it is, I don’t know, I’ve never had a gun.
I keep repeating the phrase, God grant me the serenity… Just to have something to repeat—over and over. Everywhere there are bicyclists wearing bright neon green jackets—they don’t want to be run over. This sounds like stating the obvious, but sometimes it’s too hard to tell why anyone wouldn’t want an out. Why anyone would live on the borderline and not jump.
God, will you retweet this poem? It has no sex in it. No nudity. No violence. My cat eats moths—he takes pleasure in the bones, and I pet him for it. The psychiatrist says it’s paranoia to be afraid of lightbulbs—that anyone who can’t get serenity by tweeting God has a sick personality.
The psychiatrist says. The lawyer says. The mother says. The celebrity says. God just dances in the lightbulb—making puppet’s shadows act out Hamlet.
It’s now finally time to call off the weather—rock back and forth. There’s a pea in my occipital lobe, and everyone looks greener than I do. There’s a scarecrow in the front yard that’s made friends with the crows just for long enough for the cat to get attacked. Sometimes I think I’ll die and come back a pigeon.
Everyone’s pigeonholed at fifteen, just praying to God it’s not as a prostitute. God grant me the celebrities to change the things I can’t, and the courage to get out of prison—the wisdom to stop praying to satirical Gods.
God grant me the wisdom. The water, the boat is sinking, or rocking—hard sometimes to tell the difference. Hard sometimes when you are the difference. God grant me the serenity to just make it through this trip without screaming. Eagles circle. Cyntoia Brown was fifteen.
But then we all were—or will be. Which should be pitied more? The first time in my life I was free, I was in a shelter. The last time, I was in a gutter. I guess you can’t circle without wings. I keep thinking off a fractured skull. I keep thinking, even though I don’t want to. I keep circling around Cyntoia Brown. I keep thinking of Dr. Seuss, I do not like green eggs and ham … Who the fuck does? Maybe those with a hint of Stockholm Syndrome.
When you need to redefine love, you need to redefine yourself. Cyntoia got further than I did. I’ve circled around hope for so long it’s turned green. God grant me the serenity …
It’s like methadone withdrawal, without the draw. The waves don’t care what you’re guilty of. The truth is I don’t even know how to scream:
Cyntoia Brown was fifteen.
Jill M. Talbot attended Simon Fraser University for psychology before pursing her passion for writing. Jill has appeared in Geist, Rattle, Poetry Is Dead, The Puritan, Matrix, subTerrain, and The Tishman Review. Jill was shortlisted for the Matrix Lit POP Award for fiction and the Malahat Far Horizons Award for poetry. Jill lives on Gabriola Island, BC.
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