I write on my skin with ballpoint pen: black, blue, secret sounds just under my collar and cuff. When I write on my belly its softness surprises me. The letters are crisp in the morning but warm as I move through daylight hours, smeared by evening when I unearth them again. A word a day until each story is the same story, a word a day until the stories stick in my throat and what remains is the fraught ceremony of it all.

A story is not really held in written words, is it? Text is just pixels and ink, looped patterns dissolving as they muddle, merge, morph. Say it five times fast. I forget how to write so I rub crayons broadside over dry maple leaves; their hollow veins rattle beneath the friction and skeleton hands appear on the paper’s surface like signatures. I imagine my body as a crayon print traced in autumn blue. The writing on my body brings me back, one pore at a time, to language.



Give me a sewing needle dipped in black and pricked into delicate skin, the bottle spilled and left to stain. Give me geese obtrusively trumpeting through a late spring snowstorm. Give me the copper-tongued fear of standing in a desert wash when it’s raining, or of riding in a silver Dodge as it burns down the dotted centerline after dark. Give me dancing a tipsy two-step after last call. Give me the dizzying silence of a bedroom just emptied. Give me wordless humming of old songs half forgotten. Give me the desolation of not saying what should’ve been said, of not listening when it counted. In place of words, offer up bodily souvenirs collected by happenstance.



I try to tread on sidewalk cracks in an alternating rhythm from left foot to right foot; I don’t know if it’s because of how I feel the pressured space beneath my shoe’s rubber, or out of compassion for the sidewalk’s uneven usage, or maybe a little of both. When I was young enough to still be getting taller, I measured my elongating stride based on how many steps I needed to take per cement rectangle. Was I grown up if I only took two? What if I ran, or jumped?



I saw my own fat, oozing out of my calf. It splayed to the sides of the deepest canine puncture, the dog’s bite the same shape as a shark’s half-moon and my fat in little globs like wet cheese curds. I was too captivated to be disgusted. Is this what the inside of me looks like? Fat, from the outside, is something I’ve begun to crave on my body. Fat, from the inside, is yellow. I sent my friends pictures of my bloody, fatty, oozing leg, just to gross them out.

What’s inside isn’t just inside, it’s also through and because and steering. Inside is the accidentally-shallow stress breathing; the saying good morning and goodbye and hello and goodbye and hello and goodnight to my dog; the sex where I become a faraway balloon, a hot air balloon at the end of a narrow road within an optometrist’s autorefractor lens; the smiling at myself; the neutral reaction to praise; the overreaction to ambivalence; the underreaction to cruelty; the seeking out of pain; the story in colors. Inside tries to be outside but it’s just a newborn kit, disoriented in bright light and upset that the soft, wet, warm walls are gone and it’s in the open now.



Consider this: memory as a series of unreliable snapshots, isolated events like puddles that dry in a gutter and leave soggy leaves behind. They steep into a deep gold tannin brine.

I don’t write about that night in the garage because my memory is fuzzy, a fever dream with a thick tongue, and so there’s not much to say except it was the first time I was truly frightened of who my husband and I had become, when I realized the vague threat of violence had just then caught up with us.



I write disagree on my thigh, but resistance sits in my upper chest and migrates to my shoulders. My last therapist noticed that every time I try to use emotion-words, I say body-words instead. I feel like my feet hurt. I feel my stomach abandoning me. While I work on my language, I feel weightless.

My roommate and I couldn’t afford to go to the expensive but shitty chain restaurant she got fired from, so we went to the bar instead. She was angry at the world. Soon there was an empty tumbler in my hand and I told her watch this as I threw it against the dance floor in front of us. Dancers shuffled back, of course it was an accident. I looked at her because I couldn’t help myself as I grabbed her empty drink and smashed it, too, while everyone stared. I laughed while we ran.

High in the Beartooth Mountains, a tributary of the Sweetwater River at mid-summer flow skims over huge, flat rocks and turns them into mirrors. I swear I was floating when I crossed except for a quiet rush and ripple around my boots.



I get what I get. I think this is different than saying “it is what it is,” which I hear as a kind of resignation toward the general shitty-ness of things. “I get what I get” still means that I get something, even if it’s not what I want. I have this superstition that bad stuff happens to avoid something even worse happening later. Like, “if my tire hadn’t gone flat, maybe I would’ve got in a car crash.” I convince myself I have this superstition to avoid resignation.

My friend took me home after a drunk girl flipped her car into an icy creek with us unbuckled in the backseat. I didn’t know anything about concussions, but the drunk girl’s husband thought you weren’t supposed to go to sleep right away in case your brain swelled and I didn’t want to die so we stayed up all night watching Breaking Bad on the sofa. My friend wrapped me in blankets, set all these alarms so I didn’t nap for too long, served me eggs with beer in the morning. I said “don’t you have to go to work” and he said “fuck that.”



They tell you to climb into a dry bathtub or stand in a doorframe. I shelter in place, trying to expand enough to fill the fissures in my own story.

The garage floor was cold on my bare feet, knees drawn to my chest. I tried to retrace my steps but this memory had already dismembered itself, five minutes later – back door slammed so loud our upstairs neighbors called – how did I get here? – somewhere, rain is falling – falling in the kitchen as he shook the hope right out of me – I hear geese in the snowy dusk – somebody screamed – did I run up the stairs? I locked the garage from inside.

Earthquakes are just blocks of rock sliding over each other, one in sudden motion and one laying still. Their vibrations are measured in magnitude and intensity, although it’s difficult to know how much the house will tremble until it already is.



I’ve begun to deeply enjoy the way my body jiggles when I walk fast, a comforting little shimmy reminding me that I’m here, I have mass, I won’t blow away in a light breeze. This image sits ironically on my small frame but I used to be afraid of the wobble, and weight can be more than literal. I would be the lightest neutron star, crowned in a haze of bizarre cosmic dust, growing even as it contracts.

A blue river braids through glacial plains at the eastern edge of the Kluane Icefield. We crossed the water barefoot in the early morning, in twenty minutes, in our underwear. We returned under midnight sun to dozens of formerly-dry channels full of icy froth, melted from the glaciers. Fording back took three terrifying and frozen hours. Despite how tightly my boots were laced to my feet, they filled with silt as the current fought to drown me. My friends’ bodies each had thirty pounds on mine and they held me steady by my backpack straps.



Outside is anything but what is inner – of course it is, but how easy to forget. Outside is smiling at strangers; how my hips move when I walk up stairs; how my hips move differently when someone is walking up stairs behind me; where I enter; where I sit; the voice that reads my writing aloud; my skin; the talking to a man I don’t like; the gin so I can keep talking to my friends after talking to a man I don’t like; my tattoos; my lips pouting a little when I’m listening; my lips pouting extra when I just want to look like I’m listening; the texting a smiley face when I’m not smiling; the suggestion that I should try to publish something; the imperative I publish anything; the imperative I be nice to my friend’s fiancé; the eating three meals a day on time; the not saying what I think exactly when I think it; the not saying what I think even after considering it; the rationalized fragments; the story in words.

I love to watch people gesture with their hands while talking, how wrists twist and flap, fingers grasping air, composing and conducting speech songs on-the-spot. The story in bodies.



Search image: what we look for unintentionally, as in: what we’re conditioned to look for over time. Northern foxes develop a seasonal search image for summer-brown snowshoe hares. When the hares’ coats turn white in late fall, foxes have to re-learn their hunting habits, the image developing anew over the winter, until the hares’ fur shifts again to brown and the pattern repeats.

Can a search image be imaginary? I remember old scenes and dreams like faded polaroids. Flash: I stick my tongue in a drunk friend’s ear for the camera as she throws the shocker like a gang sign. Flash: I wake up after pushing a mystery toddler around the grocery aisles in a shopping cart, looking for who he belongs to. Flash: I’m naked in a lake at night and half-expect to phosphoresce, but all I see is my skin’s silhouette fading into the darkness surrounding.



I write shine on my chest, right in the middle, pen it across my sternum’s tender bone. To me it is upside down but to the world, right side up and I think this is appropriate, its meaning inverted around my heart space.

A storm landed in southwest Montana, bringing with it a wild herd of giant hailstones spurred on by snapping wind. Roofs, windows, car windshields and hoods, tree limbs and garden plots, all bore scars. Folks caught outdoors hid in culverts, under highways, tucked themselves beneath muddy cutbanks. In my upstairs apartment, four double-paned windows shattered and the rooms glittered with shards and wet. I hid with the dogs in the bathroom. I thought the hail would come right through the ceiling and smash us. I was twenty years old and hadn’t learned that things do, eventually, in their own way, subside. The hail got smaller and turned to rain. I gathered the kitchen trash can, thick gloves, towels. On the sofa was a ball of ice bigger than my fist.

Certain details from moments of disaster retain a sharp clarity in my mind but the aftermath is featureless, erased. The hailstorm, itself innocent, marked the beginning of the end of my marriage, a slower disaster when shiny things were breaking and I couldn’t remember the word glass.



Amphibians breathe through their skin, which is why salamanders are quietly poisoned when air pollution reaches a critical threshold. It should be a warning, but they are so small and their voices so difficult to hear.

In ecology, boundaries between two habitat types are pronounced echo-tones, and I’m reminded of how my voice comes back warped when I laugh in a slot canyon, a song the red rock sings eerily in return. A tone doesn’t seem like somewhere you can live – but here it is. Ecotones are zones where borders collide to create complex, diverse habitats, the best of both. Is this like when my skin is touched by foreign hands and its atoms ring like bells?

If you’re caught in a flash flood, there’s a visible safety line. In soil or sand, the texture changes, and remnants of sage and grass will be faintly strewn in warning. In rock, look for horizontal streaks and scars. If it’s raining in the mountains, stay above the line.



I walk around all day with art scrawled on my inner left wrist, over the blue veins, and then I put off writing about it because art can feel so vague. I might say that art is my body just bearing the brunt of everything. A writer I know once described a body as raucous and I thought yes – it’s the scars and little calluses in unexpected places. It’s seeing someone walk past the grocery store and thinking hey, I know them because of how their feet hit the sidewalk and the lean of their torso. It’s my terrible eyesight and running until I can’t feel my legs and – wait – am I just describing life? Is that what this is?

I have a thick scar just under my right big toe, along the crease with my foot’s sole, from stepping on a broken bottle in a lake and then not telling anyone, swaddling it in paper towels, avoiding getting stitches. I have a messy scar on my left hip, wrapping the bone of my pelvis where my body hit dirt and skidded. I have a lumpy collarbone but it’s almost invisible: inside touching outside. The twin scars in my shoulders are tiny and they hurt the most, aching all the way into the muscles that wrap my spine.

I want to make art. I want the days when my vision splits to mean something. I want the ditches to hold water.



We carry ghosts around with us, yes? I hear voices forming behind my lips, dark round sounds, slippery thoughts intruding. I can almost pin them down. Are you my language ghosts? There are bodies in my body speaking for me. Hey, ghosts.

Let’s have a shadow show. Here is the ghost that wants to be a mom, she is four years old. Here is the one who almost finishes college and drinks Jim Beam, his eyes unfocused. This one thinks she knows how to save everyone else so she gives herself away with abandon. Here is a ghost, very small, timid, who refuses to call their mother. The ghost over here goes to work every day but can’t remember why and lets the cash flow away like snowmelt. The soft ghost behind me who just wants a nap. Ok, ghosts, play!

What I remember most vividly about being pregnant is wanting to sleep all the time. I woke up in the sun from the best nap of my life, face-down on top of the covers, feeling so good in the hazy interim between dreamlessness and the waking world. Our hearts beat briefly. I want to hit pause right there, stay for ten more seconds.



I’m looking for things in the world that are soft. Dog fur and clouds. Blanket. Everything, with my glasses off, is soft around the edges. Wyoming’s hills remind me of softness but they aren’t, actually – brittle old grass stalks stab my ankles and the soil is gritty with basalt.

I’m looking for things that are soft so I can learn to be soft, too, can flow like water that soothes a burn. In a sage flat east of the Tetons, I lived in a trailer next to a storage cabin, and under the cabin roof lived hundreds of brown bats. I sat in a lawn chair at dusk, waiting for their bodies to let go from the eaves and flood the air around me. Falling only takes a second. It will only take a second.



What if: I become loud and people cover their delicate ears with dirty fingers. What if: I become tall enough to see over this horizon. What if: my skin is too tight and I molt like a snake or a spider, and how good would it feel to be soft and new and growing? What if I already am?

I met a dead tree in the Tobacco Roots, met it while skidding down loose needles and duff in my flimsy running shoes, unable to go slower or faster because of gravity and slope and weightlessness, but I stopped anyway and talked to the tree for a while. Its bark flaked off years ago, leaving gray skin, smooth lines, pockets my fingertips fit into. My arms were far too short to wrap its trunk. I stood beneath its dozens of hands and stretched up and out, trying to mimic.

What if: mimicking is life? Can I spin a web between these slenderest of branches, tender sutures for tattered hope?