*
 
Not the first time I loved you, just the first time I met you.
Your breath like dead fish pickled in your alcoholism.
Your knuckles raw from beating someone up the night before.
Your long hair greased from stress and hours.
A single word etched into each of your twelve teeth:
 
I  was  born  to  die  alone  these  thoughts  are  not  my  own
 
I made you smile three times to read the whole poem.
It wasn’t hard to do: smile first
and laugh at a thing you said. I don’t remember what it was.
That makes me a bad person. Worse than you maybe.
I don’t usually fall in the dark
but in the freak of the night I had a pang—
a longing to believe that we are more than they claim
or at least that one of us might be.
 
                                                *
 
Not the first time I loved you but when I was deep in love with you.
My hand, caught in a bad dream, running across the metal plate
that the doctors placed above your burning brain;
the times you tried to drain the ghosts yourself
through the holes someone made in your skull.
 
But  they  could  not  see  you  so  the  help  was  only  hurt
 
And if I’m being honest, there might have been a sliver of me
that wanted to believe certain people are unlovable
so I might could maybe call myself a miracle worker.
Your swollen foot pressed deep into the gas pedal.
The speedometer breaking; the ignited city pulsing through us.
You screaming at the windshield that you wanted to murder the whole world.
And it would be easy enough to be horrified but instead
I only whispered in your ear that crows don’t fly south for the winter.
 
                                                *
 
Not the first time I loved you, just the first time I doubted you.
When you tried to drown me in the bathtub, calling it the ocean.
Calling it a baptism or a long time coming.
Your skin turned lizard beneath the bathroom lighting
and as I lay there, supine and scared, I began to notice:
 
All  this  violence  was  too  vague  all  these  fears  were  too  specific
 
And what scared me wasn’t you and it wasn’t dying
but something threatening in the underbelly of the water.
My reflection choking on the air above me.
I wanted to sink to the bottom of the ocean.
I wanted to rise to the top of the atmosphere.
Then you let go of my chest
and I rose to meet myself in the space inside the surface tension.
I took a breath and saw you wrapped up in yourself crying on the floor
and I pulled the plug and watched the water flow down the drain.
 
                                                *
 
Not the first time I loved you but the time that I left you.
We drove all night and lay in the dying dark;
I, drunk and hungry, you coughing up blood onto the side of the freeway.
As daylight suffocated the stars
I ran my aching tongue along your teeth:
 
I  was  born  to  die  alone  these  thoughts  are  not  my  own
 
The birds began to sing the morning and I felt your breath turn heavy
and my left hand pulled the keys from your pocket
as my right hand circled the broken circle of your face.
The engine humming, the road passing beneath me, you alone in that ditch.
This makes me a bad person, worse than you maybe.
I didn’t think about the first time I loved you.
I didn’t think about anything at all, only stared ahead.
The planet curved with cruelty, carrying me with it.
 
                                                *

Trevor Plate spent his childhood on the island of Guam before moving to the mainland at eighteen. Now he lives all over the country while he continues to write poetry. His poems have previously appeared in Maudlin HouseBoston Accent, and The Ilanot Review.

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