Five Poems – Lydia Havens

Brush Fire Along I-84 ca. 1990s Near Boise, Idaho, USA

Advice on the First Sacrifice 

Kiss the boys with a hemlock mouth; 
do not wipe the froth off their lips as
they sink away. Touch their choking
the way you would touch your first-
born. Let them mistake you for garden,
for valley, something harmless. 

Go for the loud ones, girl. Go for the boys
who wear your friends’ dignities around
their throats like luck. Show them
stone, show them karma. Be the asp, 
be the gas oven. Suck the ego out
of their cheeks, and turn it rogue. 

After, don’t leave a trace of yourself, 
because this is how we live. Call it 
natural selection, or call it survival. 
The rest of the world will tell you that 
sacrilege flows through your veins, but
we will see it as hallelujah. They will
name your Heretic or Harlot, but we
will name you Magic. You, you are
magic, girl. But only if you want
to be. 

Fire Country
Alternatively titled: My First Signs of Anxiety 

It was called Romero, on a mountain I could see
from my bedroom. By morning, the embers were in the air

like asthma attacks. April felt so much warmer than usual,
and every second grader that day panicked, clawed at

their throats looking for the oxygen they thought
they were missing. I could’ve sworn my skin broke out

into hot hives, my own crackling, my own potential disaster.
Eight-year-olds are not meant to become afraid of everything,

and sixteen-year-olds are not meant to be haunted by
Southwestern wildfires that are long gone. But even today,

I can smell the crisp buzzard corpses, and the memory
has stuck like reverse psychology. 


Call out my weakness like it’s a lost dog. 
Orchid blossom, fan of skin, pulsing lips,
crying mouth. Crying mouth, smiling red
once a month. That’s what used to happen. 
Still, it cries, and cringes. Cringes at the idea of
opening up, of speaking in desire.

But when I took a hand mirror and gave it
its first reflection, I saw the end of the world.
I never thought that’d make me feel beautiful. 
My eyes have never been able to say
what my spine does. But this crying mouth, 
this apocalyptic pretty, it speaks more than 
the mouth on my face. And it says: 

Do not take me for weak. For you, I can be powerful,
controlled. So rejoice. Call out your strength.
It’s coming home.


A Brief History of my Uncle’s Knees

In youth, skinned and scabbed. Riddled with scars only his mother 
could turn into precious gems. In adulthood, they peeked through 
raggedy jeans and fraying shorts. In death, I refuse to ever picture 
them cracked like geology. 

A Brief History of my Uncle’s Kidneys

He expected them to drown in alcohol, but instead, they floated. No 
one taught them how to swim, so they floated. Gin tastes God-awful, 
and, they floated. AA was an like oxygen mask. It was like his kidneys 
had floated to shore.

A Brief History of my Uncle’s Hands

His fingers were long sentences. He felt like they could never finish 
anything. They were so, so gentle. Look at the way he held my sister 
and me when we were babies. Look at the way he pet his dogs. Look at 
the way he held his wife’s hand as they tossed themselves into the snow 
on their wedding day. Look at the way he once typed out stories, as 
though his life depended on it. His life depended on it. 

A Brief History of my Uncle’s Mouth

Chewing tobacco. Words that foam. Chocolate Pop-Tarts. Words that grind. 
Too many kisses from jilted lips. Words he made up. Pastel pills trying 
to paint his depression into a pretty picture. Words that leave rope burns. 
Apologies leaking gas into the kitchen. Words that dry heave over the 
swimming pool, words that can’t get anything out no matter how hard they 
try, words—

A Brief History of my Uncle’s Head

I remember the top of his skull hitting the ceiling of my family’s living 
room. I remember being three years old and kissing it gently whenever that 
happened. I remember being ten years old and having nightmares about the 
night of his suicide, where all that’s visible to me is the top of his skull, 
bowing, as though his life were ever a shame. 

I still ask myself: 

Did his life crack on too many ceilings? 
Would any peck on the cheek have saved it? 


Did you know I cut off all of my hair for you? 
Took my grandmother’s little old sewing scissors
and chopped from the roots until my kitchen sink
was full of chestnut angel wings. I’m practically
bald now, still reaching for what I’ve destroyed. 

That’s what you said, right? I destroy. I’ve
got a wildfire mouth, hands that are always breaking
the rules. And don’t think I’m out there looking 
for you, waiting to throttle you or break your cowardly
bones. Because I know that’s how you like to think
these days. That I destroy. That I keep too much
for myself. That I’m too hungry. That I’m insane. 

But I want you to listen, boy: I’m at the other end
of this telephone with a spark between my teeth.
Maybe I do destroy. Maybe I’ve got a Bermuda Triangle
belly. But at least I can accept that. And you know,
maybe I lied. Maybe I didn’t cut off all of my hair
for you. Maybe I cut it all off for myself.

I’m calling it beautiful malfunction.
I’m calling it rooted beginning. 
I’m calling it fresh start. 


About Lydia Havens

Lydia Havens is from Tucson, Arizona. She works as the Executive Poetry Editor for Transcendence Magazine, as well as an intern for Spoken Futures, Inc. Her work has previously been published in FreezeRay Poetry, Words Dance, and burntdistrict, among other places. Besides being a writer, Lydia is also a feminist, a purple lipstick enthusiast, and a girl who is always forgetting to wear her glasses. Become her best friend on Twitter at @lydiastormborn. View all posts by Lydia Havens

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