small textlarge text

Matthew Burnside



The kind of girl who hijacks a carousel. If you can't join them, beat them. Paint yourself pale & prowl the playground for simple skinny prey. When you find someone smaller than you make her kiss the dirt until her face is black/ugly like yours. Pop her Barbie's head off & keep it in your pocket admiring it throughout lunch, how her blue eyes ring out next to hollowed half bell irises, how the Chiclet teeth resemble chalk you've come to envy for its ability to render words cursive while you curse clouds for their whiteness, staring crooked through the window. Absorb those mutters behind your back in the hallway, funnel them into your fists for later. Conceal their acid until it's a formidable foam to spew upon peaches-and-cream skirts when the teacher turns her head. In your bedroom impale Barbie's head on a fork, dip it in chocolate & smear mirrors with mashed potatoes to pretend yourself princess normal.


The kind of guy who traces ghosts in lukewarm water. Beware the back of cereal boxes this month. Beware the clutching of a size five Reebok at midnight, laces tied tight because they haven't learned how to untangle back to the beginning, in love with such small intricate loops. Beware candy machines at the grocery store, of filling your pockets with quarters out of habit. Beware aisle seven where he'd stop, stomp & beg for a coloring book. Beware standing for long periods in a parking lot in the rain. Beware his night light that's flickered ever since the incident. Beware drawing baths for ghosts, who have no need for cleaning. Beware tiny fins swimming figure 8s in the water. Beware the body sinking slow, a vial of sleeping pills tipped over by the faucet. Beware the illusion of false soft escapes. Beware finding his favorite afterschool snack waiting. Beware any wordfind featuring the word 'BOY' crossed out as an example.


The kind of girl who braids her heart for war. Happiness may depend on your ability to redefine your definition of romance. Consider coming home to roses as opposed to the usual bouquet of black & blue bruises. Imagine the next time he raises his fists leaning into it, tilting your body toward the burst, because sometimes steering into a crash is the only way. If you survive stick to the script, feign the swallowing of his poison. After the apology spit it out & see the invisible exit signs above the door. Imagine yourself moving toward it, through it. Leave your jacket in the closet, don't risk waking him. Put your daughter in the car seat, give your foot permission to fall & never look back. You'll be safe with your sister. When he calls she'll cover. Sooner or later you may begin to doubt yourself. don't. Note the child at the table, how she slumps from the scars. Imagine a history of secret bleeding rewritten: twin futures salvaged. Imagine a door in the sky. Now imagine yourself sailing toward it, through it. Imagine it the next time he raises his fists, & you lean into the crash.


The kind of guy who advocates the militant swallowing of Mars. Science is not the music of emotion. Dismantling a live heart is nothing like the construction of an atom bomb. At the courthouse let your wife have half, refrain from spitting sparks. Allow the flamespeak to petrify in your lungs. You, who has always been good with your hands, with inanimate artifacts of war but never the real thing. When you touch the impression she left on the mattress feel the stalactites break off inside of you. Count the crunches inside your gut. Next time you craft the shell of a mine steal scraps to graft to your chest cavity, to make whole all those holes. Feel her tiptoeing under your skin, the occasional blast of a sharp shrapnel smile. Practice pinching gunpowder instead of cheeks for the daughter you'll never meet. You signed her away with the divorce papers, when you signed away the war. Casualty of your own casual careless fingers—you never did learn how to hold a hand.


The kind of girl who smuggles light bulbs in her pillow. But I love you the way horses eat until they die! said the star quarterback through the wires, & what is love if not bursting? At night his force you felt beneath your pillowcase, jangling full of snow-globes swirling with desire. Fast blood rivering through the tufts tickling obelisks in your throat. How he could be the one to high-five your heart! Homecoming under the bleachers he smuggled a warmth in you, then washed his hands of his handsome stain. You bled electric hush, but no one heard over the touchdown timpanis. If there's one thing you know now, it's the terrible things we must do in the name of survival. In the woods you lay your curse at the altar of wolves, begging beasts to put the future to sleep. When all they did was stare, you embalmed the sky with a smile. Now pick up your blushing bones, brush them off. Picture a peace encased in Plexiglas that reads BREAK ONLY IN CASE OF EMERGENCY. Here's your hammer.


The kind of guy who has recently fallen out of love with prime numbers. 'Freakzilla,' they'll call you when your brain prefers sliding an abacus to posing action figures on the porch. As if you were raised by robots allergic to sunshine, immune to the laserbreath of bullies. It's true that brainiac-savants get listless too, but you've only ever played well with imaginary numerals & monomials, Pythagoras & protractors. When pressure is a boy's best friend, what's left but measuring walls of the room you never leave? Hugging textbooks to sleep, having conversations in the dark with decimals? Always in the attic fooling with fractions sometimes you secretly fear you'll drown, so full of obtuse angles. Children chanting outside your window chipping away those master equations you've built to keep yourself safe from chaos. But people are brave machines. The mouth is more than a singing calculator. Childhood is not a calendar of holograms. Exercise your right to bisect before it's too late. Don't you know all parallel lines eventually die of loneliness?


The kind of girl who masturbates inside a tornado. All your life you've thirsted for a shiny apocalypse, skin stained hot pink with the organs you wear inside-out. Whether mohawking the night with heavy metal or bombing booze under the bridge, you'd choke every cloud you could if your eyes didn't glisten so scab, giving away your gothic imperatives. To the sea you speak: levitate us from boredom! & dive-bomb in a blink—Black Kamikaze Mermaid. Let the wind sharpen your nipples to a fine glacial chrome. Permahorny for thrills, fearless since day one you flash your freak badge & stare down the sun knowing it will wince first. Impenetrable in a leather jacket, as if one could tame life with a capital 'L,' cork infernos or trap an orgasm in a rusty bird-shaped locket. Tell me: do stupid girls always sleepwalk through the grave tapping a cowbell & stroking a ukulele? Might as well offer The Bogeyman a teddy bear, or an amputated rabbit a lucky rabbit's foot. When you meet your maker, you'll be dressed in a skirt of blue flame & sequined knives. Some endure the indignity of limping toward their end but you'll gallop with grace, imperious wearing a crown of kerosene scars.


The kind of guy who fantasizes about kissing a handsome leper more than twice a day. Deprived of human heat, the body will embellish appetites of a more savage fashion. Imagine scantily clad angels hanging from the steeple by meat hooks, or pews festooned with the softest severed hands capable of touch. Each Sunday you affix your vestments, fix your longing on the vestibules of the lost. Keep your system clean of influence. Desire is a syringe full of sparks & you've always been good about smashing forbidden valance beneath your boots, but there are devils in the creases of your robe, crouching in the crevice of every confessional booth. The fountains in the courtyard ripple with sin & a stain glass chrysalis will often hide spiders in the folds of its wings. Better to cloak your fur in grayish garbs than partake of the light. Rabbits explode all the time lured by the false heavens of headlights.


The kind of girl who smokes electric lullabies. You'll meet a tall dark stranger, & once the chemicals cease sloshing in your skull realize that dark stranger is you in a trick mirror. Been a long time, you'll speak, your own voice alien to you, noting in your reflection a black map of sunken lakes, indecipherable ruins & road stops, & cleaving to a giant stuffed panda of which you have no recollection. All the landscapes scalped, miles martyred to the nonnegotiable rituals of addiction. The horrifying thing about circus music is how deceptively cheerful it is: pondering this, you'll return the glass pipe to your lip, trip through a funhouse in tearful ecstasy tumbling through gyrating wheels with zigs & zags of zebra stripes, a lattice of cords cold to the touch, spinning gauntlet of plates while a hidden grate blows pneumatic shots of air into your ear. Sliding down a spiral slide you'll realize to be lost forever, infinitely falling through this artificial infinity is your bliss, which is when the blistering reminder will burn you: the giant stuffed panda you won for your daughter, last seen stumbling through midway slurping a motherless thumb.


The kind of guy who steps up the slide & slides down the steps. Not until you wake up in a stranger's bathtub with black shrubs in your mouth, bobble head full of fog blurring the edges. Not until half-mast & half past two on the morning after the after after party, greeting curdled daylight through thrashed blinds, a ballast of bottles at your feet. Not until you're standing in the raging maw of night, all arrows pointing to your favorite stool again. Not until you stop to watch a house burning, standing there letting heat needle your skin. Not until you rush into a house to save a tricycle. Not until you ask the nurse for a sip of whiskey & she laughs it off, mistaking it for a joke. Not until the doctor catches you imbibing rubbing alcohol in the bathroom. Not until the bandages are ready to be removed. Not until you see the burns yourself: sinuous trails wrought in black chalk, no one to blame for their destinations but yourself. Not until you ride the elevator two floors up to where a janitor asks if you're lost or you need some help, & you say Yes, please—that's the time to call it quits.


The kind of girl who makes furious snow angels only to lop their wings off with a stick. The baby is always plastic in your dream, there are cogs that turn but no winder. In the room that still smells of fresh paint, thirteen kites crawl across sunset like centipedes wriggling through dirt. At dinner you smear the conflict: pass the gravy, fling the fork, wipe your goddamn mouth off, at least, just to paint the illusion of manners. One must have mighty orbits to muster gravity! How an upside-down house shifts, swerves, always in limbo. In the shower where you wring your wings, he hears the sound of something that both is & isn't the wet glug of grief stampeding down the drain. Tomorrow the UPS man will deliver a late shower gift from your mother—a dark-stained bassinet. You'll say you still can't bring yourself to bury it in the backyard. Some afternoon he'll finally paint over the room, any color other than blue. Hustle your blood, darling bride: Soon you'll wear these vows like crucifixion.


The kind of guy who urinates on nativity baby Jesus. All grief is elliptical, or so the bright pages claim, while ninja stars rain through the windshield of your soul. Because you once read an interesting book about a wizard named Jesus, you vowed to invest in magic. If one could make a dove disappear, in theory the dove could be summoned back out of thin air with enough faith. But you found only scorched feathers in your palms, the answer to your question an emphatic Yes: a prayer can be issued forth in the form of a scream. Earthly heirlooms stolen under cover of night by a thief in the clouds. With a pistol, you'll pronounce your finale. Curtains will crumble. The audience will melt. The meek shall inherit the meadows, but only after the mutilation of so many lambs. In paradise, there is a chandelier that never fails. In hell, a wet match that always begs to burn.

➥ Bio