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AJ Wolff

What is the Crater of a Rocket Called?


Driving into the city,
my limbs, dis-jointed, pull
the ground past me. My dis-

-jointed breath patterned,
a mandala of memory
and all the snapping

frames set off when some-
body wants me all over again
and I’m screaming: I’m the tree

my voice the summer cackle
of acorns shaking free
no eye contact no turn back,

all quiver no bow.


the city
this way,
the clock

tower early
morning yawn
of another

across my sky,
it craters—
for the first time
I can feel

the equal
opposite force
of escape

and it’s hollowed
me maybe
in a bald,
clipped way,

a way in which
I thought
I was the earth
and the hand

but I wouldn’t
carve my-
-self, not
like that,

and I say so
quietly so quietly
that no one on
the road in the car

on this plane
can hear it
at all, but I once

fed an infant
galaxy and—
that, that’s it.
The pin-

-prick mouth that
goes on and on
into itself,
that feeds

and eats
itself all
at once


I spread your arms like a linen—thin and soft. I slide my palms lengthwise to release any thing caught beneath your chin. I am learning how to set places up—gently. I am studying the cartography of manners. The curation of every bloodied fist to my scalp with a smile. Hallelujah. My feet to an earth that can only ever push right back again. My roots a dire confrontation. This ground is pushing and pushing and pushing. And I’m just supposed to balance like it’s not splitting between my feet every time I reach ahead: lightning peel laughter.


When I decide to slide back the skylids, a wine-glow hallelujah resurrection
falls & does not break this time & I have wings full of veins suddenly but we

are floating & I’m holding onto something that isn’t a body, the shape and weight
of a body the dejavu texture of waves - if you hold a breath long enough it purples

did you know that did you know knuckles are spirals too if you wait too long. I have
wings now & all the veins are steel a new gravity a new strength in curled fingers

you can read someone’s palm very easily if they can be persuaded to unfurl. I hold
something fragile like grief: its very thin shell and the laying down of dying cells.

And after all these years, I haven’t made amends
because surrender isn’t a crime.


All the women I’ve loved peel themselves back
like fruit, like someone else’s call like voices

are echoes you train for, a chord held
a harmony, its beauty rehearsed to perfection.

All the women I’ve ever loved before hold hands,
but not really—this is a metaphor, their whimper

something newly thorned, a crown or acquiescence
or mourning.


All the women I’ve ever loved before howl

and it isn’t nearly as gruesome as you’d think

it might be. All the women stalks, spears,

dashes on dirt bowls.

All the women I’ve ever loved are clouds

upturned like palms holding up the sky.

Martyrdom long and clawed like breath.


On TV there is a woman whose tattoos
Bristle out from sleeves and collars—
A mountain range
A cliff, a river
And everyone around me debates
The parameters of an acceptable
Presentation of the body—
Measures her out
Counts the angles
Presses her flat
Under their fingers
To debate the pressure
Static zips on an old, bulb screen

Is she worth
the trouble
Of so much ink
And blood, the time
For so much artistry
Beneath the seams,
Her body
Is a wide-winged map
And they poke and poke and poke
Holes across continents
They’ve labelledcrass, broken, un-

Until the map is a bloody
Feathered thing
They call—animal

Skewer, cook,
And sell right back
Behind the glass


When the ground below splits wide
like testimony—the survivors

hold handsaboard

the Carpathiathe first response

to historiccrisis.

And I wonderif we’re obsessed

with theTitanic

over a centurylater

becauseit is a tragedy

that swallowed so many
powerful white men. Powerless
againstan ocean

choking ontheir spoils

and starvedfor their



I watch silence roll its eyes like an ocean.
Strangers surf Lake Michigan in winter.
Everything holding its breath. Everything

Holding out for it can’t end this way, it can’t
Rip us open this way
. Everyone funhouse
Lenses on lenses on lenses. Doors on

Impossible heights. The curling of dead
Nails off live hands. A growing, shifting
Corpse. My hands purple easier than most.

Strangers surf Lake Michigan, and there’s
Hardly ever ice lumped in the way. Ten, twenty
Below. So much movement in the water it

Has no time to die. In lamaze class, they show a lot
Of videos of cesarean. The cutting open
Of a conscious woman like a fallboard. I look

Away a lot. That is a privilege I sit with
In the one wine glass I haven’t smashed, or
Sent with someone I’m slitting open,


/I wear my fingers
/like they aren’t
/of collapse

/or bracing.

\I wear the morning

\like it isn’t wearing
\the pads of my feet
\into callouses
\small bruised hooves.


I wear and wear and wear myself
like breathing is a game I’m win-
-ning. I can’t tell you how many
different languages sink their lateral
incisors into my lip. Divots that
linger. Bar chords. Welcome and un-
-welcome nails. Learning to pay any-
-thing to flood the riverbeds cracking
around my eyes. Learning to expect
my skin, my teeth, my vocal chords to
levitate and resurrect. Learning to hate
when they do not comply. Learning
also not to wait on a stone ghost god.
Learning that I am Lazarus and the
leprosy, the healer and the miracle.
I wear and wear and wear my veins
like electrical circuits my bones
like every traffic violation I didn’t
press my voice against, much less
my finger. I pick up panels like
desire to build something no-
-one could see but me. I wonder
where the grass falls softly toward
the sky where reaching and breath-
-ing are the same where we are all
effervescent anchors and metal
doesn’t exist at all. I press you
like wind you don’t even notice.
You don’t even notice
the slight slim way you tilt off
kilter then sway whisper chant
praise that the earth has waited
all these years and never given up.
If everything bruises, nothing
crumbles. Everything a wolf.
Everything teeth and blue. Every-
-thing cared and nobody careful.
Eyes lift buildings, buildings lift
stars and stars mean nothing
needs ever be lifted again.
The chorus of morning grass
pulling itself up, the chorus
of flowers opening again
darkness after darkness
and the sunflowers arching
and turning and gasping
walls of their softness,
petals like gentle teeth, biting
at a god that leaves and leaves
and leaves.


My collar bone snaps as boosters
launch so hard my chest
has no choice.

My chest coughs wildfire smoke coughs
spore plumes coughs the kind of hope you
can’t uproot, fingers mud-bloodied raw.

Some dirts are more fertile after a good
long burn. My chest a martyrdom for
fire poppy, hillside monkey, scarlet larkspur.

When it’s time, I’ll stand
very still—

so still that, in a forest
of wildflowers,
even you can grow.

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