Lydia Swartz

THIRTY: Autoimmune

I kill you all the time but I don't mean to. It is an inevitable result of you trying to kill me without meaning to.

You dress up like rusty edged love & make sure my fingers will lie. Silk, they'll say, & satin, as you cut me to the bone.

My beloved allergen, you make me crave you. As blood leaves me, I yearn for more infection.

I am crazy in love. I love how you make me feel. I love how you dull my senses to anything else. As my throat closes, I want my blue lips to close around you, to taste you one more time.

Instead, I kill you. I starve you. I lock you away from my need, where you cannot be seen. I drive past your house, but I don't go in.

There are those who say our next encounter will be the death of me. There are days when I think that is a perfect way to die.

TWENTY-NINE: Maystories

1     The kind of person who paints their toenails with sparkly polish.

2     Catfiguration at mealtime.

3     Divinity.

4     Trying to remember our last touch. (I did not know it would be the last.)

5     Cat's head rests in my hand. How easily I could crush its skull. I won't.

6     A history of my left foot.

7     Campaign to stand on one foot only.

8     Campaign to become functionally ambidextrous.

9     She just walked out her front door one day, leaving intention behind.

10   When my father was a little girl.

11   Delicious food I did not eat.

12   Is it apocalypse itself you seek, or what comes after?

13   What? I'll tell you. _____________
14   What? I'll tell you. _____________
15   What? I'll tell you. _____________
16   What? I'll tell you. _____________
17   What? I'll tell you. _____________
18   What? I'll tell you. _____________
19   What? I'll tell you. _____________
20   What? I'll tell you. _____________
21   What? I'll tell you. _____________
22   What? I'll tell you. _____________
23   What? I'll tell you. _____________
24   What? I'll tell you. _____________
25   What? I'll tell you. _____________
26   What? I'll tell you. _____________
27   What? I'll tell you. _____________
28   What? I'll tell you. _____________
29   What? I'll tell you. _____________
30   What? I'll tell you. _____________
31   What? I'll tell you. _____________



the sound of rain
is enough


1.          My secret is that my to-do list is my opposite-of-suicide note.

2.          My secret is that I'm finished with food, unless I can eat that aluminum light before morning clouds burn off.

3.          My secret is that I live inside the city because I have a fear of falling into stars & silence.

4.          My secret is that I have to make art because I don't know how to build a bridge.

5.          My secret is that I am not a poet.

6.          My secret is that I understand everyone who shot up his own school & committed suicide.

7.          My secret is that I am a starving fat person.

8.          My secret is that I am a shapeshifting cheetah.

9.          My secret is that when I say I care I am lying.

10.      My secret is that the hidden parts of my body are Martian-canaled with scars.

11.      My secret is that I don't care about gender but I miss smelling someone else's pussy on my fingertips.

12.      My secret is that although I do not fear death, I cannot forgive life for being so short.

13.      My secret is that I wear an invisible headscarf.

14.      My secret is that beneath my habit I am covered with downy feathers & tattoos.

15.      My secret is that I am a dancer born into the wrong body.

16.      My secret is that I am a physicist born with the wrong brain.

17.      My secret is that I am a cannibalistic love goddess from another dimension.

18.      My secret is that the only two flavors I still like are lemon & smoke.

19.      My secret is that I don't dance with death any longer because now death lives inside me.

20.      My secret is that I am afraid to listen to your story because I hear the truth you don't tell.

21.      My secret is that I knew how to fly when I was a child, but I forgot.

22.      My secret is that I learned to be stingy with love by serving a sociopath, yet I do not regret it.

23.       My secret is that words are my second language & no one else speaks my first.

24.      My secret is that when I shy away from the week long sesshin I fear 7 days without writing more than I fear inescapable physical pain.

25.      My secret is that I never believe compliments or praise; only rumors.

26.      My secret is that I am not smart at all.

27.      My secret is that I am more obsessed with poo than the parents of a newborn are.

28.      My secret is that if I had any kids, they'd be hateful bratty criminals.

29.      My secret is that I reject death because it is unfair & I reject religion because it is always an apology for death.

30.      My secret is that I hear the countdown.

31.      My secret is that I know you are wrong about which of my secrets are lies.



Can you guess which
imaginary organ I've got
in my hand as I grit
my teeth & refuse
to get your jokes?

Can you guess which
part of me I expose,
a part prematurely wrinkled,
a vacuum cleaner part,
a filthy outlet for sounds
too nocturnal to form words?

Can you even imagine
the basement dweller
I most resemble?


Can you identify my
reflective & calculating eyes,
my patchy scalp, my scuttle
toward nakedly unbooted,
ungloved flesh, as your battery
dies & last light flickers out?

My hand in the dark its crusty flesh
feels like the smell of unwashed hair
& denim repeatedly pissed in.

Do you detest the juice
that quickens between
your legs as I rub my spidery
post-thanksgiving ribs
along your inner thighs?

I'm undeniably & nonspecifically
here. I'm on my way to get you.

I promise I will pick your perfect fruit,
the dew on it still wet from morning,
with fingers that carelessly wiped
last night's fast food from my ass.

This is all about that organ
you have to imagine, that
thing I cannot name, but
it's in your mind; it's lodged,
it is hooked into your cortex,
an east-west fissure
in your north-south dreams.

It's a vagabond looking for
a name. You will swallow it
when the time comes. Open
wide; let's get this over with.


TWENTY-FIVE: Alone (from Microtonal Sex)

I won't tell you
how long it's been.
I will say
my memories
are all on
VHS tapes.


TWENTY-FOUR: Instruction (from Microtonal Sex)

You are the 101st.
Don't be nervous.
All I ask is that you
treat every cell
as though it were
my nipple.


TWENTY-THREE: You (from Microtonal Sex)

I suppose
this means
I forgive you
for being pretty.

TWENTY-TWO: Song (from Microtonal Sex)

when we both
need all
the oxygen in
this sweaty room.


TWENTY-ONE: Penis (from Microtonal Sex)

For your information,
it's stout. It curves
right. Still raw from
circumcision, it dances.
It is as handsome as
your thick-girl body.


TWENTY: Foot (from Microtonal Sex)

Far away & muffled,
a protest. Don't,
I think I hear.
But I will. My tongue
works as hard as
this callus has
to protect you.


NINETEEN: Belly (from Microtonal Sex)

What this scar removed,
what this mark stretched
to accommodate,
I give back with my lips.


EIGHTEEN: YOU (from Microtonal Sex)

You take your time
finding my bliss.


SEVENTEEN: You (from Microtonal Sex)

With your make-up
washed away by tears,
with my hand
tangled in your hair
& with my eyes
shut, I see
the defiant child
you were long ago.



I know
when you exhale
that breath
you've been
holding for so
long, you will
make the
surrender sound.

FIFTEEN: Hand (from Microtonal Sex)

Your wrist,
rope burned,
hangs over
my side of the



Start with form. Two words, followed by words.

Start with a breath. Count until words are just sounds you make while you sleep.

Start with the palm of your hand, cupped as around a breast, but empty.

Start with someone else's song. To grieve for someone you never met.

Start with rage. Push it against your floating ribs & long for a chimney.

Start with gratitude. Thank the ones who taught you to swim before they drowned themselves.

Start with a promise to yourself to stop. Tomorrow, you will stop. You're stopping.

Start with a memory of the smell of darkroom chemicals, the red light. The suspense.

Start with a lie. Make it elaborate & excruciating to maintain. Be vicious to yourself.

Start with the impossible. Work your way back to mundane, if you can find it in the dark.

Start with a name. No one who knows you ever went by this name.

Start with determination to fail. Give up. Stick a plug in it & let it fester.

Start with a smell your nose has forgotten. Let a color remind you. Choose this color carefully.

Start with a history. Cut off that line in your left palm; splinter it in your right.

Start by clearing a space much bigger than you expect to need.


THIRTEEN: Types of Hunger

  • I have food to eat. I choose not to eat it because I want to experience hunger.
  • I can pass a test about physics. I still need to know what gravity is.
  • I made a performance. People knew when to clap & they did. Now I can work on the heart of the artichoke.
  • I have food to eat. I refuse to eat it for political, religious, or emotional reasons.
  • Meet Bitchmuse. She travels with me. She whispers to me all through my long commute. By the time I get home I am trembling with hunger.
  • I look into the well-stocked refrigerator until the door-open alarm sounds but I can't see anything I want to eat. I look at page after page of dictionaries & I look at all the books & files full of words but I can't find the one word I need.
  • I watch the dancers moving. My muscles remember moving like that. I wiggle my foot, which I had tucked under me. It reminds me of all the hurts.
  • I have food to eat. I know if I eat it, the consequence will be physically painful. So I will not eat it.
  • There's a difference between horny & hungry. What is the difference, again?
  • My ghost womb longs for the burden of baby.
  • I have food to eat. I eat it, even though I know my hunger is for something else that I cannot or will not get.
  • Tick tick tick tick TICK TICK tick tick tick TICK TICK TICK tick. How long? Will the next cancer go rogue? When? How long? Tick TICK tick TICK TICK.
  • I came this far. I set myself a goal to come this far even though it was hard & no one else cared if I came here. I got here. There is nothing to eat here except the certainty that there is more.

TWELVE: Open Mic

always safe when the mic is warm.
eyes open & time lets go.
pain on holiday, gravity nods
& ducks out for a smoke. each piece
cut from me with broken glass
comes back & sings. every breath,
every beat, every place
where paint is worn off & naked
might still be alive. I mosh on room
made for me to fall, the long
count of seconds before I land.

ELEVEN: Like a Dinosaur

like a dinosaur, it seems,
I am covered with
iridescent feathers.
I unfurl my massive
flightless wings at
sunrise & bellow
my beauty. all the
unevolved marshy
wonders pause, then
they talk back. & this
is how I wake when
there's light to see.

TEN: Saving for Later

I'm saving up for the day when I can't read.
This rage & patience I'll need when my eyes
get worse. This icing of gracious acceptance
is tucked away for future cake of legally blind.
I'm taking memory prints of each green
cluster on spring-laden branch. I practice
walking & falling in dark. I move my camera
on purpose as I point toward light, smearing
focus I already cannot achieve. I eagerly
wait for a day I don't mind mirrors so much.
Today, if I don't meet your gaze with my own,
you are lucky. My hunger for the sight of you
will chew you & swallow you raw. I say,
no prisoners, then I capture you, bundle you
tightly, & stack you on a laboratory shelf,
where you float, where your skin yellows
with preservation, where I'll keep you until
neither one of us knows what you were.

(my dreambody convinced me
the day had come when I can
no longer read. to break its spell,
I had to get up & read.)

NINE: Nothing about it

If I wanted to milk other people's tragedies
to fuel my career/art, I'd still be in journalism.

That's my napowrimo for today.


you've let me down,
you have stranded me
roadside, dark in rainy
mechanical lack. your
exoskeleton cracked,
leaking, scraped by too
many hit & runs. moth
eaten. rusty & stained.
plagued by funny smells.

you audibly chug. you
slip into inappropriate
gears without omen.

no one has sympathy,
merely they want you
to limp the slow lane,
take soonest exit,
quit reminding sleek
showroom pets what
lies in wait before
scrap time comes.

you bid me love you?
so long it took to acquire
the wisdom not to love
an unhealed wound.
forgive you? yes. but
forgiveness is not a
gateway to love, my
broke down companion,
my stumbling vintage tool,
my U.S. made defect.

no love, no gentle treats.
no softening lies.
no cropping lens of
reversible time.
we're done here.

let's find a downhill to
find a foot & crash with
spectacular grace.

SEVEN: mashup

Mashup of the "Medical Loss Ratio FAQ" & Dylan Thomas "Do Not Go Gentle." To be read aloud only & only on cloudy days.

do against sun & is of the sun
& be shown me grieving medical
measure night. frail good. administrative
with shown off payments as against
must blaze out gentle. good members' clinical.
received into spend at their light.

improve health, blinding healthcare day;
deeds, this is how by, rebate plan too.
we shall have no bliss, achievements.
spend medically blind, forked eye relearn,
improve fierce wellness. rage from crying.

in sundown improvement against improvement
received dire ratio plan 85 near end of acts.
ratios. results. activities. gold me good height,
& as do you, I do receive me men, monthly.
this & health go good-forked bay.
this deepens light. small seed with amount.

as your likelihood & clinical service improves
compared over 80 waves on services (claims).
likelihood, as plan we their programs. do not
go spend against health care dancing. achievements,
most frail with crying not at nurse height, care
rate service received promotes individual blindness.

health care, how near that good see it dark achievement.
improve known health who danced (or grieved who danced)
bright payment on fiercer sight. go sun. go ratio night.
be rage, shown 85 who nurse if I dark.
80 last care you, men, as bright objective.
health clinical activities produce received light.

go father cost, go rates dark spend received.
nurse members sang on programs. must administer.
medical men, in 80 against, must pray & services
spend to spend it frail against it not received.
members' cost gentle improvement results.
as rage bay, rage at received light. produce & bless.

percentage activities count. bright rage, coordination,
improvement must gently fiercely rebate your blinding.
good as good results good healthcare improve.
see grieved loss. go small. received who you, you,
& that of compared likelihood. activities. care.
the least in how their quality. health care by having.

spend. receive. do because. of not, as of results, to have.

six: when I pretend to zazen

Return to complicated beauty —
my breath, mysterious exhalation,
indifferent adept exerting infinite
sheepish light. Touch painbelly;
bob & quake; reject; abandon;
clutch flamboyant dominion. Breathe.

25 opulent minutes of nothing.
25 minutes a day, to be.
To be plain, 25 at a time.
Collide no fancy words, for 25.
Bestow no deviant plan, for 25.
Destroy 25 shiny nothings.
Make 25 brilliant nothings.
Dare 25 important nothings.
Compost ripened time. Do juicy nothing.

Dried mud, my flesh close up.
Map of pain. Meridian of
pleasure. Joy. Forgetting to lie.

This is not the day
I woke up to.

This is death with breath.

I take step 3 far away
from where I took step 2,
with different feet, unshod.
(there is no step 4.)

My foot is a city, so bright with light
Antarean astronomers map it. My foot
is a miracle; evidence of life.

The story I tell myself
over & over is that
this is not the story.

five: mudra

after saying words about deaths of
his parents far away, while hearing
words about silence, his hands form
naturally into mudra. only I see this.

FOUR: no title & glad of it

to sleep with you, to share
a blanket & hear your
breathing, implies a contact
geometry so long
estranged from epidermal
truth. hand in hand, side by
side; you drive, I ride: our
groove, beloved. who can be
so wretched young he cannot
incite his heart to envy us?

THREE (let the cheating begin)

Stopping by woods on a jabberwocky evening
A MASHUP by Lydia Swartz & Robert Frost & Lewis Carroll

Whose woods these are I think I know—
bloke waves his vorpal sword at ghosts.
His house is in the village, though.
I dare to stand a while in thought.

He will not see me stopping here—
the Jabberwock, with eyes of flame—
to watch his woods fill up with snow—
the frumious Bandersnatch!

My little horse thinks I'm insane.
Those jaws, they bite; the claws, they catch.
Yet we stop without a farmhouse near.
You're mimsy in the borogoves.

Between the woods & frozen lake
the vorpal blade will snicker-snack!
The darkest evening of the year
now gyres & gimbles in the wabe.

Horse gives his harness bells a shake
& goes harumph galumphing back
to ask if there is some mistake.
Now, hast thou slain the Jabberwock?

The only other sound's the sweep—
a-whiffle through this tulgey wood—
of easy wind & downy flake
& mome raths of smoke outgrabe.

These woods are lovely, dark, & deep—
Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!—
But grumpy horse is right. I'm crazed.
Let's go before we're snicker-snacked.

Besides, I have a date to keep:
Come here, I bade my beamish boy.
He waits, now sharp with filthy rage,
concocting frabjous hissy fits.

O miles; we've miles to go ere sleep—
brilling through slithy toves, we'll go.
You're right, my Tumtum tiny horse:
No time to shun the muddy road.

Giddyup! Tally ho, O uffish steed!
My manxome boy grows cold, his taint
clean gyred in vorpal snit, I fear—
Beware the JubJub Jabberwock!


morning haiku: day 2

I regret some lines
in my flesh, but not the lines
left by tattoo ink


not alone

whisk of elastic on gluteus max;
flex of flank to balance steady;
echo of in-breath hush restrained;
thicker darkness in bony dark:
lack of being alone awakens.

who shares midnight with me?


morning haiku: day 1

what if morning crows
wave not greeting but warning?
what if it's too late?