I’m writing this letter to you instead
of to my Best Friend because
I’m not dying yet. I said it
once to her while we were sitting on the swings without swinging
and she looked at me and asked
had I heard about the kid from my English class
who went batshit when the police came to that party
and started pouring his
guts all over the floor?
I said no.

She told me later that the crumbling
disrepair of our beautiful historic city
made her feel thin verging on
anorexic, ready to snap at any moment.
I couldn’t help but laugh.
I wanted to tell her that
I am firewood, able to provide light
and heat even as I burn.
I know I’m not alone but
kindling catches so quickly. But I didn’t say it.
I am telling you instead.

The city knows. It’s even seen me cry
which neither you nor she has
and won’t, if I can help it.
But the city has because
New York is always sobbing, even when
plane exhaust spells POETS across Brooklyn’s sky.
I hate letting go but I won’t pine unless it’s
love, and it’s not because you asked Is there more to write?
Always should be a longer word.

I’m not writing my Best Friend this letter
because she’d probably just
tell me about that time
when that slut made out with her ex.
I was there, I’d say. I saw how
slut was sewn into the skin under her bra straps in pink embroidery thread
and how her left hand trembled.
And she’d say really?

But I can’t blame her. I certainly
can’t blame you, or even the city. It’s too
hard and gorgeous and laced
with pipes of sugar and arsenic.
It has its nature, and I wouldn’t love it
if it were anything but ruthless and lonely
and full of hysteria that glitters like
sun on subway tracks.
It could never be ruthful,
not in a million words
but sometimes I can still hear distant
bagpipes and violins.

I only move to their music when
no one can see me. I tell people I don’t like to dance and
I don’t care that it’s a lie; I have no honor but
I know it so don’t preach Roman virtues to me.
Rome fell. But I will never betray this city—
I have too much honor for that.
It’s my words you can’t trust because
they will sneak into the chinks between your ankles and your jeans
and pull you to the ground. But the thing is
they don’t tell no truth.
Double negatives make me feel like the world is ending
because they are two wrongs making a right.

I’m writing this letter to you because
the truth is I’m always writing to you, whether you know it
or not. What I know: my Best Friend sees
glitter coating everyone’s faces as they let all purpose
pour from their fingertips like cheap alcohol,
Almost everyone sees it,
and I’m okay with leaning on streetlamps
that I pretend are the sun
while they lick the shine from each others’ lips.
But do you see it?
Sometimes I feel choked by the grapevine, cut to pieces
by the blades of the rumor mill
but I have to ask if they even know that
I’d rather be writing.

Sometimes I search through my house for
stamps just because I think that maybe this time I’ll write to you.
Sometimes I search through my house for
a way to take the scratched contacts out of your eyes
and let you see your Nikes coated with raisins in the sun.
I think you would understand me, then
and I could look through
the spaces between your cold, curling toes
and everything around us would start to
glow in the eastern light.

The sun is why I get up to write in the morning; doctors
call it SAD, and
I never liked that the sun was always
male and the moon was always female.
Because they say you shouldn’t pick favorites but
I am closer to the sun.
The moon is too cold, too
apocalyptic. Norse mythology says so
you told me. The moon of a three-year winter heralds Ragnarok
and I don’t want the end
of the world to come quite yet.

But you also told me that
in Norse mythology the sun is female,
with the moon as her brother.
Not just because she’s powerful, radiant, giving of life
and heat while burning herself up
but because when the myths were written
there was a dark of the sun as well as of the moon.

If you walk in the dark
even if there’s a moon
be careful not to trip over the gravestones.
They will scrape your shins bloody no matter how much
you love New York at night.
My left knee is bruised because of a ladder
and my right knee is scarred because of a car
and sometimes they both are weak because of you.

I’m not writing my Best Friend this letter
but I’m writing it, because the words
are slamming their way out from inside my abdomen
and challenging the wet organ on the left side of my birdcage ribs like
hosts of rebel angels.
Maybe we should just let the city fall
asleep as we sing old lullabies and rock anthems.
We could wait for the sun to supernova
and believe in all the old gods.

I wonder, when Odin stole Mundilfari’s children, if
he knew that this moon-pale boy and sun-gilded
girl would overcome the end.
I wonder if you knew when you started this story
that Mani and Sol, lovely enough
to make the Gods feel photoshopped,
chased forever across the sky
by ravenous wolves destined to catch them,
would only stay devoured for a little while?
The name of Sol’s wolf sounds
like a stripped skeleton, intertwined
with bunches of baby’s breath and forget-me-nots.
I like to think that someday the cracks in my bones
will bloom.

Sometimes I think Ragnarok really is coming,
that all nine realms will end in fire.
When they do, it will feel like
we’re the only ones dying. It always does,
even though living breathing beings all across the universe will
see the tree of life crack and crumble. That’s human nature
but so is this: come and run with me. I could take your hand
and lead you through the collapsing streets.
We’d fall together and write
each other. We’d have someone to blame
who isn’t you or me.
And we’d know that beyond all the smoke and moons and frosted water
the sun hasn’t quite gone out.

If you knew me
I think I might love you.

Alice Markham-Cantor, Age 17, Grade 12, The Beacon School, Gold Key


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