Moxie on My Breath by Jennifer L. Collins

Moxie on My Breath[1]


Before the dark went away:
.        coyote eyes by the wheels of the Corvette you bought,
.        looking for shelter or scraps, warmth maybe;
.        a figure on the porch across the way,
.        cigarette dangling from fingertips, frozen;
.        a child’s crying coming through some window,
.        not here, and not far away;
.        and you, there and snoring,
.        breath shuffling in and out of healthy lungs
.        in the hard ease of our bedroom.

I could have been
shedding off one more layer of skin
and laying out cries as if
they mattered (to you)
or could make it into the night,
out to what else might listen.

From beside you
that first night,
freedom just a step away,
I could have jarred myself
into something more
and heard the yowl of those coyotes
up close, closer,
as I fled
before the dark went away.


Well, there’s no way to tell by that first kiss,
but it’s occurred to me since
that I should have known
sin by the way your
fingers pressed
into my biceps and curled rather than caressed,
grew cold rather than hot.

Feelings amputated from my heart
long before you found me:
.           the pink of innocent affection
.           waiting still for lust;
.           the newly green envy of fascination
.           wanting more of something just glimpsed
.           from a stranger’s eyes;
.           the slimy blue of love.

I didn’t think of love like grease then,
slick and dangerous and willing
to fall, but
I could have, in blinking neon,
if I’d paid more attention
to fingernails dipped in sin
and already haunting (me).

But, well, there’s no way to tell by that first kiss.


Dear stars, Dear God, Dear fates and fashions
and whirlwind, drifting clouds that slide in white
across the sky and invite dreams:
.           I prayed to you, I wished to you,
.           I dreamed to you.
.           I thought of love and I whispered
.           my heart out of my veins
.           in hopes that he’d catch the gore
.           and pull it back into strains of worth,
.           thinking on your guidance
.           to make his hands pure.
.           You didn’t answer, and I didn’t ask, but
.           I should have before I prayed and wished
.           and wondered hard—
.           Does he, or this, I’m asking now,
.           change the course of rivers
.           to pain your fates,
.           or pollute the moon and stars?

I saw the night blurred by gin and hurt by the past,
and I thought it was all of you
when it was him, who may
as well now be you,
you dear stars, fates, fashions, or gods, the same.


Heartbreaker, backbreaker,
mindbreaker, dreambreaker—
you’re the world I thought of,
torn by shrapnel and played into my bloodstream
like a fleeting stray’s call
into the darkness.

I could have anchored down the bedsheets
with nails instead of folded moments
and better found my way,
breathing space into the world between us
with hardened kernels
of what passed for love (between us).

Did you think about that?
That I might have, I might have:
.           paced out my attachment
.           so that you couldn’t hold
.           my breath in your palms
.           staccato and pounding
.           like you did for so long.
I might have, I might have:
.           caught you instead
.           and made my will
.           something more special
.           and mystified, worth
.           quoting and pounding
.           upon into the night
.           without it ever
.           wavering or turning
.           beneath your skill.
Even if I didn’t,
I might have,
and you mightn’t have wondered
at the fact that I survived,
dreambreaker, mindmaker, heartbreaker.


I hear that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace
and that peace can adulterate the night
till there’s nothing left,
and you’ve taught me the same.

I think, sometimes, I see your eyes,
your motherfucking eyes
crowning the shadows around our space
with corneas that glow against mine
and triangulate space
and tell me in another language
that the night belongs to the two of us
when we take it together,
and to nobody (when we’re apart).

And sometimes I wonder
if you, my calming Satan,
are little more than peace:
.           wrapped up and coddled
.           into collusion with dead dreams,
.           pushing me to quiet
.           what I used to be (so?)
.           you can keep holding
.           what used to be mine
.           for better or worse,
.           better or worse,
.           stained or created.

Curled between you and the coyotes’ eyes,
you and the stranger’s cigarette,
you and an infant’s screaming cries,
it’s hard to define freedom
without gasping
for breath I’m no longer so
sure is mine.

But I hear that Satan sometimes comes as a man of peace.


I can see gods and their neighbors,
angels peeking downward
through our windows and blinds
as if to check in (like you do),
.           They don’t make nothing here no more
.           like what used to come
.           out between them,
.           this love and that
.           what used to be something
.           here.

And, what’s worse, I can lie
down in your shadow
and think them wrong,
those gods and angels seeing us.


Blood on my knuckles and streaming
down from blisters borne again(st)
the world and reddening
your palm by mine,
with moxie on my breath
and your lips (again)st my ear,
there’s a way to pretend
that this pretense is a dream made world
I sought out myself
without succor or help from
any Satan, any angel, any danger, any you.

The world could come to an end
tonight, but that’s alright
if you say it is so
and pull me in for a goodbye (bite)
of something more than love
since, let’s be honest,
what we’ve always had
is more like a swan’s scream
mourning the last freshwater pond
that might have been.

But what you’re doing here:
.           is what I’m doing here,
.           playing porcelain dolls that can’t break
.           dancing away from concrete
.           and into crockpots slow-roasting
.           lovesongs into blues rhythms
.           that’ll dream about heaven
.           while making love
.           in hell
.           or
.           somewhere we can be
.with blood on my dreams and streaming.


An easy demand in the middle of this darkness,
when I tell you out of the fire,
Don’t fall apart on me tonight.
When I tell you, from beside you in the dark:
.           I’m not the me I was
.           who you found
.           but I am yours
.           and this is the best (love) song
.           I can do,
.           if it’ll do
and if you
don’t fall apart on me tonight.

[1] In each section of this poem, one line (or two) comes from the song on Bob Dylan’s Infadels which accompanies each stanza in number.

About the Poet
ennifer L. Collins is a tattooed poet and animal lover who grew up in Virginia and has recently relocated to Cape Coral, FL., where she and her husband have four rescues – one neurotic hound, and three very spoiled cats.  Her poetry has been published in various journals and nominated for a Pushcart by Puerto Del Sol, and she spends her summers as an instructor of creative writing and drama at the Cardigan Mountain School.  Her first chapbook, Oil Slick Dreams, is available for sale from Finishing Line Press.