January, Present Tense by Arielle Trager

The following journal excerpts have been rewritten in the present tense.
January 2014, Middletown, CT
Today I realize that you can see the graveyard from my window. I find this very pleasing for some reason. Well, I can see the hill and one grave for sure. The hill is kind of comforting, like my house is at the bottom of it and the hill is hugging me from one side. Usually I leave the shade down because I’m lazy and because the light falls funny in my mirror and I don’t like how I look in it. I know that isn’t how I always look, but still. I decide to run there, the graveyard, and find out which one it is I can see from my house.

On the phone my mom tells me that one of the ladies in the choir smells bad and grandma can’t stand it. If you’re sitting in the pews you can’t smell it, but after church when they have coffee and little cakes, everyone can smell it. I forget about it until I go home for a weekend and the church smells like an open wound. Like rotting flesh. I know immediately what the smell is even though I have never watched anyone die. I wonder why no one else has said it. Someone finally takes her to the doctor and finds that with poor circulation the skin around the sore on her leg has been dying rather than healing. This is why I am afraid of growing old.

Me and Austin walked there, the graveyard in Connecticut, one of the last times we were supposed to talk, but of course we talked after that. Even after he moved out west. We kissed after that too. He didn’t wear shoes which I thought was silly. He was probably uncomfortable but pretending to be comfortable the whole time. When I moved to this house on campus I didn’t realize I’d be so close to the place where he apologized for the last time. I only ever face the other direction and keep the shade closed because I don’t like how I look. But I like the way the grave looks.

I run and go to the grave. It says “Austin: 3 years 11 months 1848.” I watch myself reach towards the stone and feel him breathing in Colorado.

On the phone I talk to my friend about losing her virginity. I am looking out the window. It is an average story. She doesn’t regret it. I always used to think about being a virgin, as if my body were once shaped differently. As if my body could have a name and then have that name taken away from it. It has always been the same body.

I run away and come back again to make sure he is still there. I am at the top of a hill in a graveyard imagining him dead and far away. I wonder if running in a graveyard is disrespectful to the dead, to be so aware of your breath and the ground. There is also a 21 year old daughter listed on the stone. I wonder if she had been married if she would have been buried somewhere else.

In my room Claire sits with me because Alex leaves. Austin has lived in Colorado for months now. All my friends are pairing off before graduation. Alex wants to have sex but I can’t do it. Something about the shape of my body. He leaves quickly and comes back to get his phone while I am changing the sheets. Claire says she’s sorry that the physical nature of sex of with guys means I am always at a disadvantage, being the small one, the opened one. She says it is always about power. I wonder if I should have kept the lights on or loved him first.

In the light in the mirror I get ready for winter formal. The last time I had matching jewelry was for prom. I use the special hair gel that they don’t make anymore and I am running out of. We all appreciate dressing up on rare occasions. It’s fun—us all listening to the same playlist in separate rooms, painting on our faces and smoothing our hair. It is a meditative motion, to concentrate so hard on the shape of your face, your eyes, your hair, to carefully outline your face and smudge.

At the base of the hill a car gets stuck in the snow. The driver walks away to get a shovel. When I look back there are three people shoveling. The car is stuck. They are all pushing. There are no people now. The car is still there. So is the hill. So is the hill, full of rotting.

And I. And I. And I.

I’m in my room in Connecticut but I’m also on Andrus Field, aware that something is wrong. I’m also walking back around the field after finding out what is wrong. I’m also with him before it was wrong. I’m in Colorado for vacation and every boy is him even though we’ve agreed not to speak. Sometimes I lay on my left side so I can remember correctly how he put his arm around me the first time we were together. I was on my left side. I could’ve been asleep. I knew we had both waken in the middle of the night for no reason but I wasn’t sure if he knew. But he slid closer and wound his hand around my waist. I was afraid if I moved he would take it away. I tried to hold him back without moving.

For an hour I tutor two eleven year old boys in poetry. One says “Oh, this is pretty cool.” One writes a poem from the point of view of the Declaration of Independence. I fight the urge to laugh. It is the most beautiful poem I have ever heard. I am not thinking about anything else. I am nowhere else.

A year from now I remember this room beneath the hill, how I thought east was the direction of everything, how all us girls were together—the six of us, how everything was new and getting newer all the time, how it felt like the beginning and the end, how we were ready, how we were already nostalgic, how we ate squash downstairs and only went on the upstairs porch that one time, when there was lightning, how we screamed, how we were always leaving, we always stayed home, we had always wanted to live here.

I make my bed. He laughs at the stuffed animal every time.

I mean, sometimes I remember him in this room even though he has never been here.

Sometimes I remember myself in high school as though I have already met him.

Now the grave has always been there—towering over the house, looking in my window, shining on the mirror, messing up the light on my face. Hanging on my left leg and rotting. Sometimes it takes me two hours to get dressed because there are so many things I never said. My mouth looks painted on in the pale sun. Sometimes I feel asymmetrical, like I could not walk west if I tried.

Or sometimes I feel like the hill is hugging me from one side, even when I feel like I am everywhere at the same time, like it is dead now and pushing me, like I will go east when I leave soon, like when I get there I will be small, and full, and nowhere else.


Arielle Trageris a recent graduate of Wesleyan University and future high school educator. She was coach of Wesleyan’s 2014 Inter-Collegiate Slam Poetry Team, has performed at regional poetry slams in the northeast, and was featured at the Bang Said the Gun Poetry Show in London.