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1989: A prose poem

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DECEMBER 10, 2022

fall. 1989. retro pop blasting on the radio, our feet balanced on the dashboard, your fingertips tangled in my hair. you’ve said it is too long. that you hate the tangles and that black was better. oh, you told me i was sweeter than malt liquor, but i touched the calluses on your hands and said it is easy to get lost in a map of someone else. your thin gold chain and jutting collarbones, the windows open, our kisses fueled by wanderlust. all those rushed sentences and words that can’t come out, out, just out already. they are better left unsaid, perhaps. your lips are tinted crimson and i think i am like the changing leaves, except autumn is a season and made entirely of you. 

we spin in semicircles. we crescendo upward and crash back down. the weight of the world falls on your shoulders and rolls slowly between our feet, interlocked thighs and the rough slide of denim against my knees to yours; i am lost in the translation of you, in the words you invent just for me, the syllables that escape your lips when you think i am asleep. i am awake, though, breathing just so. in, out. out, in. what i would give to hear you in the morning. sleepy, messy bed hair and domesticity and the smell of linen detergent, like lemons and listerine. ridiculous words like brunch and warmth turn from ’90s fantasies to 2000s realities. i think: maybe? maybe. maybe it’s you. 

your hand on my waist, the metal from your rings digging into the ink on the planes of my stomach, platinum and silver and 24-carat gold melting into glittery wax, our limbs indistinguishable. you said it didn’t bother you, that you liked that i was a coloring book and your fingertips were crayons before they all snapped in half. missed calls. tears that tissues couldn’t soak up fast enough; the salt of it all crinkled up the skin on my cheeks like brittle paper pages, yellow and flaking towards the slope of my chin. i sped past the “proceed with caution” sign. maybe i was blind from the start. 

22. you turn a year older, 365 days of having my perfume lingering on the collar of your shirt, less of cotton and more of me. i am bilingual now, fluent in the language of you — the strides of your walk, the way your head tilts when you are trying and trying to understand what i say but put me into a box instead. your name isn’t the key anymore, believe me, i have tried. i attempt to break the glass, but we are stuck in the same cycle over and over, endless, like do-over laundry, the clothes smelling like mildew after being left in the washer for days at a time. i have tunnel vision, but if i am a car breaking a hundred miles an hour, it will be okay. sunrise is just up ahead, breaking through the horizon like splatters of paint in the sky. pink, yellow, oh, there’s dark red too, a shade that looks like blood but isn’t, it’s really a shade or two off. right. right?

the violets are dying on the table. the petals are still blue, but i mean blue in the sense that something inside of them is dying. the petals melt like brown butter at the edges. i look at you across the table and just — just wonder if you are tired yet, if the sugar that once lined your lips is burnt to a crisp that is tragically beyond caramel; i wonder if all you taste is salt instead. you are beautiful in a painful way, an ice carving melting at the edges, your cheekbones turning into soft slopes of watery sludge. it mixes with the soil on the ground, with brown and green and sick, sick yellow. breakfast tastes like watery clay, gray stuck between our teeth and underneath our tongues. i miss you even when you are sitting across from me. i didn’t know that was possible. 

let’s break up, you say. i don’t love you like how i did before, but maybe wasted time is catching up to me and i don’t want to let you go. hushed whispers and glazed murmurs. hands balled into fists underneath the table where i stretch the fabric of my jeans. i thought you were endless, an ocean of persona with a smile like retro telephones in the sixties. i thought you were endless, and then i reached the end. it is winter now, and there is no retro pop blasting on the radio — just jazz. my feet aren’t resting upon your dashboard. my hair is too short for you to run your fingers through. 1990 begins now.

Contact Madeline Kim at 


DECEMBER 10, 2022