February Spikener

underwater crown

in winter i will unravel to invite 
your fingers on the back of my knee 
and the skin behind my ear. cocoon my body 
with quivering teeth                    tell me where 
you want mine. i’ll bite tenderly and leave 
crescent residue. 
                                                           drizzle me in sticky delusion.
i want to feel capable of intimacy. 
                                                           let me try again. trace a portrait 
on my leg with your jellyfish touch. fill me 
with wayward laughter. maybe i want to 
master the contour of your ear to be close 
to anyone except god. my sun-dried skin drapes 
over my skeleton. your bones won’t chime against mine. 
our rooms won’t echo back this connection. 

my room echoes back my imperfections. 
i catalogue my oddly formed joints (weak 
knuckles and knees and ankles). they are 
not meant to hold me                  together. gills 
conquer my neck. borrowed limbs settle into 
an arranged wreckage. i collapse           gently. 
become a monstrous metamorphosis. make a home 
of an aquarium.

this is what i think when you ask             to hold me. 
i am the marine exhibit in your fishbowl 
embrace. command me to imagine new am[phi]bitions 
for water so i can build a body                 worthy of
habitation to purge my prehistoric form. 
i make a fine spectacle for you to witness.

the underwater acrobat is a fine spectacle 
adorned in seafoam and nautilus shells. i tendril 
the sunken anchor. pirouette about its rusted body. 
the shimmering scales of my torso costume
my discomfort. desire is an act i perform well.

i don’t know how to let you hold me 
so i invent new tricks. name myself neptune. cleave 
the water to cluster your attention.   crawl 
across the ocean floor in front 
of an unblinking chorus. drink 
the moonlight with me.

the clownfish pity me. their mouths open 
in silent applause. or protest. 
i imagine 
they will grow bored of me soon. 

i imagine you will grow bored of me
and watch me wither when i fail 
to learn my body is natural.

i’m sorry.
i’m better at being alone. 

i’d like to be something precious
to you one day. crack my calcified
husk and kiss the softshell skin 
between my shoulderblades. 

                              be patient. i’m trying 
to sponge for you. 

your gilded tongue on my hip warms my skin 
moving against the cool ceramic of your bathtub.  

the pearly water in our ceramic bathtub ripples.
you croon into my scalp. comb my hair. laugh 
at the uneasy croak in my throat. 

i have nothing clever to say sitting between 
your dimpled knees                       i imagine them 
in crooked flight and your hands fishhooking 
the sheets. i cross the silken cold to tangle my fingers 
in your necklace. smooth your velvet brow. revel 
in your lighthouse gaze under the bruise-blue ceiling.

i’d like to thumb your eyelids to understand 
the way you look at me. i want to enjoy it.
i am waiting for something to earn.

i am still waiting for something to earn.
i list everything wrong with me. my hands 
are too cold. my stomach puddles when i lie 
on my side. i hoard pillows and pleasure. 

forgive my tense muscles. i’m not used to being 
touched.                           the last person who loved me 
hadn’t figured out how to yet. i am new at this. 

i hide from you quite often. make myself small
in body and feeling. cover your eyes when i cum.
watch sleep cradle you beside me before i melt
into the sheets. 

there is no time that i allow you to see me.

there is no time i allow you to see me.
aquatic ambiguity ornaments my body.
obscurity coats                surprise
                             drowns                  my dread 
my mouth
from which my shame trickles.   

i know the way you look at my fossilized skin.
a modern relic                of decay. i do not remember
a time when i looked natural. alive instead of petrified.
fluid instead of jagged.

i wake beside you with newly formed scars 
illuminating my joints.               this is its attempt 
to pull a yearning from the murky depths of me. 
an urchin clumsily grasping at tenderness.

i am an urchin clumsily biting at tenderness. my spines
converge at the point of touch. this is [in]voluntary. 
a defense mechanism.  i do not pretend to be soft.
capable.                            vulnerable.               i know 
i cannot be touched.
                                                          when unchecked
urchins devastate their habitat. 

do not misunderstand. i am not trying to do this here. 

i nestle into the dim corners of the room                         waiting
to be discovered by you.             i want to be a desirable thing
but unraveling is not easy for me. i hide my discomfort 
by pretending i can soften or twist. 

i’m trying to find an honest word to say to you.

i’m trying to find an honest word to say to you.
to be worthy of what you invest into me. 
you noticed my shoulders have become sharper
this year.        i am a marionette with locking joints
and a clicking jaw.
i wonder what you see 
when you look at me. what do you think of the venom
i harbor in my heart? underneath my exoskeleton. satin 
spine beneath coral.
the wetness below your tongue 
makes me feel warm-blooded. your dew-laced breath 
on the back of my neck unblurs my eyes.

i want to be wrapped around you without fear 
of us shattering. i try to imagine you touch me 
because you love me. or at least you’re trying.      
i promise i am too. 

i promise i am trying.            i struggle with words.
i’ve never felt as sacred or permanent as i do
when you stretch across me.      i feel as if i were 
catapulted into the frigid air.                           flung 
into becoming.  i am not beautiful           but you 
draw a communion from within me so grand 
my skin thimbles. 
                                            you assemble our ecosystem.
i talk about the ocean because i want you to envelop me. 
your laugh illuminates your throat. brushes against 
my lips. i open and blossom. i am asking for a distraction 
and a moment of your time. how thrilling.

how thrilling to drift towards you. who 
welcomes my cold hands inside of you. 
for you i break open                     not apart. 
i only understand our time together when 
i lick it from between your fingers. traversing 
each knuckle and valley.             i am praying 
for you to engulf me. for us to become the tide. 
             rise                      together. 
                              fall                      gently. 
one another.                   our glassy moans streaking 
the skylight. soon i will give you all of me. pour 
into me through each of your fingertips.
i am always cold when you’re not here.

i am never cold when you are here.        hovering
over me.             your thumb on my chin as you paint 
my face in diligent strokes.                       an artist 
versed in my medium.                  i like how you see me. 
better than i really am. there is nothing beautiful 
or delicate here.                              only an urgency 
in the gathering of your hands at my temples. 
your rusted whispers.                 a warmth 
i am learning to swallow from the way you pull me close
and our mouths collapse into a grotto. 

our mouths collapse into a grotto.
let me know a day when i do not camouflage
into the ocean floor in your presence. you are 
the first person who has treated my body 
gently.                with kindness. can you see 
why i want to give it to you?  
                                                         i spilled 
across a kitchen floor the first time
you saw me. stumbling. my legs clumsy. 
both of us full on laughter.         drunk.
buoyant.           you confess to wanting
to feel [big]. i trace my fears of visibility 
onto your speckled arms. we do not lie. 
we caress in a suspended daydream.

we caress in a suspended daydream.  
today there is snow                      hiding us 
from the world. your godliness wanes. 
we move against each other under 
the numbed sun. burrow into the sheets. 
shadows flicker against the far wall.
they mimic our newness. our sheltered green 
amuses them.       
                                            i do not shrink 
from your grazing fingertips. i could explore 
your back all day. its skin like flattened embers 
against my frigid palms. we begin our wandering again. 
a helix of shivering limbs. a crescendo of watery breath.
in winter i unravel to invite you in.


February Spikener (she/they) is a Black femme poet from Detroit currently residing in Massachusetts. Her work has been published in The Wellesley Review, Paper Trains Literary Journal, and So to Speak: feminist journal of language and art. Ever inspired by their loved ones, their poems reflect how they navigate through the world and what it means to love and be loved. She believes that love is and has always been the answer and that the mastery of love is a form of survival.