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by Sara Eliza Johnson

I am ready to be loved by any thing.
For your love, I’d wash your feet, bake you bread,
water your flowers when you’re away.

I’d sleep outside with them, would pour
blood straight from my wrist to feed them.
I’d cut the circle in my chest to make space

for the moon, let a star nest inside me
like a scorpion, just to feel its love
though it would hurt. And though it would hurt,

if I could not be loved, I’d puncture my skull
through the ear and drip every dream
I’ve had into the soil, a shadowhoney

for the worms to eat, if they might know me
as one of them, teach me how to move
through their darkness. I’d feed my heart

to a snake if it would show me how to change
skins, how to survive as an unloveable thing.
I would cut my soul out to make room

for another soul, push it out in loops
the way frostflowers, in those first hours
of spring, push through the stems in a field,

mimicking flowers. I’d push through myself
the way pain had pushed through my brain,
like a tooth through a gum, until I could

no longer contain it. Stranger, I’d even lie
down for the axe if it could make me new.
In my mind, the moment is so beautiful:

my head will roll away from my neck
like the shadow through the eclipse,
like a stone from the door of a tomb.

Then I’ll climb out of that body, a lamb
with claws and a sleeping viper
where a beating heart should be, lamb

that could kill if you came any closer,
lamb that eats the wildflowers
from your hand without fear.

This poem underwent many revisions. It was difficult to revise because of the volatile emotions at its core, and the trauma that catalyzed such chaos. For a long time, I didn’t understand what the poem was trying to say and that frustrated me. There were many times I almost abandoned it. Eventually I came to understand that the poem is a vessel for the traumatized self—an apocalyptic self—to speak beyond the body that imprisons it. It addresses a desperate loneliness, this recurrent feeling that one is damaged beyond saving and therefore unloveable. The earlier versions of the poem did not make space for this simple desire to love and be loved. The final version instead proposes that holistic transformation—and therefore love, unrestrained and without fear—is possible, if excruciatingly painful. To use a familiar saying: the only way out is through.

Sara Eliza Johnson received her MFA in poetry from the University of Oregon and her PhD in creative writing from the University of Utah. Her first book, Bone Map, won the 2013 National Poetry Series, and her second, Vapor, will be published by Milkweed Editions in 2022.