Breathe Bassist Matt Smiley + Poet Anna Paige

All in for Soloist + Breathe, a collaboration with Matt Smiley, on his album The Avant Garde:

I wrote Breathe from a stairwell of memory, a back-of-bar kind of encounter. When Matt asked me to send him some recordings, this was fresh off a bar napkin. I’m honored to be included. Find the full album at Matt’s bandcamp.

Heart Hacks

This is for the hacks.
For those ass poets who write
THIS IS FOR poems.
For the wake-up-put-on-a-little-makeup alarm I snooze five times a day.
For the backspace. The backpedal. The back paddle. The delete.

This is for the daily scroll.
For the time I lost reading lists of
For the conversations I didn’t start, the hands I didn’t hold, the hug
I could have held six seconds longer. Just six.

This is for that, “Don’t worry, but your father is in the ER” text
For that call from the hospital when you’re a thousand miles away,
and your best friends are collected in a waiting room,
and no one knows if she’s okay.
For the tumor they found, the piece they removed,
the collection of people making decisions around a hospital bed,
and the sickly feeling of relief you get when you’re so glad it isn’t you.
For that Life-Is-Short-You-Could-Get-Hit-By-a-Bus-Be-Nicer-Live-In-The-Moment stuff
That is so difficult to take seriously.

I’m not here to tell you what you could/should/want to be doing.
I am going to say that I feel like a hack every day.
Stalked my own Facebook profile. LIKED my own status.
I tweet just so I can say I’m on Twitter.
I untag unflattering photos.
I work in marketing. I edit my life.

We all do this, we all work in marketing.
And we’ve all been wounded.
We’ve all crashed our hearts for someone we truly believed in.
We’ve all edited. Deleted. Forgot.
Forgot what it feels like
to trust like no one ever broke us.
Forgot how to love without fear
That we won’t be loved back.
Forgot that we really just have now.

So this one’s for the Please-God-Dance-With-Him advice that I took.
For bare-footed waltzes and Motown Mondays.
For Fuck-You-I’m-Pink lipstick and never saying goodbye.
For mornings through car windows and sleeping in tents
For afternoons spent playing records and champagne before noon.
For hand-ground coffee under shared grey skies.
For bicycle rides home.

This is for all you stubborn folks,
For all the messes we’ve made,
The love we gave,
The pieces we seek.
This is for your summer smiles,
Your winter blankets,
Your autumn sigh.

I forget when sharing your beer
That I’ve drank alone.
I forget the day’s ruins
When I hear you say goodnight.
I forget when singing in your car
That I ever felt like a hack.

Thank you.


You are the marginalia in my mind
Lingering in corners,
a slow dance at the end of the night
As though draped in fur, you carry such dead weight—
Cradling your loss as if it were alive
Only in the starlit solitude of night do you shed your cloak,
Exposing such thin skin marred by time
Keeping your secrets

I cannot trap or tame you
Instead I wait for you to drop your weapons,
Leave those carcasses of memory
and come unbridled to the table
I wait for you in the dim hallways of evening,
While the skies turn silver grey

In the golden light of morning, when slowly you rise,
Do you cover your skin and hold your heart still while your blood churns,
The floorboards cracks, the sky ascends?
We are part fire and part dream
Broken lives that haven’t been broken yet
Beneath our covers, hidden in the mess of being human,
Underneath the sweat and bruised skin,
Below the calluses in the most sensational places
Is that dangerous ground we tread
When we pull our hearts from their cages
There’s a million things that could go wrong
but it’s worth the risk if just one moment
Is that moment when everything changes,
When the world stops and starts all over again

For every grey departure, every sky clinging to blue tears,
every awakening that brings you that same heartache,
Learn to speak with the mirroring of the sun
There is no forward or back, just now
Just now and you
Blood buzzing, heart running


There’s emptiness in spring,
Hollow feelings that pieces of you are missing—
Pieces lost across such vast spans of time
where no one ventured out.

Shallow, your breath is stale. It quietly pushes your lungs
back and forth, a rhythm of blood pulses.
Behind you are winter coats and pricks of bone,
Empty shells for the tired and brittle.

Those promises you made under blankets,
that things will get better—
They lie dormant within your muscles,
memories of times when you were stronger.

There’s hunger in spring, a craving for lost things.
Slowly you begin to recover a sense of belonging,
A sense that the world is not such a solitary place.
Broken hearts like broken bones
begin to stich themselves back together.

There’s beauty in spring,
The ability to withstand flood, the skin to burn,
a freshly picked flower that knows its mortality.
Among shifting seas of green we fumble across the raw landscape,
collecting bits of ourselves like bread crumbs
that hungry birds did not locate,
trying to find our way home.

White Christmas

They told me to dream of a White Christmas.
The one that catches in your lungs and just won’t let go.
The one that renders the world into soft focus,
like the muted stillness that covers the yard after a fresh snow.

This White Christmas—it’s not even white, but pink, glowing,
Like the fuzzy calm in your brain just before you awake on Christmas morning.
At that first kiss of light you lie very still,
listening intently for movement about the house.
In anticipation you creep down the hallway and perch at the top of the steps,
craning your neck to see if there are presents, hoping that Santa liked your cookies.
Outside it’s crisp and blindingly white.
Inside Christmas glows like the sun on your face on a bluebird day.

This White Christmas is limitless…
But the days after … the days after swirl like liquor in coffee
muddied with bits of grind.
The days after are leftovers, paper on the floor.
Debt collectors and missed birthdays. Toys that break.

This White Christmas is a cavernous horse,
its belly full of arms. But we welcomed the gifts,
held out our arms and found gratitude in possession,
For what is our love if not things we can display?

When they pushed that wooden horse to my door,
I opened it.
And in that moment of vulnerability, I wish did not beg
for a return to before, to a place where things did not consume me.
For it’s just things.

I’ve dismantled this “White Christmas”
Packed it away in boxes lost in time.
All that’s left are someone else’s memories—
Decorations I can’t throw away:
Stockings stitched with names,
popsicle stick ornaments and brittle candy canes
Photos glued on paper cups, cut to resemble snowflakes
With baby faces and bright doll eyes.

I have a thousand letters to write, not to ask for something new and better, but to forgive.
I forgive these promises made under Christmas trees.
And the gifts of hollow chocolate Santas—
I forgive myself for always hoping they won’t be empty.

My gift to you is a gift of place
A Christmas village filled with collections of families skating on year-round frozen ponds.
In the front window of their homes Christmas trees adorned
with strands of white pearls and delicate glass ornaments
are never taken down.

Winter Count

And so we begin our winter count.
A month of moons, so slowly she creeps.
Her replies are glacial.
Withering red, the hips of roses
Fall asleep in daytime.
The panes of windows begin to leak,
Letting her spiny fingers prick about the house.

I love her like the moon loves the stars—
Bright eyes in an empty room watching
My slow, fumbling waltz.
I hate her like the moon hates the sun,
Its brazen ego rising against my dim silhouette.

Slipping down hills,
Autumn’s mud cakes as cement to my shoes.
Purple leaves cling to emaciated branches,
Dark like bruises on my grandmother’s arms.
Tomatoes linger melancholy on the vine.

Uneasiness in this change of season,
In sleepless moments we churn.
The rooftops drip our apprehension.
Cupping our hands and running our sentences together,
We wake under the angry moon.
Soon the grass will be small, the wild roses will bloom.

Heart Thief

We were once timeless.
Standing arm-in-arm our shadows
smoothed memory like water shaping rock.
Love spilled from our tongues
announcing the end of drought.
Slick, we squirmed under each other’s grasp,
rounding corners, forming text.
A whitewash of nouns linked our calloused fingers.
In brows rendered smooth we carved each other’s initials,
muting any distance we carried.

We were once hysterical,
Our tongues tinged with steel.
We caged love, reduced it to dramatic preludes,
as if loving thirsty was not our fault.
Clanging the cage where our collective hearts once lived,
we furrowed our scarred brows, monolithic and dry.
Ripping limbs, clawing at shins, scattering skin about the yard,
We filled our lungs with bloody heartwreck,
Screaming: Heart. Thief.

We were once murderers,
Smoking breaths and chasing heartbeats.
Sneaking about the landscape to suffocate ghosts
who make love in the back of trucks just so they can watch
the sky merge with the mountaintops.
Chewing off tongues, collapsing lungs,
We screamed where is my fucking heart?
Only to find it savage, purple with memory,
caught in barbs, drying in the wide open plains of summer.

For Trey

Spring, this brassy procession from Winter to Summer
lingers like early morning rain on branches.
Quivering leaves drip apprehension,
uneasiness in this change of season.

Pale and drawn, Spring’s first pipers shed their cloaks.
They tease us with announcements of warmer days ahead,
rediscovering their voice with the songbirds of sunrise.
April’s cruelty will soon become a distant memory.

Yet there are some of us who return to Winter’s well-worn path,
wearing lockets with memory neatly contained.
For we are still in mourning;
The Boy Who is in Love has died.

The Amorist, one who is in love or writes of love, feared the forgetfulness of others.
He was unable to leave the consequence of his life on paper.
Rather through suffering he worked each day for joy.
Through every moment of immeasurable pain he continued to be in love–
In love with winter’s silent snows and the swagger of spring,
in love with the swelter of summer and the cool nights of routine,
each furthering an unappeasable cancer through his bones.
He loved every day’s demise, even while knowing it brought him closer to the dead.

In these parades from beauty to bleakness, darkness to warmth,
it’s hard to believe he was afraid we’d forget–
Forget his tussle of his hair each time it re-grew.
Forget the warmth of his presence and the rogue curve of his smile.
Forget the sound of his pain, the ebb of his disease,
taking pieces while he continued his love of living.

When The Amorist passed onto the invisible beyond,
into the whitewash of painless days,
His wave goodbye came with a promise:
That death is not an ending.
That he’d returned to the expanse of the sea.
Through the churning of sand and in ripples against the shore,
he built sandcastles to hold our fear.

Our scars dissolve slowly with the each breath of morning,
drifting like threads across placid skies.
Across each season’s tease I find The Boy Who is in Love.
He grows under our feet, tickling our bare toes in the revival of spring.
He cools us as the shade trees of summer,
and holds our hearts in the dead of winter
as roots holding the earth in place.


Painting by Sarah Morris

I should have been an airplane carcass,
Wing roots severed, tail cut away
Body resting upon the ground
An empty cavity, blue in death, is all that would remain.

My belly would heave the memory of flight:
Of archaic men neatly smoking,
dropping silver ash into armrests—
each shortened breath yellow.
Of seatbacks and upright tray tables
and glamour girls inserting a thousand metal buckles
into the disarray of delays and failed flights.

If I were an airplane carcass
I would have seen this western expanse,
towered over the wild west,
and skimmed across the Great Salt Lake.
I would have followed the glacial pace of the night sky
and awoke in white mornings, bringing the certainty of goodbye.
I would already know a stranger’s touch, a lover’s cry, a dead man’s weight.
Would be able to take this hollow core—
Paint it with the pain of everyone I’d sheltered
and wipe away the stench of loss with each passing day.

I should have been an airplane carcass,
then I would have been ready for you.
Ready to shelter your quietest pain, your creeping sickness,
hold you during the darkest flights.
I’d find us a home among the tiny squares of land that had passed below,
One parcel of possession where sand blows like snow across the roads
Where wind would rip our clothes, rain would seep beneath our skin
And gales would catch our fall.
As though levitating in the wind could remove all sorrow.

I would have been ready for every bad decision
Every trip that led to loneliness, to misery, to joy.
In time gained between layovers
I would have danced in all the oceans, filled my pockets with shells,
Homeward bound with soggy, sand-covered boots on my feet
I would have known my destruction was imminent
Long before I met you.

The Editor

In silence I place your memories—
Tiny paintings of melody
Onto page
It makes me calm.

I cut away the pieces of loss you carry,
hide them in a weathered music box
that becomes lost in a mess of paperwork and dishes,
in the distraction of late night stereo and sharing keys.

Clumsily we shuffle through winter;
Our hearts lie dormant as spring’s first blooms.
Flashy robins, their red breasts bright in the morning sun
bring us from hibernation.
The season’s first sunburn follows as tulips droop toward the ground,
their fragile necks bending slowly as the days grow longer.

We pretend the yellowing walls and arching sun
don’t contain us to memory, bind us to routine.
Yet our creeping sadness follows the span of sunlight
passing across rooftops as sunburns fade.
Heartbreak impends like the march of a million ants
trying to find their way indoors.

Amongst unpacked moving boxes,
I hear a tiny twang of that forgotten music box.
Its covering is shabby, soiled with fingerprints of youth.
I once as a child filled it with treasure
and buried it to later discover the contents remained unchanged;
Only the meaning had been lost in routine.

Our hearts, like music boxes, are opened so rarely
As if the melody would sour, as if heartache would spread like an infection
Become a gaping wound, ripped open by a peckish lover
who begins to lap at the tissue, chew on ventricles until
slowly we become a cavity void of the songs that made us love

In the first breaths of morning, when the songbirds are the loudest
I hear those pieces of loss I cut away
scratching on the music box’s insides
Clamoring to be let out.