poetry as an alternative to sharper things

natalia vela


my heart is too heavy for pretty poems today. too full of the blood i never wanted. of the hurt. too weighed down by this body who doesn’t know how to call the softness home. i can’t describe it any other way than a bullet wound in the center that the muscle has learned how to beat around. the truth is, never have i ever been laughing at a party without bleeding into a crowded room. never have any eyes besides mine noticed the blood dripping into the carpet.


at eleven, i can’t take the white walls in my bedroom anymore, so i beg my parents to let me paint them a metallic gold. sitting on my canopy bed, the air still fresh with the fumes, i cry because, still, everything feels lifeless.

i want to splatter everything bright. splatter everything red. i settle for scarlet on beige, for paint on skin, for something a little more tangible.

at fifteen, we are moving to a new house, i chip away at the gold paint with my nails, and still, underneath all the glimmer everything is so blank. i can’t stop digging through porcelain for something with a little more color.

i love feeling it balmy down my skin like lukewarm coffee.


voyeur to my own blood, i look for comfort where is only pain.


i trade in the sharp brush for a pen. i stop splitting my skin and painting the walls with my organs and blood just to check that i’m carrying anything.


i write the way other people go to church. i do not believe in god, but i believe in the power of the ink on my pen kissing the page. i believe in the magic of my fingertips striking the keyboard. i believe in sacrificing myself at the altar and embracing my pain, my heart screaming to the basaltic heavens, so my pleas for being healed can become answered.

i believe in art the way some people believe in miracles.

i believe in being honest when being honest is not beautiful.

you will not read anything pretty here, but i've never been holier.


take this: nobody knows about the nights i wanted to call 911 because i was afraid i’d finally swallow my death wish. how i couldn’t do either, because i couldn’t bring myself to reach for the phone or reach for the pills.

(this is to say it hurt too much to move. this is to say i spent nights lifeless in my room.)

i’ve got years of unspoken words wrapped tightly around my throat, an emergency room couldn’t help me with that. a 72-hour hold couldn’t wash away all of the bloodshed.

how can i explain it’s not so much wanting to die, as much as it’s an absence of anything? how can i bring to life on canvas the difference?

some days, it’s quiet, like looking through the blinds and seeing the rain before you hear it. it’s something missing, you can’t quite put your finger on it. it’s not a book on a shelf, the picture next to the door frame, a vase. there’s something in the room that should be there but isn’t, and you realize you’re missing the whole couch, the coffee cable, the television. you’ve got nowhere to rest your head, nowhere to sit.

some days, you think getting out of bed or stepping into the shower will be the very thing that kills you. it’s growling and ready to rip through your skin. it is paralyzing.

it’s having to stay away from the bath, stay away from the pills, stay away from the rope in the broom closet. it’s looking at anything sharp and feeling a half step away. it’s letting it swallow you whole, and letting it steal your breath, because if you don’t, you may not be here tomorrow, and you still want to be here tomorrow.

it’s folding your laundry, washing the dishes, putting a smile on your face and talking to people, when all you want to do is stare at your bedroom ceiling. it’s entertaining your mind long enough through the emptiness to make yourself remember you want to be here.

because you want to be here. even when there’s this sort of absence of wanting to live, you know, you know, you so desperately want to be here.


this hurt is a hungry and greedy beast. it bites the pulse right out of me. my neck an unrecognizable thing. my hand severed at the wrist. i look up to find a circus of vultures in the sky circling the carnage. i want to hurt my way out. i want to let them come make meat pie out of what’s left of me because maybe then i’d remember my heartbeat.

i count each bird and hear the blues knocking at my door with razor blade fists, but the words come to me to mold poetry with, and i remember that it doesn’t mean i have to bleed.


it’s true that i’m a better poet when i’m falling apart. i may be in pieces when i write, but writing is the only reason i am holding them all together.

understand this: when i hold the pen, i am choosing to hold something other than this sadness inside my palm. i am choosing not to fall asleep in the tub. i am choosing not to think about a belly full of cyanide. i am choosing not to reach for the bottle or reach for the pills. i am choosing not to think about how ten feet away there is a drawer full of knives.

i’d rather tell a story about all my skeletons, than sit around thinking about my body swinging from the ceiling.

my heart is too heavy for pretty poems today, but there is stillness in the ugly truths i tell.

there are stars, constellations, comets, and every kind of glowing celestial body, underneath all this darkness.

there is some sort of homecoming.


i used to bleed and tear myself apart to prove i was real, now i write.

there isn’t a wall left that is white, i’ve been covering them in poetry.

i apologize for all the dishes, mason jars, and wine glasses shattered, as i break my way through decades of silence.

on second thought, i'm not sorry.

i’ve never been more alive; my soul like a prairie on fire.


this is another poem i wrote instead of reaching for a single edge razor blade.

Natalia Vela