Isabella Becomes a Poet

by Isabella Valdez

Anyway, there’s this video circulating of me reciting Ocean Vuong’s “Anaphora as a Coping Mechanism,” and it’s a pretty clean read for the first minute and forty-two seconds, until, at one forty-three, I stumble over the phrase “smoke-soaked skin,” first straying, “snoke-smoked,” then sputtering out, “soaked,” so off beat it grows wings and abandons the poem, completely fucking up the meter, and it’s at this point that you, the viewer, can tell that I’m for real affected by this collection of words even though, and this footnote is not included in the recording, I’ve never actually lost someone I’ve loved.

But, really, I’m concerned for myself here. Concerned not only for this little lack of light but for the startling fact that when I opened my eyes this morning, my guts were splayed across the length of my bedroom. Dreams take me some pretty strange places, and the only known circumvention of my recurring disembowelment (this wasn’t my first rodeo) is spending next REM cycle in feral pursuit of the guy who’s doing this to me. Every time I wake up to an open wound, I gather my insides in my arms, shove them back where they belong, and add to my ever-growing evidence drawer. February’s been thirteen days so far, and I’ve gotten gutted seven of those nights. Granted, I’ve gathered little to no evidence (the drawer is more like a pocket), have no leads, no congruences to base these fictional “leads” on, but the searching keeps this unknown at bay while I sleep as if my very consideration of detective work frightens him. He who knows me, who loves the way my body works so much he must see it for himself and he must see it more than once. I guess in this way I have lost someone. Just not in the same sense as Vuong, just not in a sense that is easily understandable, translatable to the land of the living. Knowing this, I try not to bring up my assailant often. Love is supposed to glitter, supposed to infuse hope into our dreary days; love is what’s going to save us, right? Most people don’t want to hear about love that slices and dices you, even if it’s not happening to them, even if it only happens in dreams.

Now, I started with the poem because I wanted you to be with me. Opened with an idea you could get down with, relatable because we all love something past the point of wakefulness. Perhaps this individual backs off when I get all Nancy Drew because I don’t want it to stop. Quiet and bunched in blankets, I wait to dream every night, am not deterred in the slightest, let myself forget their face every morning. Really, I think we all know I’m not trying to catch this person because I lied earlier, because I lie often, because I’m lying all the time, and I don’t know how to tell people that I’m tired without sounding like I’m hiding something. So when you’ve seen me with puffy, plum-colored eyes, it’s because I’m saving my sleep for something special. The longer I stay awake, the longer I’ll be unconscious, i.e., the greater my chances are of encountering this person who is possibly someone I recognize very well, possibly someone whom I loved (love), and let die, and who has, possibly, come back to haunt me.

Ultimately, I am the not the subject of Vuong’s poem; ultimately, I am Vuong, or O’Brien, raising people from the dead for the story, for love, take a number, it could be anything.

Vibrant as everyday life may be for everyone else, it’s not for me anymore. When I first started getting gutted, I was decidedly not down, but then it kept happening and it was just so nice to see him again, even in that way, and, well, here we are, in a photophobic love. Xenization occurs every time I wake up, so much so that I wish I didn’t. You know, it just hurts; I don’t know what else to say about something like this. Zenith loves from now, maybe he stops dying, stops unzipping me in my dreams, or maybe one day I just wake up and find all my organs where I left them and don’t feel like I’ve lost something.


Isabella Valdez is 20 years old and torn to shreds by all the good poetry she reads. When she’s not drooling over poetry, Isabella daydreams about taking long drives and listening to her favorite alternative-rock radio station (101.1 WKQX represent) or maybe a Lana Del Rey CD, depends on the day and the season; cutting her short hair shorter with anything she can get her hands on; and scarfing Chicago-style foods (think deep-dish pizza and ketchup-free hotdogs) by the armful. Most of Isabella’s time, however, is spent loving writing and wishing it loved her back. 

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