HOTTER: A Little Book of Ex-orcisms | Kristy Bowen

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hotter a little book of ex-orcisms

Kristy Bowen

the hotter version of you

Will be played by the SNL comedian with a similar hairline. The bartender who bartered kisses for cherries in my jack and coke. The man in the movie whose smile was crooked and sweet, and whose eyes reminded me of yours at 3 am, drunk and heavy with bar fights and fistfuls of cash. The man on the subway who smelled like you, surely tasted like you, like cotton and laundry soap. He was tall like you. Had hands like you. The ropes I tied between us unsteady over years and ex-wives and continents of poems. The hotter version of me slipping through dark parking garages and train stations in the middle of the night, lipstick smeared from kissing and always crying as hot girls do.

The hotter version of the city sweats through its sheets nightly. Frightens the river of rats flowing under the red line tunnels and out into the lake. Fakes like a schoolgirl, innocent until proven guilty. But faulty in all the wrong ways. I could sell you a song, pastel candy-hearted. Lift my skirt and climb into the rafters with my fear. But I haven’t yet figured out how to stop my teeth from jangling loose in my dreams. Always the end of the semester and me missing from class since the first week. An assortment of banging on the radiator pipes to find the water I’d hidden so well in the walls. I’d call and call, and you’d sing back across the distance, but the tune was off. Lofty and broken like the frames we kept rearranging on the walls until they formed something like a history. How we’d hold them in our fists as we traversed the stairwells nightly, drunk on sugar and light.

The hotter version of you looks like starlight. Like bar light. Like bad decisions. Will be played by the boy I loved in middle school who made jokes at crepe paper dances, hands locked around my waist but our bodies never touching. The older boy who kissed me behind the boat house at camp. His bad taste in music. Lips dry and fused to mine. The hotter version of me knows more than I should at 16, knows to lean closer. To close the distances. The hotter version of me writes better letters, dripping with sex and strawberry lip gloss. The line of girls outside the cabins, banging themselves like moths against the lanterns we carried to light our way through the woods.

In this film, I play a hotter version of myself. Complete with a bouquet of dahlias and an inferiority complex a mile wide. So vast, you can see the inside of it from across town. This place I wrapped my fist tight around a leaky pipe and held on while the city rattled us free. So much promise, but so many dim, sunless days. The winter I ate only grilled cheese while it snowed and snowed, and the women swam home in pencil skirts and heels through a blizzard. I couldn’t see the bottom of my teacup, so I wrote you a song. Played it softly while the world tipped sideways and delivered us shivering into spring.

The hotter version of you writes love letters to ships that have already sailed. Fails to make contact, like a little league strike flying fast into the crowd. How you broke a thumb trying to catch the things not meant for you. Lost two teeth to turbulence. The violence of blisters breaking wetly against the handles of your bike. I was a dead limb on a tree. A tangled set of Christmas lights you’d sort out, then put away. You’d thread your fingers through my hair just long enough to dislodge the hair pin I used to pick the lock you installed over every backyard gate you jumped. I followed dumbly like a cow. Every hate you harbored buried deep as an anchor pulling you back to land.

This hotter version takes the last train out to the burbs. Stirs the olive in a martini til it blurs. Fucks shit up. The hotter version was a carbon copy, my fingers thick with ink. We make out in the car near the tracks until the moths in my stomach burst into flame and set the trees on fire. Every husk burned out while I waited, feet together on a park bench. The stench of summer garbage and rot seeping through me. The men on the train are faceless with laughter. I’d catch myself smitten with men who looked like you, drank like you, maybe even fucked like you, but I’d never know it.

A hotter version of this poem arrives shiny and spit licked in pearls. Clicks her tongue against the roof of her mouth. The hotter version of you writes a novel, long handed on flimsy paper. After all, everyone wants to be famous, to pocket cash grasped in a carnival wind tunnel. I spritz my letters with pear perfume, but understand its just currency, like this poem. Like the version in the mirror that preens and primps. That licks stamps and mails love letters, one by one, from the corner box. So much money in love, but none in the names we scrawl across envelopes, across the backs of strangers we pretend to love. They pair off with the hotter versions of themselves and disappear into the dark we make with our closed hands.

The hotter version of me cuts in line at the coffee shop. Satisfies every rom com thirst trap. Every sappy opening line. If it was a rope, I’d hang myself with it. A glittering thing I’d ruck away in a box beneath the bed. Wed myself to like a curse or a coffin. How often we’d find ourselves in the back of your car, a fumble of zippers and ties. Rumble of he trains nearby. Somewhere there’s a hotter version of me running her fingers along the top of a door, looking for a key. Rain-soaked and looking for a lock.


The hotter version of you will be played by a rottweiler in a skirt. By three cats in a trench coat. By my own disastrous designs. It was fine when you packed away all your things and started for the door, except cobwebs lingered in the stairwell. Behind picture frames. Full of gnats and spiders and things we told ourselves were just dust. You’d brush them from my hair before bedding me nightly, feeding me one-liners and one word text messages. Where to put what happened on the shelf, behind the book I marked with a red X. The sex of open spaces. The wreck of the room how we left it, broken drawer, cracked glass on the nightstand.

My hotter version cries on buses and fucks up cake mixes. Fixes the flailing world with a stick of gum and a broken screwdriver. Calls my mother but there is only a ghost on the other end. A host of bees in the line. You can tell I’m hotter by how much I sigh beneath the sheets. They rise and fall over my mouth all night, frighten the cats with my heat. Mornings all wheatgrass and shine and perfectly made beds. We’d dirty them up, but they’d be white by dawn. The traveling we’d do to get to the other side of the lake where you’d use them as sails to safely get back.

The hotter version of you is a lost rent check floating in a well. Early frost, cooled tea on the counter. When you found the kitten behind the dumpster, we fed it and took it home. Built bones around something like home. Set fire to the rafters. After, bruised shins and broken crockery we scooped up in pieces of paper. All the lists we made to quiet our heads and hands. The riot of pink peonies on the table where you fucked me daily after breakfast. Too many petals stuck in my hair and air passages. I’d cough and they flew out. What we grew and what we planted two distinct things. The same, but always askew.

The hotter version of this story begins at the end of a decade. Fades along the edges and glosses over with honey. The money we paid ferrying our hearts between houses. Our bodies rotting slowly while the moneyed men threw nickels at the stock market and wondered why it crashed. I was so sunburnt one summer it left a scar. A part of me damaged and raw, weeping under streetlights and bumping into strangers. Even my fingers sticky with indiscretion. I could throw my body at men and come away unscathed except for the hooks in my spine. The crooked way I loved everything broken like it was mine.

The hotter version of this poem slips like a fish from my arms. Forms a round hole in a Monday afternoon and births a thousand tiny rabbits in the baseboards. We feed them with spoons and vinegar, but they are sour, dire little creatures. Intent on eating their way through wires and winter coats. Through the cages we collect them in at the end of the day and cover with a towel. If I were a better writer, you’d be starstruck, fucking all the beautiful poets in a line. They have such beautiful hands and hearts they lay so carefully at the bottom of your bed. Such beautiful words humming from their dead, dead mouths.

The hotter version of you rips through pages and parking lots and lights up a cigarette outside the building. Fields the most bizarre questions from strangers outside the bar. The woman who leaned too close and licked the outside of your ear. The woman dressed like a nurse and covered in blood. Too many slugs of whiskey to go home, so you made a home of the women who opened their thighs like a port. The one who purred like a kitten, licked her whiskers and stayed for years curled inside you. When you’ve shaken out the years like blankets, where did they harbor? The heart or the hook of your spine? What you took and claimed as yours?

A writer and book artist, Kristy Bowen creates a regular series of chapbooks, zines, artist books and video poems. She blogs about writing and art at dulcetly: notes on a bookish life .and runs dancing girl press and studio, an indie press and design studio.

Bowen is the author of twelve books of poetry/prose/hybrid work, including the recent SEX & VIOLENCE (Black Lawrence, 2020) and the self-issued AUTOMAGIC and ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MONSTER. She lives in Chicago, where she writes arts, culture, and lifestyle content on everything from DIY to antiques, art history to city living, horror movies to home decor. Website:

Dancing girl press & studio

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