patchwork hearts by Natt Bartell
Penumbra Press Series 1
This book is funded by the Instructionally Related Activities Grant of California State University, Stanislaus. California State University, Stanislaus Penumbra Literary and Art Journal 1 University Cr. Turlock, CA 95382 Cover design by Andrea Wagner and Jarred White Copyright © 2021 by Natt Bartell Penumbra Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved
Penumbra Press is an extension of Penumbra and Penumbra Online. For more information, see our website at www.penumbraonline.org
The Penumbra Press Selection Process In the early days of our team’s meetings, we already knew that we wanted to highlight works that demonstrated original, evocative, and challenging content. We also knew that our chapbooks should be structured around a powerful central theme, be it cultural, historical, or systemic. We wanted to find works that brought us into places that we only seldom wander—those special zones of thought that express vivid bursts of insight and potent commentary. To our great fortune, we were met with a wealth of fantastic content, which truly tested our already high quality standards. After months of exhaustive and detailed evaluation, we found three poets who stood out as especially strong voices, those with keen talents for expressing both subtle and sublime imagery centered around powerful themes. We present those authors here, as Penumbra Press’s first ever chapbook authors. As our staff looked through this collection, we were struck by the raw emotional quality of them. Poems like “confession” absorb the reader into the speaker’s mindset, allowing us to feel like we are the ones experiencing those moments. We were also connected to the references to classical poets such as Marlowe and literary works such as Romeo and Juliet, which serves to link the past together with a modern-day perspective, highlighting literature’s constant stream of influence. Natt manages to capture our attention and hearts, immersing us into the realm created by the collection.
Table of Contents 9. confession 11. the perils of love and graduate work 13. this is not the place 15. first light 16. honeyed coffee 17. gaslighting someone into taking the rice cooker in the divorce 18. penultimate sunset 19. eulogy 20. san fransisco date no. 1 21. aquilolamna 23. vulnerability 24. tinder bio 25. 1969 27. daybreak 28. my brother stole my car 29. postcard 30. so many white horses 31. crush 32. picnic no. ii 33. persephone 34. surrender 35. streaming service
confession i am an open book—and he does heroin my juvenile secrets are pale compared to his we are sitting backwards on the couch, playing a game of confession as if we are in the 8th grade
and instead, i wish we were playing spin the bottle. this is a confession i have never made: we have matching scars on the back of our hands— but mine is from an accident in grade school and his, self-inflicted, warranted a 72-hour hospital stay— there’s something to be said about one of us being brave
today of all days, i wish i could say that i was surprised. how can i sit in the waiting room like this? especially when the waiting room is actually just my stairwell and no one is coming to save me and no one was there to save him despite this, I still can’t grasp the finality of what has happened
dear god, please tell me this is a fucking prank. in an instant i know what the phrase “deafening silence” means it is the hollow ring on the other side of the phone when the worst day of my life has fallen on a holiday weekend and everyone is too busy to pick up
i want to scream, but i can’t even cry. 9
i always knew the sky would fall tonight and every night from then on because when i found out, it was the fourth of July every fourth since, the vermilion and gold explosions make my heart ache— open skies have never made me feel so alone
being alone was what brought us together, wasn’t it? your smile was a sea cliff, tempting me to dive in if i had, would it be any different? it must be a hell of a drug pulling you under, more than my arms around you as i carry you into bed and feel the breaking pulse at your neck
i think about that moment every day. sometimes i think that the big mistake was letting you in that day we played confession because every day thereafter, the absence of your hollow heartbeat has been my penance
the perils of love and graduate work it is the awkward gait of a tall girl who is not graceful enough to play sports, the frat boys who sit in the corner near the door and shoot looks at each other while everyone else reads their Keats every soul in this room is concerned with their own monologue and even i can’t hear their palpitating hearts despite the infinite acoustics of the room which turn every subtle movement into the miserable moan of old auditorium seats there are spilt blueberries on the floor in the back, abandoned skin shriveled like a gentle reminder my plump cheeks, incandescent with desire will hollow out in my old age they (the blueberries) and i listen to the shuffling of reluctant young english majors into stiff lecture halls where their vocal cords have gone to die and be haunted by the latent dripping of a slow death from a paper purgatory, inkwell run dry the auditorium will not remember us after we have fulfilled the expectation of our time here and as i speak these existential fears , his mirrored floodgate eyes refuse to challenge it or condemn my urge to prove myself memorable
his eyes are a rabbit hole, ponderously deep, and this fated temptation that has found its way, mothlike, under his linen shirt exists only in my lack of desire to euthanize that dream so i scrawl love notes in pen onto my hand and, when my left hand runs out of room i spill invasive memories into my right that i will later read aloud from, voice muffled as a boy with bovine eyes nods while the smoke from his hand-rolled cigarette makes love to the ceiling
this is not the place this is not the place where our eyes used to meet— across the crowded room halogens shining on the desks that i had drawn on while the professor droned and students slept, our half-finished coffees grown tepid on the desk this is not the place where your fingers used to find the hollow of my collarbone and press until i sighed, waiting in the elevator at 11am, stolen touches replacing bruises on my skin this is not my voice— words reverberate into stale, half-finished sonnets that years later will make me feel ashamed in ways that i wish i could regret, but the daydream was to steal away together… ...it’s beautiful here and i’m thinking maybe i can handle the nondescript charm of a podunk little freeway town and the way the fingers of fog feel as they caress my face i’m beginning not to mind the anonymity of the trees and my new life as he sits at his desk to type and... if Alfred Prufrock could see me now, he would hate my flannel jacket
this is not the place that i envisioned— it’s cold up north where you took your heart but here i am, alone and resplendent my pale blue veins are coordinates and should i steal away tonight i will not be found.
first light do push-ups, eat pounds of chicken and rice when you’re not hungry but not lovesick, and gag over the toilet when the love-sickness hits know that you won’t always feel this way about the shape of their mouth— that it won’t always be the perfect crossbow in your dreams you are Becoming— wanting everything fists balled up around your sweaty sheets after every nightmare comes stark relief remembering an afternoon where you came unglued for a moment but they— they have you tethered, and you are unhinged it has been years since you tasted obsession like this the curtains in sunlight are crisp the sweatpants you borrowed, snug on your soft thighs— growing harder from running through the forest every time you are consumed by that indescribable hunger their name becomes a sigil, sharp edges coalesce and blur into the radical softness of their calloused hands as they tattoo ink into your thigh, a reminder. their jaw could cut ice but their voice is the sun-drenched dapple of golden hour and you wonder what it would be like to get lost this way again. 15
honeyed coffee tiny steaming cups on a balcony in the heart of the city sunset district, suburbia subsided this eden, a place i never thought i would be the backyards under us spread out vacantly like the lives unwinding within them lives made out of t-shirt dish rags and patched flannel pants and dim sum on sundays sunset impending, the glare on the ocean bright as his eyes strident as the sound of his voice when he talks about her the crackle of emotion weakening my knees i stir and stir cup cradled in my hand as the spoon clinks we ladle honey into our coffee, dripping golden ichor divine sin on his lips in the fading light and i sink lower beyond the horizon as the dregs of his coffee run down his chin onto his shirt for a moment i wish i was her if only to give him something more to miss
gaslighting someone into taking the rice cooker in the divorce she tells me to take the rice cooker. piles of things to be split in the divorce the decay of four years of collectivism and she wants me to take the damn pot, but she won’t let me keep the cat, or give me back the bauhaus t-shirt that i know she still has, probably crumpled in the back of a drawer. she says she couldn’t ever possibly be hungry enough to use it again (the rice cooker, that is) that the sadness is too much and she will waste away like i probably want her to— after all, i’ve left her this way. so here—take this jointly purchased piece of machinery as an act of good faith that you ruined me. that was in march, and i still don’t have a bathroom rug or one of those plastic sheets that go inside the shower: things that she took with her when she left but there is a rice cooker sitting on the kitchen counter gathering dust and staring vacantly as i microwave a single cup of minute rice.
penultimate sunset the skyline evaporates blurring into that colorless white that melds every piece of the horizon over obsidian asphalt trickle latent heat waves as infernal Dis extends a finger— dripping diamonds from gray flesh: a command the earth hardens with autumn’s first frost black branches brittle and snap the university halls smell once again of auspicious beginnings every day, shorter than the last and the chills no longer depart from my body at daybreak i realize sunsets were only ever lonely when i thought you were here to stay
eulogy someone told me once there is an old wives’ tale that if you get water on your clothes while washing the dishes you will never get married this is my wedding song: sudsy water dries on the front of my shirt and somewhere the gossamer of my dress gathers dust maybe it has been worn now by a less reticent bride falling in was easy— summer love is not the tangle of passion that winter will bring it is slipping, shoulders deep into an unheated pool feeling your skin shrink back as the sun dries flecks of chalky chlorine onto it it is endless iced coffee waking up in a t-shirt that is not your own and smells faintly of sweat and sunshine freckled skin and blue eyes those first mornings of fall coincide with the first i love you the last will happen nearly four years later
san francisco date no. 1 even the big numbers are closer to zero than they are to infinity the sky above us is infinite but capped with fog there are no stars and his face is lit in bas-relief by the Safeway sign of the old market where Armistead Maupin wrote about desperate women going to find husbands the bar was lit with edison lights there is a metaphor in here somewhere his eyes are blue and clear the bartender can tell that this is a first date my palms are sweaty so i grip the crystal of my glass and let the condensation of the ice run into my hand our first embrace felt like home i am so far from done with the closet but as we crossed the rainbow painted street i pointed at the triangle of lights on the hillside and suddenly walking side by side felt like doing the tango
aquilolamna when i think of Romeo and Juliet, arguably the most famous love story ever told though it makes me cringe, i know that they won’t last as long as the fossil of a Cretaceous period shark that lived between 66 and 93 million years ago yes, this is a love-poem for a fossil of a shark or perhaps just for its achievement of immortality when i see god, i see him in the little things the flawless design of limestone— a rock made out of bones, monuments like Stonehenge, and the pyramids, the most immense funeral lie ever told the perfect conditions must exist in order to preserve cartilage in limestone the coincidence must be immense that one specific aquilolamna milarcae sank to the bottom beneath silt, hidden from scavengers until eons had passed and someone discovered it
when i think of these coincidences, i know that it was no accident we slept under the same sky for two decades that it was no simple twist of fate that brought you to me— i know that red hair and blue-gray eyes are a rare genomic incidence so you are an anomaly in more ways than one after we break, i run into the waves at high tide cursing your name with the conviction of stone, waiting for a lone shark fossil out beyond the surf to hear me it doesn’t matter that it is tattooed on my body in not so many words the sentiment remains: the immortality of our love could not outlast the massive continuity of sharks
vulnerability there are moments in our narrative safe spaces where the facade cracks i thought of safety as masculinity, unquestioned it turns out that the real safe space is a place where i can lay my edges down to rest, unburdened by the idea of who i have to be yes, i am wearing a velvet dress yes, i am still still me there is a period of time in the sun-dappled afternoon when i can lay my head on her chest, bien contento, and know that tomorrow, this sudden overture will not mean a thing i am sliding through the cracks where love used to be, searching for the fantastical permanence of 24-hour-wear lip stain between untouched boxes of old high heels and aliases maybe finding myself is being t4t in the Home Depot, where the lumberyard smells like all of my sawdust daydreams and i would sleep here if i could the concrete floor looks quite comfortable but i must go now, to pick up the slice of my soul that i mistakenly left on her pillow
tinder bio emotionally unavailable twenty-something seeking fun-loving person interested in hiking, bottomless mimosas at brunch, and being judged by my friends in the group text until i decide if i like you my bio is two truths and a lie format— i hate hiking, am allergic to orange juice, and mute group chats with the zeal of a librarian hushing school kids, and all this will come out on the second date we could be meeting in a dingy bar tonight i could be escaping to the bathroom halfway through the first drink to call a friend and fake an emergency but we are both on tinder instead stuck in a mindless k-hole of meaningless swipes right and left
1969 the sitcoms will tell you that American love is hating your wife my grandpa will tell you different. he knew that he would marry Mary Musso when he saw her in the bleachers at a basketball game and the next half-century must have flashed before his eyes flash forward to the realization that i could get married right now and still might not live to see the half century of wedded bliss, and i might not want to the receipts of my beating heart thus far are in a few faded sweatshirts, borrowed and never returned trips up and down the west coast to visit a lover, and several love letters that will go unanswered maybe the real proof of passage runs through my veins like a rube-goldberg machine the legacy that my grandpa set in motion so long ago that children still came home with the streetlamps
maybe 1969 is all i will ever become a product of the generational dust that floats over vineyards by the highway and coats my great grandfather’s rusted-out tractor still sitting out behind the barn our blood runs red as pressed fermented grapes and some facsimile of DNA sits, barrel-aged in green glass bottles or snakes itself into the velvet wallpaper so that i can picture one single babbaluci, sliming its way up the wall and if i myself am doomed to never find love to stand forever at the end of an empty aisle instead of walking down it there is an indulgent smile on my face knowing those before me did it with enough conviction for generations to come
daybreak it is 3am the rattle of your breath is impermanent alone in my solace i have not slept the city unquiets beyond unfurling the midnight symphony of waves sea lion calls the clink of a shopping cart’s crooked wheels against the uneven sidewalk and you sleep but maybe do not dream at all my apartment is too small for the both of us it would be unfair to ask you to marry me now the weight of the ring in my pocket infinitely compounds as does the question i will burst there is a chapel with a garden just down the street and you stir, moving to face me those bleary blue eyes beckon me to sleep and the question evaporates on my lips knowing it will not see the light of morning
my brother stole my car Lucas stole my car this morning. we share nearly all utilities— joint supervisory duties of my dog, one shared stick of deodorant and an e-cigarette but i am trapped here now, and my car is nowhere to be found modern fraternity is strange— it is a mixture of hey loser and meaningful glances of are-you-ok-or-is-your-social-anxiety-besting-you? sharing back and forth the same $34.87 as we take turns buying each other meals, but not being bothered to do the laundry so your brother can have a clean towel— dude just use your fucking shirt it is the intersection of a talented set of siblings and dear god they are sofuckingunbearable to be around when they are together two products of a shared childhood shouting about Borges y Yo while the rest of the room is too tired or drunk to righteously care it is the knowledge that our mother raised us with love because i won’t always be here but you will always have each other even when the dark was closing in and getting the same tattoo inked into both our skin praying safe, happy, and healthy, amen
postcard he sent me postcards of grand vague dreams typewritten with half-lines of poetry lines to be finished over wine in my dim-lit apartment at dusk i fold laundry as he reads me The Wasteland the T.S. Eliot look in his eye warms my center as our eyes meet over my half-folded pair of briefs the postcard on the desk has a line from Byron but the book is long gone scrapped for cigarette-rolling paper and the ripped-book-binding conveys the moment better than words ever could isn’t the phrase i love you so paltry in comparison?
so many white horses the streetlights penetrate the sheer-white curtains only barely, we are existing in a half-darkness, superfluous— i could recreate the lines of your face in pitch black.
crush i found a human bone on the beach oh lord, i do not know how to talk to a crush the voice on the other end of the phone cracks laughter pouring through the speaker into my ice-filled cup i take long sips while we talk about selkies, and mermaids jacked up on SARMS
it doesn’t have to be a human bone we could go down in history for finding proof of some mythos Atlantis, buried underneath the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk are you just feeling your mortality right now? darling, i took anatomy, and i know what human bones look like, but for you i will play the fool /it doesn’t have to be a human bone/ if i say i am feeling my mortality for you, will that admission get me any closer to god?
picnic no. ii she is the cat curled on someone else’s sternum and i— am trying to write an abstract about us the absurdity of the self, punctuated by the incessant ticking of the clock our time has nearly run out western civilization is not beer it is red wine straight from the bottle on a sea cliff the smear of her red lipstick on my lips as i dive into the ocean hysteria, unaffixed unspecific in its discontent she strips me of my earnestness as i buckle her shoe-straps around her ankles.
persephone rare. tart. the scent of it lingers— star jasmine and, dare i say honey? a citrus whisper of some coy oranges, still dressing, pulling a marmalade sheath over peely green lungs gulping now-tepid air that the cold has fled from— should they expand to the brink, they will chill again icy inhalation, a knife to the chest i dream of her kisses. night after night until i do not dream at all. and the pollen and cigarettes make me cough but the rasp in my throat feels sweet winter has flown the coop and alas the flesh between my ribs begins to defrost
surrender he says he is stabilizing now and i can see the ghost of Carl Solomon in the blithe smile and the wash of death in his eyes he is milk spilled on the concrete how can i say that i am with him when i myself have never been but i am scared to look at him now the specter of a smile on his lips belongs to someone else for one moment i can see why he eighty-sixes the meds in the sink he thinks they have stolen everything that makes him peculiar and intoxicating we do this again and again i beg him to wear shoes next time he runs alone at night through the trees and i know he will not i could love him in a different timeline i think i love him anyway his eyes are blue like the shoreline we sit silently and watch the waves
streaming service the light of the television hits my glasses just right— migraine. it is 1:04am on a saturday night and i am alone as usual this is nothing new— the weekends are for me a lone motorcyclist in the night revs past the canal banks by my house is that the ghost of who you were in 2017? somewhere in a suburb in washington that very same bike gathers rust in your garage the same way your silver promise ring will tarnish with disuse every show on our shared hulu account is about love— breaking up at a wedding, finding love on an island, deciding if you can marry someone in 90 days or less our love has disintegrated into nothing more than the fact that our profiles in the shared account are still pet names that neither of us dares to change and the simple knowledge that i am using this account without paying my half and you will let me at the very least until you find someone new
maybe modern love is sharing the netflix password whispering those three little words “bushdid9/11” (or is that four words) (that is not really his password, please don’t try to hack our accounts) and realizing that like Antony and Cleopatra shared streaming services are a blood pact until the very end you will have access to my netflix account until one of us dies tragically and i will use the hulu with indiscriminate zeal the stark reality of it all is that i would rather have access to my little sitcoms than a bunch of roses anyway and the bouquet of passwords that you have not changed since 2011 does not decay
Author’s Note I struggled to write this author’s note because there is no way to not sound cheesy when you say something about how we are an amalgamation of everyone we have ever loved, and the people that we love contribute so much to who we are. But that’s the truth. So here it is, cheese and all. patchwork hearts. Because sometimes it feels like my heart is stitched together with little pieces of thread that my friends and loved ones have pulled off of their own jackets. And I think that is universal, because we all know what it is to pick up a quirk or a word or a food preference by watching someone beloved do the same thing. This collection explores how love—romantic, platonic, fraternal, filial—leaves an indelible mark on each of us as we meet the people who make us ourselves. The poems are bits and pieces of moments that I have experienced or observed, with each person I have known contributing something to who I am now. I want to dedicate this to everyone I love, and everyone who loves or has loved me, because without them there would be no book. And also to my brother, Lucas, who stared at me benignly and listened attentively every time I read and reread these poems out loud at 11pm. Most importantly, I want to dedicate this to Christopher, whose death taught me that love transcends the boundaries of space, time, and reason.
Humorous and self-effacing, patchwork hearts is the collection to read if you still harbor secret feelings for your ex, have a rational or irrational hatred of dating apps, or fancy yourself a bit of a romantic, with or without a capital “R.” This collection examines the bloody sutures of love and identity in a wry reminder that we all carry with us bits and pieces of everyone we’ve ever loved (metaphorically). In short, if you’re a bit of a curmudgeon, but have a soft side, this chapbook goes out to you.
Natt Bartell currently lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and is attending Queen’s University for a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing and spending a lot of time staring at the lush green hills and towering cathedrals. In addition to this, Natt has a Master’s Degree in English from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and a needy dog named Marlowe, who loves going on long walks. Most of Natt’s writing— which covers everything from heartbreak to which snacks are appropriate for a bank heist—can be found on Medium.