The Man Made of Earth and the Woman Who Loved Forest Fires

For as long as I can remember, those who held my attention came as warning signs from the start. They were texting while driving dangerous, Donald Trump outrageous, characters my raised hairs told me not to cling to even if it sparked a forest fire inside me.

I breathe out smoke still.

But this time around, I convinced myself the feeling of ground was much safer. The sensation of clutching soft mush, despite its earthy pungent smell, could extinguish my inclination toward intoxicating flames.

So I stayed inside and watched the rain with him while sipping red wine naked. We made banana pancakes in the morning and talked about our parents in the most congenial of ways. The man made of earth told me I was beautiful when I still had traces of yesterday’s makeup smeared under my eyes. I said how can you say that, and he said because I looked real.

This, this was the way I trained myself to love him — by recognizing the sweetness of nature, the coolness of his crisp air as he breathed into my ear, clinging to me like a life raft in our sleep.

And yet, the thing I most feared billowed up in my waking dreams.

It didn’t matter that we could walk along the riverbed for miles and never tire of each other’s company. It didn’t matter that we could spend hours discussing politics, eating cheap Indian food, dancing in a sweaty crowd until the bars closed, and still have enough energy left inside us to keep the neighbors up at night.

It didn’t matter at all. As long as I continued to burn alive with fires set by arsonist hearts, his efforts were futile.

It’s amazing that we all believe what we see on the outside when we know from our own experiences, the surface doesn’t always reveal the truth.

Such was our love, the love I trained myself to love; the safe bet; the hand that reaches for you in the dark and never lets go; the pillow talk and lingering stares that fade type love; the love people comment on and say “wow, you guys are meant to be”; the love that doesn’t die by the taste of poison of your lips, but with the knowledge that only one man could turn water into wine.

And that man was not the man made of earth.

And yet I still drink the water, because it calms me. Because I need it. Because maybe if I drink just enough, for however long it takes, these flames will turn to ash and I’ll one day find peace in knowing that flowers bloom even if the driest of deserts and barest of forests.

Though I know water can never compare to wine, earth to fire, and him to you, I continue on. And so it goes, the woman made of brush stayed with the man made of earth.

Copyright Nicole Mormann

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Drive

It was a calm surrender that overtook me as I laid against the asphalt and stared past the dimly-lit lampposts into the midnight sky. My arms and legs moved as if to make a snow angel out of the deserted road.

I thought if a car came right at that moment, I could die happy. I even envisioned it—the bright beams flooding over my eyes, the sound of tires screeching, honking, perhaps a faint panicked scream from the driver as he realized, shit there’s a person in the street! and then me, lying there, smiling, scrunching my face, and bracing myself for the split-second end.

The vision seemed romantic, appropriate to my nature. So I settled in, squirming into a comfortable position, and continued the fluid motion of my ligaments as I stared at the stars, hoping that perhaps one would fall to make me feel better about my own descent.

The last time I assumed I had my life together, I woke up in my car at 3 a.m. with vomit stains on my pea coat and a Taco Bell bag in the passenger seat. I didn’t recognize the street I was parked on, having blacked out earlier in the night and driven from my company’s parking lot to an unfamiliar residential neighborhood outside Beverly Hills. A pile of semi-digested Chalupa seeped from the bottom of the driver’s door and permeated the stiff air with its foul stench.

This was mere months ago—seven to be exact.

As I peeled out of the street, I remember my tires hitting the remainder of my stomach’s contents and spraying them across the side of my brand-new Honda Civic lease. I didn’t think too much into it then, but now I believe that instant served as a somewhat comical metaphor for myself —a seemingly advantageous being marked by visible traces of continual mistakes.

Just as I had closed my eyes to doze off, a rustle in the bushes signaled company was nearby. Out of instinct, my eyelids fluttered open to greet the unexpected disturbance. Overhead, one of the lampposts flickered as its worn bulb faded by the minute.

I checked my watch—3:14 a.m. If fate didn’t allow my rose-colored death by unintentional vehicular manslaughter, then I was doomed to make it home before my mom got up for work. I set an alarm for 5:45 a.m. and curled into fetal position. An owl hooted from the still pine trees lining the road, leaving with it enough momentary silence to lull me to sleep.

I’ve had three loves in my life.

The first took my virginity on my dorm twin bed after a year of dating. I was 20 years old and thought if I was going to take such a long time to lose it, I might as well have an emotional sex playlist to go with the moment. But as calculated as I was, the climactic song I wanted to play while he pushed himself against me for the first time came too late. Instead, we made love to a forgettable tune and watched anime comedy afterwards until my roommates got back. A year later we ended our relationship on an equally forgettable note over an hour-long phone call, only to wind up hooking up every couple of months afterward. As with the first time, a new playlist orchestrated our motions with each reunion, never landing on the perfect song for the moment.

The second took me back to the home she shared with her fiancé on our second date and fingered me under their white cotton sheets. That night we slept intertwined, just as we had the last time we were really together. The morning before she broke up with me, we flipped through a copy of US Weekly and picked out celebrities we would fuck all while (failing at) helping host a garage sale. After she and her fiancé dropped me off at my apartment, I remember being scared that she was in love with me and ready to leave him. I wasn’t ready. I was a broke college student and we’d only dated for half a year. She was already graduated, three years older, and made six figures. It was nonsensical. But it turns out she’d already made alternative plans and instead fell for someone else with a steady paycheck and a master’s degree. Neither I or her fiancé could suffice.

As for the third, I don’t know if I can talk about us yet.

What I will say though is we never had sex, not to “Heartbeats”, not on a king bed whilst panting dogs watched from the sides, nothing remotely close to it. And I don’t think we ever will. As much as I’m sure you want to know more, I’m sorry to say I’m convinced that our story can’t be summarized into words, so naturally I refrain.

Instead I’ll say this third love is most certainly my last, and yet one I may never see again.

In my dream, I see you behind the wheel of an oncoming car. I keep trying to move, but I can’t get up. I’m stuck. I’m screaming for you to stop, but you won’t. You gun it toward me and all my limbs freeze up as your headlights blind my sight. I hear you trying to brake, but it’s too late. You can’t help me. You can only hurt me, you say. My head spins and all I smell is your scent before your rubber turns me to glue within an instant.

For all you know, I’m a victim of someone else’s wrongdoing. I look it, I’ll give myself that.

But I’m undeserving of all the pity.

I’ve played an equal part in my own downfall.

I’m guilty.

You can point the fingers all you want, or tell me that it wasn’t my fault, or say that I had to do it, but you’re wrong.

I’m no victim.

I didn’t have to do anything I did.

It was a choice.

Everyone, everything—him, her, you, me, love, loss. All of it.

So now I guess I want to know, what do your choices say about you?

I wake up to a repetitive beep, beep, beep coming from my watch and rub my eyes with fingers covered in tiny shards of gravel. A cool breeze whips through my hair as I kneel to stand up.

The sky is still black, creating the illusion of perpetual nightfall, and for a moment I’m temporarily fooled into thinking my alarm is merely another dream before remembering you’d be here if that were the case.

I grab my keys and head towards the white Civic parked adjacent to the right lane of the street. As I climb into the car, I see the bright headlights of another vehicle come barreling around the corner, speeding at nearly 80 mph as it passes me. The driver honks his horn, throwing me into a stupor.

I slump into the driver’s seat, sitting there for what feels like hours staring ahead at the empty highway. It’s enough to make you wonder what could have happened if I stayed there just minutes longer. Would I have gotten up? Would I have been able to? Or would I have laid there and accepted the inevitable? These things and more I thought about the longer I sat there, leaving the car door open to cleanse the air of any dried vomit that somehow might have lingered inside, until finally I put the keys in the ignition, shut the door, and drove away.

In my daydream, you’re riding shotgun as I’m driving us up into a starry sky. You tell me you’re only going to hurt me, but I insist on taking your hand as we ascend. Let me go, you say. Why? Because I’m not deserving of this. Because I don’t think I’m capable of being loved. The engine sputters. You slip your hand out of mine. I clench the wheel tighter, biting my lip until it bleeds. Where do you want me to take you then? Home, you say. You wipe the tears from your face. I lean over to brush them away, but you only push further back. The headlights flicker. I try to turn around, but the gas won’t budge. We keep floating up as you tell me to stop doing this. Doing what, I say. Romanticizing everything! The engine sputters, a puff of smoke rises from the hood. I just wanted to give you the love you never had. Your tears respond for you. I brake the car to hold you, to show you how much you mean to me. I would never hurt you, don’t you understand? You shove me farther away and say you hate me. The headlights go out and the stereo blasts the last song I heard you listening to. Then we fall from the sky, your hands in the air as mine are clasped around you.

I pull into the driveway just as the sun begins to rise over my shingled roof, a dull orange creeping over me as I step outside into the early morning air.

I breathe in and close my eyes. Then suddenly, it happens. A single tear falls, then another, then I’m sobbing and crouched down with my arms wrapped around my knees, hugging them so tight my body starts to shake and quiver. I bury my face into my sweater sleeve, heaving every so often as my lungs progressively plunge into my stomach.

“You’re a monster,” my first love told me three days ago as I listened, emotionless, on the other line to his crying.

“I’m sorry, that sucks,” my second love said over the phone when I asked her if I could vent to her about it, all the while never making mention of you. I hung up quickly and called my best friend instead.

But with you, there’s nothing. Not a text, not a phone call, not even an email. It’s as if you disappeared all together, leaving me to a memory of you on the night two weeks ago that caused you to hate me.

“I can’t even look at you right now,” I hear your fading voice whisper as I grip harder.

The last time I saw you, I couldn’t even cry as you said it. I sat there in silence, staring ahead at the portrait of a pin-up doll painted on the brick wall of the bar where we first met. At the time, I was with my second love and you with my friend. I asked you if you remembered the video I took of all four of us, sitting in the exact same spots where we sat then, but you couldn’t nod. You couldn’t even glance my way. When I walked you back to your car, we didn’t speak. I told you to call me if you needed anything, but you said you wouldn’t. I still didn’t cry. I walked back to my car and drove away, never once shedding a tear.

But now here I am, collapsing in front of my house as a bright yellow hue shines overhead, with part of me wishing you could see me now, and the other part hoping you never will.

Three months ago, you told me from the passenger’s seat that no one had ever seen you the way I saw you. You felt that you could be your full self around me. With tears in your eyes, you said it with such indignation I couldn’t help but wonder why you chose me to be that person for you. Still, I couldn’t cry. Instead, I put my left leg up on the seat, and leaned against the window as I watched your blue eyes turn pink.

I pick myself up off the ground and look up into the sky. There were no stars to cling to now. Only sunlight as it pours over the neighborhood street, illuminating the cookie-cutter houses and its residents.

I shake the keys in my palm, turning them over as my thoughts run wild and eyes dry in the morning heat. Without a second more to think, I’m in the car, starting the ignition. My mom could be awake, but I could also care less.

Then, like that, I’m on the road again. This time with no destination in sight. My instincts tingle as I hit the highway, going north at about 60, then 70, then 80, then 90 mph until I’m merely a rumbling blip in the sights of truckers surrounding me.

As long as I keep driving, I tell myself, everything will be okay. I turn up the stereo and blast your song, my soul suddenly returning from a distant atmosphere as the AC dries all signs of a momentary surrender.

And now, my reader, I guess I’ve exposed a partial glimpse of my life. 

Copyright Nicole Mormann

Tea Bags and Time Chasing

Five cups of tea were all it took for me to start thinking about you again.

3 a.m. is a ruthless hour for restless romantics. And social media an even worse adversary.

I click through photos of you like one would if fixing the time on their watch. Ticking down. Moments. We lost. Long. Ago. (It’s not made to sound perfect. It’s a broken clock.)

It’s amazing how years don’t change feelings. Just hope. By this hour, my hope resides in cold tea bags left sitting out on the kitchen counter downstairs.

Your face looks different, but the same. It’s an odd conundrum I can’t quite put my finger on. And yet each time I scroll through your pictures, I find something new in you I never noticed before. How your eyes reflect tiny flecks of green, like mine. How your smile curves slightly to the left when you’re happiest—trust me, I remember what your happiness looked like.

And it makes me sad. To think I never noticed these pieces of you until now. It makes me wonder what else I’ve missed. Like, birthday parties on the lake. Time spent clinking wine glasses near dwindling fires. Talking about friends, family, life, goals, dreams, dashed ones, fresh ones—all things I would have enjoyed.

You seem sad too. I think that’s what’s different in you.

I see that you hide behind your smoke. And I think I know the cause, but it makes me jealous to say. Even though I have no right.

You were in love. With someone you met after you met me. You two were in love, and then you weren’t. I’m all too familiar.

And though part of me wants to jump through the screen and tell you it’s all going to be okay, that love is like that, that love is a light switch that we have no control over, another part of me says to leave you alone. To let you be to love’s woes. To let you be, period.

Or tell you how I really feel…

The day you met me I told you I wasn’t looking for love. I called you a friend. I took a train to an unfamiliar place to meet an unfamiliar person that was yourself. It was my last day of vacation in your town, and I wasn’t looking for anything. Until I got to know you. And you were vibrant, and funny, and everything I didn’t need you to be before I left. You were someone I felt like I’d known for longer than a day. For maybe even years.

And then you were gone.

I still think of that train ride back with your head on my shoulder and hand in my lap. And how I hugged you goodbye five times, but I never tried to kiss you because kissing in public places used to make me nervous. Now not so much.

I think of it because it was one of the best days I ever had, in my whole life, with a complete stranger. Imagine that?

But I also think I think of it because of what I wished I would have done instead, which resulted in me texting you hours later asking if I could show up at your door at 3 a.m. (I told you this hour is bad news for a person like me). Because I wished then I would have kissed you. I wished then I would have told you, no I’m not looking for love. But god dammit, why did you have to make me wonder otherwise. I wished I would have called you my date. Because you were. I wish all these things now too, just so you know.

Most of all though I wish I hadn’t lost all the pictures we took that day, of sporting our dumb beanies in Camden Town, snacking on chicken wraps that took forever to make, lounging on Primrose Hill where we laid on my scarf and pointed out odd looking couples. Because by now, they’re the few mementos I still have left of you.

Besides social media, I guess.

And though it’s been over a year since I’ve seen your face in person, it’s nights like these I think of you, and what you’re up to, and how you bought a fucking Nirvana sweatshirt at a flea market. And I wonder if you still think of me at hours like these, when cold tea bags shrivel in coffee cups and caffeine makes the mind wander like an ambitious traveler with no shoes.

Ode to my Father

Wrote this poem for my dad today. Hope you all enjoy it! (My dad did at least haha)

Child of the Corn-fed Cows I.

Minnesota-bred, Indiana-raised
My father grew up with six-inch snow
On a farm in the middle of Morris
Where he envisioned another life
Aside from picking fights with his
10 siblings, 2 parents, and 5 chickens

His asthma kept him up at night
Forcing him to dream with his
Eyes open, like he always has
A near death experience left him
Yearning for a place in this world
He made it his mission ever since

In the summer of his college days
A time spent drinking Miller beer,
having sex, and fratty-boy cheers
My dad met Julie, his true first love
His life changed the day they met
And persisted past the bitter end

When he moved to California
And she couldn’t pretend to want the same

California Heartland II.

My father’s heart was always in two places
Though the majority packed its things
In his suitcase alongside a photo
Of him and Julie kissing in a Macy’s
Or at least I think it was a Macy’s?
I ripped up the memory a long time ago

When he moved to California, he left
A family, a love, and a comfortable life
In exchange for Huntington Beach and a
Bachelor pad with Jim Flin, the clean one
As mom told me a million times before
Referencing a story from years past

There he discovered Cali-mex burritos
Warm sun, beaches, sand in your toes
Half-naked women in the streets
Completely naked women in the sheets
And the many ways you can pick up
A hot chick if you’re with your daughter *cough*

But before I get to him and I….
He got along with a flurry of people
As his energy always reflected that of
A perfect ray of sunshine on a cool day
His smile contagious, his ideas outrageous
And his looks comparable to male models

One in particular was a youthful blonde
A paralegal babe with killer legs and a
Face just like the one he left behind
She struck his eye on a singles night
Where he cornered her with his charm
And took her number in a minute time

Then lost the number like a total goof
But fate would have it they’d meet once more

The Worst Marriage Ever III.

Need I say much more than the above
Fate would have it they fell in love
For beauty wants the equivalent of
The eyes of the beholder, then again
My dad told me the sex was “insane”
I wish I could erase that statement

Less than a year, they made it real
And committed with words in Coronado
She said yes, he said “what the hell?”
Five years, one kid later it was over
But hey, we’re all three glad it ended
Two people fighting for you is also better

A hercules cake is the first I remember
Of my dad being there for every occasion
Even with a job and a girlfriend I’d hate
He never disappointed as a father
Though calling me a princess
In an ivory tower was REALLY DUMB

My parents fought, but I won in the end
Because divorce inspired them to tend
To my every need as their one and only
Who needed the marriage anyway?
I was getting affection from two parties
But always my dad especially

He bought me all a queen could want
A tom-boy royal with an electric truck,
A music room, a jungle book backyard
A castle made from his own drawings
Whatever I wanted, he made it happen
A trait that’s never left his character

But that’s enough about me
I’m spoiled rotten, he can clearly see

My Father, The Man IV.

So it goes, my dad was the man
He had his woman, his daughter
And an artistic, visionary plan
Of one day building on his dream
He made it to California with nothing
So nothing was out of his reach

Then his job laid him off
After unfortunate events
And so his rocket ship landed
In the shape of a 60 year old man
Named Sunny who gave him
A product, a purpose, and passion

He took to the moon, the two of them
And for a couple years believed
They’d hit the nail on the head
So to speak, but the world decided
It had other plans for my father, the man
And made it clear in bad times ahead

Unbreakable V.

12 years later and it still isn’t easy
My father’s dreams were put on hold
To make room for practicality
But destiny knows of his intelligence
And so I have no doubt the world
Will one day turn in his favor again

For his dreams and drive surpass
Those of small-minded people here
Who think of people and places
While he thinks of ideas and spaces
He can reinvent, create, mold, take
And make better for his children

And I’m the luckiest one of all
Because I call this man my hero
Best of all, my father and twin
The one who I can trust wholly
With a secret, a whim, anything
You name it, he never lets me down

Though his yelling took its toll in sports
It made me stronger and more resilient
It taught me to try and try again
Even in the face of extreme indifference
Because getting verbally attacked
While passing third is inspiring as is

He taught me to never spend a day
Watching TV, wasting life away
And to instead write music on the keys
To take up cooking, to always read
Why do you think I can’t sit still?
He made me this way, just like him

I’ve never seen him for his flaws
He’s given me a million more pros
Than his family’s list of cons
He’s Captain Jack and Daddy Depp
My girlfriends’ DILF fantasy (yuck)
And my sometimes claim to popularity

He’s unbreakable, an Iron Man heart
And I’ll be damned if he falls apart
He cries and his tears turn to steal
At least that’s how I’ve seen it
But I’m a biased narrator
So see it for yourself if you dare

Father, you’re the best in me
All you say you love come from
Your wisdom, your agape love
God blessed me with you dad
Don’t ever think otherwise even
When life gives you more lemons

Though you travelled back in time
To old Wisconsin, the not-sublime
You’re a California man forever to me
You made this state your land
You’ll claim it as your own one day
With Jaire, some trophy wife, and me

But in the meantime, I love you so
The world will know how much
You have meant, 22 years later
You are my best friend,
My asshole,
My kick-in-the-pants
And the cheapest son of a bitch
Who made me one cheap
Daughter of a son of a bitch

Love you with all my heart, Dad
Happy Father’s Day.

Copyright Nicole Mormann

Recyclable

To you, I was a pile of plastic plates, stacked in a singular tower alongside a four-set of fine china I could never measure up to. I was a temporary necessity, waiting for your cold hands on a dark, deserted shelf you left alone for a time being.

But the light of your arrival shed truth to my existence, as each piece of myself given was taken for your disposal.

I know this now. I knew this all along.

For as long as you reached for me, I convinced myself the scratches etched on my surface were evidence of your wanting. And the traces of saliva you left from licking up scraps meant something more than greed. Perhaps impulsive desire.

For as long as you left your china, sitting unclean in the sink, for days on end, even weeks. For as long as I was yours, withering with each touch and counting down my numbers until the last one was up. For as long as I was used, I confused the markings of poverty as the hunger for abundance.

The cabinet for my home.

But in time the novelty of my brand, grown worn and stained, collected in trash at your disgust. And the immaculate pieces remaining generated a response of hesitance at your touch.

Eh, you’d sigh.

No guest ever wants their meal served on plastic plates – this is true. But I never took you for the hosting type. That is until you went shopping, and brought back others alike to me, and new to you.

Eh, you said, these will do.

To me though, you were more than meal tickets, or fervent fingers lurking for leftovers around the circumference of my naivety. You were shelter. Comfort. And i, your resident visitor.

I would call myself your trophy, but I hang here by your indifference and not your pride.

For as long as I wait in the shadows, one dish away from death, I will watch the light pass and go in your eyes as you take your palate’s pick. For as long as you keep me here, I will follow the lines of your lips as they purse in pending disapproval. And for as long as you are near, I will tuck myself into the darkness away from your grasp.

Just so I can stay a little bit longer. Just so I can say I wasn’t an object at your mercy.

Because the day will come when you grow tired of meals on plastic plates and want back the china you chipped long ago. By then, it will be too late. By then, the sink will have filled to the peak of regret.

And when you scan your desperate hands in the crevices of my corner, I hope you find me there. Because by then, I’ll be covered in dust, and likely disintegrating into air.

Copyright Nicole Mormann

a snapshot brings me closer

the first of many

the last to few

this is what I meant to you

the first to stay

the last to go

and this is what we have to show

a couple pictures

here and there

of drinking, hiking, underwear

you left upon

my floor to keep

if only your love ran as deep

a shallow wish

your hands in mine

throughout the night, intertwined

legs and arms

minds and hearts

who were we to fall apart?

within a blink

we separate

your parting words make me irate

“i’m sorry” on

an iPhone screen

something here seems too obscene

was it planned

from the start

tell me if you’re false of heart!

in your eyes

it wasn’t clear

did you fake your every tear?

oh never mind

you’ll never tell

it’s hopeless living in this hell

& though i hate

to love you still

our photos take their final kill

on my wall

me and a poser

i cringe a snapshot brings me closer

Copyright Nicole Mormann

The Best New Years Resolution I Can Offer You (My Future)

I can’t promise you I have all the answers, because I don’t.

Sometimes I wake up in the morning wondering what I got myself into, if I’m prepared enough, if I’m strong enough, if I’m capable enough.

I wonder if there’s someone else out there better than me, just as willing and determined to fight for the same job, vision, love, and mindset as me.

Sometimes I think I should accept defeat.

And then, it happens. Something, a feeling I can’t describe other than absolute resolve, overcomes me and tears apart my demons with sharp fangs of savage confidence. It shreds me from the core up until, entranced, I strip the layers of self-doubt off my aching back and will to start anew.

I can’t promise you much, I know this, but this resolution is the best I can offer you:

This year, I resolve to love, with all my heart, soul, and being, myself.

I will push the boundaries of what I know to be true, of things people tell me to discourage me, and smile in the face of drastic change. I will not cry because I’m sad over situations I cannot alter, but accept them as they are and move forward.

Whenever possible, I resolve to be my best self and give, beyond what I think I can, everything I have to attain everything I ever dreamed of. It may take time, lots and lots of it, but I know this to be true – anything you set your mind to, you can do.

I promise you a life full of happiness smudged by moments of pain, loneliness, and heartbreak. I promise surreal minutes followed by hours, days, and years of harsh realities. I promise the greatest love you will ever know, but with a damaging cost.

Because this year, I resolve to live. As I have wanted to live for so long now. Ready to abandon all I know, I open my arms to the unknown. The abyss before shows no promise of success, but my foot remains forward and willing to plunge. And nothing will break my fall. Nothing.

My vision is set on you, after all. You, all of you, and me, all of me. I can’t promise you the world, but I can promise you this:

That patience is a door, and I am a key. With me, you can unlock a life of waiting – waiting for the sun to rise in the morning and fall in the late afternoon, waiting for the telephone to ring with good news, or bad, waiting for a warm hand to hold yours in the dark. I will be that warm hand, I will be your news, I will be your sun, but you will have to wait with me in order to see it. For you to see that all my promises, as feeble as they are, will turn from words on paper to carvings in stone in time.

I know this may not be what you were looking for, but it is the best resolution I can offer you. For now, I imagine, until I see what you can offer me.