On your first date, do not hand him your vagina, polished and thirsty.
Do not allow him to rub your back or your shoulders.
Do not overdrink.
When he offers to come home with you, do not think of your ex-lover’s chest.
How it peeked from behind the open neck of a pressed J. Crew buttondown.
How you still masturbate to this.
Over dessert, do not think how smooth this man’s thighs will be.
Do not think how lovely their dark will lay against your sheets.
Do not ask to touch during sleep, it smells like love
and you have a suitcase to unpack.
You have laundry and dishes and a dog to walk. You are busy. Stay busy.
Don’t muddy your days with honey whiskey.
When the boy at the club buys you a beer, yanks you hard
from your disappearing waist, remember you owe no one.
Even if he is all your favorite music.
Keep your tongue inside your mouth.
Stop his wandering hand even if it’s the only thing good in New York City tonight.
Say no. When your boss suggests you meet Nate from Accounting
who is recently divorced, say no. Say bones break. Say love is expensive.
Remind him you have a dog and no time. You’re busy.
When a friend explains, women have children at 45 these days, girl,
you’re good, smile. She is lying.
Press her rosewater skin under your nose. Press hard.
Pretend it is the skin of a newborn. Steal this moment. She won’t mind.
When Friday finally arrives and your friends leave early, let them go.
Keep your tab open. The bar has been your longest friend.
Churns out warm bodies like a factory.
When the bar closes, remember you are busy. It’s time to walk the dog.
When you dress for your first date in two years, don’t call it date. Call it friend.
Do not let him pay. Share a bottle of your favorite wine, you deserve this.
When the wine makes words slippery as butter, tell him everything you shouldn’t.
Your diagnoses, how you have no insurance.
Count for him all the men you used to escape your husband.
The time you almost got a boyfriend arrested on West 4th Street.
The tryst with a colleague. Describe the miscarriage at 13. Abortion at 25.
The train engineer you fucked in Penn Station, how his son had Leukemia.
Tell how you waited six hours at a roof party
in Brooklyn one summer just to take the drummer home.
How you ran into that drummer weeks later and couldn’t recall his name.
Carefully detail your unending appetite for drink/fuck/fight,
everything nasty you keep under your skin. Do it precise. Calm.
When he runs from this quiet grenade, find the bar.
Tell yourself you did it for his sake. Besides, you’re busy.
Smoke another cigarette. Take another honey whiskey. Let it curdle your face.
You haven’t been beautiful in years.


JEANANN VERLEE is a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellow and the author of three books: prey, finalist for the Benjamin Saltman Award (Black Lawrence, 2018); Said the Manic to the Muse (Write Bloody, 2015); and Racing Hummingbirds, silver medal winner in the Independent Publisher Awards (Write Bloody, 2010). She is a recipient of the Third Coast Poetry Prize and the Sandy Crimmins National Prize. Her poems and essays appear in a number of journals, including Adroit, BOAAT, BuzzFeed, VIDA, and Muzzle. She has served as poetry editor for Winter Tangerine Review and Union Station, among others, and as copy editor for multiple individual collections. Verlee performs and facilitates workshops at schools, theatres, libraries, bookstores, and dive bars across North America. She collects tattoos, kisses Rottweilers, and believes in you. Find her at jeanannverlee.com.

4 responses to “Lessons in Alone”

  1. Rich Boucher says:

    I like how you just keep things moving so fast in this poem, all the way to the end, how every thought seems to come from a command: do, tell, show, explain……

    Excellent work.

    And this: “The train engineer you fucked in Penn Station, how his son had Leukemia.” just blew me away.

  2. Erik Wilkins says:

    Are you sure that we aren’t twins? How can you continue to write stories that make me feel so much? “Say bones break. Say love is expensive.” Your words flow so eloquently throughout this piece, but I disagree with your last line. You have always been beautiful. I miss you, love you, and adore you.
    Your friend from Cowtown,

  3. Angela Z says:

    I tripled over your poem. Wow, Jeanann. I am completely enamored with cinema verite on royal blue ribbons and wet pavement. I loved it. Thank you!!! I LOVED it!

  4. maggie may says:

    thick and good and run like river true

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