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Charlotte Seley

I Am Not Fluent in Any Languages



The second I scream underwater,

I care less about this wreck. 

Constellations of bubbles erupt water and the alphabet

breaks into cameos—I have much delight

when it returns to me, when I can make it

work in ways I didn’t know it knew how.

I am not fluent in any languages.

Like when I said to throw a penny at an oncoming train and let it lie

on the tracks to make a wish come true. 

I made that up.

When I told you everyone stops to kiss

under the arch in Washington Square Park.

Nobody does that.

I said your eyes are like glaciers and you thought beautiful,

                                    but what I really meant was cold.

How can I tell you about my eyes?  They are so wet,

they seem invasive to my body.

Kelp brushes my arms and suddenly

 phantom fingers.

I forgot I was suspended in water

until I wished for its evaporation.


Someone is peering into my emergencies—

                        so many blurred colors from above to swallow. 

I wish for it to be you but I am nowhere near train tracks,

            so I meditate: Lincoln, copper, one.

I still don’t understand asking

is the conventional way to get what I want.


Listen to Charlotte Seley read “I Am Not Fluent in Any Languages.”


The World Is My Rival



I am jealous            of the oranges I picked for you    

sliced            like tiny rowboats           

there’s an impenetrable wall     between inside and outside           

The oranges were from me            take me with you they said

Into your mouth    citrus fingers    penetrate the wall

I want go through too                        covered in blubber   

from toe to crown            as if you were

a decomposing sea mammal              I tried to stand on

Too cold to grow in snow            Too many oranges for a carry-on  

I cannot go     I am bigger than an orange   I am too big too   

jealous of Alaska    I cannot row anywhere

on an orange slice     Is your beard  bejeweled

with ice when it rains?     Could we lay supine in the ocean

for a while      just like two glaciers?

Wait                No    I’ll become jealous of the ocean

I’ve lived many lives             you said

a palimpsest I keep trying to claw off every layer

You belong to me as well            the world says    

I am jealous            of the states

you live in     the orange slices you share     

the words we don’t have                 the multitudinous parts




My Body Is What Ails Me



Maybe my body hates its skin,

wishes only to be made of water.

Clear, uncongealed, without murk,

film, or blemish. You say,

“A summer rash for a summer girl.”

But I don’t know what that means—

I just want to swim in your pool.

Shock treatment annihilates algae,

so calm until my eyes begin to puff.

I want to sweat chlorine, wish my body

could kill what ails it. Some days

I want to be an ocean but inevitably

I’m more mosquito. Blood corpulent.

Jellyfish sting swollen. Unattractive and pinker.

You ask if I’ve encountered poison ivy.

It’s not weeping. Still we’re not touching.

If the world were up to me,

all skin would be resilient.

Fluid never flakes. If it were up to me,

your pool would be all access.

With an outstretched wand,

I’d pick what naturally occurs.

Choose the least inflammatory:

dark monsters that make the bay move,

thick salt, a necessary storm.

The way thunder rolls in and scares nobody.

An ominous purr that beguiles until, soon,

the cellar’s wet. Flooded.

I bet my body wants to drown its flesh,

its carrion drifting afloat in the Red Sea. 

Writhe and slippery. Suffocated quiet.

O cumbersome body, let flowers bloom

from the hives. Let me cultivate a garden of itch

you’d never want to scratch, a dumb rain

pelting down when the soil gets too dry.







The reporters said there was blood

on her legs. We said, oh no, she wouldn’t


damage those—we remembered her poise, 

accentuated muscle, how they called her


The Voice, but we called her The Legs,

remembered it better than the bad interviews,


where she said Crack is whack, when we said

So sad, when we blamed it on Bobby.


I focused on the clock, sobbing

out the time, stricken hours, the TV’s


crackle and all its horrible humidity.

My breakdown was not broadcast


but I, too, was on the floor with nobody

who loved me. All I had were capsule shells


like cast-off claws from a baby monster.

A culmination of things once killed me.


When we were living, I called you Monster.

When we were dead, I called you Bobby.


Say you wanna dance I said, but we

were only shells. Nothing of substance.


We heard the news say accident, felt sad

but we liked that word, used it for our own.


I needed a bath to be just a bath, just

to loosen crimped and lacquered hair,


all my days belabored into restless nights.

I needed to loosen the grip of your claws


fallen from orange bottles, printed prescription

names of people who we had no relation.


I did not know then the difference in sound

between scattered pills and a tiny splash


or an empty room from the downtown lights—

we could not tell the people from monsters


my Baby from my Bobby,  powder from poise.


The fever broke—or maybe it faded,

and the party carried on without us.


We knew then the legs weren’t sad,

it was all that they had to carry.

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