I read 118 books and cried more than usual. Here’s 2020.

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This year was a decade long (and also the year my memory sped up its decline, so maybe it actually lasted 15 or 18 years). I finally started to write about the lead poisoning that’s clouded up my brain for my entire life, adding another layer to the vague “head injury” I usually reference — a stand in for the six concussions — when I’m embarrassed that I can’t think of the right word. I can never think of the right word. I’m not such a reliable narrator, and I’m finally leaning into that.

When the year started, I was coming off of the most recent concussion and filling all my time not at work with yoga for traumatic brain injuries, craniosacral therapy in Boulder, and art. The pottery classes at the rec center and at Art Students League, a show at the Bluebird with yellow ear plugs, a show at Larimer Lounge with the same, a Sunday afternoon at the MCA in Denver. An opening at RULE Gallery and one at RedLine. An experimental dance performance in a studio way out west. Dinner with Mikel Jollett in LoDo to celebrate his new memoir. Back to the Bluebird, the Gothic. Weaving on the loom Adrien made me last Christmas. Hosting Lidia Yuknavitch and Ginger Gaffney at the book store. Driving in the snow to the queer book club with the friends I made at that Meow Wolf opening at Elitch’s where we ate donuts and rode the rides in the closed amusement park. We fell from the sky and our screams fell with us. …


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I’ve been having lamentation about the lost softness on the inside of the new sweatshirt

that I washed and dried out before I wore it, in case something malicious was living in the fabric. The drive to the old duplex on Cook Street where the friend came down to the grassy stretch below the sidewalk to throw me a bag of heirloom beans from 8 feet away. There’s a circumference of frenetic breakage around this house; I’ve wrecked three puzzles already with mugs of tea overturned and ransacked on a holy trinity of 1000 pieces each. The wood of tables that don’t belong to me is gulping down all the one cup increments of Red Rose and Earl Grey comfort I keep preparing for myself. And still I’m preparing them for myself. (Is this the definition of insanity or god.) Hands shaking too hard to keep any water idle, shaking like salting the ground around here — locked in with the witchcraft and the memory of a mirror broken on the back of my head. The puzzle pieces are breaking apart over the back of a radiator where I laid them out to dry: shards of skull and tea-brown stains that peel back the color of flowers or birds, depending on the day I made this mistake. …


135 books later, I guess I lied. I read compulsively to stave off so much else.

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(My brand for this particular annual post is “Verbose,” so scroll down if you want to skip My Feelings and get straight into the lists: Top prose releases of 2019; Best books I read in 2019 that come out in 2020; My favorite books that I read for the first time this year (published before 2019); Best poetry I read this year; and Some of my favorite book-world moments of 2019. All titles have links to order from Tattered Cover.)

This year I was more aware of my age than I’ve ever been — constantly too old and too young. My mailbox and Instagram feed filled up with wedding invitations and baby announcements. People I’ve known forever had bare hands one day and rings the next, but my best friend was quitting her job to go become an artist in residence at an art and ecology center for ceramicists in Northern California. She moved away from her partner and the neighborhood in LA that I’d long imagined I’d eventually return to, even when visits showed me it no longer fit. My partner bought us plane tickets to Japan on a whim to celebrate her 30th birthday; she quit a corporate job and got a scholarship to a summer woodworking program at a school of craft in North Carolina. My former partner went on tours with Kacey Musgraves and Maggie Rogers and Empress Of and still hit a painful rock bottom. One world spun dizzyingly with color while another had three friends pregnant and domesticating. I got to know my new teenage stepbrothers as one started learning to drive. Their dad asked me often for advice on parenting them, and I thought often of how much I don’t know. One of my closest friends in Denver ghosted me, and I can say with absolute honesty that I have no idea why. Whatever the pictures say, and in whichever direction they’re pointing, almost every single person that I love spent most of the year unhappy. …


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today I had a peach from Palisade. mom is ok. the dog is
dead now. do you remember the sunflowers? outside the coffee house

by the park where I used to go when I was seventeen. today I hit a bird
who broke the contract they have with cars: never to throw their wings

into windshields. today I found a syringe on the bumper. I carried it
all over the city on purpose. someone’s been sitting on my body

while I’m sleeping. shooting
up. is it you? what’s your rising sign again?

I’ve been flossing my teeth with catnip ever since I stopped smoking.
to sleep. the desert was drunk last month. …


after Ocean Vuong

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read it out loud. more than anything else, I need to convey to you
that before it was a novel, it was a poem. from pages 43 to 46. say poem.
say poem with one syllable. say it like house, the skin
and its infinite holes, say it like pore. say it home. all the way
there. the black ant on my fingers is carrying something.

I can’t dismember until I find out what it is. hand it over
and I’ll give you a finger. carry it away on your slick back. explode
under the weight. before it was a story— — —
poems are the opposite. do you remember who said so — ?
prove to me you’ve been listening. …


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2010 sharon van etten will always be the house up a hill in koreatown with the neon green kitchen cabinetry and yellow yellow light in the afternoons and parking with my emergency brake on every time. a white bed in a white bedroom that felt like a cupboard where we could tuck ourselves away from night with beer cans and bear hugs and too many people sitting on the floor together; ant hill from all the sand grains we found we had in common. 2010 tornado will always be today’s tornado that stays romantic because it showed up spinning nearly a decade ago and the songs friends just released and friends with names from the bible and friends dressed up in the kitchen sink to take photos and that part of the rainbow just from pale orange to kelly green and the sunlight we stole from santa barbara and hid in cotton boxer briefs, laughing all the way home. Because I Was In Love will always be papier-mâché sad-sad we layered on each other’s chicken wire bodies when it was romantic to forget we were made with bones before we said goodbye to all that and ran skipping to los angeles holding ashes in our clasped hands. there’s a low acoustic guitar cycling the same three notes through the newspapers we sliced and smoothed to get here; there’s a modelo box on the curb and black barefoot-prints on the desk and sill where we carried the bottles to the roof. there are palm trees in sharon’s hair and we’re breaking our obliques, doubled over how hard we refuse to forget what we know of consolation prizes. that’s why we keep making art, right? the emptiness we fold over when we laugh; the memory of parenting that made latch-key tornados of us. there’s pink up here, west-looking, and i wonder where to put it between tangerine and green. we tell ourselves one day we’ll be better writers. ok? …


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Specifically, I read 125 books.

The immediate reaction to my reading habits is often: congratulatory! / self-deprecating / defensive / judgmental. I have no real interest in any of these, so I’ll do what I can to shove them away from the beginning. It’s a huge part of my job to read books. I spent 2018 primarily as a bookseller at the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver and recently as a frontlist buyer there. Reading is my love, and it is also imperative to success in my paid occupation — it’s not a feat. I get advanced books and audiobooks for free, and I read a huge number of incredible things this year as a result. (I also listened to many iterations of Joe Shmo’s #1 bestselling whatever that I don’t honestly care much about — often while chopping brussels sprouts, texting my mom, and bleaching the grout between the tiles in my shower). I love my job. It’s also my job. Whoever you are, you’re doing great. …


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& i have zero significant water signs in my chart,
so i sit in the bath / marinating one hour each
night and one half each morning. try to remember
what it is to be fish or crab. the water level lowers
slowly / either my drain plug has a leak or i am

taking more than i’m giving. water creatures
everywhere have forgotten they’re swimming:

feed me. i cook myself in lemon and dill to taste
like them / eat of your own body / forget

that makes me dead and scale free. i’m so often writing
about the loss of my own skin / forget i made the marinade
and peeled off everything shiny. i’ve been looking
for tender under here / just found myself pink and
sweating. still, i hear it: feed me.


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there are wasps and spiders with long & short
legs / engulfed in a crematorium of chlorine and hot hot
august sun at altitude. they float / babies shoved off
in baskets through the weeds and / there’s a japanese
beetle in my hair just now / seven mosquitos having dinner
on my back just now (or one gluttonous bitch) / your body
[bodies] will be here tomorrow bitch
/ ozone-preserved
against your will and made holy / signifier of what a swimmer
needed signified today / only trying to hide from this in my wet
hair today / won’t you smile? the sun’s out / the pool couldn’t be
more blue.

*photo of artwork by Martina Amati, Wellcome Collection, London


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ai weiwei says poetry is against gravity, and so i am lying:
legs over the couch back, head dangling from the side of blue
velvet, [listening:] piano from the first floor of the next building,

ecstatic, nearly; air conditioner covering
the silence where there used to be screams: male
then female on the second floor — then boxes for packing.

[listening:] head tipped to the roof of that building on marion st
where i walk; guardrails there trying so hard to imprison
the sky. i beg a single cloud: poems must be the opposite of

captivity, ? lynda barry pulls a pencil, draws me back
to my home: poetry is a dumb-ass spider. so i collect twine that ties
chicken legs together for years until i have enough to make a…

afton_gray

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