Lunar Phrases



She is beautiful and glorious. I talk about the goddess in hushed tones—she, not I, because I have been consumed by her and her capacity for everything. I love her, I admire her, I worry for her, I cannot compete with her. I want her to stay, I want her to go. I can’t handle her, but I love the way she handles herself. No longer tossed around and spun about, she’s not someone that things just happen to. Instead she happens to other people, lawless and incalculable, the hazy jolt of realization as the sun comes up after you watched it set those endless hours ago—the sun! The sun! Oh, it’s time to sleep, isn’t it?

She doesn’t sleep. She is fire, fire, fire.

If I had to pick a word to describe her in those times, only one suffices. The word fits her like couture, tailored and made to measurement. Violence. Her heart threatens to burst like a ripe clementine in the fist of a 7-year-old, forcefully, carelessly, delightfully. She’s all Shakespearian tragedy in her limbs, the way she plummets dramatically onto the floor, all too aware the way her hair scatters in the silence. Then she peels one eye open and grins, her friends all laughing at her antics. And though the violence wears a pretty face, she still has bruised knees from the fall and a mark behind her hip and one just under her lip and another one another one another one—

But Sappho said, “all can be endured, for even a pauper…” 

All can be endured for the way they look at her, mirth in their eyes. She is the unspoken word at the end of a poem lost to time. She feels loved and her desire swallows it so whole there isn’t even a tiny bit left for the rest of her. It’s never enough.

She is fire, fire, fire. And she burns through it all.

She is her own narcissism and everything that entails. People search for purpose. She has found hers: devoted worshipper at her own altar, she is her own lighthouse and her own nightlight and her own god and her own savior and her own villain and her own hero and she is her very own purpose. I exist for her. She exists because it is her right. I am at her whims, her beautiful caprices, and if she were real I’d be hopelessly, endlessly in love with her. I mean, I think she’s real. I suppose I am in love with her, but it’s just so hard to know, when she comes and goes, when I have to stop loving her all over again.

She always longed to be exquisite, and only recently realized that she can never be marble features set in stone, carved to perfection. She exists in movement, soft to the touch, sunlight dapples skin and skin gives way to red and cheeks and fingers and touch her, touch her. She’s begging to be experienced. Don’t take a fucking picture, it’s a travesty. You can only see that she’s beautiful when she moves and smiles and follows you round like those summer thunderstorms that always seem like a dream.

You’ll love her, I swear. I swear it by all the cattails on the riverbank, counting down the days till you see her again. Oh, the way you’ll love her, it’ll be violent, it will. And you’ll love that too.


I am nobody and I want it
I think of her as somebody and it makes too much sense
lines sharpened to a blade’s edge
somebody means I may have to say her name and summon her into existence
think of the madness she harbors
when she makes her appearance
she hates to cry in front of the masses
but she’s stumbling into your arms now
is this the face of a woman insane?

her cries echo the sounds of destruction
singing violins and the shattering of vases
he says “I could never hate you”
could she say the same?
how she tries, but there she goes again
already in the throes of hatred
falling out of her like a compulsion
threaded by the needle of habit
blood trickling down her arm
how she despises the worst of it,
but this is all she knows

she dances around her room
emulating a clumsy ballerina
so the spiral downwards
looks a little like a plié
the yellow leaves stained on the ground by the rain
are her only treasure
and she’s back to embers 


Honestly, I think this is the best you get when it comes to me. She’s got enough energy to fulfill her responsibilities. She gets 8 hours of sleep. She remembers to call her boyfriend. She remembers to eat. She’s so normal it hurts, repeat, repeat, repeat. She’s a sentence with perfect grammar and dated notes on her laptop. She’s blinking the correct number of times per minute. She’s ceased fiddling with her hands. She’s telling jokes that are sweet and innocent and funny nonetheless. She can listen to Tchaikovsky and whatever’s on the radio. She wants to be better, but she’s grateful she’s not worse. She feels loved, for the most part. Sure, sometimes she cries a little when she feels ugly, but that’s normal. That is normal. Is that normal? Well, it’s not for her to know. And this is the only time she’s okay with that. I think…she’s okay with that.

The rest of it belongs with falling stars and nightingales, and palaces shrouded in mist
gold specks in her eyes
a little sunflower dying
mascara in free fall
it’s me and I’m small again
I always come back to her
face painted like a butterfly
struggling to tell her that I’ve failed
“you still don’t love me?” she asks, her voice trembling through the mirror
I want to, I do, I touch a fragile wing

now she’s screaming again
fury and rage her only protectors


I guess it ended up being a dream, anyways. She changes by the goddamn minute, sly bastard that she is. She’s supposed to be prose but her baser instincts fall into wretched, shitty poetry. It smells like smoke in the air after the candle’s been blown out.


He said, you seem a bit sad today. I smile, a little sadly. He’s only known me for two weeks, and I’m not sure if it’s untrue to say I’ve been lying all this time. Those two weeks of mania obscure the truth of what I am. Thus far I look like someone people write love letters to. I look like I’d read them and scoff and throw them in a pile along with all my other forgotten fancies. But the truth is, I’m the only one writing love letters and they all come back, stamped over, RETURN TO SENDER I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE. And of course I pretend it doesn’t hurt. And of course it does.

We’re speaking French and I don’t seem to have the words, fuck, I barely have them in the languages I do know. I slide out words like triste and fatiguée and hope he doesn’t trip right over them. I don’t want him to think I’m a sad person, even if it’s a little bit true. He asks if there’s anything he can do for me. He says, pour les semaines sans sourires.

I close my eyes. It sounds about right. There’s no dread when I know what’s coming. There’s only resignation. Sans sourires. It sounds so lovably pathetic, but the truth is it’s what I know. The smile-less weeks and the colorless summers and the merciless winters, they don’t ever change. I just keep on feeling sorry for myself, like always. I just keep on constructing who I think I’m meant to be, asking others what they think. I’ve built myself up through the opinions of others, which is why I’m so easy to defeat. One bad patch spreads like the plague, like a group project soured by a non-cooperative partner. Is it just a fantasy to believe I exist outside what others perceive me to be? Is it ludicrous to hope that someday I won’t need anybody?

I don’t need anything, I tell him. One wobbly baby step after the next. Until the fall.


I run out of words. I lay in bed. 2 hours. 6 hours. 14 hours. The world disappears. 3 days. 5 days. 9 days. I think I cry. I think I dream. I think he says, mi amor, are you okay? I think he worries. I think they all do. But I can’t know for sure. I think I lived a million lives before I woke up. I think the world goes on, but I don’t. I think my love and fear and anxiety and euphoria and hopes and dreams and desires and intricacies are all buried in a place no one will go looking. But I can’t know for sure. 20 hours. 14 days.

And then I see the sun. 

And she sees me.

And we go around and around again.


You ever had your heart broken? You ever went through one of those gut-wrenching, think-about-it-every-second-every-day breakups? You ever see something and your heart just drops straight out your stomach and you can’t breathe? You ever cry so hard it just sounds like gasps falling one after the other, a domino effect? Gulps and hiccups competing with brute force? It’s not pretty, is it?

That’s how it feels, every time she leaves me. Come morning the goddess turns to a mortal and it never hurts less. And every time she comes back it’s a knife in the scar, resentment and anger and unfettered lust, open wounds carelessly smeared. I want her like something fierce. But I cannot forgive her for abandoning me, over and over and over again.

I am soft and lovely and ice and deadly. I am red mouth kisses and slaps on the thigh and cold cold feet and shades of navy. I am sweet baby roses and lush orange leaves and bitter envy and burning guilt. I am trying my best yet scared of what I could be. I am sunshine smiles and turning to snow. The moon calls out to the tides but the ocean is still yet to be known.

I am fed by starlight and I starve in the depths.

MICHELLE CAO is a soon-to-be senior at New York University studying Politics, Rights and Development. She hails from the foothills of Virginia, where she developed a love for language and the dreamy romanticism of the forests. She has had a passion for writing since her early days and uses it as a medium to express her complicated relationship with her ever-growing neuroses.