Shame Is an Ocean I Swim Across: Poems by Mary Lambert

Shame Is an Ocean I Swim Across: Poems by Mary Lambert

by Mary Lambert
Shame Is an Ocean I Swim Across: Poems by Mary Lambert

Shame Is an Ocean I Swim Across: Poems by Mary Lambert

by Mary Lambert


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Beautiful and brutally honest, Mary Lambert's poetry is a beacon to anyone who's ever been knocked down—and picked themselves up again. In verse that deals with sexual assault, mental illness, and body acceptance, Ms. Lambert's Shame Is an Ocean I Swim Across emerges as an important new voice in poetry, providing strength and resilience even in the darkest of times.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250195890
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: 10/23/2018
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 358,053
Product dimensions: 4.70(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Mary Lambert is a multifaceted artist—a singer, songwriter, musician, and poet. Along with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, she is the talent behind the incredible Grammy-nominated single "Same Love." A mental health advocate and LGBTQ activist, Mary lives in Seattle, Washington.

Read an Excerpt


my body is terrifying,
idaho is a giant shithole,
and other wholesome stories

How I Learned to Love

When I was fifteen, I hated everything except for Weezer and maybe like two people. And cereal.
One time a boy grabbed me in the music room and kissed my neck in front of everybody.
I did not want to be kissed, but I thought I was supposed to want to be kissed. I did not know what to do.
And so I laughed.
I knew you were supposed to laugh after things like that The world had taught me to dress up my trauma in short skirts and secret bathroom crying,
to protect the fragility of boys at all costs

When I was five, my father molested me you become a strange human that way You cannot whip yourself awake as a child I should have been born a bird

When I turned six,
I stopped talking.

When I was twenty-five and my name was on the radio,
I asked people to write poems and send them to me Maybe because I was starved of honest humanity Half of the poems were about slit wrists

I do not want to know any more about this brand of humanity.
All I know of love is hunger.

When I met you,
I planted my heart into the heavy earth. I was scared,
But you smiled back.
Thank God I was not born a bird.

Evelyn Is Made Up

The little girl is a theater of shame and laughter.
She is eating lunch in the library again,
she tucks the desk into her ribs to feel smaller.
The hurt is ricocheting from her mother's thighs

into the girl's thighs. The mother's hips are "too big"
the mother says. The silver hope can of slimfast sits in the fridge, waits. The boys are cruel and predictable. The girl renames herself Evelyn.

Evelyn does not cry at school, wears a ruby cardigan, is the star. Evelyn can run so fast, she has beautiful ribboned braids. She buys hot lunch effortlessly — not even reduced, she pays full price.

Evelyn is made up. The girl knows this. Nothing is real since the incest. The girl can't breathe through her nose because of the mold. The girl breathes loudly, it is a good joke for everyone.

* * *

I am hurting so much this winter.
I am fucking everyone and nothing matters, I wore braids to an award show, I started wearing dark lipstick and crying in the shower

My sheets are beautiful, I kiss everyone I meet The end of the world fits inside of my cocktail I never fixed myself, I am my own arduous endeavor I light myself on fire for everyone

I am the arsonist and the lover All choked into one great sex bouquet And Evelyn is here inside me, she is magnificent and ordering room service like a pro

my mother still makes me cry from her love
& her sweet eyes & sugared compassion the only parts I remember of my childhood are lies I told myself to feel better


for Belltown

The girl with purple hair is sitting at my bar again.
I think she is beautiful.
But not in a way that I want to have awesome sex with her but in a way that I want to drink chocolate martinis together and go shopping for christmas vests that have tinkly bells and even maybe polar bears with hats on them.
She is having a full-body cry.
I am the worst bartender, simply because I don't know how to counsel people without crying back at them.
She is crying about the state of women.
I know that we come from the same rotting wood, so all I do is nod.

Rape is not a man behind a bush with a knife, she laughs,
It's kissing you on the mouth like whiskey at a nice bar.

The girl with purple hair and I are holding hands now
I only wanted an apology. An acknowledgement of what occurred.
Grappling as artists, as girls, as ships in bottles,
how do we change any of it?

I tell her I am going to write a poem.

She says no one wants to hear a rape poem, mary

Rape Poem

Have you ever seen a stampede of horses?
Do you wonder what the hooves look like from underneath?
Have you tasted the blood from biting your own lips because you couldn't say no loud enough?

I never fought back. I didn't punch him. I kept my thighs tight and closed, but once he's inside you,
you wish you were a streetlamp.
A seat belt.
A box of nails, of rust, something hard and ruined.
You'll wish you were a wild pony, a slick fish on a line,
anything but a woman.

Once he's inside you, you just kind of give up and your eyes glaze over.
They stay that way for years.

Tips for Fat Girls

you are the ugly best friend.
you are the misguided, the chubby comical relief,
you are the sweet girl with "inner beauty"
and you will always be second best.

the summer I turned nine, I gained fifty pounds.
it was the first time I ate an entire box of oreo cookies the first time my reflection was foreign from weight the first time I cradled my stomach like a child,
it was the first time I said, "mama. I hate my body.
I want to slice off these parts right here."
but I know better now.

I know girls like me have to grow a tough skin always be ready for rejection always be prepared to be left for the thin ones, yes they will always leave you for the thin ones be funny; laugh at yourself you cannot afford to be quiet and sad learn how to drink heavily learn how to hide your vulnerability become obsessed with your art always turn the light off before fucking always lay on your stomach always be on a diet always be generous and when they take away the most beautiful,
sacred pieces of you that you have to offer, always smile
(you might at least have a cute face)
learn how to give head. be eager, be easy, be agreeable.
call the shit covering your bones something creative,
something like "curvy," or "a little extra"
stop calling them thunder thighs
(it only feels like earthquakes when you walk)
tell yourself that the aching will end,
that the tugging at your shirt is because of the apron of your belly, hide it.
hide your roundness at all costs.
be molding clay.
be an anchor.
be dependable, be a model wearing heels.
yell at the scale, call her the devil's hooves stop taking baths.
your body does not fit the way you want it to.
the water does not cover your awful.
throw up.
split yourself into two halves, call one half Your Mother.
tell her your diet is working, call the other half dove — no.
call the other half "shut up and smile"
call her Persephone, call her That Bitch don't be a bitch! don't be a fat bitch, be nice,
be a work in progress, have an ego, be a Fierce Femme(tm)!
wear makeup as if you can't stand to look at your own face because femininity is the only thing they've left you with you cannot afford to be without bronzer,
without teeth that sparkle,
hoopskirts, hair that curls, hair that "frames the face,"
get tattoos, quote marilyn monroe,
talk about renaissance painters,
never let them know how lonely it is to have a body that is a joke,
the punch line in comedies, the "before" picture never let them know you want to be something other than the ugly best friend.
never let them know that the next person to reach their hands into your chest may look at you in awe,
at how surprisingly breakable you are,
how you have survived this long.

Why I Slept with Makeup on for Five Years

for kelsey lauch, amanda redwood, and angela tislow

when i am sleeping,
i want to be a movie girl.
i want my hair to be cascading around my shoulders lips still bright & eyelashes deep want my monster to shine with a sephora glow

want you to see the pretty parts of me, even angle my face to seem thinner in the dark i am afraid of my exposed naked, mostly my ugly —
this is my body and i am terrified of the things it can & cannot do

i wonder how many women are painting themselves into movie girls while they sleep angling their faces alien to themselves, an unnecessary surrender to things that kill them,
to things that are not real

I tell myself in the mirror,
applying the second coat of mascara:
these things are not real

You Can't Save Your Family

for the chalk poems on capitol hill in 2010 and to anyone who read them

melissa and i are newly twenty-one and drinking port in her apartment.
something about bach playing on the balcony makes me feel older sitting next to her, pools of gray mascara shooting down her cheeks.
we are talking about Sad Feelings

she cares too much about people i think —
girls like us are barbed wire,
who've learned to tease without puncturing,
pretending fire doesn't burn calluses scaling the wick with our small hands because no one will hear you if you never tell them that you are being fucked without permission —
fascinating how the tiny whimpers of a trespassed voice chameleons itself into a small phrase the next day the loaded chorus of: i am okay
  i am okay i am okay i am okay

well I suppose everyone is okay, depending on what your calibration of pain is so you can remember that when he is high on heroin and you are detached and he moves into you without consent it could always be worse, right?

oh my beautiful friend,
you cannot save your family or the boy who is in your bed you can only save yourself summer is coming with the promise of friendship there will be wine on all the tables we sit at

i will keep a record playing for you on the balcony of Denny and Summit remind you that you are the god of your own beginning

if ever you falter or sink,
i will find a room of mirrors it will be an endless room of gods, of you,
of choosing to live on purpose

I Will Fill a Tub with Iceberg Lettuce

if i told you about the bathtubs i wish i owned just to kill myself artfully you'd probably say hey,
this girl is fucking nuts.

maybe just two — one for utility, for the nightmare thing and a second clawfoot to fill with iceberg lettuce —
not soggy, sad lettuce but crisp and happy,
glistening in the sheen of the light after i've drowned myself, you can put me on a bed of leaves and it won't be figurative either!
like actually put me on top of the lettuce like a christmas pig or roast beef let the vultures come to me, i just — i mean to say,
gosh i still feel like dying these days the meds are pretty good about shutting up the choir of crazy but when you have an obsession with the glory of your own death they don't tell you about the swarms of bees that race out of your mouth when you talk about your own incest i mean insects do you know there are stingers in your stomach lining waiting for you to speak just so they can nudge you?

do you remember when the doctor put me on tranquilizers?
they were so scared i was really going to kill myself i was sort of scared too and i was asleep all the time and i fell asleep in class and my teacher sent me to detention and the detention teacher told me i didn't belong there and sent me to the nurse and i slept there and learned that you'll eventually end up where you're supposed to be

whether it's the nurse's office or in college or in an office typing away thinking about the first time you saw a girl by a water fountain

while i was in detention, i drew a bathtub that had huge leaves of iceberg lettuce sitting in it, and i thought i was being clever.
i mean sure i haven't sliced open my breasts with a rusty piece of glass for a couple years now but the important thing you should know is that i saved the piece of glass.
It's in a box in the garage and we have a lot of lettuce in the fridge.

I Know Girls (Bodylove)

for anyone who has ever felt their body is incorrect

i know girls who are trying to fit into the social norm like squeezing into last year's prom dress i know girls who are low rise, mac eyeshadow,
and binge drinking i know girls who wonder if they're disaster and sexy enough to fit in i know girls who are playing russian roulette with death it's never easy to accept that our bodies are fallible and flawed but when do we draw the line? when the knife hits the skin?
because we're so obsessed with death —
some women just have more guts than others the funny thing is women like us will never shoot.
we swallow pills,
still wanting to be beautiful at the morgue.
still proceeding to put on makeup still hoping the mortician finds us fuckable we might as well be buried with our shoes. and scarves.
and handbags.
we flirt with death every time we etch a new tally-mark into our skin i know how to split my wrists to reveal battlefields too,
but the time has come for us to reclaim our bodies.
Our bodies deserve more than to be war-torn and collateral, offering this fuckdom as a pathetic means to say:
i only know how to exist when i'm wanted girls like us are hardly ever wanted, you know we're used up. and sad. and drunk.
and perpetually waiting by the phone for someone to pick up and say "you did good."

well, you did good.

try this:
take your hands over your bumpy lovebody naked and remember the first time you touched someone with the sole purpose of learning all of them,
touched them because the light was pretty on them and the dust in the sunlight danced the way your heart did.
touch yourself with a purpose,
your body is the most beautiful royal fathers and uncles are not claiming your knife anymore,
are not your razor, no —
you put the sharpness back.
lay your hands flat and feel the surface of scarred skin.
i once touched a tree with charred limbs the stump was still breathing but the tops were just ashy remains i wonder what it's like to come back from that.
sometimes i feel forest fires erupting from my wrists and the smoke signals sent out are the most beautiful things i've ever seen

love your body the way your mother loved your baby feet and brother, arm wrapping shoulders, remember,
this is important:
you are worth more than who you fuck,
you are worth more than a waistline,
you are worth more than beer bottles displayed like drunken artifacts,
you are no less valuable as a size 16 than a size 4,
you are no less valuable as a 32A than a 36C you are worth more than any naked body could proclaim in the shadows,
you are worth more than your father's mistake or a man's whim, your sexiness is defined by concentric circles within your wood — wisdom & truth you are a goddamn tree stump with leaves sprouting out:

My Weakness Is a Crooked Wheel

for C.R.U.

when i was little i used to cup my hands over the flashlight and watch my blood glow pink i imagined the light piercing through my fingers like an alien scanning me to another planet the nice thing about disappearing is you only think of the light

* * *

idaho is a goddamn piece of fuckity fucked shit.
you are living here, inside of the epicenter of shit you are still pretty, still kind, wearing a vest because you know i like to fuck women in vests.
so here you are in the chasm of an armpit telling me that you hate it here too.

this is the steel door of reality,
watching you fail to grow up or make sense of your life,
too scared of your own greatness.
you left your job at party city in washington and then got a job at a party city in boise, and i can't laugh at you struggling to age in a comatose town —
in the seconds it takes to say your name i am simultaneously asking for forgiveness.

I'm sorry I left you back there.
you deserve the home of my palms,
i can save you from this awful city,
love, i am all that i have ever been:
only for you, waiting for the light to shock me out of my own body, you,
gravity on a lovely pair of legs. this longing, this wrought history,
this quiet ending, a stupid town,
the small porch, we kissed through tears, my guilty star, my stuttering tongue, my tenacity,
my old heart, the chemistry of the language of glances, the way your unhappiness is a small flood i cannot sandbag into a song, the way that walking toward you felt like rescue, the way you want out of your own hurricane,
the way i am the boat, the way i cannot swim either, the way we are both folded into the riptide of this odyssey

o, the weeping violins,
o, the anguish of memory o, the beauty of the brush of hands —
I cannot leave you again.

i made myself a rose of clay around you, and now i cannot fit the mold to a different cast,
love my memory is a crooked wheel that perpetuates sadness my memory is in love with you i am trying to remember that these are just letters,
they do not talk.
a palm is a part of the hand.
i watch it light up.
i watch it disappear.


Excerpted from "Shame Is an Ocean I Swim Across"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Mary Lambert.
Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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