Amber Dawn: from Where the words end and my body begins


This sadness is bigger than B vitamins, it
is not interested in working around my schedule,
or all your good ideas, it arrives anyway
on wings of fog and stays awhile

“Love Is a Messy Broken Thing, Part 6,” Jacks McNamara

Depression, the word, is useless. There’s no music
no romance, no reclaiming it. Neither word nor illness
can be made into bedroom play. Comedy, maybe?
“So a guy walks into a bar…I mean the ER,
no I mean a bar … no I mean ER.” Same difference.
Divorced from the root
depression divvies, clinically scores me
into that and this and this and this.
But sadness is bigger than my last relapse.
This sadness is bigger than B vitamins, 


is bigger than the SAD lamp that brightens my desk.
Bigger than ten milligrams twice a day.
Sadness holds more than all the second-
hand coffee mugs at an AL-ANON meeting
takes more time than the self-help
workbook my poetics professor gifted me
longer than the long-distance collect call
my mother refused to accept.
Too urgent to be wait-listed, it
is not interested in working around a schedule, or


another referral from the Red Book.
So tremendous, sadness
doesn’t know where the world ends
and my body begins.
Sure, no bullshit about communing with the universe
but you won’t catch me being laissez-faire
about upper case “W” Wholeness.
I practice sadness because it subsumes
all my shady moods and
all my good ideas. It arrives any way


it can and yet it is always here
like a lake forever fed by a cold creek.
Damn right a nature metaphor!
Want more? Sadness always has more
to offer. Its occupation is fluid. It’s air.
Notice you’re breathing? Sadness
is as wide as rain on one end of town
and a heaven-sent break in the clouds
on the other and on the other
wings of fog, and all of it stays awhile.



How we applauded you, pint-sized tart
singing and swinging to A Cowboy’s Sweetheart.
Who taught you the art of sashay, of rouge,
The French manicure. Who taught you to bruise?

“American Pageant,” Rachel Rose

Don’t pump the wand inside the tube
like that, it will dry out your mascara.

You’ve got lipstick on your teeth.
We paint our mouths poppy or pink

so men think of talking vulvas. Vagina cantata:
“Can she bake a cherry pie, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?”

Patent leather, mount up. Tie a ribbon round the oak.
A mix of Giganta and Kewpie is the desired look.

The pubic bone is a predictable body part.
How we applauded you, pint-sized tart.


You’re one of us, gobble-gobble, we accept.
Are you ready to rule your nympholepts?

Trust your idiosyncratic gut and follow
these step-by-step instructions.

Don’t be nervous, men would rather
buy your used panties than pay child support.

After all they deserve, just deserts, desert ride
the long hot hot long long hot desert ride.

A mirage is mostly water vapor, play your fluid part
singing and swinging to A Cowboy’s Sweetheart


whistling and throb-gristling to Country Comfort.
trilling and shit-uphilling to Old Red Dirt.

“She can bake a cherry pie, quick as a cat can wink her eye
She’s a young thing, and cannot leave her mother.”

Loneliness is cured on the cactus farm. Nostalgia
likes his feet scrubbed clean by the muse.

Never put the money in your purse, darling fool
gold suede Gucci is a decoy, a fake for the taking.

Risky business, what was your first clue?
Who taught you the art of sashay, of rouge?


Who set you for a chair? Put them ringlets in your hair?
Stuck a pearl in your navel? Invited you to our fine table?

“Did she bid you come in, Billy Boy, Billy Boy,
Did she bid you to come in, Charming Billy?”

Torch songs warm tongues. Get it now, while you’re young.
Who taught you what’s good for the gander is good for the goose?

Who said a honda knot rubbed on rock will come loose?
Who taught you how to play a couch quail? Flash that tail.

Hat your rack. How to moonlight coo. Ungate your sluice.
The French manicure. Who taught you to bruise?


Amber Dawn won the 2013 Vancouver Book Award for her book How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir. She is the author of the Lambda Award-winning novel Sub Rosa, and editor of the anthologies Fist of the Spider Women: Fear and Queer Desire and With a Rough Tongue: Femmes Write Porn. Amber Dawn was the 2012 winner of the Writers’ Trust of Canada Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBT writers. She teaches creative writing at Douglas College and the University of British Columbia, and is working on a second speculative fiction novel.  She is touring in Canada and the USA this spring with her new poetry collection Where the words end and my body begins. Visit or for tour details.



Author: Jake Byrne

Poetry editor.