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Dusty Rose (A Safe Way to Make Bruises)
By JJ Rowan

CW: s*xual abuse, self-harm


Right on the page. Right on the skin. I’m going to practice asking you for things and I’m going to practice being asked. What is the distinction here? Here we go:


Try on your weightlessness. Now try on your weight. All of it. Don’t suck in, hover back. Maybe you know that feeling: your lover asks you to sit in their lap, they say: give me all of you. They say: no, the other all of you.


Try to describe the feeling of fabric. That is, the feeling the fabric has. That is, what fabric feels rather than what fabric feels like. If fabric could describe my skin or yours, what would it say? Would it involve pattern or fold? How are we stitched together, I mean, how am I stitched to you?


Right: the distinction. Right in the specificity. I get stuck thick in whether to ask for your voice or your face or both. Or neither. Put your shoulder up to the phone, I can only almost remember what it smells like. Put your finger in the mouth of the lens.


The simple thing I’m being asked is to be here, to remain here, to endure. This not-so-simple request. This hard work of choosing every day. I sweat to choose the day and then I’m empty of any other choice. I want to want you. I want to do the hard work of desire, so I practice waking in other ways. I hold my body in my own hands: this is not unfamiliar so I draw my focus to what is: desire’s little instructions, under the fold of habit. My habit runs cold so I’m always looking elsewhere for heat.


I’m not always doing anything: I’m not always here. I’m not always choosing to be here.


But here I am and here you aren’t and that isn’t anything new. I sway between priding myself on my capacity for distance, for longing -- long before the world shut us there -- and tear back my own skin to the rawness of capacity’s thin walls. Soon is never soon enough and when it does arrive, I wish it wouldn’t stay.


I’m trying to understand the feeling.


No, I’m trying to let the feeling be the feeling, understood or no.


Is there more information in feeling or in understanding? These unnatural opposites. This binary I refuse, like most others, to entertain. I try adding other elements: the uninterrupted ground against my feet; my skin delicate and unprotected from the sun; all the ways my body is soft and hard and comprised of voids and non-voids and how all these things have everything and nothing to do with me, all at once.

All at once, nothing.


Nothing happens all at once. This is noticing, escaping me over and over.


Try on your noticing: yes, you read that right. How does it feel different to simply take note? Not so simple, I know. I note this. I make a judgment. The buzzer goes off. Reset.


Try on your noticing. Again? Buzzer. Reset.


Try on your noticing: freckle. New bruise. Car sound. Car sound. As distinct as we can get is car. Do some people know more about a machine based on its sound? I can’t even tell how many wheels are on the ground. I can’t see the root system but I know the roots are there. Hole in leaf, perk of new growth. Dead bud. Dead bud. Dead hornet I think is dead, cannot confirm. Noticing isn’t about confirmation.


Try on your noticing: here I am. Wherever that is, I’m there.


Or all the places I’m not: not in your lap. Not at the store. Not on the greenway. Not angry. Indirect light. Unopened pencil case. Untransplanted new growth.




On the Internet, we’re proud of the children in their horror. I tried to write a letter once: it was intercepted. I probably tried other things but I can’t outline them. I don’t notice, I wring. Couldn’t answer the direct question. Couldn’t ask the indirect one.


This part is not about asking for.


This is the part where I unlearned asking to preserve me.


Maybe I requested the color: dusty rose. It seems unlikely. It seems it would have been an empty request. It seems any request would have been coerced. What you wanted was the girl of me: maybe you could see she didn’t exist: maybe you tried to keep her pressed into me.


I think you probably saw a list of things you wanted to fuck out of me while I was still small.


I type into the Internet “safe ways to make a bruise” and I check my knuckle where it had started to purple, an accident as I tended the garden: the bloom didn’t develop. I admit to a platonic love how fond I am of bruises but I make a joke of it. She jokes back, she won’t worry unless I start to seek them out. I deeply want to be marked and I want the marks to be a choice.


So many ways I’ve been marked beyond my control.

Now I’m back to asking: give me a bruise so that I can revisit its center with the meat of my thumb when I’m alone. Make me a constellation that refuses to remain in form, or remain at all. Lay into me the proof I will heal over and over. Hold me until we know the bloom is on its way. Yes, this is about gentleness, too.


I’ve had bruises the color of dusty rose but they don’t achieve that hue until overripe. They earn their dust.


I think about the horror children but I have to work to remember I am the horror children, they exist in me. I don’t actually think about the horror children: I start to, I pile bricks. I move to, I bring heavy clay down around me. Of the early Internet I knew how to put myself in another unsafe room but I didn’t know how to look up who might help me. I logged in, I made myself available, I ran away. This was practicing control. I did not ask myself to think beyond the sterile box of staying or leaving. I didn’t understand the specificity of the words but I knew they applied to me. I knew they had been applied to me often. The bodiless presence said cock, said wet, asked for my mathematics. I was safe in numbers, writing an essay on Macbeth, briefly devoid of gender and unvisited by gender. Stale pixel box, always the same, words of the same variety. Button for this, button for that. Go ahead, type a gender back into me.


Lady Macbeth has entered the chat: Light a candle to snuff it out.


A lady has entered the chat: Simulate a lady. It’s easy to say woman where no one is telling the truth.

JJ Rowan (they/them) is a queer nonbinary poet and dancer looking for the places where the written line and the lines of the moving body intersect.. Their poems, hybrid work, and VisPo have appeared in Trampoline, the Hunger, Dream Pop Journal, and others. Their collaborative sonnets with Nate Logan were published in the chapbook mcmxciv. (Shirt Pocket Press). Their chapbook, a simple verb, is available from Bloof Books. You can see them notebooking on Instagram (@stepswritely) and sign up for their periodic newsletter, actual motion, at

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