National Poetry Month: Excerpt from “The Beautifully Worthless” by Ali Liebegott

from The Beautifully Worthless

I wish somewhere buried under feet and feet of dirt
answers for the unanswerable slept safe and unharmed
just as the heart of the penny dangles, drunk and teeming
unnoticed to most, inside the copper-green edges of its

And I wish one night I could dream the name of this town
where dirt shrines hope for the desperate,
where the pine-needled ground shifts and fidgets-
this place that has waited years for me to plunge
the straightedge of a spade into its dirt belly
and birth the gifts it has kept so long.

And the gifts, if ever unearthed, and I could stand before them
their sight would hang my hand midair over my mouth
before I would be brave enough to pick the first one up-
a tiny glass bottle filled with oil, that when dropped
one drop at a time, could turn the insignificant into significant,
change the blank inside of a matchbook
into the most sacred diary, and a dirty penny
into a tool to count the dead.

If I did dream the name of a town that could save my life
then the next morning I’d wake high on adrenaline,
run to the drawer in the kitchen where the maps are kept-
and stand stiff in front of the atlas when I realized
the name of the town I dreamt was before me in the index.

Afraid of a dream that seemed more like a prophecy,
I’d lower myself slowly, inch by inch, down
onto the couch covered in dog hair, and sit there stunned
until the cigarette in my hand burned to my knuckles.

Only then would I rise to pack a small bag of belongings, snap
the light shut in the living room and rush my dog, Rorschach
out of the house and into the truck. I would tell no one
where I was going in case it proved a bust, only leaving a short
note on the kitchen table for my girlfriend that said,

Dear Lamby,

Last night I dreamt of a place where sadness could be ripped in half, and sickness, tied idly in knots all day. There were signs everywhere that said, Camus, Idaho. When I woke up I wanted to see if Camus was a real town so I looked it up in the atlas and there it was. I know this sounds crazy, but I have to go and find out if there’s anything there that can help me make sense of this world.


P.S. I took Rorschach.

It’s not just that I dreamt the name of a place

that housed books filled with lost equations
to explain the mundane and the heinous,
but it was the actual way I flew through space
that urged me to believe in the town I went to that night.

It wasn’t the normal kind of dream flying
where, in the middle of panic and heart-pounding retreat,
I remember I can fly, and get a running start and do it-
no. I flew too fast to be alive, awake or dreaming,
and I was scared I’d been taken, angel hands under each
of my arms, and lifted off somewhere I never believed in.

If it was true that I died that night when I fell asleep
then death felt good, like I was in a city
where no one walked or took the subway.
Instead we all took armstrokes the lengths of our bodies
and pushed the velvet edges of water down
from our heads to our hips. We were all dead, swimming
underwater, euphoric and silent in an afterlife public city pool.

While I swam through space, me and everyone around me
moved with the undeniable giddiness of being high or about to
It was that feeling of how your body gets abducted inch by inch
nerve by nerve, until finally after burning and want
and want – the white sheet gets thrown over your brain,
like it’s a chair in a mansion, during the months no one’s there.

Regardless, it was the good kind of dead – like if a lucky few,
stumbled upon a cave in the middle of their rainy, jobless city,
but not just the luck of finding the cave, but the word
that doesn’t exist for what goes beyond luck,
when around one wet and dripping cave corner
their feet stop short, and they see a blue-green pool
cupped in cave-hands, and held out to them.

Dear Lamby,

Saw this cute diner so I pulled over for a bite to eat. Inside, I had this feeling I was being watched. When I turned my head I saw these truckers glaring at me.

“Ever heard of a town in Idaho called Camus?” I asked the waitress.

“I’ve never been to Idaho,” she said.

I glanced over my shoulder one last time, then left a big tip and drove off before the truckers could get me.


The next night, the chest-high bricks of a well
sat across a field from me, I walked over, looked down
and dropped parts of myself, knowing I would drink
them again someday – what I’m saying is,
I wrapped myself in maple leaves, tossed myself
toward cleaner water and broke my own surface.

It’s not always like this, the dreams – strange and poetic
holy and calm. Last night it was a bar where sleazy men pushed
hundred-dollar bills down my dress – everyone laughed,
let’s leave, I kept saying,

but my girlfriend wanted to stay,
so in my frustration, I broke a pint glass
on the bar and swung the jagged edge at my wrist,
the blood paused a moment before it spilled out the white gash,
and like always, before I swing a broken glass at my arm,

there’s a moment where I hesitate,
not really wanting to.

So you can understand a little better,
now disgruntled waitress might pack her dog
and few belongings and head for a town
she dreamed the name of, searching for something to break
the spell of monotonous, morbid night speak.

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beautifullyworthlesscoverWinner of the 2005 Lambda Literary Award for Debut Lesbian Fiction

The Beautifully Worthless is an outrageous act of kindness.”—Eileen Myles

“She’s insanely talented, it’s mad. The Beautifully Worthless crisscrosses the USA, like Close to the Knives, like Kerouac, desperately seeking out everything occluded and driven, a frenzy of seeking frozen into poetry. “—Kevin Killian

“The Beautifully Worthless is a genre-smudging, American Mythos-screwing hell of a book. Never falling into the twee or succumbing to the snarky, Liebegott’s wit, astuteness and assured poetics come together to create this marvel of empathy & mercy, decency & heart; it affirms the possibility that hope is tenable and that living is worth the life itself. This is an atlas for every queerly vagabond soul, a pillow book for the hopelessly heartweary.”—Justin Chin

“Ali Liebegott’s The Beautifully Worthless is a mixed-genre tour de force, a classic yet subverted road story, an original and fierce claim on this country, and the generator of an unusual, moving canon. It’s saturated with Liebegott’s signature gifts: a peerless sense of humor and a capacity to bear witness to and articulate the darkest corners of fear and despair. I stand in awe of Liebegott’s talent and heart. She is one of the best we’ve got.”—Maggie Nelson

“Her witty, compassionate voice haunts me like no other.” —Joan Larkin

A runaway waitress leaves her lover, grabs her dog and hits the highway. Liebegott maps her travels in a series of hilarious and heartbreaking letters to the girl she left behind, and some of the most exquisite poetry written about love, heartache and madness.

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