Survival in 27 Stanzas: A Collage Poem

AJ Tanksley
2 min readDec 18, 2023
Photo by Xiang Gao on Unsplash

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I’ve managed to make it to 27 in one piece — somehow. There’ve been many times in the past decade when I didn’t think I’d survive past 25, so being a living member of the 27 club feels like a true act of grace.

I was initially going to post a more listicle-styled piece reflecting on my journey, detailing 27 lessons I’ve learned on the bizarre, often painful, excruciatingly hilarious road to my most recent birthday. However, listicles are no fun to write. Stating the lessons I’ve learned would also be untrue to my lived experience; I’ve really unlearned far more lessons between the ages of 18 and 27 than I’ve learned. I’ve been assured this is a very normal, expected process on the path to maturity, so cheers to unlearning!

I do, however, have a massive backlog of poems on my Notes app I’ve been meaning to share with the world. It’s deeply therapeutic to make collages with words and chop them up into tiny bits and pieces. I’ve done this with college essays (shout out to Professor Thea Gavin!), fridge magnets, and pages ripped out of harlequin romances.

And now, a collage of poems I wrote this year: 27 stanzas on survival.

“27”

Needs-meeter

A joy

Servant of Christ

The first six years, white and flavorless

Floating in and out of college

Lucid intervals of doing doing doing

Collapse and one-hour sleep nights

Becoming an object of satiation

(Swallow mouthfuls of blood to punish)

And my obedience and compliance

Didn’t go rewarded

Navel-gaze nonsense and all

Warrior posing as the chords progress

Poverty and her pills

Hard to swallow

It’s funny how something small like that

Can silence birdsong forever

I’m learning to not exile my flesh

I prefer to stay inside it

Feeling the passage of time

Coloring pictures, playing cards

(Can’t ashawanga and magnesium

Your way out of sliced-up despair)

A gentle voice forgiving me

Keep blood and organs inside

Survival mode

Bring it on

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AJ Tanksley

A lifelong learner and poet, AJ (they/she/he) writes about the intersection of neurodiversity, mental health, spirituality, and identity.