A boy stands on his hands. His pleated pants splay like a tree split by lightning, still blazing orange in the evening. Grass-flecked mud squelches between his fingers while the stitching of his sport coat strains his armpits. Blood floods his head. Chatter of birds and relatives vanish in the drumming sound: like red-plumed legionaries marching back to General’s mercenary throne. Then a draft of smoke, a flipped steak. Violins begin. His hair flicks white, falls upward as he rights himself to cross the purple lawn and fill the gap in line they left for him between the men’s black suits. Their backs settle like sand into one shore: in a wave at night, the dark clouds of quartz swirl, then spread under the foam, surrendering to the coast that begot their grains. Above the breakers planets rise from the horizon red, black, brown, blond like men who stand turning together toward the aisle.
After living in Miramar Inn for three weeks, I realize we are not on vacation. My mother spends days in bed, never moving, even when we try to shake her. On this day, like all the others, my sister and I forage food from the continental breakfast, just in case we don’t have the money for lunch that day. We make off with our haul to the playground in the dusty field behind the hotel, which is really just a single gray merry-go-round, and we spin and spin and spin, morning light barely breaking the mountain peaks. This morning, like all the others, we try to forget what the world feels like. Our mom runs out to us screaming about running off without telling someone, but then she just keeps on spinning us, and laughs at our oblivious giggles and for a moment, she is not thinking about the hotel we can’t afford, or the food we don’t have, or money that won’t last. She forgets too.
legend has it that he was a stout boy that oliver r. smoot of lambda chi stretching all 5 foot 7 inches of his oliver arms, oliver legs, oliver body above the enticing midnight water across the cold harvard bridge pridefully picked up by his brothers positioned where his head left off and his toes began ticking off the bridge as a measurement stick each line streaky and chalky and a smoot. google maps has it that i’m 1,384,776 smoots from dorm to home oliver would only have to lie down a couple hundred times hundred thousand times across neighborhood taco joints sprinting through know-every-cement-crack back-alleys by please-let-me-stay-the-night friends’ houses over no harvard bridge or water but landlocked panhandle and manmade lake he’d have to lie under, on, over that lake where the radio waves of “suburbia” and “idle town” and some senior year cry still echo slowly rippling as we blink out of red eyes and sore minds. rumor has it that it’s only 1,384,776 smoots of spilled slushies, rushed drive-thrus last-minute turn signals mowing over highway lines that oliver would have to endure interstate miles that all 5 foot 7 inches of my arms, my legs, my body the same height as oliver would have to retrace tick-mark up, recompute calculate kundera’s mathematical paradox in nostalgia: “that it is the most powerful in early youth when the volume of the life gone by is quite small.” how, i wonder, can the distance between dorm and home stretch farther than a million olivers but also be one short me one smoot.
Last night I faltered in my dream as a hint of poison started to race in mocking circles, flaring into a mitosis of carbon monoxide, asphyxiating the air. I dreamed you, while they said listen, said you make certain, terrifying, choices about your life. Smiling benignly, they rip away your will to live Wrap it, cold like rewashed silverware and emboss it on the menu, etching a gold filigree of choice: Would you like the remission today or a month ago? The disease medium rare? Spritz sandalwood incense, seduce the rotting into a sinister black. They have a map of the world, of the brain, of my brain and my body, and there is the equator, and there is where you’re going, along the optimal path to falling off the edge of the world. There, there. Speechless in the dream, I strain to ask why it so shameful to be too weak to stand, to take a sabre for a staff? Because when I try to startle awake, it feels like stumbling, wild, through toxic air, my arms heaving and swinging at massive ghosts, Sprinting away from candlelit banquet illusions. They feed you until you’re drunk on silence, until you forget the balm of loneliness and breathless stillness, the erupting atoms underneath the proteins hormones serous fluid, circulating endlessly like stardust, Until you’re drugged, unseeing as the cancer metastasizes — seething bloody, bursting raw, thrashing out of body. Half-awake, the very thing, backwards, is still the same as you and I, backwards, inside-out and torn, worn-out, our hearts ripped open, thinking right wanting wrong wanting right writhing raw raw and writhing, right? your wanting wrong wanting right thinking of opening our hearts, ripping at worn-out seams, insides spilling out. Backwards, I am the same as you, still backwards, startling half-awake. No. They don’t have a map of me, my mind and my life. Nor of you. They can’t see our cycles of despair and triumph, nebulous clouds and mountain-texture, the single neon-lighted diner and slowly rolling fog. I don’t have a map either, but I am writing one. I am writing one in stone and copper and glass, in the faint glow of your skin and in the night air. I am writing from demon-spirits to salivating dogs, from subterranean tightropes to that slow, aching, freedom of acceptance — of hope, and maybe, of love.
My body has never felt like anything but target practice, but bug under microscope, but porch light to every moth of a man that’s ever mouthed a slur in the silence, that’s ever parted his lips to show the venom frothing underneath, that’s ever lifted his voice to the song of my destruction, be it of my black or my queer, hate finds no difference in the tune. If my body be a home, it has never been a safe one. I have never been good at sharing space with my trauma. My mind be a mess I am never able to manage: one bedroom and crammed floor plan. all walls and no windows to let the light in. sink piling with dishes I don’t have the energy to clean. This body code-switches for survival, knows that it is only as safe as I am invisible, spends each day deciding how to make itself absent, if it will bury the Blackness for the white gays or quiet the queer in front of family The issue with intersectionality is that every road leads to a dead end. You are always too much or not enough for anybody — always a threat to someone else’s ignorance. always a silhouette someone is scared to pass on the sidewalk There are no safe spaces for brown rainbows so I have learned to make them in the palm of my partner’s hand at the sight of my sister’s smile at the base of my friends’ laughter a billion good things in the sound of their voices Like maybe the whole world has gone to shit, and every night I make it through is a bittersweet blessing, and every morning comes with a million things still trying to kill me, I know I still have this: The warm glow of a candle lit on my partner’s altar. The way he whispers my name like the strongest prayer he knows. The way the silence settles on us like a blanket, every affirmation I could ask for held in the weight of his stare. How queer it is for pain and joy to coexist in this body. for my mind to find nothing but peace.
last night i dreamt my sisters body had a gash the size of four fists within, just behind purple ribs and across from her wild heart an implanted monitor sat beeping like cracked knuckles flashing read-outs in jeringonza i hadn’t bothered to learn so i added to the list of secrets we keep on blood-thinners and woke up to find mourning precluded, cauterized mid-vivisection
To the boy with the gap in his teeth. Woah, woah, woah — before I start, hear me out: I don’t ~do~ love poems. I don’t do poems that turn into love poems. Those make me sick. They’re sweet and soft and like diabetes-overflowing. Type 2. Not 1. Self-inflicted. I’ve tried writing about everything but you, anything but you. I’ve tried writing about the way the sunlight hit the line of palm trees as I left the ER Monday after I fell off my bike, but when I think of a fall I think of you. Falling and falling and I’m falling for you. Ew. I had to get stitches. After the fall, that is. “Laceration on the left leg,” the nurses said. The L-word lines the inside of my mouth. L-O-WOAH. No. No. No. That word is familiar and soft and cozy — well I wouldn’t go as far as to say cozy, what’s the word… sticky? Oh yes, sticky. Familiar and soft and sticky. To the boy with a gap in his teeth. When I fell in [~insert long pause here~] with you, it felt like the inside of a McDonald’s playhouse. You know the ones. The bright plastic with the pillowed floors and walls — soft edges — tempting colors. The ones you’d beg your parents to let you enter as a kid — salty fingers freshly licked, McFlurry in one hand, hope in another. They’re innocent. Familiar. Soft. But sticky. Eventually, you grow up. You stop going, but I keep going to you, am I still falling for you? Ew. To the boy with the gap in his teeth. I don’t ~do~ love poems. I don’t do like poems. I don’t do poems — why the fuck am I here. I’ve tried writing about everything but you, anything but you. Stitched-up Mondays and McDonald’s playhouses. Our first kiss was in that McDonald’s parking lot. Sneakers propped up on dashboards, neon yellow glow, familiar and soft and not yet sticky. Crumpled Juicy Fruit wrapper in one hand, hope in another, salty fingertips. Two minutes since your wingman “forgot his wallet inside,” I littered our silence with a, “Where do I spit my gum out?” Familiar. Soft. “Why?” “Uhhh… so I can kiss you?” Sticky. Diabetes sticky. To the boy with the gap in his teeth. I thought of you at the ER Monday. I thought of how you like the scar on my nose like I like the gap in your teeth. I thought of how maybe — just maybe — you’d like my new one. Left leg laceration. Some L-words I can say.
Head resting on my left arm, the sun pales the graphite sky, the ocean begins to gleam. I roll to the right, my arm scraping sheets chilled like an ocean too low in temperature to sustain life. I return to face the ocean, sit cross-legged on the gray floor, and light incense pulled from beneath the bed. Eyes closed, palms up on knees, I breathe. Meditation smoothing the surface of my mind to mirror the ocean, silver and sublime. Bells chime, returning me to my body, my morning. I call Keira’s name. Claws click and echo off dawn-lit family portraits still waiting to be warmed by the missing, matching bodies: daughters and a husband imagined.