Originally posted on Fictionaut.
In a church yard, it started.
A friend, well acquainted with the breath of
adults, told you, you could have one.
Could inhale the little fire you were taught to fear.
You did not cough.
A cough would have revealed you as one
who dabbles in playthings, who could
be turned away, simply, by the vestiges of play.
It tasted harsh and hot
and as the thin cloud exited your mouth
your body went limp
dizzy falling dizzy
and you did not think that Earth could feel
Then time came.
Time came and passed you into expensive
little red and white boxes. You
transitioned into a church yard of your own
with no figures to mark holy.
The night is considerably smaller now
extending the length of a tiled verandah
and behind the frame of a man walking
up the street, his hands trying to burrow
past the machine stitched seams of pants pockets.
The night is broken into breaks
of tip-toeing out and hoping not to be seen.
The stick you pull to your mouth is ladened
with lies —
straight eyed ‘no’s’
looking away from the woman behind the register
who attempts to hand you the receipt.
No, the paper will not be your undoing,
but you imagine it away anyway.
This smoke does not taste good;
has never tasted good
has never blinded loss into function.
It leaves you chasing the night, though —
a night that recedes into nothing when you leave it.
Your hand, unattainable, is next to me. Grit underneath your fingernails, the joints of your fingers practicing scales on your knee. I played piano once. My teacher, who left, told me I had the shape but not the understanding. I took that to mean I had already achieved something I didn’t deserve. But your fingers are right there: nervous, bearded, ever-touching fingers. I remember how they felt that time you pushed me up against a wall and tried to shove your hands up my skirt. That was the first impassioned kiss I’d had in months – no teeth or calls to stop – just mouths probing each other for a peek into the darkness of our bodies always knowing it would be impossible to swallow each other. We could have said that we were lonely; we could have said a lot of things like we were drunk and didn’t know better.
We didn’t know better.
And we didn’t know better again when we watched videos in bed and awkwardly wanted to see if our mouths had grown wider, if one person’s insides could consume the other.
Now you are all fingers and knee taps; I am all half glances and feet pointed with concerted effort.
I am spatially uncoordinated. Physics, calculus, planes, dimensions, lengths, depths, time: all foreign. Sometimes I speak and my tense doesn’t acknowledge the proper time or my words lack depth or some other aspect of myself is painfully incongruent to the point that I am always floating somewhere near here and you are always there. See, the inability to master spatial coordination has me falling in love with people who never occupy the same space as me. At first, I thought it was a fluke, that I was unobservant and desperate. Even selfishly self-sacrificial: to pine endlessly for people I could never come to have. But I am not the only one to do the beholding. People give me signals, innumerable variables, equations of what they want and each of those signals is miscalculated by me. I wonder how many people I’ve lost because I couldn’t properly interpret the coordinates of their system. And all of the men I have loved from distances that cannot be traversed. Distances inscribed along the lines of constellations I try to trace with an outstretched finger touching nothing but air.
I am always quadrant four, bleeding off the page. You look like a parabola dipping into quadrant one, exiting in quadrant two. Sweeping, sloping, infinite, gentle, fanning yourself over graph paper into creation.
I am a series of dots with no lines, pencil etchings so tenuous the shadow of the eraser is the only mark that will stay.
If justice means anything significant, that is, if it means something important enough that we want to shoulder the weight of our feelings and the route to which we achieve justice, justice would mean creating a world where I can remain unencumbered.
For example, I am on the back of a truck with one hundred watermelons and an arrow without a bow and the vastness of the sky is above me. I am obligated to the melons because they are not mine — but they are in my care — and I have to transport them to someone on the other side of the city. To someone with my bow. But the sky is immense and I know, if I hold in air, the air will carry me like a balloon and I can float to the top of skyscrapers, to the edges of the atmosphere, to space, to infinity. I know, within me, I am able to traverse air. But I have all of these watermelons and a bow that is puncturing my ability to dream and be big.
The watermelons are dense and ripe and I want to smash them into fleshy jagged bits so the insides bleed fruit juice. An imaginative pedestrian may pass the dismembered watermelons and think the scattered, refashioned fruit is some person’s entrails or brain matter on the sidewalk. I want to smash the watermelons in pieces so small the fruit has no other possible course of action than to disappear. And I will leave notes on the road leading to the person who owns the bow that all say, “I am sorry; I love you. I’m sorry; I love you.” I’ll attach the arrow to the last note so the person knows I am not cruel, merely unjust. I am desperate to be unencumbered. So desperate to breathe in the universe that made me and sail into the sky.
I woke up at midnight and everything is still the same. My clothes, that I’d fallen asleep in, still flatter me more than nudity. The window is still open. The air still stagnant. The other half of my bed still warmed by a Macbook Pro. Law and Order: SVU is on — an episode I’ve already seen — with Benson still wearing that vacant look of disgust.
People are sleeping and if I had a cigarette, I’d smoke it slowly out front and think about all of the things I could have said when people were awake. Things like, “I am scared” and “I am writing short stories that I want so badly to be good so that I feel like I am worth something” or “If you could run where would you run off to” and “I love you, I love you, I love you.”
Instead, there is no cigarette so I browse Tumblr. Or Racialicious. Or rewatch an episode of Awkward Black Girl. Or get to writing those short stories I still can’t believe I’m writing because it’s not even work at this point. Not work like this. It’s cultural appropriation without the malice, because they are my stories to tell. But for some reason, and maybe this is true for a lot of people, being who you are is like exploiting what you always have to come back to. If I defer being myself, there’s enough self to save for a day when I need it, when the subway is shut down, when the storm is coming, when the heart not only feels alone but is alone. I can be myself another day.
I had a dream I birthed a set of red-haired twins, of uneven sizes, and the father was the only man I’d ever wanted to love. If you say a person’s name enough, you can tattoo their spirit on your teeth, on your gums. He is my mouth, still. I had these twins and he was gone, still, like now. Which is unsurprising. Rita Dove said it, When has the ordinary ever been news? One of the twins grew and grew, the other cried and cried. Cried without tears so there was no fear of drowning. There was no way to console the baby and I remember saying, I am sorry you are alive. It hurts and I don’t understand you. It will hurt a lot and you already know water cannot absolve the pain you feel. The other baby was toddler sized only a few hours after being born. He ran in circles and nuzzled me and asked who Daddy was and I pointed to the shadow of a desk. And every time the bigger child asked me who Daddy was, because the sun was moving, I’d scramble to find the longest shadow, the one most like a human, the one big enough to fill the space he’s trying to fill. I forget my mouth is someone else’s, so when the father does come home and asks how I came to have these children, I tell them they are more his than mine. He looks over them; the crying one is a ball of mournfulness and shrinking into the tiniest, loudest little thing. The bigger child is a man now, towering over his father, and asks him why it took so long to come back. Father says nothing. The crying baby disappears but the sound of his cry is in the walls of the room. Father says he will be back. The big boy and I know this cannot be true. But we sit together, labeling the shadows for the things and people we want them to be. And the cries of a baby still vibrate the walls. Without a sound, tears fall from my eyes.
There is one story I want to tell. A story that documents the transformation one undergoes when constantly subjected to the pressure of pain. But it isn’t one story. It can’t possibly be. At times, pain is so carefully interwoven into the fabric of one’s life it is impossible to pick the strands of hurt away from the textile of survival.
So, because it is easier, because time is too short to enumerate the endless slices of pain, here is a moment:
The thunderous crackle of the plane roared yet managed to stay hidden beneath the glint of waning sunlight and sheaths of clouds. A child ran by and up short cement stairs, nesting at the top. He wore a green tee shirt with khaki shorts and sneakers- flat sneakers with tattered parts. He played today, the way I did play. For childhood is full of those things — hopscotch courts imperfectly drawn with the remainders of whittled white chalk; brown skin and shining eyes that only closed when it was your turn to count to ten and find those other sweating, wriggling bodies hiding in bushes. And closed soon after the street lights came on and mothers waited anxiously at the screen doors for their tired, dirty, bruised children. Missing tooth smiles would fade and the pleading would begin for just one more hour scouring the block, thirty more minutes to race bikes up and down the block, fifteen minutes to just sit on the porch with the other kids and eat candy. Those candy cigarettes with confectioners sugar smoke. Just wanting desperately for a few more short minutes to play and feel the humidity of city summers. To know what the darkness of the night was. To feel the power of knowing just that.
But we were always defeated. There were showers to take and dinners to eat and cool beds to sleep in before waking up the next morning and running off to the YMCA for camp. But camp was never much like playing with the brown skinned boys and girls from the block. Camp didn’t have the adventure of racing bicycles and getting a bag full of Swedish fish and Super Bubble gum from the corner store we weren’t allowed to go to. Then, every night seemed like a new rapturous adventure and only the setting sun — that went away sooner and sooner with each passing day — could stop that from happening.
So to keep ourselves in motion, to keep the summer from waning, we sat with liter soda bottles and Mentos and told our parents we were performing experiments, of a scientific type, to remake the volcanoes most of us would never live to see. And we captured fireflies in our hands and whispered our secrets to them in hopes the insects would carry our wishes to God. We stalled and told our parents we just needed to see the moon and the stars because we didn’t know if our dreams were recreating reality honestly. For in the summer we were creases of sunlight. We were raw energy. We were the universe. We were beautiful.
Stay, one syllable and only four characters, is just long enough to express the perpetuity of anguish.
Fall back: dive into the caverns of darkness.
Spring forward: launch into beauty.