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for girls with no game

i feel you.

it started on the playground
of course
dodgeball met your face
and that already loose baby tooth
unrooted, dropped
into your hand and you wondered
if you pricked the loose nerve end
with your nail bitten fingers
would the pulse of pain
strike you in your cheek?

in gym class
you count the dots
on the basketball
never try to dunk
and pass the ball whenever it is handed to you.

the first boy i loved
was a nimble six year old
with a toothless baby smile
and a name so silly
my mouth can not repeat it.
when he saw me with a basketball
he told me to throw it
and i told him
i’d counted 450 dots already
and wasn’t that cool?

it always goes that way.
he asks you for the salt
and you talk about salt mines
and salt flats
and the salt your mother
would throw over her shoulder
whenever daddy came home late.

you are gameless
and i feel you.

and sometimes, i think,
if i’d learned how to dribble
or understood strategy
i wouldn’t be playing hot potato with a phone
running through
all the different ways to say
Hello
but mean so much more than
Salutations
i want to say,
Boy the way you are is beautiful
Can you feel me?

i do not know
if gameless girls
like us
even talk like that.

and you think
Aight, aight
I got this
you say that he is nice
you smile softly enough
that even if he rejects you
you will be able to land
on the cushion of your own lips.

you are so nice
so good
so girl
and somewhere,
in a spot you cannot name,
in an undottable place,
you feel like that will not be enough

he tells you the same
that you are nice
so good
so easy
and already this is complicated.

his lips do the same,
you both are looking to
fall into safety

he recognizes
that you recognize
game ain’t shit you have in common
no one is playing
this is dangerous

you say
Skin is our largest organ
he says
I feel you

Solid.

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new year’s eve/new year’s day

You say if you could leave him

stranded on a day

in a past you both shared

you would. You would

leave him standing on

the Jersey Shore

sight lines set on sea

and you would

whisper to the waves

the caries of love that

carry you back to his

tongue.

And when he calls your name

the sea responds

wave, breaking

wave, breaking

wave

of all the words

you will speak

when you’re gone.

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between the door and here

And you’re telling me you love me but why did you leave me?

And you’re telling me you love me and you don’t want to leave me.

And you’re telling me you could love me but don’t know how to stay.

And you’re telling me you want to love me but can’t bring yourself to stay.

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this is a move [impressions of people we love]

1.

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.

 2.

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.

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Midnight, Still

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.

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29. On Letting Go [Blue in Green]

The hardest part about losing a lover is figuring out the line between letting go and forgetting. Sometimes the two terms, the two actions, are used interchangeably. And to use those two terms as each other — to say letting go is the process of forgetting, once you’ve forgotten something you’ve let it go — reduces the feeling of loss into an unhelpful binary of good versus bad. Instead, I think, letting go is carefully storing memories in chambers of the mind where they do not hurt you;forgetting is creating a new reality in which the past does not exist.

I had a hard time reestablishing an equilibrium after the departure of my first great love. We met at a distance — he was a resident of one state, I another — and we separated in the same fashion. Perhaps that makes the situation all the more complicated. The only way in which I could allow our love to survive was through a long, arduous process of keeping memories so active they became a part of my reality. Because of our choice to enter a relationship, knowing well that there wouldn’t be a chance of us living in the same place and thus disallowing us from taking advantage of the reminder that is close physical proximity, my first love existed as a memory in motion, a feeling, an ephemeral being who I had to remind myself was real.

So when it ended, when he and I parted, I was not leaving a person, but the memory of a person. It was the death of a spirit that told me to keep moving. That if I moved quietly enough, with my heels always pressed to the ground and if my unwavering hope never concerned itself with faltering, I would someday catch the spirit of the love that he had created within me. And he would be something I could grasp at once and forever. If we remained steadfast enough, our states of being would join into one.

When it ended I had to sort through a handful of moments that outlined us as a couple. There was no day-to-day interaction between us. Our relationship was punctuated by bi-monthly visits, which were tremendous in the way those visits defined the entire dynamic of our relationship. I sorted through moments some people might easily forget. I clung to the days of brightness and fury and I didn’t have the option to forget, although I wanted to (although I tried).

I deleted him digitally; I placed cards he gave me, in a box he gave me and hid it; I stored his emails under a label and archived them — I made him less immediate. This would have worked if he were an immediate person to me. But he wasn’t, of course. His pneuma somehow etched itself into mine. My thoughts would wind to him not out of laziness or self torture, but because he had become just like any thought that precedes an action and my heart was still thoroughly entrenched in love.

It took months to realize he was still with me and that my futile attempts at forgetting were wearing on me much more heavily than I would have liked. I wrote him out of me. Writing him out like I am doing now. I circumscribe him with a pen when the sensation of loss becomes too great. I wrote him into stories and characters and poems and I even wrote him into people I knew. If I brought his memory into a tangible something, then I could break him apart and store him in a chamber of my mind. There are file cabinets situated in my grey matter occupied by only him.

***

Here is an example of letting go:

 One summer he went to China and when he returned, I surprised him at the airport with his parents. We stayed at his parents house for a few days before going back to his apartment. It was early August, and the air was balmy, and the bottom floor of his parent’s house had a way of capturing light so even after the sun had descended their house was still full with lambent light.

He was different upon his return and perhaps I was too. We spent the first few hours of being back together, apart. He was preoccupied with playing the piano; I was trying to find words to explain the changes that had happened to us. He was known for playing the piano rather crassly — slamming on the keys, uneasy transitions, graceless — and, at times, he did not sing well. I didn’t often have the heart to tell him to slow down because he was exposing a part of himself through his music and my opinion of his art was irrelevant. But I remember sitting in the television room of his parents house, dazzled by the soft folds of daytime hours. And I heard this really tender sound. The song began as a fall, if that’s possible. I imagined walking down a spiraled stair: having my name called from above me and walking up; then having my name called from below me and moving down. The song undulated freely and for the first time, his musical voice became very clear and very painful. That song cycled through beauty effortlessly and I felt oppressed and before he could dance his fingers on the white and black keys again, I left the house sobbing.

If every person is an incarnation of God, if our intuition is really God speaking through us: God was telling me our love had already crowned.

He found me crying and I could see in his eyes he didn’t have the energy to console me or to extract my feelings from me. I said, “What was that song you were playing? It’s so beautiful.” He told me a story about his experiences in China, and he asked me not to cry, and he said the song needed lyrics. He asked me to write them. Despite numerous efforts, the words never came and the song, for better, exists without a voice to cloud its message.

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28. Marjorie and Gregory [excerpt from a short story i’ve been working on]

Marjorie,

I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’ve been so distant. You’ve been making my favorite meals every night for the last month. I should have said ‘thank you’ for being so loving. Things have been difficult. Not with you but I’m sure I’ve made you question yourself. Please don’t question yourself; I love you. It’s been work, Marjorie. I’m run down and I don’t know why but I know every reason why. I hope you read this in the afternoon- I hope I didn’t wake you this morning- I hope your dreams are keeping you safe. You are too good.

I have to bring justice today. They’re giving me as rifle and a mask. Like the mask is enough to make the rifle disappear. Like the mask is enough of a barrier and so powerful my actions are no longer my own but the actions of a just state.

I am looking at you now and thinking about all of the things I haven’t had the courage to say over the last few weeks. I see that your face has pressed itself into a smile and I can’t help but think you’re beautiful.

I want to tell you everything (really, I do), but what is there to say? Why does everything and nothing seem to produce the same silence within me? Why does everything and nothing push me away from you? Why do the events in my life always get categorized into everything, something, anything and nothing? I feel trapped.

I’m thinking about all of the times you sat on the sofa, in the spot you always sit in, looking at me with those almond eyes that I hope to never forget. And you waited for me to talk. And you waited for me to be better, to open up, to tell you the truth. And all you got from me were a few grumbles and a lot of silence. And I’d see a little glimmer in your eyes that wasn’t hopeful at all but a sheath of a twisted sadness. I looked at your face and read all of the memories you tried to recapture to justify my distance. Every word of mine became a journey that I wasn’t ready and am not ready to travel. But I have to. It’s my job. That’s a fucking terrible excuse, but it is.

I’m going to be lined up with other executioners, cloaked, holding a rifle and have to shoot at a man. My rifle might have the fatal bullet. It may not. I’ve been thinking in terms of what might and might not be. I don’t think there is an answer. And that’s why I haven’t spoken. I don’t want to give you an answer that’s not actually an answer but just words that have the ability to pose themselves as such.

I want to lay in bed and wrinkle with you. I want this morning to be yesterday’s morning and yesterday’s morning to be the morning before. And each subsequent day to be the previous morning until there is nothing but light.

I didn’t have the words on our wedding day to write my own vows. That was one of the many things I did to hurt you. That’s 25 years old but I still think about it because I am confident you still resent me for it and I can’t blame you. On some days, as soon as I wake up, I come up with a lot of different words that could be vows. After awhile none of them make sense. I’m thinking of some vows now but “I’m going to be putting a bullet in a man’s head” are the only words that tell me something concrete.

I have to go now because it’s almost dawn, it’s almost time. I just wanted to tell you, for all of today I won’t think about you once. I can’t. I don’t want to drag you into this mess and distort my image of you. If there’s anything that mask can save, it’s you.

I will be home around 7, if traffic isn’t too bad. Whatever you make will be perfect and I will say thank you and talk as much as you want.

Yours,

Gregory

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22. Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections 4 The Man @ Alabaster Books

How many letters can you write to lovers you never had?

*

He hands you a slip of paper and a black pen. You consider what to write. You begin writing the first letters of the author’s name you mentioned to this man, who you don’t know but are made nervous by. This is the same man who asked you if you needed any help navigating a bookstore double the size of your childhood bedroom. Because you are independent, because you have learned how to suffer quietly, you say no and browse the shelves without taking notice of this man’s face. He may have smiled or might not have and you continue to look for One Hundred Years of Solitude. How fitting. But then you realize, you cannot figure out if it’s filed under Garcia or Marquez or, perhaps, a special section for authors with two names.

Eyes scan the shelves. No luck. You turn, cheeks rouged with embarrassment, smile and ask for the man’s help. Maybe it’s the newsboy cap that makes him look so young, or the way in which he perks up and does not judge you when you speak, that makes you consider yourself ready to tackle loving someone. Maybe it’s in the way he says we probably don’t have it; popular books like that go quickly but looks through the stacks of books piled on the floor anyway. And when you ask him what the last great book he read was, he says sometimes I give people my opinion and then they don’t like the book and then those people come back here, reselling the book I just suggested. Maybe it is one of those things that make you feel secure enough to be honest with a stranger and you are.

You forget the titles of books you’ve read more than once, you misplace the names of authors you discuss frequently. Your mind goes blank and all you see is a person in a newsboy hat that you want to impress. So you start looking through the shelves with this man and he begins suggesting books and soon you’ve got 5 books laying in the nest of your arms. Books you have no intention of buying. Books that were not on your list but you take them, as if only to say even if I don’t like them, I will return none of these.But then you remember you want something, want a specific book and you ask for Lorde and he asks you who that is. So you sum her up and he says wow, can you write that down? 

And here you are, with a slip of paper and a black pen. You handwriting is awkward — hands shaking, the letters written fatter than you usually make them. After writing Audre Lorde you momentarily consider scribbling down your number or a smiley face or whatever contact information brave people give to strangers they want to know. But you don’t because he could already have a partner, or is asexual, or would be freaked out by your forwardness. You hand him the slip of paper and look at the ground. He folds it and places it in the breast pocket of his dress shirt. He says given your taste, you’d love this. He hands you The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. You say you have too many books. He helps you decide which ones you should wait to buy. Interestingly enough, you keep The Corrections and Midnight’s Children by Rushdie.

*

How many letters can you write to lovers you never had?

*

You decide to read one of the books in a week and return to the bookstore, hopefully when he’s there. If he isn’t, you will be persistent in your attempts. One day you will be successful. And you won’t be shy. You will come up with a list of books he hasn’t read and you will write out your intentions in the margins. After the titles and names and ISBN numbers, he will see you words, your identifying numbers. You don’t know what you’ll say, but it will be succinct and surprising and a creation all for him.

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16. Construction

Y: “Let’s start love over.”

M: “How?”

Y: “First, let’s remove the word love.”

M: “Can we do that without destroying what we have?”

Y: “I just took it away. Are you destroyed?”

M: “Then what’s next?”

Y: “I guess we would have to figure out who we are?”

M: “Don’t we have to figure out what we are?”

Y: “How can we be a we if we aren’t singular people?”

M: “I guess.”

Y: “Then who are you?”

M: “I don’t know.”

Y: “Try again.”

M: “Who do you think I am?”

Y: “That’s unimportant. Who are you?”

M: “I feel like I am incomplete. I feel like I am a lot of things. That I am capable of being a lot — compassionate, curious, loving, neurotic. I don’t know if that says anything about who I am.”

Y: “But what would you call all of those things? Those qualities you listed?”

M: “Honest.”

M: “Then who are you?”

Y: “Not that honest.”

M: “But you are!”

Y: “Remember, we’re defining ourselves.”

M: “Then what’s next?”

Y: “We’re opposites.”

M: “They say opposites attract.”

Y: “And they sometimes fight to erase each other.”

M: “I wouldn’t fight to get rid of you.”

Y: “I’m sure you wouldn’t.”

M: “Would you try to get rid of me?”

Y: “Maybe if we reached an especially rough place. A place where you made me confront something I didn’t want to confront. And I’d run. Or turn on you.”

M: “You’re just saying that.”

Y: “Believe what you will.”

M: “Then what are we trying to start over?”

Y: “I think we started to reach one of those tough spots. You kept telling me you loved me and I didn’t feel anything. So I wanted to start over. To see if we could. To see if you can start love over. To retrace my steps and figure out where I went wrong.”

M: “Did you go wrong or do you just not love me?”

Y: “I love that you’re alive.”

M: “But do you love me?”

Y: “I have the words.”

M: “Say them.”

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15. Orange Trees

i.

Michael returns, shrinking. Before he lifts his foot into the doorway, I come toward him and offer a hand. His fingers are long and cold, warm brown transforming to dust.

“Oh thank you. Thank you. Who are you?”

“It’s me, Grandpa. Your Joselia,” I say.

Michael cranes his head up, no longer concentrating upon the placement of his feet, and looks me in the face. His eyes are lacquered but flat. They pry me but with little strength. There is no moment of illumination and he returns to the incongruent dance of his feet. Michael is so light, helping him into the house is like wafting air.

I say, “Grandpa, how was your flight?”

“Where am I?”

“You’re home.”

“It’s cold here,” he says.

“Not your home in Jamaica, you’re home here.”

He acquiesces and I help him into a chair, removing his coat.

We talk about things anyone can access, like food, and I make him something to eat although he merely picks at it, fidgeting with the utensils. He asks me questions about who I am. Not questions, the question. I find saying my name does nothing because to him, I’ve stopped existing. I want to explain I am a possession of other people. I am not simply myself but his granddaughter. I am, we are the creation of other human beings, of a profoundly creative universe; and we are always coming in and out of being at the hand of someone’s conception of us. I want to tell Michael who I was before he arrived is a markedly more substantial person than the person he is confronting now. With his memories of me misplaced, I am hinged on an unsteady angle of what I knew to be, what is now and what is actually real. So I look at my grandfather squarely and repeat my name. That I am his. And within possession I have found the solace of love.

ii.

Michael tilled the earth for me. Pineapples. Coconuts. Star Apples. When I was born, he turned over soil to commemorate my entrance into this world. Behind the house in Old Porus, on the long narrow stretch of land, the trees and bushes are clustered together in an uneven triangle. He never explicitly said why he began to plant things, as he had not planted anything for his own children. Grandmother says he took to the ground and dirtied himself and this is how I recall him. Perched at the top of the orange tree, that sits in front of the house, tossing down the grooved orange globes to Mother. And I recall him in the fields of Water Mouth, lifting the brim of his Kangol hat to wipe the beads of liquid forming a line above his brow. The walks he and I would take into town — down the road of rusty dirt — to visit the affable shopkeepers at Barnett’s, the local grocery store fixed at the sometimes busy intersection of Old Porus Road. We would continue walking, past the post office, to the train tracks that barely felt the weight of freighters. Michael spoke with a tongue built by the bible. So each step we took was not only an aimless journey that would act as neural pathways back to the fortune of happiness, but as a pilgrimage towards God.

iii.

Mother and I were the two to sleep in Michael’s bed after her died. Grandmother had taken to wearing crimson underpants and a tape measure around her waist to prevent his not yet rested spirit from troubling her. Grandmother, prone to prolonged bouts of displeasure, was left mostly vacant after he died. The shrill in her voice leveled into unfolding melancholy. She readily accepted hugs from her family members, from friends, from strangers. Grandmother, for once, revealed herself to be vulnerable and hurt by the fate of old age and thus more easy to love.

I suggested Mother and I sleep in his room because I wanted to prove that I was unafraid of death. The dressers were neatly composed, as he would have left them. The lace curtains billowed with the island breeze and Grandmother made sure to tuck the sheets within the open spaces, between the mattress and frame, so that the secrets of the room should not escape.

His room smelled of his cologne.

Mother and I rifled through his belongings and Mother shared stories that are only shared in the event of someone’s death. I still wonder why that is and I have concluded: to expose a story of someone still alive is to undercut their ability to happen in real time. When you tell a story of past events about someone who is still living, you unintentionally shift their timeline into the past-present. You move them through time. And it is the responsibility of the object of the story to find their footing where they wish to exist.

Mother told me all of the stories she could remember, with no concern for preserving stories for the next day or the day after. I believe she was confident in the presence of so many tales — both long and short — that there was no possibility to shuffle through them all in any countable number of sittings.

When we finally slept, the evening instilled dread.

We awakened with questions and stories for each other.

She said, “I was dreaming and a shadowy figure entered the room. It was your Grandfather. And I couldn’t breathe. He was smothering me and I tried to yell and I tried to wake up. And then I did wake up, but the same thing was happening. I tried to rouse you, but you weren’t responding.”

I said, “It was in the middle of the night. I was scanning the room for something to look at long enough to learn everything about it. But there was nothing intricate enough to do that with. And then I heard the voice of your brothers, Mommy. They were in the living room laughing and I heard Grandpa laugh.”