Evan Reynolds

[ abjection ]

subject refuses to sleep
subject insists that he has secret knowledge of a conspiracy involving the cia and large 
         pharmaceutical companies
subject walks obsessively down the corridor in the same direction
subject refuses medication
subject does not wash or brush teeth
subject insists on talking to a lawyer
subject pulls at hair
subject stares out the window consistently
subject refuses therapy
subject rocks back and forth
subject displays writing behavior
subject continues to write
subject will not stop writing
subject will not stop writing
subject will not stop writing
subject will not stop writing
subject will not stop writing

[ ABJECTION ]

TO the ether beyond what calyx proclivity
docile sentry becomes unbounded hitherto

TO what eye of lacrimal joy bursts apart
below not buried weeping song of shit

TO detethered centrifugal force push
out the placental bloody blossom there

TO refracted light combs curling round
the maggot frost forthwith revealing

TO synecdotal hymns shank raw flesh
napkins of wipe that stupid frown away

TO malignant bliss rocks melting in tubs
protracted from stanzaic triangulation

Evan Reynolds is a Chicago-based poet whose work focuses on the experience of schizophrenia.

 

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Shana Bulhan

The artwork consists of two images side by side. They are horizontally flipped versions of the same picture, also edited with different colors, highlights, and shadows. The picture consists of two faces, one partly superimposed onto the other: a femme-presenting person with layered short hair (mostly chin-length with bangs), with striking eyelashes and eyebrows, also wearing a nose ring. To the side of the person's face, there is a tree-like structure (without leaves) branching out towards the edge of the picture. In the background, there are various swirls and hexagons set against stylized Lorem Ipsum text. The image on the left has a purple background; a mauve tree structure; and the two faces have blue and pink hair respectively. The face in front with blue hair has more dominant opacity, and the person's skin colour is brown. The face in back has ghostly white skin. The image on the right has a bright pink background; a dull green tree structure; and the two faces have green and pink hair respectively. The face in back with green hair has more dominant opacity, and the person's skin colour is ghostly white. The face in front has dull brown skin, but is quite faded.

Mad Queer’s Love Song

after Sylvia Plath1 



* 
i will spend my entire life yearning for everything we couldn’t sublimate 



* 
i cut my wrath into grief 

i don’t need a rose 
to waste a body, enter a land 

i remain ugly in the episteme of my body 



* 
it’s mourning, and i want to kiss you in the stark.  
i seesaw your smile. didn’t i?  

how did we get to this place? 
these frenzies — i just want the suddenness of — 

(as if i could confess 
to meaty contagion  
smearing itself  
between my fingers) 

i hunker down in this mirror of self state 
dressed up to collapse, allure of i want to cut myself up like that too 
i want you (mirror) to clutch me there, that soon,  
& hate me clear as art 

it doesn’t make sense that we can’t  
kiss without bones gnashing — the accumulation of dread.  
it doesn’t make sense at all 


 
* 
& could we shift this floating someday? — room stripped 
down — & then i won’t be cunt exposed like some seedy 
omission  & there’s nothing revelatory in the kiss of history  
& that too is a language beleaguered 

against an other 
box. which is to say 

will i ever? chalk boots  
through gender
 
will i ever? be 
red velvetine 



* 
i trade one half of white 
for your faction. 

i measured it like 
some inexplicable cultural memory  
a newer place to dream of death 

again out of frame, meteoric 

but it’s just not a good century for a recluse 



* 
i wanted to be loved into luminosity 
loved with the irony of history2 
effulgent and craved 

i wanted to be cunning & all i devilled  
was a sore nose, sore throat. 


 
* 
& i’m so tired of teeth  

rotting then scrubbed again 
yellow seething into aftertaste. i wait 

and wait  

and wait. i slumber into 
the waiting. 



* 
am i just a repeat of constance, beautiful at the expense of barbaric? 

i don’t know if i have made myself up 
stuck in this perpetual stage of queen jane3 
too fundamentally here to disavow 

i’m bad at groupcool groupthink  
i never whistle the world into dazzlement 



* 
you blurred the moon for me 
catalyzed planet into desert 
& still i’m red 

red 
for every mere mention — 

i meet you in the crux of the unforgivable  
safety was only ever a liberal coercion 

but you would never meet me — 
not in this grub of gold  
& shine. 


  
* 
i made a window 
to let you mural me  
into winter 

so that in the house of your dreams  
we could disentangle ourselves,  
grocery desire cascading  
into opulent shelves.  
is this the everydayness?  



* 
i whiten in the year of my room  
as you billow off — 
off, off.  

i dress like a pregnant shop auntie 
cheap cotton balakrishna 1527 at the hem 

i buoy and sway and arc into lumps of pink then brown 
spots under my flour bags of breasts 
off-white pushed to the edge of tan 



* 
quiver4 pulsates at my worn wrists 
& what about the silvering dance of me?  
i want to write about you, or the creaking knees of me 

here’s the drop-ceiling of sky 
& black hairs eschewing contagion 
vegetable broth of cellulite teeming  
till i’m just a landslide of joints and cracked heels 
in free-fall 

in my head i’m doing the splits  
all over mahogany & mirrors 
i rear back my head & smile 
raise the fuck for the fount 


 
* 
so i’ll scrub myself into femme,  
chop myself into butch.  
i’ll grab & punch my breasts  
into a photograph. 

i wanted to be god like you. 
& isn’t that romance? to slam my body 
against doom. as if i wasn’t dripping 
snot from my cunt. as if i wasn’t 
languishing on a toilet seat. as if i wasn’t 
splaying toothpaste on the mirror, 
burnished blood in the sink.
  
no, i’m all cellulite and cushion. 
i stretch into keratosis.  
we become into matter.  
detritus at dawn. 



* 
i scorch the earth. i scorch the earth for you, 
love. isn’t that enough? 

i run into you. i run the wild into you, love. 
i fling the world into reverence. helix and jar. 
i could not have wilded you any less. 

but you can’t wield it. this wilding, this brimming. 



* 
instead i make a crater to flounder 
i punch my souring pelvis into gratuity 
with every semi-squat i reach for evidence 
lying with pooled absence in my every tract 
so i come up & push again. to linger is an 
affront a prime malfeasance coiling itself 
around a name 
  


* 
you give up on quarantine 
& marry the man  

pushing you into the ocean. 

& would you drown  
for that monument of erasure?  



* 
if i could only paint you queer  
would you win in another continent?  

are you my crushed echo, a misgendered 
self? she walks down the road becomes a 
question mark split ragged & who’s even 
writing this aftermath 

suddenly you are no longer here. suddenly i 
want to rescue you into performance. 

i am so tired of abstraction. what is this damn 
box. no anchors anymore. clash of expected 
symmetry. you could never be ready for the 
muck of me.  

like every god your figure crashed into 
gold & what a cruise it was. what a 
fucking soirée. 



* 
what must it feel like, hair still 
so silky, shimmering and gone. 

& maybe if i was lean like a dream, 
one black boot up against the brick. 
putrid with glitter, tracking orgasms 
like sand. & maybe if i could sway 
into every dank alley. & maybe if  
i sauntered my hips onto a stage,  
burlesque & brawn. & maybe  
if i was just girl enough 
for mystery.


 
no, baby, i’m the wrong one. 
what a delight it is. what a fucking cheap shot.
  
i’m achy without age.  
i carpal tunnel & fibroid  
my every move. every inconvenient creak 
& crack.  i lie in bed. i embellish my fat, 
strain into obscene.  




did i get lost in the invention of us? 

you only want me if i crumble into jars of leaving. 

& you fight for this solitude of 
near-death.  oh, how i’d wrest it from 
you — 

how i want to dive  
into every reptile coat 
of an attempt 



* 
so i wander within like a bruise has taken hold 
of me like sugar like god 
lost in marginalia 

choose me. i’m begging you my bruise 
choose this shade of me 


1 Plath, Sylvia. “Mad Girl’s Love Song.” Mademoiselle, 1953. https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/sylvia-plaths-mad-girls-love song-from-mademoiselle#

Quote from the following novel: Ondaatje, Michael. Anil’s Ghost. Vintage, 2000. p. 12.

3 c.f. song: Bob Dylan. “Queen Jane Approximately.” Highway 61 Revisited (Album).  

4 c.f. song: Lonas. “Quiver.” Quiver (EP). 
Shana is shown, from the shoulders up, before chrome shelving and colored cloths. Shana has light brown skin and inchlength straight black hair. Shana wears semitranslucent oxblood cateye glasses, and a dark grey or black crewneck shirt.

Shana Bulhan is currently attending the MFA Program for Poets & Writers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where they are also pursuing a Graduate Certificate in Feminist Studies. Previously, they studied Critical Social Thought at Mount Holyoke College. They grew up mostly in India, but they have been living in Western Massachusetts for more than a decade now. They recently won an Academy of American Poets Prize selected by Bianca Stone. Their work has appeared in Meridians, smoke + mold, the Asian-American Literary Review, The Felt, Datableed, and other publications. For more information, please visit their website, www.cruxate.com

 

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Paula Harris

the weight of pain

in 1945 Dr Lorand Julius Bela Gluzek of Cleveland, Ohio
developed a dolorimeter which could measure pain in grams
so maybe the weight I gained on antidepressants
wasn’t from sadness and an increased appetite
but my organs and glands – thyroid, pancreas, lungs, 
adrenal glands, ovaries, stomach, hypothalamus – 
each getting heavier from the consumption of black bile

the weight of the water inside the mouth of a blue whale
can weigh more than the whale itself
so if I dive into the ocean and convince a blue whale to swallow me
I will leave my sadness on its tongue and be weightless

Paula Harris lives in Aotearoa/New Zealand, where she writes and sleeps in a lot, because that’s what depression makes you do. She won the 2018 Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize, and the 2017 Lilian Ida Smith Award. Her writing has been published in various journals, including Hobart, Berfrois, The Rialto, Barren, SWWIM, Diode, Glass, Aotearotica, and The Spinoff. She is extremely fond of dark chocolate, shoes and hoarding fabric. website: www.paulaharris.co.nz | Twitter: @paulaoffkilter | Instagram: @paulaharris_poet | Facebook: @paulaharrispoet

 

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Lexus Root

Content warning: forced medication, needles, blood, death, parasites, unsanitary, sex, body horror

Plateau 1001

            Now is afternoon and the waves wash quietly on the lake Pawnee’s lips. Children cry at the edge of this cool reservoir, some hard line between land and water, a boundary at once uncrossable and enticing, beckoning onlookers to drop on in, fall, dissolve. Sunglass-sporting and through-the-shadows-of-visors-creeping women are laughing and pointing in our direction, toward two bodies planted firmly in the sand, fixed to one another.
            “They are laughing at me,” I say to Giovanni, weakly, stumbling over myself, snaking my hands through the damp sand, hoping to find something to grasp onto. Gasping for air, the chest constricts. My resting blood pressure is 142/98, but I can tell it is higher now, at or approaching crisis; untreated hypertensives have a way of knowing these things. Best understood as spiritual, knowledge of how the rust is moving comes naturally. The force under which it circulates… this stuff is easy to discern. We can imagine how far the blood would spurt if we removed the arterial walls, made naked the surrounding flesh; this process determines our blood pressure without the use of a cuff. I threw mine away three months ago, flushing a bottle of eplerenone in the process, the doctor’s words ringing in my mind, Take this twice a day, it will help. If only it were not placebic.
            Gio takes my arm and says, “No, they aren’t.” I can tell he’s lying by the way his chin moves as he speaks, barreling to the left, his left not mine. The ultimate sign of deceit. All liars move their chins this way when they speak, one trait among countless others I’ve picked up on. “They are not laughing at you, come and sit down,” he says. I realize I am standing with my arms crossed against my bare chest, facing the women. Another sign of lying, it is known, is demanding that one closes a physical gap, some attempt at repairing the broken sacrament, skin touching skin increasing serotonin in the cleft, dopamine. Chemical concealment.
            I sit down between his outstretched legs, laying my head on his body. He works his hands into my shoulders, stained with those small, red bumps, the ones inherited from my mother. People start to stare at us, staring this time not at me in particular, but at the closeness of two men, of male intimacy gone public. What is wrong with me, I want to ask him, why am I this way, why am I so defenseless and broken, why is the world centered on me but in the most denying ways, but the answer to each is clear. “They were laughing at me,” I repeat, “but I trust you.” I attempt to convince myself of this. My hands, working through the sand, catch on something sharp, and my mind turns now to syringes. Long acting injectables are reserved for those who need antipsychotics, but who forget or refuse to take their medication. Creating a localized mass in the body, intramuscular, deep, raw, that gel finds itself implanted and absorbed over time, a month, three months, it depends. My haloperidol decanoate appointment is three months overdue as the foam rolls rhythmically over itself, back and forth, in, out.
            “Amorito, do you want to go swimming?” he asks while patting my shoulders and standing up. The sand, brown and clumpy, falls off his body, returning to the source, hourglass-like in form and function. Some amount of time has passed, but how much is unclear. The women are no longer there, the sun has moved in the sky, the foam coating the edge has changed shape, flatter now. The snaking of time yet again escapes me. “Come on, you’ll love it. To float, become nothing at all. Emptiness in the middle of everything, the center of a wide-reaching circle.”
            The day and my body slip away as I swim, the low waves reaching the shore and the sun receding past the horizon, brown and aching. “Let’s make a fire, Gio,” I say as we pass in breaststroke. “As tall as our house, let’s make a fire hot enough to scorch the dirt and melt down our rings, hot enough to pierce through the sky’s skin.” We approach the waterfront, soaking still, and as if under a trance, time flashes by once more: the wooden platform finds itself built in but a moment, our bodies as ants trickling around the artifice. Soon ablaze, it swells to a diameter wide enough to swallow both our bodies whole, large enough to consume and make into ash my heart.
            And the smell. Gio and I met at an Omaha acreage, a support group for HIV-positive men, with the fire shimmering blue-hot, crackling, the burning sap giving off that almost-sweet smell I recognize in the fire just ahead of me know. He said to me then, “You look nice for a dead man.” We were being torn apart from the inside, but he carried himself with an air of confidence unlike any other, his shirt crinklefree, his back straight. The kind of posturing learned only through the rough obedience of private school, Catholic, or maybe preparatory. “When did you catch this miserable bug?” he asked, and I told him the story of seeking, of catching, seroconversion alone in a dorm as those so-worn sounds of life were extinguished deep into the evening. That night, my eyes ran dry, the blood pounded against the temples, and on every beat, the vision blurred as so many halos, circular yet jagged. “In algebra,” he told me, “the simplest object is a group, and his complicated partner is the ring. There, as here, navigating groups is simple, but when it comes to rings, it all falls apart.” We talked as the night stretched itself into the pale blue of day, going home together, hand in hand, laughing and full.
            “Is everything okay?” he asks me. “You’re losing yourself again.” Now I am staring into the gargantuan fire with my face all wet and my tongue salty, the night sky black, punctuated with so many stars, a weblike structure expanding every which way. I nod, grab a lob to sit on, one outcropping of twigs just barely hanging on to the base, and I start to open my clenched jaws.
            “I have pinworms,” I say. “Enterobius. I haven’t seen any directly, but all of the signs are there: itching in the shadows, insomnia, appendix pain. I have a pinworm infection and I’ve known about it for a year, maybe more. Every month or two I buy all the available pills, but I throw them away. I can’t bring myself to kill them, and even though they’re unseen, there they are. If you listen close enough, you can hear them sucking at the side of the bowl, gurgling and splashing in the water. I am being eaten alive. It’s a bit scary to admit it, but anti-pinworm medication is just like trizivir. These pills just make them lie dormant, waiting for a moment to reinfect, multiply, to take you over again. It does nothing but destroy a few and make the rest stronger, killing you faster in the end.” He looks in my eyes in that Gio sort of way, his head cocked, his eyebrows dug in something deep.
            But this drops away, and suddenly I am thinking about the blades in our medicine cabinet. Feather is considered the most effective brand. They are aggressive, those slabs of stainless steel: the sharpest consumer blade available. They are so strong that every time I run the razor over the back of my head, I nick myself. The scalp has a rich blood network supplied by five thick arteries, three from the external and two from the internal carotids, nourishing the white psoriatic skin and thinning hair, and whenever I make a pass with the handle, these vessels just start to seep. All these cuts accumulate and start to paint the back of my shirts as so-vibrant watercolor. Sometimes, I run my tongue on the stains, to bring them out, to repair the underlying fabric, to return the natural hue. This fails. I find myself vomiting immediately, the metallic taste overwhelming, dull. But the first time I shaved my head at the age of twenty, the age my father was when he, too, first shaved his head, I forgot to do the neck. Gio held my head in the pit of his elbow and said, “You forgot to get it all. Let me do it.” He turned me over and applied clearance-rack shaving gel, my face laying in the divot of the sink, water flowing over and around my body, the follicles softening, open. With one stroke, the entire epidermis sloughed off, and with it the band of skin underneath. Blood gushed out and filled his hands, soupy, hot, spurting and so very thin, quickly hardening into something gelatinous. Thick. Mealy. The steam, or maybe it was the smoke, filled the air, hotboxing the two of us in my own filth, the body spoiling, releasing fumes, toxic and overwhelming. “I am so sorry,” he said over and over. “I never shaved with a razor like this. I wanted to help you.” Contagion spilt. He tightly wrapped my neck in bandages, licking his fingers as he grabbed new spools to contain the damage. Contagion spread.
            “Let’s go home, amorito,” he says as he throws water over the still-raging fire. “You are tired. I can tell you’re not feeling well. Let’s grab our bikes and go.”
            I run ahead of him. “Catch me if you can!” I yell back, my feet slamming against the packed dirt of this great hill, repetitive predictable. It takes all of a minute to get to the bike racks, and I breathlessly unlock them both, waiting for him to arrive.
            His body now comes into view from beyond the crest. “Did you miss me?” he asks, running at me and jumping into the saddle of his bike, pedaling without waiting for a response. I nod anyway, and so off we ride, the red-flashing lights behind us, the white luminescence ahead.
            With the wheels tucked in deep, rutlines snaking past the cedar and oak, I have a hard-on. Spokes clicking. Each tick is some sort of relief, the whirring, wobbling of the metal a kind of assurance. It is a reprieve, the passage of time, calculable by the counting of loops. One’s body as a spring stopper for doors, a generalization of the bikemetal’s murmur. A great cycle. Push and be pushed, brought to climax. And I ride eastward in hope of a life never promised to be mine, in the form of a double-layered stopper, the turgid body with this peculiar outgrowth, cancerous by function if not by form. Truthfully, a life of happiness, fulfillment, was promised to nobody, but especially not a vein-marked boy with a trembling cock growing by nothing but subtle movements of the flesh, of the man biking on my side. Just beyond arm’s reach. Tanned calves and the tapering off of the waist. Evading twigs and leaves with grace. Pouncing.
            We stop after an hour of this, pushing ourselves and the bikes into a clearance not much larger than a house, a grove of trees, ferns, bushes swaying in the wind of so-full night. “Sometimes it feels as though I have died and inhabit a rotting body,” Gio says. “My heart and lungs are filled with formaldehyde and I am dead or dying and the world continues spinning on its axis without me. Arnold Pyle died 47 years ago. I painted him, and my painting is showcased at the Sheldon.”
            The plains are rustling. Native grasses and wildflowers bloom over and beyond the horizon. Purple, I think to myself, illuminated in the moonlight, but I can’t quite remember what they look like in the dappled sun. Withered from drought, probably, this year was as hard as they come, but radiating color anyway. The great expanse unfolds. “I wrote a letter to him before he died. It’s all stored here.” He points to his temple. “The great repository.” A beat. “What are you thinking about?”
            “I’m thinking about what you said,” I say. I take in the view, the air, the way the wind feels as it beats against my sweat-soaked shirt.
            “What do you mean?”
            “What you said, about Pyle, I’m just thinking about it.”
            “I didn’t say anything.” Now with the cocked head, the brows set deep on the face. “Are you okay? Do you need some of my water?” The wind has stolen all the heat from my body, and I start to shiver.
            “No, I’m okay. Just daydreaming. Home.” I point.
            He nods, turns around, and starts to pedal as I follow. The calves stretching and retracting. Constriction. About twenty feet ahead, too far to talk comfortably, but close enough to hear if you listen close. “Sometimes I wonder how long I have been dead,” I hear him say. “How many reunions have been lost to the annals of time, empty or emptying. Struggle in these times. Mythologizing unlike any other.” But this is how we ride, huffing as the Fuji and Canyon dart beneath us, between our stretched bodies.
            As his body runs away from mine, the distinctive wobbling of the bike sends me back. The first time I held a man was the summer I turned eighteen. I rode my bike with a buggy behind me both ways to school, under the same sun along the same path, winding and growing along Salt Creek to the east of downtown Lincoln, marshy and muddy, that he rode to and from work. Silent and meditative, we rode alongside one another until he flagged me down and pulled me into the darkness beneath these great, swaying, cottonwood trees, the popcorn shade to which I am allergic. And with me sniffling and sneezing, he dug his fingers into my collar, pulled it and the belt off until he left my body exposed, wiggling out of his worn clothes, soon connecting together as one. He told me, “You know, I’ve never done something like this, I’m straight.” And while slipping back into my skin I thought, Yes, me too. Once a week we would stop at that enclosure, bathe in the darkness and silence and it was all I imagined it would be. Come and go and cum and go, feeling and being felt, seeing and being seen.
            Yellow light. A mirror reflects a coffee table with a pitcher of water. We are not on our bikes anymore but rather home. “What’s happening with you?” he asks, appearing to my left, our bodies facing one another. A gift only in name, we are sitting between the arms of his father’s old sofa. Torn apart, in shambles, it was destined for the dump. Pictures of us hang on the smoke-faded walls, an image of wholeness. Gio and I smiling in Wien, in Las Vegas, wrapping our arms around one another, merging the bodies, kissing cheeks and giving thumbs up. The frames are old, found in my mother’s attic, the kind given away rather than sold at garage sales. The paint is stripped, the wood is flaking. Whenever I run my fingers over the rough edges, splinters embed themselves in the skin, puncturing the boundary, spilling blood and creating a site of infection. Bacteria, viruses, fungi grow and multiply. It is something wicked, the way they are able to grow without impediment: the clumps of biology traveling throughout the arteries, veins unable to contain them, totally ineffectual, diseased and burgeoning. He puts his soft hands on my knee, one, two, three times, patting and reassuring me, rubbing the oil of his palms deep into my skin, so deep that he replaces my blood’s plasma with his. Chimeric, I am now a parody of myself and Gio, grappling with two destinies at once, all for the price of one. I can feel the DNA shifting, the nucleotides warping whenever he touches me, as though the polysaccharide ladder is being caramelized. I am liquid, overflowing myself.
            And now I am not here, but in the cloudy reaches of memory. The first time I was held by a man was my sophomore year of high school. With the sky burning, he took me out to the country to watch the sun devour itself. “Anh,” my boyfriend said, a Vietnamese term of endearment for men, “you are the light of my life.” The corn waved altogether in unison, as if in anticipation, the way it seems to move just before rain nourishes its so-repulsed roots, knowing. Two boys on the wide-open prairie, I thought, utterly exposed. He took me in his arms, holding me as though I were a child in need of comfort or consolation. “I want to kiss you,” he whispered in my ear. I want you to kiss me, too, I thought. I want you to kiss me and bite my lips, eat my tongue, I want you to suck up the roots that lie beneath the teeth and digest me, I want my throat to be exposed to the sun as you leave me here all alone, I want you to cannibalize me, I want to be made an object made legible only through consumption, I want my identity to peel away and be forgotten, I want the skin to melt away as I am made invisible, I want you to spit in my mouth and build me up as a garbage receptacle, I want to be called a Republican as some kind of revenge against those who hurt you, I want crows to find me and rip me to pieces and I want you to be the proximate cause, to be my first. But instead, a tractor rolled up behind us and we flew off back home, our mouths untouched until we were in my driveway, masked in darkness and the smell of cottonwood, moving quickly to evade detection. “I had a good time,” he said, planting a kiss on my lips, rubbing into my chest and my ass, as I rubbed his hard cock through his jeans. “I had a good time and I want to do this again with you.”
            The yellow comes back into view. I can hardly remember what he said, so I wait a minute to develop a response. Gio’s face is warped in that so-Gio way. “There’s nothing happening,” I conjure up, my chin moving to the left. My senior year of college is upon us and I teach single-variable calculus, the study of change, what lies beneath a line. Boring, machinic, an overreliance on the straightforward applications of arithmetic, the subject is worthless. The subtle tricks of abstraction ignored, falling in favor of a prescriptive regime of power. “I’ve just been stressed about school, work. The semester is almost over and they haven’t learned anything. I am worried about what the future holds, living in a time of pandemic, of loss and disease.”
            “You know that’s not what I’m talking about.” The clock strikes 5:27 and his eyes meet mine. “And we have lived in pandemic our whole lives. What have you been thinking?”
            “I haven’t been thinking of anything,” I offer, my mind wandering elsewhere. The spring I turned fifteen, people started reading my thoughts and putting others in my head. Proof is abundant, everywhere, we are so steeped in it. I’d think of a sequence of numbers, and immediately those around me would perform a series of actions to confirm they got the message: two sneezes, one dropped pencil, a dozen spoken words. They would blush whenever I thought of something risqué. Implantation occurred irregularly, so it was always a surprise, but my mindwriters would make me think about formulas embedded in the faces of clocks. Looking at the façade when it is precisely 12:36 says nothing other than the sum (and even the product) of one, two, and three is six. Six carries a special meaning. Baked into the fabric.
            “I’m exactly as I always have been, just stressed, overwhelmed.”
            Overwhelmed, I think. Last winter, Gio’s skin turned translucent and flaky. The bags under his eyes sunk deep into the sockets, as though there were no bone supporting the muscle, nerves. The veins were bulging against his taut skin, wrapping around the cranium, the fascia of his throat, making his body a sickly quilt of off-whites and purples and blues, more alien than man. His tan had receded, replaced with ghostsheet. After a few days of this, I asked him what was wrong. That Gio stare, before he relented. “My mother called about a week ago,” he said. “I told her about you and the rings,” he could not bring himself to say engagement, “and she blocked my number. I am disgusted with myself. After all of my schooling and training, after all this promise, I live with a man in a small house at the center of a conservative Nebraskan town where we get stared at, and since I was deathfucked as a teen, my own cells kill themselves because of some rogue and treatment-resistant recombinant dual strain hiding in the brain, destroying any hope I had of being a thinker, of ruminating on the questions lying in the intersections of math and love, or of having a life worth living. The future has been taken from me, and now my past is out of reach, too. Nothing of worth has ever existed or remains here.” He pointed down, bursting into tears. “Nothing here.” I took him in my arms and rubbed his back. I wanted to tell him, No, you have nothing to be disgusted with, or no, our house is big enough for both of us, and when you get cold and want your distance, it’s big enough for you to sulk silently and out of view, or no, this disease does so many despicable things, it makes us weak and nauseous and vulnerable and makes the body falter, but one thing it does not do is empty you of value, or no, the virus may lie dormant in the brain but it does not disrupt yours, yours is too full to ever be emptied. But instead, I said, “I am so sorry, my heart. I am so sorry. I am so sorry,” as he filled my shirt with tears and snot.
            “Things are not okay with you,” he says. He stands up to turn the radio on low, NPR or some other talk station about the upcoming election. There is something afoot, the broadcaster says, and this is deeply unnatural behavior, never before seen. “I’m worried you’re falling again. Every time this happens, it takes something deep and intractable for you to get help again. It’s an impossible ask, like asking a kid to be introspective, curious.”
            “Unplug the radio,” I say. (My speech has been slurred since infancy, tripping over itself, fluid and meandering, the letters melting into one another, r’s finding themselves misplaced, appearing from nowhere. On our first official date, Gio asked me to repeat every sentence. “It’s kind of cute,” he said when we got back home. “The slurring, I mean. Unable to find stability, language itself becomes incoherent. Most gays have a strong command of language because they’ve got to, sibilance maybe being the exception. But slurring is something faithful. Like the muscles in the mouth and throat have been displaced, altogether too human. A great regret of mine has always been my decision to repair my speech in elementary school. I was forced to go, but I could have resisted, I could have kept the malleability of the letter beneath the teeth, along the tongue, intact.”) “Please just unplug it.”
            “Why?” he asks. “There’s nothing wrong with the radio. Just background noise while we talk.”
            “They’re listening in,” I say. “There’s nothing benign about it. The transmitter behind the dial. It sends and it receives, both at once, constructed with enough bandwidth to allow information to be sent back, forth, a single beam of particles but sending, receiving, all at the same time. Radio as a double-stranded helix, moving through space, time. When radio was first invented, Marconi allowed for it. It’s built-in to the science, the frequencies.”
            “They’re not listening in.” His chin twitches.

###

            I am in the bedroom now. There is no light peering in from behind the curtains, so it is unclear how much time has passed. I move to light the woodwick candles, the kind that crack with force as they burn away, as the headlights of some small car flash by.
            I remember now the taste of being exposed in the backseat of a green sedan, windows all fogged up in the eleventh grade, being held by my friend until we both got hard and touched one another, soft and supple and, all at the same time, turgid, a man coming around on a bike, shining a light in the tinted windows, underwear and belts all loose in the cabin, the buttons of dress shirts bulging, so very exposed in the white, white light, jumping back to the front seats and speeding off, being chased and chased until we lost him, stopping for a moment, laughing until our bellies and groins ached, and, resuming where we left off, he ripped the fat from my sides and made me into something new, unrecognizable and full.
            Gio is standing at the door with his head titled. “Follow me,” I say, and time slips away once more.

###

            Today is the day of reckoning. Soon his body lies narrow between the outer reaches of mine, between the downward-facing palms, as sweat fills the air, an ocean thousands of miles from any seaboard, salt permeating through the skin, accumulating in the liver, kidneys, deposits forming crystals whose only purpose is to break off into the blood, passing through the urethra as daggers. The first nude photograph I bought was when I was seventeen, one of James Bidgood’s. It swung on the inside of my handle-less closet, visible only to me, able to be viewed only through the destruction of another handle, the repurposing of the old crystal knobs found in drawers throughout the house, in pursuit of something more. Sat in front of a circle of mirrors, Bidgood’s model has his pants infiltrating the corpus, pulled tight, the interior reflected in and made coherent by the exterior. A thousand lonely nights were spent with the two of us staring into the eyes of the other. 
            Gio is now of the turned guys and has a gaping hole in his chest and from it leaks the fluid that makes up the night sky, black ink, sweet and high and warm: dark, rotten, fragmented blood, torn by sunlight and heat and the art of holding someone close, piled up, and it is awful, the blood, low and thick and grainy, running out of this poor boy’s chest in a continuous stream in thick, ragged clots, ones with bits of hair and teeth and the nails he bit and swallowed over the years, some painted, pastel and smooth, running on and on, and when I penetrate the skin to best enter that abyss, pools of light congeal and run down the horizon, blotting out the fire-warmed blackness behind, the remaining ribs creaking as he breathes in and out, trickling starlight, falling around burst arteries and through cracks in bones, until the boiling and frozen and black and dead blood mixes with my purity, and I take my hand, pull the skin taut and the jaws open, reaching in to grab a memory of the two of us, and douse myself in the newly-refined gasoline, flammable and warm with the smell of sepia, of being kissed on the cheek at a middle school dance, thinking to myself, what will history say of this, a turned guy getting stoma-fucked while he rots and falls apart at the seams, the perineal raphe of this walking corpse disintegrating and leaving exposed stones to twist and starve themselves, what will history say of the self-immolation of the healthy one, burning it all to feel warm and to feel frozen and to feel rotten tissue rubbing against cold and living flesh, and I stop thinking, continue to envelop myself in melted tourmaline until history slips away, the vastness and the density of it all splattered across my chest, softening the peach-light hair, the two of us trading commodities at a loss, secrets on how best to hold a man, how to make love with tears in your eyes, how to ignore the way that your body is falling apart and the way it resists crumbling, and soon the two of us have our chests held against one another, life and death imparted between the two of us, the infection and the cure, one a chariot and one a jockey of this electric thing, watching the scent of necrosis and renaissance fog up our thick-brimmed and square-framed glasses, and I feel my outer layer of skin start to slough away, tasting the possibility of recovery-as-loss, or is it loss-as-recovery, until the buds fall off as bubble wrap, so many pockets of air and saliva cracking apart the muscle as the water-starved air presses it, warps it, transforming the flesh quickly to dust and then nothing, washed away, the black blood and radiant light quickly moving by osmosis, eliminating movement and the cut-across, seeping into the bones of the living, breaking and folding and cracking them, sucking the marrow out and replacing it with the warmth and allure of becoming phantasma, bloody and shredded apart and broken and mended and whole all at once, blood and vomit and an ocean spread out in all directions, a spectacle draped in black on a great circle around the body, a spectacle contained in the body, which serves no greater purpose than as a site of trauma, and it all slips away. I run my arm over his side of the bed, feeling air and air alone.

Lexus Root is a poet and scholar of queer studies living in Lincoln, Nebraska.

 

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q

Content warning: unsanitary, eugenic ableism, gore, ableist & anti-sex worker slurs reclaimed

we do not grant you title here

after htmlFlowers // grant jonathon‬

we
::
abhorrence of
violated future-lost revileds
dripping prophets of abled demise 
carriers of glib disease 
whoring our bodies to medicine while we
gutter roll the streets on our backs
begging violence from an emptied moon
that loves us through her fever
a buried ocean
that has forgotten how to sing her emptied wife through
birthing bloody fecal prayers
::
your funerals after endless apocalyptic hemorrhaging
the beetles and maggots consuming what you called you after 
funerals have gone out of style and we all
rot in the remnants of streets
gutted and fetid
fish caught and sliced and
abandoned
when oil slicks slip from our sclera
::
vicious snapping commodities devoid of capitalist gain
commodifying our snarling survival until we take you     into
our writhing underbelly    into
our oozing cunts     into
our hovels built of bone and gristle
intestine colon viscera festering under the sink piled     into 
your throat
::
all you hoard putrefying
all you press distant creeping close—
pink insulation sticky with nineteen thirty-nine consensual homicides in your attic
drywall peeling parting from grey sludge hidden between 
your world and what you
have graciously granted us
while we
overstay our unwelcome beneath your heavy feet
plastic doll heads filled with molding toothpaste
corvid skulls unearthed still gripped in tangling milkweed roots
algae growing 'round the edges of your eyes nostrils aorta vertebral foramen
::
well , come 
into this unsprung mattress
 , empty handed con man ,
if your answer sates our shrivelled cripple gut—
what offal bring you
 ,  to please our whoring hearts ?

q is shown on a gray background, from the upper arms up, in a grayscale image. q has pale skin, and hair of lightcolor, slightly longer than shoulder length, and shaved short at the side. q's hair is held forward in curls to cover the right side of the face; q looks up and to the right. q wears a dark ribbed knit v-neck sweater, and the black strap of a top is visible at the neck.

q is a white queercrip dykefag artist, sex worker, and death doula, primarily living, working, creating, and dying on the land of the Ts’elxwéyeqw tribe of the Stó:lō nation. A formerly-homeless high school-dropout, its workshops and writing are grown from joy and spite found in Mad queer disabled and ill community.

 

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