Paris Jessie

Unclean

As if, I’m not a seed that was once planted. Now sprouting. As if, the sun does not water me, like I don’t need it. As if, the depression and anxiety do not keep deflowering me. I don’t like it. I let them know I don’t want to be touched. You don’t have my consent. Today, leave me alone. I know: 

                I am not their maker. 
                I am a force to be reckoned with. 

I write through it. So forcefully you would think my hands are bleeding from the pen. I command myself, my soul, to get to it. Write it out. Do not let these words off into the abyss. My heart makes up its mind:

                You better put that to use. 
                You better dig. 
                Right here, right now.
                Wipe that lovely face.  

And then like holy matrimony I baptize some pages. I water that which already comes from the earth with my innerness. 

                How is that for a tree of life? 

There are elements of nature at the front door of my spirit. 

                Water, fire, earth, wind.

They’ve been sweetly knocking. But too, there is a backdoor. The hinges ripped. It keeps slamming, going:

                Open.
                Close.
                Open.

But I am not that little girl anymore. With a frailty still in my voice, I say:

                Bring it. 

Overly confident, perhaps. Delicately prepared, maybe. Sometimes my whole being just starts marching forward, while I am spinning, full, three-sixties, all at the same time. But it is okay. Because of the ease when I turn on Pip Millet or Jordan Rakei—both on repeat—dancing all over the place. I wonder:

                Where do they smile this big at?

This lets me know. I adore me. And whatever is in me shall take care of me. It is so sweet. 

***

And sometimes it is bitter. I never failed to put words like, “multitasker,” “proactive,” or “detail-oriented” on my resume. 

                Why? 

Because they live on my skin. Depression and anxiety can really just swim up your spine when they choose. So here I am, often, tasked with the role of juggling this that comes and goes. Thinking on my feet to war them off. And getting down to the root of why they thought they were welcome. Surely, this is a mistake. Or this just may be how it is. 

I am learning to “switch the script.” Becoming a kind monster, they do not want to mess with.  Backed by pens, sheets of paper, and better than ever words that triumph over when they try to speak. Depression is getting lonely and a bit frustrated, how sad. While anxiety is playing a game of ding-dong ditch, but I already know who it is. 

When I feel thrown from my body, I clothe myself with sheer cosmos. The moon wraps me like a cape. The sun kisses me all over the face. The stars outdo tears and sparkle all up and down. The mountains show off their flexibility. And yes, they have put on a show for me.

***

It’s sad, maybe—sometimes I play—knowing I won’t stay. When I let the words seep onto the page and creep like the air when inching down a window. Fraternal twins given last minute names they cling like a little one’s memorable grip on their favorite toy. There they are acting up, bending your heart, and twisting your head. 

Who would think at the age of 2 or 3 you could be learning more than the English language? Dialects of shadows that couldn’t speak any louder. I didn’t have to go by plane—foreign—was my body not wrapped in a blanket with a little bit of light hitting a side of my face. 

Who would think at the age of 4 or 5 a body would pinky promise with a mind and teach the other the art of sunbathing? Soon to be a dearest friend. I didn’t like baths after playtime. Momma had a sweet way of communicating—like soft, but tethered wind—she didn’t know I was never ready to wash off that sun. She’d say like:

                Come on, we gonna be here. You go clean your body. 

She is not at fault. I was in foreign territory thinking:

                But momma said soap is not for eating, so how do I rinse my insides when it’s all soapy?

Those fleeting moments. Who would think at 6 or 7 one would have such lung capacity? Or that at 8 or 9 one would know how to scream underwater without allowing it to crash down your throat. 

See, I had savored the space next to my mother. In her cloud. The space was different than my own. When she would dream, I would too. I could bet this one time we dreamt the same night terror all the way through. A bathroom tattered peach, yellow with a shower that didn’t work and that toilet with its own beat. I had savored the asking: 

                Mommy, can I lay with you?

You never got upset. Ever. I wish I knew how much this meant. Because now I know you were just fleeting at times, too. 

 

A photo of a Black person with short hair and dark-rimmed glasses, wearing a taupe knit sweater. Part of their face is obscured by shadow while they look toward the camera.

Paris Jessie (she/her) is a writer and creative based in Los Angeles. She is also an on-call set medic. Through creative expression she hopes to disrupt the putting aside of issues such as mental health, intergenerational trauma, and historically-marginalized voices. She is fueled by poetry, dance, and videography. Other works of hers have appeared/forthcoming in BSW Chronicles, Serotonin, and Kaaterskill Basin. Her debut poetry collection, ‘leaves and their tree,‘ is available on Amazon. You may find her on Instagram @iamparisjessie or at iamparisjessie.com.

 

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grace (ge) gilbert

closeted diaries

a fence with words carved into reading 'be gay do crime'

The New York Times documentary series is on. 

I angle toward the handsome, weary ICU doctors on the screen in a sort of reverence for information, though I am directly focused on the MacBook in front of me, which I purchased when I was eighteen after working at a fundamentalist Christian camp the whole summer. 

I designed and taught an entire arts curriculum. 

I played the Moana soundtrack 232 times. 

In return, they paid me 2,000 dollars and fed me grilled cheese with curly fries every day at 12:30 PM. 

This was when I loved god. 

O The shit I did for him.

 

 

 

 

Earlier I walk by a Methodist church that has a Pride flag staked very intentionally near the red painted doors, which seem characteristically heavy, probably a metaphorical nod to how narrow that narrow path really is. 

Mifflin Ave. 

This street is near my street, but it’s more luxurious—paved with artfully lopped bricks and populated with those tiny libraries that only ever contain obscure parenting books, Dr. Phil and/or Oz, John Grisham. 

Once I found Vonnegut (Breakfast of Champions) hiding in the South Bend neighborhood of Rochester, New York. 

My next action was to eat vegan chicken nuggets on my vegan ex-boyfriend’s porch and read it in its entirety. 

We weren’t very conversational at that point. 

I slathered the tasteless meat bunches in Frank’s hot sauce. This caused a fight, which pointed to something else. 

Fights, and vegans, tend to do that.

 

 

 

 

When I walk by the church doors I think I feel a pull. 

The pull is followed by horror. 

A sequence of feelings that are really just reactions to feelings.

I used to associate this pull with “god working in mysterious ways,” something a girl about my age said in the Trader Joe’s line the other day. Upon hearing this I whispered “god isn’t real” to myself beneath my mask. I don’t know why I did this. I texted B about it as an act of documentation.

 

 

 

 

I conclude that the pull is loneliness. 

 

 

 

 

I scale the perimeter of the building and try to look in the windows but everything is a bit obscured by the age of the glass. 

I imagine a past self standing in the outdoor chapel at Christ the King, slapping mosquitoes between chutes of stubble on my legs. 

Candles in their praise stance. Singing hymns. Singing “as the deer pant-eth for the water, so my soul thirst-eth after you.” 

Meaning it. 

Or at least absorbing the momentum of everyone else meaning it, all of us pooling together in some primordial praise swamp. 

I felt like a happy fraction then. 

Arms up & floating toward a whole. 

 

 

 

 

I don’t pray anymore, but I think pointedly. 

I think, big-G-God, if you want me to think about you again, send someone out to pray for me. 

Big fucking dummy. 

However, as I think this I am walking away already, smug as ever, heading down the brick-paved back alley that is called “Virgil Way.” 

This reminds me of Dante.

In reality it’s just where rich people put their trash. 

 

 

 

 

I scroll thru Instagram when I get home. 

I repost a stylish quote that exclaims, in sleek rainbow text, “queer people in straight-passing relationships are still queer” and another one that says “bisexual people are still bisexual no matter who they date” and finally “gender is a social construct.” 

I think about my big-B-Boyfriend and what he thinks of this. 

The first person I told I was queer was myself, and then no one again until God died for me. 

I was ten and Leah (gay now, go figure) was very, very pretty. 

I whispered, “I am bisexual” into my book (probably The Giver, which my teacher made my mom sign a permission slip for me to read) during independent reading time because apparently that’s something I do when I need (want? know?) things to be true.

 

 

 

 

A text from B—he sends a 37 second audio message explaining that, remember in the beginning of quarantine, when we’d call like every day, and it was nice but then we decided we don’t have to do that, and though he loves talking to me he kind of just wants to watch a movie and read tonight, and that he wanted to be open and honest and direct in communicating because that’s what good couples do and he hopes that’s ok.

The pull incident has made me feel more solemn and interior than usual, so I am grateful.

 

 

 

 

I make a cocktail with bourbon called AMERICAN HONEY (which is good but twenty dollars) and apple cider I mulled with nutmeg and cinnamon sticks. 

I think about the Queer identity. 

I think about god I guess. 

I think about how irritating it is that I fear being uninteresting. 

I wonder if I’m really, truly, actually known or if what is seen, what B sees, what god (?) sees, is simply a straight performance of me that I cannot keep up.

 

 

 

 

Drink up, kiddo, there’s a whole life of this.   

 

 

 

 

The New York Times reporters are good, passive company. 

 

 

 

 

They flicker between shots of trees and cars and hospitals and New York City, bringing light to my living room, which, despite my best efforts, tends toward a certain darkness. 

 

 

 

 

The television is a TCL 32-incher, which is almost the size of a classic dick joke six times over. I got it, in essence, from my grandfather—a homophobic, supercilious, toupee-wearing alcoholic. 

He’s a retired State Supreme Court justice. 

I didn’t know his name was “Hugh” until I was eleven, because we always called him Grandpa Judge. 

Regardless, he’s rich as balls, dying of metastatic colon cancer, and has always been an erratic but lavish gift-giver.

 

 

 

 

For Christmas last year he gave me a 1000 dollar check folded into a glass ornament, and a purple Vera Wang towel (which, now stained with Garnier Strawberry Jam hair dye, hangs on my bathroom door). 

A few months ago, for absolutely no reason, he gave me 3 Amazon gift cards, each 50 dollars.

 

 

 

 

I sent him a thank you card. 

I thought, sorry I won’t see you before you die. 

I bought the TCL 32-inch television.

 

 

 

 

It arrived in 2 days, as expected.

 

A photo of a white person looking away  from the camera, reflected in a gold-framed mirror mounted on a peach-colored wall. They have dark short hair and dark eyes, and their mouth is slightly open.

grace (ge) gilbert’s recent micro, poetics, & lyric essays can/will be found in the Adroit Journal, Hobart, Ninth Letter, Pithead Chapel, the Offing, the minnesota review, Gargoyle, DIALOGIST, the Penn Review, Maudlin House, and others. Their digital micro-chap, no sharp things can be found in NAILED. They are an MFA candidate at the University of Pittsburgh where they consume unholy amounts of cheese and dumplings. Peruse their work on their website— gracegegilbert.com, or follow them on Twitter @geg2us.

 

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Ginger Ko

Bone Clean
Wholesome Things: Scoured Bright and Dry

Preface

Something pried apart never comes back together the way it grew. With Bone Clean, I am telling you to stop punishing me for your knowing. Your knowing why you’re living this life and not another. Your face is on the wall; every spring they move the rock that hides you and watch you weep into their buckets. 

The world to you is never tested. You think we’ll all be scoured bright and dry like you, the cleanest bones in the world. You don’t even imagine: the unwholesome shreds of things. Irremoveable stains. 

I suddenly learned that I have never stopped being a thing. Calmness comes from recognizing patterns. Like how I know, instantly, that you’re supposed to control this interaction, and there is a buzzing click-jolt into place of hatred. 

How can you and I escape historicity? How am I allowed to be in the present, or the future? How can I get out of the preface of being lost to mothers and fathers, of coming back from the mountains to kill them? I am not afraid this pain will last forever. I cannot see a future at all, even a false one.

To be “new”/experimental/forward-looking, you put the present violence in the past even as it happens. 

Look how old-fashioned I am.

Look how bad I’m making you feel for something that can’t be undone. 

 

 

 

Preface

I was young, during my twenties, but not so young that I couldn’t know better.

I spent a single unhappy semester in a low-residency MFA program. The in-person workshops took place in Louisville, and during these gatherings Charles Wright was circulated with reverence by all the hipster broets who styled themselves after Dust Bowlers. A young man, dressed to look like he had emerged, avec flannel, from The Grapes of Wrath, reverently handed me a Wright book as if it were my turn to receive the wafer. I read it and thought: “What.” (For instance, in “The Southern Cross,” that long, long poem, why isn’t it an apparent problem that female gender appears only as icon or figure or city subdued or sleeping sister or a…spider?) My mentor for the semester was an old white man who lived at the top of a mountain in Montana. I stopped turning in my packets of writing to him mid-way through the semester. I did not plan on ever writing again.

While completing a biology degree in Indiana, I earned my only A in an undergraduate creative writing class. The professor, another old white man, considered Merwin unpleasantly experimental due to lack of punctuation. He liked my writing very much and slanted my writing into something so small that I was hardly upright. This professor imprinted on me the desirability of slow nature and velar sounds. I found everything very beautiful all the time. I was so exhausted from the rich precision of the meditative mode that each poem I wrote for his approval was like wrenching my spine between two fists. At the end of the semester, he told me that I did not need to turn in a final portfolio, that I had far exceeded the requirements of the course. I went home and then felt empty for months. I did not plan on ever writing again.

Bone Clean covers the period of my life spent in the lower Midwest. Bone Clean is my reparations to myself as the young person who knew things were wrong even as I did them. 

 

 

 

Preface

“I’ll suck on them,” my grandmother always said, beckoning me to hand over the leftover bones. My cousins and I would flee the room as the elders began lasciviously slurping the remains of the big family meal. My grandparents laughed as I covered my ears with my hands and squinted my eyes, trying to block out the unholy feasting of old Chinese people on the grey parts of cooked animals.

 

 

 

Preface

I needed to write Bone Clean because I have missed the late-night talks I had with the other women in my master’s writing program. We had all come from very far away to study the craft of writing in a tiny high plains town. We were all in our late twenties, married or divorced, and socially distinct from the younger, more glamorous students in our cohort because we were tired of drinking, and desperately tired of trying to find ourselves. It had already turned out that there wasn’t anything to find. Instead, since we were all living in a place that was cold and dark for most of the year, we would gather around someone’s kitchen table at night, still in our coats, when the babies were asleep, and methodically roll a dozen cigarettes. Then we would hold out our hands and ask the others to take their pick: lumpy or smooth, thick or thin, tight or loose. And then tramp outside in our boots and sit on the cold yard furniture: metal painfully grated against our backsides, or cracked plastic with too much give, or wood that never really dried out from all the melted snow. And we talked so much, gossiped and schemed and dissected.

Men would pass through our conversations—husbands letting out the dog, boyfriends joining for a smoke, friends wheeling their bikes through—but their brief intrusions were always overcome no matter how meaningful their contributions. Men who were present during these gatherings were shouted down, waved off, or left to quietly listen just outside of the circle of coated, smoking women. When the humidity was high, the smoke was hung up just above our hair. We talked and laughed so quickly and all at once that neighbors would often turn on their lights and stare out their windows. The conversations were a women’s space. The conversations were dependent on the collusion of women.

Bone Clean is my continuation of these women’s nights. We often spoke about women’s writing and relationships and health as if upholding all the subjects at once was easy. So easy that we would delve all the way down to the bone and pick it clean. I am still friends with many of the women I had these conversations with, but we are now distinct from each other. We graduated and separated. Bone Clean is my side of things, sending it out and waiting for their side of things. Bone Clean is my loneliness. My wish for a woman’s response, for our conspiracy.

 

 

 

Preface

I started writing Bone Clean after I went to view the Body Worlds exhibit when it reached Chicago. It had remained seemingly for months at one of the downtown museums and for weeks beforehand, and for weeks long after, drivers along Lake Michigan passed the unremitting streetlamp banners that displayed grotesque pictures of the plastinated bodies in various poses. Riding a bike. Posed as mother and daughter (or desexed father and desexed son), both pointing off into the distance. Suspended mid-leap/-kick with a basketball or football. All with their bright red ropey musculature and artistically flayed tendons and tissues.

I entered the halls of the exhibit expecting some kind of overwhelming smell or some other pervasive signal of decay. Instead, the museum spotlights were bright and beautiful, throwing the skinned bodies into the type of colossal beauty that serves antiquities and dinosaur skeletons. Some of the bodies were unnaturally stretched or enlarged, somehow standing ten feet tall and looming above the other bodies on pedestals at artistically pleasing intervals. These bodies are no longer bodies which are subject to decay. They are, in fact, not even preserved in time, their deterioration arrested. They have been converted to something else altogether via the plastination process, a mechanism of replacing all the living liquids of a body with plastics that are then hardened into shape. The bodies that go through this process transform into plastinates, a name that is given to all specimens that undergo this procedure, whether they are small animal scraps or an entire human body.

The Body Worlds exhibit that I attended in Chicago was a part of the Body Worlds franchise that is headed by Gunther von Hagens, developer of the plastination process. Von Hagens is a theatrical man, having founded and patented the plastination process in the 1970s. He went on to head several plastination centers and laboratories, one of which is a private workspace that is secreted away behind a revolving staircase. He wears a black fedora wherever he goes, and considers his life work to be the dissemination of anatomical knowledge. So intent on this legacy of bringing anatomy to the people, he has performed public and televised autopsies, has created several different strains of his world-travelling Body Worlds exhibits (Body Worlds: Animals, Body Worlds: Cycle of Life), and accepts all manner of bodies into his plastinated creations, including those of executed Chinese prisoners. 

I call the plastinates creations because the human and animal plastinates are posed so melotheatrically (remember: revolving staircase, black fedora, etc.), something I found appealing and humorous when visiting the exhibit in Chicago. Later, I found out that the bodies—a woman laying on her side, one hand behind her head like a swimsuit model, a nearly full-term fetus sagging from her belly; a pair of humans atop a rearing, skinned horse, the mane and tail hair intact—might not all have been encased in Western skin. The delusion of Western-ness is aided by an artifice of the most probable signifier of race: the plastination technology still has trouble transforming the odd solution that makes up eyeballs, so most of the plastinates stare out with replica eyeballs that have blue irises. Though they are outfitted with Western accessories (the plastinates ride shiny bicycles and hold shiny Western instruments), they might have, in fact, been Central or Eastern Asian. 

When finding this out, I couldn’t help but assume that the plastinates were derived from stolen bodies. If the bodies had been Western, they would have been happy bodies, donated from an excess of wealth and an investment in knowledge production. It is the Western bodies that are interested in science and posterity, as well as history with a dash of the occult or steampunk. Such bodies would desire inclusion in the carefully contrapposto Body Worlds exhibit, in which the artistry of the plastinate form is equally important to the anatomical education imparted.

If you know that the bodies of the plastinates were actually people from Kyrgyzstan or China, where bodies are devalued, anonymized, imprisoned in variously despotic ways, and totally invisibilized to the Western world, then you know that the plastinates came from unhappy bodies. They were likely forgotten or secreted, sold or trafficked, rather than donated. They would not have given themselves to science. They were more likely given to the Body Worlds industry because they were lost to their families.

The Body Worlds exhibits are the most literal embodiment of Western consumption of non-Western bodies. My work in Bone Clean is my exploration of the insatiability of Western consumption and the non-Western teeming that nourishes the richly flourishing body of consumption. This is a work in words for those who are voiceless because their bodies cannot be comprehended. Their bodies carry unfamiliar memories, and so cannot be accessed as bodies. So many feed the few. 

 

 

 

Preface

The significance of my mediated skeleton lain against the stinging lattice: is for what follows.1

  

 

 

1 “Families need proof, Koff says—they come looking for recognizable clothing and say, ‘I want the bones.’
                 I, too, want the bones.”
– M. NourbeSe Phillip, Zong!

 

 

 

Preface

When I was six, my kindergarten teacher asked my mother to bring in the workbooks that my mother bought from the homeschool store and made me complete at home. In the workbooks were line drawings of underwater tableaus full of cheerful octopuses and encouraging starfish. There was also long division and fractions, carrying the one, and multiplication tables, sites of intense sadness because I so often did not understand the problems, did not want to be sitting at them, but had nowhere else to go.

      

When I started the first grade, and was then inexplicably carried away to the second grade a few months later—for the school administration, this was unprecedented; for me, it caused my aunt to sneer at the pencil lead I had smeared on my cheek in my excitement to show her my workbooks when she asked about them (I didn’t understand, until two or three years later, that adults could ask questions to which they didn’t want to hear the answers)—the place I found to go was the bathroom. As the child of a woman who regularly rifled through her daughter’s belongings, who gave me gifts and then weeks or months later combed the drawers and cabinets to reclaim them, the lock on the bathroom door was a revelation. I carried my books into the bathroom and read them under that sick white long-bulbed light that still despairs me to this day. I remember having some time, some quiet to myself, some kind of faint untraceable sadness and satisfaction at being alone, before my parents began to notice, using the screwdriver to break into the bathroom while I hid my books behind the toilet.

It is the privacy of writing that I sought for most of my childhood, writing to ease confusion even though my mother would go into my desk and page through my attempts at working out the problems of self-story, confronting me with their contents with a righteousness that lacked any guilt. My parents attempted to turn writing into a chore, buying me special journals and forcing me to write daily entries, reviewing them when I was done. In this way, the impulse to write for any length of time became shameful, wasteful and self-indulgent, especially when my mother liked to remind me that competency at reading and writing was something accessible to all (even to her, if she had been born in this country), and nothing special. Without being able to work through problems behind the closed doors of writing, I’m not sure I thought much at all, and was mostly just a receptacle for abuse.

I must have made it easy, having been trained for it, and constitutionally suited to withstand it without crying or fighting back. I was slow, as a child, to understand jokes and identify the visual indicators that people use on their faces to relay their intent. I have memories of being insulted, my first reaction being to watch the scene as from a distance before understanding that I was supposed to feel bad. Often I didn’t feel anything at all, waiting until I was walking home alone, or standing in front of the bathroom mirror before a bath, to think about why things happened to me.

   

It is the resentment of turning my writing into something for others (the potential for the posterity of communication realized through the act of writing) that confuses me. If I can make writing truly my own, then I have no initial impulse to share it with others. I am too greedy for privacy and solitude. But what if it can never belong to me truly? Then my writing is bearing witness, forcing into existence what otherwise could be forgotten or denied.

 

 

 

Preface

I feel as though I’ve lost the language of my legacy. Those who say something is “bone deep” don’t know that sometimes it’s only as deep as the reading and speaking. I recently read the book of a great poet, and in it she writes lovingly to Lucy, the mother of us all. She could be writing to me. I am a lovely little primitive. 

Bone Clean is about how you’re not supposed to hate where you’ve grown up. Bone Clean is about how everyone else in the world doesn’t think that anyone’s hurt can be innocent. I don’t know how to be, so I am starting with the core beneath the tangled hose of my guts—my growth, my safety, my peace.

Originally published at Quaint Magazine

 

A photo of a woman with dark-rimmed glasses and hair that is dark blonde and black toward the roots. She is wearing a gray shirt, and looking into the camera.

Ginger Ko is an Assistant Professor at Sam Houston State University’s MFA program in Creative Writing, Editing, and Publishing. She is the author of Motherlover (Bloof Books) and Inherit (Sidebrow), as well as several chapbooks. Her next project, a book as interactive app, is forthcoming from The Operating System. Her poetry and essays can be found in The Atlantic, American Poetry Review, The Offing, VIDA Review, and elsewhere. You can find her online at www.gingerko.com

 

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R. Tiara Malone

All Summer ’16

if it’s the summer of 2016 & drake drops views, then you’re 27 and this album becomes the soundtrack to ur life, a lifeline maybe. u start to understand his sentiments abt money being a worthy alternative to love. u understand what he means when he says “all of my let’s just be friends are friends i don’t have anymore.” u start to abandon the stifling politics u have abt urself. it sounds liberating but u know that u are not becoming free so much as u are numb. u are moving towards ur detonation. u do not know how to slow it down or stop it. do you even want to slow it down or stop it? u do know, u will not be sober for ur own implosion. u hope to wake in the aftermath of it and u promise urself u will not notice all the debris. u will pretend it never happened. u learn how to breath in and out and never really exhale. u bloat.

each day u examine ur aging form in ur full-length mirror. it doesn’t matter that it lies to u. the truth is, ur ass and hips sit lower now. and if it’s one thing growing up girl has taught u, is that the hips don’t lie. as ur body shifts and u try to figure out a place for it, u meet a man. u immediately want to love him but u know better. he is beautiful but u know better. u expose the truth of ur body to him. u think, he either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that u are never present. then one day, he confronts u, points out ur detachment. his observation vibrates ur body. it rings thru out ur old apartment that has become a grave for ur ghost-self and a few roaches u don’t care to exterminate—being alone is too heavy. u let the roaches have the kitchen. u let this beautiful man have ur new body. u let him have u to a soundtrack of alt. r&b, emo rap & trap music. u let these sounds fill the spaces where ur feelings used to be. hurt turns hard, u can almost feel it happening in real time. u fade.

not long before the beautiful man notices ur ghost-self, a different man made ur body a ghost town. he turned ur lullaby into heavy metal. sleep eludes u now. it dances around ur bed and taunts u, daring u to come and get it. u use the new man as pillow, as armor, as a goodnight song. u attempt sleep but the scent of a past love haunts the place. it’s on the sheets no matter how u wash them. the cushions of the sofa hold the scent. u are convinced the scent is coming thru the pipes. it’s in the water. it’s not just the apartment, u smell it everywhere now. u smell it in the emotional rappers coming thru ur speakers. u smell it in older women who, in the past, were too old to understand u. or, u were maybe too young to understand them. u smell it in rage. u smell it with a raging red. u smell it in blues. it stinks like ur twenties going bad. u think ur past love made off with ur youth. u are right and wrong about this. u are learning the nuances of scent. u inhale.

the call center job u stumbled into allows u to disconnect and provides a paycheck big enough to send ur sorrows into outerspace. u stay at the job. u are mostly late, always disengaged. it is too safe. u use lunch breaks to finish blunts from the morning and to mix red wine into ur passion tea from sbux. u use lunch breaks to wonder if u should attempt ur dreams again. u wonder if u should try reconnecting with ur family, try to feel something for them. u smoke again and top off ur cup because the thought of trying pains u more than your stagnancy. each morning on ur transfer from train to bus, u grab a smoothie from the supermarket on grand & chicago. u don’t care that it’s overpriced and packed with sugar. u only care that u look like u care. u ask urself if this is what being woman looks like: overspending on junk on ur way to a job that is draining life from ur body? the answer has been on ur mind, on ur tongue, before u cld speak it. u swallow it again because u are still unwilling to stop buying into ur own facade. u hide.

u wonder why u look so much like ur mother now, wonder why the thought of calling her throws u into a panic. she was ur age when she had u. she was only a few years older when she left ur father in chicago. him in his addiction. her with her 8 kids in tow. u start to wonder if you’re more him than u thought. it’s not only ur alcohol intake. u now crave the little pills that remind u of vitamins from ur childhood. u make a case for the tiny crystals the beautiful man places on ur tongue. u tell urself u work too hard to be sober. u become agitated easily. u decide to tattoo ur chest just to feel the buzz of the needle. u spend money on everything but rent and u wait for the bottom to fall out. u pacify.

ur womb starts to cry out for something to hold. this beautiful man does his part to fill u with life. u are not ready to become a home. there is no cub. finally, there is no address. u lose the apartment and are relieved for it. the season wants to wane, give out, but not before a few suffocating dog days. u spend these intensely hot days figuring out an escape. this planning is not new to u. in fact, u can’t remember what it feels like to not want to run. u think as far back as u can but can’t recall a time when fire wasn’t in ur feet. u plot.

u are unable to recognize urself. u are living for this feeling of feeling dead. u want more of it. u want to never make the mistake of loving again. u think it’s easy to replace Love so u frequent petco. u buy fish that die off. u buy a bird that u eventually set free. u want to be the bird but u are becoming the fish. it’s not okay but it’s inevitable, u think. u believe it’s possible to outrun urself forever and so u plan to. u start at lake michigan. ur fear of drowning is alleviated by this new secret u have found about water. u are discovering its healing properties, its remedies. it becomes ur baptism each day after the call center. u think, maybe, u cld make this living thing work after all. u float.

this man, beautiful as he is, is too close. just the thought of seeing him again makes u uneasy but u crave it. he is both a danger zone and a safe place. u circulate from one extreme to another. u don’t know if he is too good for u or vice versa. somewhere between lake michigan and ur apartment u decide it is neither. u decide, his thorns are like ur thorns, so even though it hurts, it’s not a new kind of pain. u melt into this theory, try to find solace in it. u shatter.

u cry but can’t produce tears. u spend hours by the lake contemplating the thought…u disconnect from him. u depend on him to save u. u forget urself. u remember urself. u don’t understand it, u just know u don’t feel the same and it’s time to surrender. and so u do. u surrender over and over. u do this all summer ’16 until u fall.

-lake michigan, ‘16

 

A photo of a Black woman smiling and wearing gold-rimmed glasses and a white T-shirt.

R. Tiara Malone is a Chicago born writer living in New Orleans. Her poetry has been published by Partial Press. Her stageplays have been read in Chicago, Atlanta, and New Orleans. Her essays have appeared in Prairie Schooner and Peauxdunque Review (forthcoming). Her essay “Mikey Go Boom!” was a runner-up in the 2020 Words and Music Festival. She studied Media, Communication, and Theatre at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. She is currently working on a lyrical memoir and is the owner of Minimoon Massage Studio (@MinimoonMassage) in Nola. Never tweeting @ascribecalled.

 

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