The gardener

Parietal, occipital and frontal lobe

fused together —a big green waxy watermelon head.

A mandible and maxilla connected by corn,

golden glistening teeth that roll his mouth every time he laughs.

He cries bright-red strawberry tears 

when he finds a pumpkin crushed by hungry deer,

or radish leaves nibbled on by curious rabbits,

or tomato plants starved by obnoxious aphids.

Day after day he works his crops, 

protecting them like they are his children.

Clavicles cut from celery stalks,

scapulas peeled from cabbages.

He picked the plums and apples from his trees

stacked them together to form his vertebral column.

Every day when the sun shines brightest in the sky

he bends backward, 

letting the sunlight enter his welcoming bones;

A sunflower of most peculiar creation. 

Ribs ripped out of the ground, 

carefully cleaned carrots that wrap around his torso. 

Protecting the area of 

what could be, 

what should be,

his heart and his lungs.

Late at night, as he stares up at the galaxy of stars, 

he imagines he can hear the “Ba-bump! Ba-bump!” 

of his loving, lonely heart. 

He swings his hoe with his cucumber humerus,

pulls weeds with his sweet potato radius and ulna.

Fingers plucked from bunches of snap peas that click, click, click

as he delicately touches his gardening tools.

Hip-bone and scrotum,

sweetly sliced cantaloupe.

But the sugary drips of his pelvis attract ants while he sleeps.

So every morning he dusts off their curious pinchers,

carefully making sure not to squash them. 

Femurs built out of zucchinis 

lifted by tibias and fibulas of squash.

Fragile patellas bend to pet a fluffy neighborhood dog,

kneecaps carefully carved out of onions.

Potatoes dig into the soft soil as he walks;

large, clunky, wobbly feet. 

He used to have cherry tomato toes,

but those were eaten by mice a couple of months ago.

As the summer grows into fall, 

a bountiful harvest season blooms in the garden.

He took care of his crops well. 

But the summer heat pruned his corn mandible and maxilla.

The plums and apples of his vertebrae bent,

melting, rotting in the sun.

Now his snap pea fingers can’t quite grip the hoe

—or rip out the weeds—

and his potato feet

take root in the soil. 

The approaching winter calls the gardener’s bones

to take rest with the earth,

to sleep with the snow.

He finally rests his weary watermelon head.

Knowing that when spring comes

this will all start over again. 

City hikes

In Missoula, Montana, you can drive 20 minutes in any direction and arrive at a mountainside woven with dirt trails and pine trees; a tapestry that holds promises of mystery and exploration around every curved stitch. 

As a high schooler I spent hours walking through these mountains. I could watch the seasons go by through the changing landscape: The spring brought Cabbage White Butterflies disguised as snowflakes, flying through newly bloomed flowers that scattered across hillsides like flecks of paint on a canvas; The summer grew miles of huckleberry bushes and dense collections of Tufted Hairgrass that tickled my knees as I walked; The fall collected a cascade of pine needles that coated the earth in a warm blanket, as if to prepare the soil for the deep snows of winter.

 My favorite trail system was Pattee Canyon, partially because the foot traffic always stayed pretty close to the trailhead —so I never had to walk far before the silence of nature surrounded me— and partially because it felt like no matter which direction I went, eventually I would find somewhere I hadn’t walked before. 

When I dropped out of college from South Dakota this spring, right after my 21st birthday, I first thought about going back to Montana. I dropped out because I felt unbearably lost, and Montana was home, after all. Yet the thought of going back caused anxiety to swell around my throat. Despite knowing that I would be comfortable there, the small-town life also made me feel trapped. 

I was naive. Hardworking, optimistic, and sweet, but incredibly naive. I had my ass handed to me in college again, and again, and again. Then the pandemic came, and then I was in a horrific accident (see Break your broken bones – Brain Butterflies), and then my entire world crumbled. 

It felt impossible to try to move on while living in a town where every place reminded me of the person I thought I could be. Where everybody knew who I was. So Montana was out of the question. And there was no way I was staying in South Dakota. 

I decided I needed to get out of the Midwest. I couldn’t fly internationally because travel restrictions still barred Americans from going almost anywhere. Then I thought about where I could go in the United States… and I had always wanted to visit the East Coast. One of my best friends lived in Boston, and a combination of curiosity, impulsivity, and desperation led to me taking a plane across the country less than two weeks after choosing the city.  

I recognize that my experience so far has been an incredible privilege, especially in the middle of an international pandemic that has sent our country through a rigorous economic crisis. And although normally I could never have pulled off something this drastic on my own, I got lucky and had come in contact with a decent amount of money that I wasn’t forced to spend: I had just gotten my stimulus check, a refund from the rest of my empty semester at college, and I still had leftover money from my insurance that I didn’t spend on hospital bills. 

When I first arrived in Boston, city restrictions on businesses had just started relaxing and shops began opening up again. For the first month I lived here I only did part-time jobs and spent most of my time exploring. 

For a while, I could thrive in this exciting historical place. I could try various restaurants, meet new people, and travel anywhere on a whim. I visited all of the essential parts of Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, Arnold Arboretum, Harvard University, Bunker Hill, the Common. I wandered through the cobbled streets along the North and South End, spent late nights in Dorchester watching the deep blue, starless sky, and sat reading for hours in front of the Boston Public Library in Back Bay.  

One of the first facts I learned about Boston after arriving here was that in 1919 a molasses flood swept over the North End. Purity Distilling Company used the 2.3 million gallons of molasses stored in the steel drum to make ethanol, and of course, they ignored proper safety protocols. Whenever the drum leaked, they simply painted over the cracks with brown paint. Then on a cold winter’s day, the pressure of the mass and the fragility of its container caused a 25-foot tidal wave of boiling molasses to come crashing through the city. Although the concept of a molasses flood might sound humorous (or even delicious), the accident was a terrible tragedy that killed 21 and injured 150. A Boston Post article described the incident:

Here and there struggled a form—whether it was animal or human being was impossible to tell. Only an upheaval, a thrashing about in the sticky mass, showed where any life was …. Horses died like so many flies on sticky fly-paper. The more they struggled, the deeper in the mess they were ensnared. 

There’s a rumor that when you walk around the North End on a hot summer day, you can still smell the sickly sweet molasses that once terrorized the city. 

As time went on I decided I wanted to take the next step and settle down here. Which meant I had to find a job. Which meant I’d have to exist, for the first time in my short life, as a fully independent adult. No sort of structure enforced by the school nor easy meals at the cafeteria nor quick walks to the post office. Everything became a part of my day I had to plan for. I thought this was what I desired. I thought I wanted complete independence. But I didn’t realize how depressed I had become until I began fully living on my own. And now I was alone, thousands of miles away from my family and friends. 

 As the weeks kept slipping by, I stopped exploring. I settled into a routine, going outside only to go to work and then to immediately come home at the end of my shift. The newness of the city began to fade, and I crept further and further into a state of numbness.

Soon every single day, every single second, felt like a chore. How could I go do the things that I wanted to do like work, cook, clean, or explore? And even on a more minute scale, how could I eat, drink, bathe or brush my teeth, when even breathing felt exhausting?

I tried to keep up my positive persona, forcing myself to be productive by a sheer force of will, but it continually became overwhelming. One day I’d be smiling and laughing with friends and the next day I’d be adhered to my bed with a hopeless glue. 

I kept thinking about the Molasses Flood and the sticky river that swept dozens up in its unrelenting torrent towards the Boston Harbor. I kept thinking about the line from the article, “the more they struggled, the deeper in the mess they were ensnared.” 

I began to see myself as one of the victims of the tragedy, watching helplessly as molasses covered my body.  I was living in slow motion, trapped by the exhausted whirrings of my own mind.

After I realized I felt like this my instinct was to move away again. To go to another city, to become part of a different community. But I was so tired of moving, and I knew in my heart that I wasn’t fast; Running from place to place to place, it would only be a matter of time before my depression caught up with me. 

So I braced myself and stayed, letting the syrupy wave finally roll over me. 

I was scared at first. Suffocated by coagulated nihilistic and self-destructive thoughts that had built up since I started college, I ended up having a complete mental breakdown at work, and quit my job soon after. Without my job, I stopped having a reason to eat and a reason to socialize. 

Thankfully, I have been going to therapy since I arrived in Boston, and my therapist has helped me learn how to cope by going back to the very basics. By appreciating the smallest of details and celebrating the tiniest of goals. She also helped me get started on two new types of medications, one for my depression and the other for my ADHD. 

Because of my therapist, my ever-supportive friends and family, and my optimistic fire that can’t seem to die, I’ve started pulling myself out of the molasses. I created a new daily routine that I (mostly) can complete. I finally can begin to move on from the painful memories, with freshly gained self-assurance and confidence that I never knew I could have. 

I’ve also started hiking again. 

I weave through the forest of brick, following the endlessly winding roads —roads that once carried carriages—  for hours on end. Each building is as old and towering as the Ponderosa Pines. At least once a week, I leave my phone at the house and just start walking. No matter which direction I go, eventually I find somewhere I haven’t walked before. A playground high on a hillside that makes the nighttime skyscrapers look like they’re glowing, a corner barbershop filled with loud happy customers, a colorful mural halfway hidden behind an abandoned warehouse, a neighborhood cat who lovingly rolls onto its belly.

The puzzle I’m piecing together feels intimate, slowly and intentionally built from my wondering, wandering miles. 

Although by now I’ve visited all of the essential parts of Boston, walked through the MFA half a dozen times, and eaten my heart out with freshly baked cannolis, I have finally found a way to experience the city that grows and shifts with the changing seasons. My new home. 

Molasses Flood:

  1. The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 – New England Historical Society
  2.  Dark tide : the great Boston molasses flood of 1919 : Puleo, Stephen : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

Closer

I stare at the trees, watching them sway.

And yet, I search closer;

the way the branches fold in the shadows,

the pine needles bending,

melding to the wind.

And yet, I search closer;

closer, closer, impossibly closer,

to the mitosis of our cells dividing,

all at once beautiful and tragic.

Black boy joy

lying on our backs,

staring at the sunset caught in-between bricks,

we pass a joint,

soggy from our lips,

the acrid taste of backwoods leaving burnt echoes in our lungs.

Down the hill a few men have gathered around in a circle,

playing with the hip-hop beats bouncing from their speaker.

Freestyle rapping.

I look over at you and I see you grinning.

“Black boy joy,” you say simply,

grabbing the joint from my fingertips.

I blow out the smoke I had been holding in,

letting the setting sun get covered in a smoky haze,

if only for a moment.

Laundry

Her little arms can’t fit around the whole pile she raked up and she tips over, falling headfirst into the heavy leaves. She breathes in deeply, letting the decaying earth rest in her lungs. She giggles and rolls over in the pile, looking up at the trees glowing with sunlight, a mosaic of flame spread along her sky. An orange leaf sways, controlled by the soft breeze like a marionette, until it lands on her nose.

She tries picking up the leaves again, using her arms as a shovel and waddling into the house. Her dad comes out of the kitchen, following a trail of dirty leaves dragged through his house.

“Luna?” he asks.

“Hi dad!”

Sitting cross-legged in front of the washer is his daughter. Watching the leaves tumble around in the soapy water. Soon the leaves will clog the draining filter, their thin fabric ripped in the rinse cycle and caught in the machine. But for now the man sits next to his daughter and watches, a technicolor whirl of soap and leaves.

Unrequited love

I’m sitting in a bus crossing over the Charles River,

looking at the buildings stacked over each other like legos,

the old man next to me sneaking sips of whiskey underneath his mask,

complaining about people who talk on the phone on the bus,

to a woman currently on the phone,

speaking in tones given to a lover.

She tries to ignore the whiskey man,

but he’s impatient.

This man,

drinking his whiskey,

trying to find love by denying its existence.

Break your broken bones

I don’t like talking about the accident.

I’m totally comfortable explaining the changes my scar tissue goes through naturally; Scar tissue constantly adjusts itself, a perpetually healing organ that grows and shrinks as necessary. I don’t know how to stitch somebody up or do CPR, but I do have in-depth knowledge about what to do if someone gets a third degree burn that I could go over, in explicit detail, for hours.

I have a mantra in my head, a canned speech for whenever anybody asks me what happened to my arm, so conversations usually go something like this:

“If you don’t mind me asking, what happened to your arm?”

“Well, last July, I was hit by a car and dragged for a block.”

“Oh my gosh I’m so sorry! What an awful thing to have to go through. And during the pandemic!”

Then we talk about the pandemic, or piercings, or the weather. Sometimes I’ll share a little more: “I also had road rash covering my entire back, severe liver lacerations, a concussion, a swollen knee and large wound on my shin, but those all finished healing around October.” “I continue to put sunscreen on my arm regularly, otherwise I could permanently mess up the coloration and texture of the scar tissue.” “After the burn healed it itched really really bad, but it doesn’t itch as much anymore.” “I don’t use my skin sleeve as much as I used to. It’s mostly to prevent the scar tissue from getting really thick in some areas and thin in others.”

If we get to this point in the conversation I usually try to make some cheesy joke, something like: “I affectionately like to call this the most painful and expensive tattoo I’ve ever gotten”, to gently push the topic of conversation away before curiosity turns into prying.

It’s not that I mind people asking about my arm; It feels like a recognition that all of our bodies aren’t the same and haven’t had to go through the same experiences in life. But I try to change the subject quickly because the questions people ask can lead to doors that I don’t want to open again.

It took seven months: four major and three minor infections, a skin graft, six days in ICU, various trips to the ER (when things got really bad), and an innumerable amount of trips to the regular hospital before my arm healed.

During this time, my doctor/plastic surgeon knew more about my personal life than almost any of my friends did. I hid away, only coming out to see people when I felt as good as I possibly could. Like most people, I hated seeing my loved ones watch me suffer. But this caused a rift in my reality; At college, I would laugh and joke, I would interview people for my jobs and spend nights watching movies with my friends. But at home with my grandmother, I would sob hysterically, the pain breaking me down month after month into my most vulnerable form. Even now, when I’m consciously sitting down to write a story about this, it’s becoming harder and harder to write, like my brain is covered in molasses.

Which is why on the year anniversary of the accident (July 15, 2021), I decided to make a trip to Salem, MA, with one of my friends. To clear my head that seemed to be filled with molasses-coated memories.

I had never been to Salem, and was surprised at how comforting it felt being there. My friend joked about the “mystical energy” there, because she said Salem draws out the energy of people who have magic in them.

I don’t know what I actually believe spiritually, but I do know that coming to Salem did feel right. And walking around the small town, full of old buildings turned into various monster museums, tattoo parlors, and knickknack shops, I was able to successfully distract myself from the painful memories of last year.

However, one thing I knew I wanted to do in Salem was get a tarot reading. To ask about healing.

I’ve never used tarot before, and I felt nervous walking into the small curtained back section of a small witch shop. But I felt a deep calm settling into my body as I took a seat across from a big blonde psychic. I am safe here.

They began by asking me what I wanted to focus on. I said, “Healing.” I paused, then added, “but not really physical healing anymore. More emotional healing.” The psychic nodded, and then gestured to my arm and said, “If you don’t mind me asking, what happened here?”

Canned answer, usual response.

Then they began the reading, explaining that they read tarot more intuitively, letting the spirits guide them more than the cards literal meaning. But of course, one of the first cards turned over was the Tower—16th card of the Major Arcana, basically symbolizing the moment when everything in your life falls apart. It’s something happening completely out of your control but usually results from a continual unwillingness to change something necessary in your life.

They laughed, almost incredulously. “Wow. This hurt you. This hurt you really bad.” These simple words, just an acknowledgment that this was a difficult journey, nearly brought me to tears. But I held back and nodded.

“This changed you in many ways.” Flip, flip, flip. Pause. “But, this horrible, terrible event… It flipped a switch in you, did it not?”

I sat back, a little flabbergasted. I had never thought of it like that. “Yeah, I suppose it did,” I said.

Flip, flip.

“Every time something bad happened in your life before this, you continued on like nothing happened. You hadn’t let yourself heal properly.”

“Wow… yeah, you hit the nail on the head,” I said.

“You know how if you break a bone and it hasn’t been set right it won’t heal properly, so doctors have to break it again in order to reset it? That’s what happened to you.”

They flipped over the final cards and sat looking at the spread. We chatted a little bit longer, I told them some more details of my experience, and then they ended the reading by saying, “You’ve grown so much since this tragedy happened to you. But you need to continue to allow yourself to feel the emotions you’ve been hiding away. Don’t let yourself push past the things that have hurt you. You’ve already done the hardest part. It may seem like you’re taking two steps back sometimes, but don’t lose hope. You’re heading in the right direction.”

I thanked them for their time, walked out of the tarot reading, and started wandering between the gravestones on the other side of the street. I could have been one of those gravestones.

I didn’t think about what the tarot reader said much in the moment, but afterward, I mulled it over for a long time. I thought about the accident. I thought about the pain. And I thought about how I’d changed over the last year. Mentally, I did feel stronger. I do feel stronger. I am much better at communicating with the people I love, putting up boundaries, and knowing when to give myself a break. But, most importantly, somewhere inside all of that pain and suffering, I began to learn self-love too. Something I hadn’t known for so many years.

Foul Play in Funland: Charlie

 Sidenote: This short story/poem was inspired by season one, episode eight of Scooby Doo: Where are You? That’s where these first lines of dialogue are pulled from.

“Hey, don’t you wish Funland was open? The rootbeer floats, the chocolate custard, the rides? Man, that’s livin’.”

“Yes, but right now it looks a little spooky. Even haunted.”

“Haunted?”

“Don’t be silly Daphne.”

The lights start coming on.

“Hey, look at that!”

“But that’s impossible. That place won’t be open for weeks.”

Clicking of roller coaster as it pushes the invisible riders up the track.

“Look!”

The ride rolls across the screen, silently. No screams of joy, no playful chatter. 

“Well, this calls for a little investigation.”

As night sweeps over the fall horizon, the lights turn on in Funland. 

The roller coaster clicks as it pushes the ride up the track. The cash register opens with a loud ding. The cotton candy machine whirs into motion. The ferris wheel squeaks as it rolls around the moon. 

But no one’s there. 

Except for him. 

His name is Charlie. Or, at least his maker calls him that. He doesn’t know what he calls himself.

A blue robot with a pale face, completely smooth and without features. Mechanical parts that make his mouth perpetually frown and glowing yellow eyes that flash when he’s excited. 

He zooms back and forth across the park; making hot dogs and shakes, playing carnival games, and riding the ferris wheel. 

Floating through the tunnel of love with a bouquet of flowers clutched in his hard metal wrist. 

Eyeing himself suspiciously in the mirror maze; the different ways his body contorts confusing him. 

Riding up the roller coaster, click, click, click. Sitting in the front seat. No smile to curve, but eyes beaming like headlights with the hazards on.

In the summer, families come from all across the country to visit Funland. 

In the fall, there’s Charlie.

Eyes flashing, always flashing.

Sunset

I always write poems in motion:

a man spilling his coffee,

wind currents dancing with a flower petal,

or listening to love in a public place.

But you paint our moments,

capturing our memories with your colors.

You make me wait,

hold my breath for the next stroke of your brush on canvas.

Only then do I truly see the importance of stillness.

You see the world the way it was meant to be seen;

through iridescent waves of bright oranges and deep purples.

You’re my sunset,

so no matter where I go I’ll always have you on my horizon.

And when I don’t know where I am: lost, confused, and afraid

you paint me a map

that leads me home.

Centipede

Crawling along the sun baked rocks, the centipede weaves in and out of the mind-numbing heat, keeping antennae perked towards any signs of life (of food).

There’s no meal for it here, or anywhere.

It dances its legs close to the ocean, cleaning itself dirty with stinking, wet waves. The dead water beats along the coast line, empty waves singing a repose to a world that once moved.

It’s trying to find its way home, although “home” continues to change as the world continues to crumble.

Finally back, the centipede scurries quickly towards shelter — home, in the ear of a shriveled human corpse. Nesting on the flesh, raisin in the sun.