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.

The man on the train

Is he cursing at his god?

He slings a slurry of swear words to the heavens,

gradually increasing his passion as he continues to curse.

He’s visibly drunk,

motions slurred and unwieldly,

like a baby learning how to move for the first time.

Greasy grey hair hangs thinly around his rosy cheeks,

but I’m too ashamed to look at him,

too afraid to provoke,

so I don’t catch the color of his exasperated, almost pleading eyes.

And he’s begging for what?

For a god to answer his anger?

For a friend to help fuel his thoughtless fury?

For someone,

anyone,

to meet the gaze of his eyes?

I can’t help but empathize with his soul shattering, empty rage.

But I can’t help,

so I file off the train.

Brushing my teeth

Sometimes I find myself trying to force out a poem

squeezing metaphors and similes out

like my words are toothpaste at the bottom of the tube.

The words come fleetingly so I grab and paste them together;

parts of a nonsensical collage.

An attempt to find meaning

out of the nouns and verbs that tumble out of my memories,

landing on the floor in a pile of rubbish,

or as toothpaste on my toothbrush.

But if I take a step back,

notice the rusty drain in my sink,

the dark brown hair that curls on the counter,

the paint chip off my light blue mirror frame,

I realize that I already brushed my teeth this morning.