Water in Numbers

You see, he had wet sloppy kisses

Lots of tongue

And dry fingers he rubbed underneath my pants

I was fourteen

And he had been practicing on a girl at work

I didn’t know what V card meant- I thought it stood for visa

Learned the sound it made when my teardrops hit pavement

Easily stepped on

Easily evaporated into nothing

No one would ever believe me

 

Then her, she had hard kisses

No tongue

And she’d “play” wrestle me in the dorm room till my face turned blue

I didn’t know what leaving meant- I thought it meant quitting

Waved at me from behind bulletproof windows

And I pretended not to see

Learned the sound it made when raindrops hit windshield

Wiped from view, going eighty

No one could ever be decent and love me

 

But you

With sweet kisses on the back of my hand

Swear on your tongue to always be soft

Remind me that when I wake up after crying

My eyes are oceans deeper than I can ever know

And you know because of the sand between my lashes

Like the sand between my toes

Like the sand we build our castles with- mine always has a moat to protect me

And I have finally learned something I must’ve always known

That water holds power in numbers

And I hope that if I am only ever dripping from faucets

For you, I will still be enough.

Daffodil

He will come into your life with lips smooth like buttercups

whispering forevers in the summertime.

Finding the softest parts of your heart

and making promises with good intentions.

He will wipe away your dewdrops in the morning

and find ways to hold your darkest moments

that will make you feel safe in your own structure.

He will paint you with sunshine and kisses.

He will grow you up like a daffodil,

stand you tall, and blossom by tomorrow.

He will be the thunderstorm that pushes you down,

dirt-covered, broken-stemmed, drooping under rainclouds

and he will not be the one.

And you will wonder how you will ever bloom again.

But you will.

You will.

The Gypsies

Beneath my heart

my soul

and dancing gypsies

resting with a hip sway in oblivion to the chaos of my

epidermis.

If every cut, scrape, bruise were not a portal to my insides.

My internal nomad,

inhaling and exhaling in the space between my lungs.

Beneath my heart

my soul

bleeding out, clueless.

Squeezed from soaking hip scarves

Red cell after red cell

jingling like coins

draining from the rain-catcher

of every human experience I will ever have to face as an artist.

People see my eyes and assume there is more than life behind them

the way they assume gypsies dance because they’re happy.

And there is not a day where I don’t wonder

if people have caught glimpses of themselves

reflected on the edges of dull blades

brushed across their skin

ever so gently like a pen gliding seamless across

lined paper.

And I know writing is a form of self-mutilation

and I sleep uneasy.

Beneath my heart,

my soul,

what I’ve hidden inside my shell of flesh

squirming deformed

like an infant newly amputeed.

It’s shrill cry so loud it’s silent,

reshaping my carved mind into carnival music

building and unbuilding wordform compulsively.

“Poet” they say

“Poet”

Like a mandate of Shakespeare.

I am sonnets and rhyming and roses and violets

firmly pushed beneath visitor glass,

pulsing to the beat of tambourines.

Beneath my heart- shhh

If you’re quiet sometimes you can hear them.

Shark

You, sir, are a shark.

Teeth sharp, wit to match, gleaming bright, entrancing,

mesmerizing the fish. I see you,

Shark.

Eyes narrowed, focused,

moving slowly with grace and impure intentions

like many men before you,

Shark.

Teeth sharp, wit to match, gleaming bright, entrancing,

mesmerizing every woman you smile at,

every stupid fish. You

Shark.

Eyes narrowed, focused,

watching from the edge of the tank,

like any intelligent woman. I, too, am

Shark.

You muster your guts

and feed through the fish to approach,

but that’s the thing about

Sharks.

They don’t mess with other

Sharks.

So you are either brave or stupid.

 

Or, god, I might be a fish.

Captain

Don’t call me captain.

We are past the times of pretending the other is on every plane we see.

Hoped to see you at dance recitals or at the train station to meet me.

Call me impatient, call me jealous

but I am in the backseat

and you can see my gaze drift out the window

like a ship at sea.

Why is it any surprise that I am soaked salty in disappointment

as you remind me that there were other captains before me?

I’ve seen enough to know sometimes you miss them.

Your wheel turned by other hands, perhaps more soft,

perhaps more experienced,

and I am only good at working with mine.

My grandpa used to tell me I belonged in a garage-

my heart, a porsche convertible beating red with engine revs under a sawdust-covered hood,

hidden.

I found your initials keyed into my love handles,

unlocked every journey I might ever hope to have,

you told me my eyes were beautiful like mirrors and you could see sunlight in my teeth.

I told you that holding my hand doesn’t mean you’re forgiven.

Telling me to come back home doesn’t mean I want to be there.

Moving forward doesn’t mean you’re not leaving me behind.

You said you’d always wait.

Now you say I drive you crazy.

Well I want to drive you west to the beaches I grew up on and show you how fragile oyster shells are so you can see what happens to my chest every time I hear you say her name.

Wonder if you notice how her hair blows in the ocean wind.

Ex-lovers, just friends, but I know better.

And I have no one.

And I know it’s not fair that I’d feel less lonely if you had no one, too.

But if you stop letting your wheel be guided by memories and stare hard enough at the water maybe you can see I’ve fallen overboard for you.

My feet heavy like car tires, meant for solid ground.

And I am not sure your wordless apologies are still enough to keep me afloat.

So don’t call me captain.

Trinity

You will take this job thinking kids

Kids are my specialty

This will be so easy

You will take this job thinking kids are so fucking innocent

When you take this job you will be so innocent

On day one I advise you to take a look around you at this beautifully painted

Orange elementary habitat for young learners

You will only see it until June

Look at those faces

They are mostly clueless and willing to learn- you too should be willing

Be a bright-eyed kindergartener on your first day at work

Hold your head up, pay attention

The first day you meet her you will be introduced by the school counselor

Whispering “Trinity is a very unique case” and then pressing her lips together

Silent with apprehension

And you’ll think you are ready, former Disney character

You had done so many Make-A-Wish Foundation events

Broken barriers and parted the rivers of seriousness

You will follow through with this introduction blindly

And she will tell you about Baby Jesus as if her mom had brought a new baby brother home from the hospital over the weekend

And she will start to walk away mid-thought

To retrieve a beautiful painting she’d done

With vibrant colors- art is the only class you are not to assist her in

Be slow for she is easily frightened

Moving too quickly will result in terrors

And holding her arms up to protect herself, you will never be blind again.

For her exterior is scarred and scabbed and picked and bleeding

And seeing her in clear light is more than skin deep

There will be days she will tell you that the devil is inside her

She pulls her skin off to unleash him

In the bathroom, she will glance at the mirror and cry at the

freckled scars on her face, pleading for you to trim her fingernails

And mom feeds her anti-psychotics and Adderall because she can’t swallow the idea of parenting the result of her own drug use9

Your job is to watch these things happen

And hug her nine year old lifeless body while she screams that she’s going to kill herself

While administrators stand over you like dementors waiting to see results

Looking for results

Where are the results?

You will want to tell them that even the slowest rivers will push through a dam if you give it enough time

Her education is not race

And some day her shaking will become shimmering

There are days you will find razors, decorated with beads like jewelry sitting in her pencil case

She will tell you she has it ‘cause she’s stupid

On the last day you will take a naproxen and a deep breath to acknowledge your last day at her side

And when she asks you, curiosity in her angel blue eyes

If you believe in the father, the son, and the holy spirit

Tell her you believe in this Trinity.

This one right here.

Breathing Fire

 

I was pacing in front of her, not knowing what to say. I wanted the floor to creak for dramatic effect when I walked around this house, but it never did. This house was well-kept and well-built and well…. Amazing. The wide-open spaces were enclosed by towering walls, which often made it feel like I was falling into a black hole. It wasn’t, like, a mansion or anything, but it was a pretty big place to be. It had been winterized a few months ago, so the cold nipped at my ears the way cats nip at unwanted touch and the darkness was blinding by the time I got home from school. I couldn’t open the curtains during the daylight anyway, for fear of being caught. Every now and then, the shadows would betray me and I would slip on the stairs. It started to make me nervous to walk around at in the pitch black. On days when I was having a particularly intense bout of unease, I often wouldn’t move much at all. So that, combined with my generalized anxiety disorder, combined with the bitter cold, combined with the expensive curtains and fancy, unoccupied furniture made this place really creepy. But the floors never creaked. Someone was really lucky to live here, but it wasn’t me.

She sat cross-legged at the dining room table, under a chandelier the size of an exercise ball, wide-eyed and lips closed tight. Her hands were clasped and her glasses sparkled in what little light peaked through the blinds.

“Who told you I was here?”

She paused before speaking earnestly, “No one told me anything.”

“What?”

“I mean I saw you walking and I followed you. You turned left on Mason Street and then left on 43rd, which didn’t make sense. I’m honestly surprised I managed to keep up- you changed routes and paces at LEAST six times.” She said this as if I had annoyed her on purpose with my attempts to avoid being followed.

I took a deep breath, “Signe, you shouldn’t be here.” The air between us began to thicken. Our eyes narrowed and you could hear somebody shouting outside from down the street. The discomfort was nearly palpable.

“No, no, no. YOU shouldn’t be here. I have every right to be here that you have. Which is literally none.”

It didn’t take genius to know she was right. She was always right. I couldn’t tell her that, though. Signe was a brilliant girl, but she already knew it.

The shouting outside grew louder, more intense, as somebody with a deeply masculine voice came closer to where we were hiding. Signe and I were quiet, listening. You couldn’t make out the words they were yelling, but you could hear the desperation like a deafening blast as the voice cracked with every cry. I could almost swear I’d heard that voice many times before.

Almost simultaneously, Signe and I came to the same terrifying realization: the desperation was for her. She shot up from the intricately designed, velvet-lined chair and marched, panicked, to the front door.

Without a word, my wide-eyed girlfriend threw it open with full force. For the first time, I saw what the entryway looked like in daylight.

“Jadon!” Signe called.

The curtains felt foreign between my fingers as I gently pinched them back just enough to peak through. People had already come outside their homes to investigate the yelling. Here I was, illegally camping out in suburbia while Signe and Jadon were making my hiding place the center of attention.

Jadon’s howls became muffled yelps as Signe took him into her arms, like a mother comforting her child. Signe’s brother was two years older and towered at least eight inches over her, an uncommon trait for someone with Down Syndrome. He did, however, exclaim my name as he recognized my eye peaking through the window.

“Aleks-ss-ss-ss-sander!” he stuttered excitedly.

Jadon was one of the few people that always remembered to use my chosen name. I’d only told him once to call me Aleksander and for him, unlike my family and, well, almost everyone else, once was enough. I’d grown to have a really soft spot for him. But right now, he was blowing my cover.

As she comforted him, Signe glanced at me apologetically. Her hair blew unmistakably fiery in the breezy sunset, giving her a look of danger that she would otherwise be rid of. She was a forest fire crackling with wit, balance, and focus. And I was merely a barren tree standing in her way.

I swallowed hard as a stern-looking woman wearing an expensive-looking suit glided toward Jadon and Signe. She looked exactly like the kind of person who would live in this neighborhood: rich, confident, and dressed to the nines. She probably used Ben Franklin’s to stuff her bun. I was tempted to run out between her and Signe, inevitably revealing myself to everyone watching, but to my surprise, she marched past them and up to the patio.

“Is everything okay in there?” she whispered in a heavy English accent through the cracked-open door without turning to look at me.

I remained silent, so she continued on, “I’ve been watching and I just want to make sure you’re alright. Do you need some food?”

She then craned her neck to face me, and then away from me, and then back toward me, pretending not to see me. I nodded. The woman pulled herself back onto the patio, shut the door, and turned to walk away.

“All clear!” She stated loudly enough for the concerned neighbors to hear.

Relief flowed over my face and I sank silently to the floor. I didn’t get up to lock the door. I didn’t pinch back the curtain to watch Signe and Jadon walk away. I didn’t move from that spot on the floor. I didn’t move, that is, until a knock woke me up many hours later.

My parents kicked me out shortly before my eighteenth birthday. A combination of coming out to them as a lesbian and then coming out as a transman two years afterward forced them to question their Catholic beliefs and, contrary to my hopes, it ended up being easier for them to abandon me than “abandon God.” Like most teenagers who are kicked out by their parents, I didn’t have anywhere to go and I didn’t have any money. My twin brother had a friend whose parents owned a vacation home on the other side of town, so the two of them graciously helped me break in and begin my life as a squatter. Admittedly, I don’t know how I feel about being labeled a “squatter,” even though I know that’s what I am in society. And in the bathroom. I don’t know how I feel about the second one, either.

Out of habit, I peaked through the curtains before creaking open the door. It was her: the neighbor from earlier, this time in silk pajamas and cat-eye glasses. Even dressed for comfort, she appeared unmistakably sophisticated. She entered with a silent prowess that demanded respect, immediately handed me a granola bar, and began gathering my belongings, which had been strewn about the living room, dining room, bathroom, and kitchen. After a few too many accidents on the stairs, I had confined myself to the lower level.

I tackled the bathroom first, figuring she wouldn’t enjoy laying hands on my personal products, but she was there within seconds helping me gather up syringes like it was no big deal. The last thing I needed was the lady who was apparently trying to help me to find out about my trans status.

Despite my internal panic, she never glanced twice at the tiny bottles labeled “Depo-Testosterone,” but instead delicately placed them back in their boxes and into my duffel bag. After a few lookovers to make sure we had everything, I attempted to replicate her soft steps as we headed out the door.

“Isabelle,” she introduced herself once we had stepped over the threshold to her home. I’d almost forgotten her accent.

“Uh, I’m Sander. I’m, uh… I’m diabetic,” I knew as the words exited my mouth that I was trying too hard to explain the syringes.

“Right.”

It was too late. She knew.

“Okay, I’m not diabetic.”

“I know.”

Yeah, she definitely knew.

Though her walls were lined thick with bookshelves, her home was just as dark and gaudy as the one I’d been in three minutes prior. I was not thrilled about the scenery, but there was a certain kind of peace that came with being somewhere I was allowed to be.

“What time is it? I have to be at school by seven thirty,” I desperately attempted to change the subject.

“You may as well stay up, then,” Isabelle nodded her pointed nose toward an antique clock sitting on the mantle as set down my bags. Between the reflection on her lenses glaring at me and the radiance of the fireplace, the room was flickering so deeply orange it was impossible to tell the true color of her wallpaper. The clock, on the other hand, indubitably read 6:35AM.

Within weeks, I had a safe haven. It was easy for me to empathize with this (incredibly intimidating) woman living alone in such a huge house, so I didn’t mind keeping her company. It was common for us to have dinner together, read together, and go for walks together. There were sometimes even moments I would keep from Signe, afraid she might feel threatened by my new, totally platonic, friendship. I knew Isabelle and I shared a special camaraderie, but it was nothing for Signe to become jealous of.

“Sander, come here!” Isabelle called one night from her bedroom. She was sitting against her headboard with a book in her lap. Her face softened under the glow of a candle. She was an undeniably sexy woman, for someone who looked so much like an angry librarian.

“Hey, what’s going on?”

“Will you lay with me for a bit? My sheets are a little cold,” she said, patting the flat space next to her.

I shuffled over to her bed and clumsily fell into the blankets, which felt perfectly warm to me. This was not the first time she’d used this excuse. Isabelle turned on her side, smirking at me with a devious confidence while slickly intertwining her legs with mine. Her skin was soft against me, but shivers of discomfort still raced down my neck. Her gorgeously striking face and perfect curves could never hold a candle to the wildfire that was my girlfriend. But Isabelle had warned that if I ever pulled away, she would surely kick me out and feed me to the wolves. I was, once again, a prisoner of my own life with no way out.

She blew out the candle. This was one of those nights Signe would never find out about.