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for girls with no game

i feel you.

it started on the playground
of course
dodgeball met your face
and that already loose baby tooth
unrooted, dropped
into your hand and you wondered
if you pricked the loose nerve end
with your nail bitten fingers
would the pulse of pain
strike you in your cheek?

in gym class
you count the dots
on the basketball
never try to dunk
and pass the ball whenever it is handed to you.

the first boy i loved
was a nimble six year old
with a toothless baby smile
and a name so silly
my mouth can not repeat it.
when he saw me with a basketball
he told me to throw it
and i told him
i’d counted 450 dots already
and wasn’t that cool?

it always goes that way.
he asks you for the salt
and you talk about salt mines
and salt flats
and the salt your mother
would throw over her shoulder
whenever daddy came home late.

you are gameless
and i feel you.

and sometimes, i think,
if i’d learned how to dribble
or understood strategy
i wouldn’t be playing hot potato with a phone
running through
all the different ways to say
Hello
but mean so much more than
Salutations
i want to say,
Boy the way you are is beautiful
Can you feel me?

i do not know
if gameless girls
like us
even talk like that.

and you think
Aight, aight
I got this
you say that he is nice
you smile softly enough
that even if he rejects you
you will be able to land
on the cushion of your own lips.

you are so nice
so good
so girl
and somewhere,
in a spot you cannot name,
in an undottable place,
you feel like that will not be enough

he tells you the same
that you are nice
so good
so easy
and already this is complicated.

his lips do the same,
you both are looking to
fall into safety

he recognizes
that you recognize
game ain’t shit you have in common
no one is playing
this is dangerous

you say
Skin is our largest organ
he says
I feel you

Solid.

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new year’s eve/new year’s day

You say if you could leave him

stranded on a day

in a past you both shared

you would. You would

leave him standing on

the Jersey Shore

sight lines set on sea

and you would

whisper to the waves

the caries of love that

carry you back to his

tongue.

And when he calls your name

the sea responds

wave, breaking

wave, breaking

wave

of all the words

you will speak

when you’re gone.

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between the door and here

And you’re telling me you love me but why did you leave me?

And you’re telling me you love me and you don’t want to leave me.

And you’re telling me you could love me but don’t know how to stay.

And you’re telling me you want to love me but can’t bring yourself to stay.

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this is a move [impressions of people we love]

1.

Your hand, unattainable, is next to me. Grit underneath your fingernails, the joints of your fingers practicing scales on your knee. I played piano once. My teacher, who left, told me I had the shape but not the understanding. I took that to mean I had already achieved something I didn’t deserve. But your fingers are right there: nervous, bearded, ever-touching fingers. I remember how they felt that time you pushed me up against a wall and tried to shove your hands up my skirt. That was the first impassioned kiss I’d had in months – no teeth or calls to stop – just mouths probing each other for a peek into the darkness of our bodies always knowing it would be impossible to swallow each other. We could have said that we were lonely; we could have said a lot of things like we were drunk and didn’t know better.

We didn’t know better.

And we didn’t know better again when we watched videos in bed and awkwardly wanted to see if our mouths had grown wider, if one person’s insides could consume the other.

Now you are all fingers and knee taps; I am all half glances and feet pointed with concerted effort.

 2.

I am spatially uncoordinated. Physics, calculus, planes, dimensions, lengths, depths, time: all foreign. Sometimes I speak and my tense doesn’t acknowledge the proper time or my words lack depth or some other aspect of myself is painfully incongruent to the point that I am always floating somewhere near here and you are always there. See, the inability to master spatial coordination has me falling in love with people who never occupy the same space as me. At first, I thought it was a fluke, that I was unobservant and desperate. Even selfishly self-sacrificial: to pine endlessly for people I could never come to have. But I am not the only one to do the beholding. People  give me signals, innumerable variables, equations of what they want and each of those signals is miscalculated by me. I wonder how many people I’ve lost because I couldn’t properly interpret the coordinates of their system. And all of the men I have loved from distances that cannot be traversed. Distances inscribed along the lines of constellations I try to trace with an outstretched finger touching nothing but air.

I am always quadrant four, bleeding off the page. You look like a parabola dipping into quadrant one, exiting in quadrant two. Sweeping, sloping, infinite, gentle, fanning yourself over graph paper into creation.

I am a series of dots with no lines, pencil etchings so tenuous the shadow of the eraser is the only mark that will stay.

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Midnight, Still

I woke up at midnight and everything is still the same. My clothes, that I’d fallen asleep in, still flatter me more than nudity. The window is still open. The air still stagnant. The other half of my bed still warmed by a Macbook Pro. Law and Order: SVU is on — an episode I’ve already seen — with Benson still wearing that vacant look of disgust.

People are sleeping and if I had a cigarette, I’d smoke it slowly out front and think about all of the things I could have said when people were awake. Things like, “I am scared” and “I am writing short stories that I want so badly to be good so that I feel like I am worth something” or “If you could run where would you run off to” and “I love you, I love you, I love you.”

Instead, there is no cigarette so I browse Tumblr. Or Racialicious. Or rewatch an episode of Awkward Black Girl. Or get to writing those short stories I still can’t believe I’m writing because it’s not even work at this point. Not work like this. It’s cultural appropriation without the malice, because they are my stories to tell. But for some reason, and maybe this is true for a lot of people, being who you are is like exploiting what you always have to come back to. If I defer being myself, there’s enough self to save for a day when I need it, when the subway is shut down, when the storm is coming, when the heart not only feels alone but is alone. I can be myself another day.

I had a dream I birthed a set of red-haired twins, of uneven sizes, and the father was the only man I’d ever wanted to love. If you say a person’s name enough, you can tattoo their spirit on your teeth, on your gums. He is my mouth, still. I had these twins and he was gone, still, like now. Which is unsurprising. Rita Dove said it, When has the ordinary ever been news? One of the twins grew and grew, the other cried and cried. Cried without tears so there was no fear of drowning. There was no way to console the baby and I remember saying, I am sorry you are alive. It hurts and I don’t understand you. It will hurt a lot and you already know water cannot absolve the pain you feel. The other baby was toddler sized only a few hours after being born. He ran in circles and nuzzled me and asked who Daddy was and I pointed to the shadow of a desk. And every time the bigger child asked me who Daddy was, because the sun was moving, I’d scramble to find the longest shadow, the one most like a human, the one big enough to fill the space he’s trying to fill. I forget my mouth is someone else’s, so when the father does come home and asks how I came to have these children, I tell them they are more his than mine. He looks over them; the crying one is a ball of mournfulness and shrinking into the tiniest, loudest little thing. The bigger child is a man now, towering over his father, and asks him why it took so long to come back. Father says nothing. The crying baby disappears but the sound of his cry is in the walls of the room. Father says he will be back. The big boy and I know this cannot be true. But we sit together, labeling the shadows for the things and people we want them to be. And the cries of a baby still vibrate the walls. Without a sound, tears fall from my eyes.

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29. On Letting Go [Blue in Green]

The hardest part about losing a lover is figuring out the line between letting go and forgetting. Sometimes the two terms, the two actions, are used interchangeably. And to use those two terms as each other — to say letting go is the process of forgetting, once you’ve forgotten something you’ve let it go — reduces the feeling of loss into an unhelpful binary of good versus bad. Instead, I think, letting go is carefully storing memories in chambers of the mind where they do not hurt you;forgetting is creating a new reality in which the past does not exist.

I had a hard time reestablishing an equilibrium after the departure of my first great love. We met at a distance — he was a resident of one state, I another — and we separated in the same fashion. Perhaps that makes the situation all the more complicated. The only way in which I could allow our love to survive was through a long, arduous process of keeping memories so active they became a part of my reality. Because of our choice to enter a relationship, knowing well that there wouldn’t be a chance of us living in the same place and thus disallowing us from taking advantage of the reminder that is close physical proximity, my first love existed as a memory in motion, a feeling, an ephemeral being who I had to remind myself was real.

So when it ended, when he and I parted, I was not leaving a person, but the memory of a person. It was the death of a spirit that told me to keep moving. That if I moved quietly enough, with my heels always pressed to the ground and if my unwavering hope never concerned itself with faltering, I would someday catch the spirit of the love that he had created within me. And he would be something I could grasp at once and forever. If we remained steadfast enough, our states of being would join into one.

When it ended I had to sort through a handful of moments that outlined us as a couple. There was no day-to-day interaction between us. Our relationship was punctuated by bi-monthly visits, which were tremendous in the way those visits defined the entire dynamic of our relationship. I sorted through moments some people might easily forget. I clung to the days of brightness and fury and I didn’t have the option to forget, although I wanted to (although I tried).

I deleted him digitally; I placed cards he gave me, in a box he gave me and hid it; I stored his emails under a label and archived them — I made him less immediate. This would have worked if he were an immediate person to me. But he wasn’t, of course. His pneuma somehow etched itself into mine. My thoughts would wind to him not out of laziness or self torture, but because he had become just like any thought that precedes an action and my heart was still thoroughly entrenched in love.

It took months to realize he was still with me and that my futile attempts at forgetting were wearing on me much more heavily than I would have liked. I wrote him out of me. Writing him out like I am doing now. I circumscribe him with a pen when the sensation of loss becomes too great. I wrote him into stories and characters and poems and I even wrote him into people I knew. If I brought his memory into a tangible something, then I could break him apart and store him in a chamber of my mind. There are file cabinets situated in my grey matter occupied by only him.

***

Here is an example of letting go:

 One summer he went to China and when he returned, I surprised him at the airport with his parents. We stayed at his parents house for a few days before going back to his apartment. It was early August, and the air was balmy, and the bottom floor of his parent’s house had a way of capturing light so even after the sun had descended their house was still full with lambent light.

He was different upon his return and perhaps I was too. We spent the first few hours of being back together, apart. He was preoccupied with playing the piano; I was trying to find words to explain the changes that had happened to us. He was known for playing the piano rather crassly — slamming on the keys, uneasy transitions, graceless — and, at times, he did not sing well. I didn’t often have the heart to tell him to slow down because he was exposing a part of himself through his music and my opinion of his art was irrelevant. But I remember sitting in the television room of his parents house, dazzled by the soft folds of daytime hours. And I heard this really tender sound. The song began as a fall, if that’s possible. I imagined walking down a spiraled stair: having my name called from above me and walking up; then having my name called from below me and moving down. The song undulated freely and for the first time, his musical voice became very clear and very painful. That song cycled through beauty effortlessly and I felt oppressed and before he could dance his fingers on the white and black keys again, I left the house sobbing.

If every person is an incarnation of God, if our intuition is really God speaking through us: God was telling me our love had already crowned.

He found me crying and I could see in his eyes he didn’t have the energy to console me or to extract my feelings from me. I said, “What was that song you were playing? It’s so beautiful.” He told me a story about his experiences in China, and he asked me not to cry, and he said the song needed lyrics. He asked me to write them. Despite numerous efforts, the words never came and the song, for better, exists without a voice to cloud its message.

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28. Marjorie and Gregory [excerpt from a short story i’ve been working on]

Marjorie,

I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’ve been so distant. You’ve been making my favorite meals every night for the last month. I should have said ‘thank you’ for being so loving. Things have been difficult. Not with you but I’m sure I’ve made you question yourself. Please don’t question yourself; I love you. It’s been work, Marjorie. I’m run down and I don’t know why but I know every reason why. I hope you read this in the afternoon- I hope I didn’t wake you this morning- I hope your dreams are keeping you safe. You are too good.

I have to bring justice today. They’re giving me as rifle and a mask. Like the mask is enough to make the rifle disappear. Like the mask is enough of a barrier and so powerful my actions are no longer my own but the actions of a just state.

I am looking at you now and thinking about all of the things I haven’t had the courage to say over the last few weeks. I see that your face has pressed itself into a smile and I can’t help but think you’re beautiful.

I want to tell you everything (really, I do), but what is there to say? Why does everything and nothing seem to produce the same silence within me? Why does everything and nothing push me away from you? Why do the events in my life always get categorized into everything, something, anything and nothing? I feel trapped.

I’m thinking about all of the times you sat on the sofa, in the spot you always sit in, looking at me with those almond eyes that I hope to never forget. And you waited for me to talk. And you waited for me to be better, to open up, to tell you the truth. And all you got from me were a few grumbles and a lot of silence. And I’d see a little glimmer in your eyes that wasn’t hopeful at all but a sheath of a twisted sadness. I looked at your face and read all of the memories you tried to recapture to justify my distance. Every word of mine became a journey that I wasn’t ready and am not ready to travel. But I have to. It’s my job. That’s a fucking terrible excuse, but it is.

I’m going to be lined up with other executioners, cloaked, holding a rifle and have to shoot at a man. My rifle might have the fatal bullet. It may not. I’ve been thinking in terms of what might and might not be. I don’t think there is an answer. And that’s why I haven’t spoken. I don’t want to give you an answer that’s not actually an answer but just words that have the ability to pose themselves as such.

I want to lay in bed and wrinkle with you. I want this morning to be yesterday’s morning and yesterday’s morning to be the morning before. And each subsequent day to be the previous morning until there is nothing but light.

I didn’t have the words on our wedding day to write my own vows. That was one of the many things I did to hurt you. That’s 25 years old but I still think about it because I am confident you still resent me for it and I can’t blame you. On some days, as soon as I wake up, I come up with a lot of different words that could be vows. After awhile none of them make sense. I’m thinking of some vows now but “I’m going to be putting a bullet in a man’s head” are the only words that tell me something concrete.

I have to go now because it’s almost dawn, it’s almost time. I just wanted to tell you, for all of today I won’t think about you once. I can’t. I don’t want to drag you into this mess and distort my image of you. If there’s anything that mask can save, it’s you.

I will be home around 7, if traffic isn’t too bad. Whatever you make will be perfect and I will say thank you and talk as much as you want.

Yours,

Gregory