i have written pages of apologies you will never read. pored back over our moments together. every once in awhile i catch sight of one that i cant explain. the way you said a word, maybe. or the way the light landed on you through the window, what it did to your skin. every once in awhile words wont do it justice.
we developed a shared language. references and metaphors that only we understand. you took half of my vocabulary with you when you went. left me with this fractured dialect. so i cant always find the right words. sometimes there isnt an exact translation.
it makes me smile to still have these memories. to still be fluent in this language we created, now all my own. we never made up a word for this feeling. this nostalgia at lost love. i thought it deserved one so i gave it one. i named it after you.
its scary that memories change. that the further away you get from the source of a memory the less reliable it becomes.
when i was in fifth grade, i wrote a short story about a wolf interviewing a deer and turned it in as a science report. my teacher wasnt mad. it was creative. he told my mom writings going to be important for him.
or at least thats what i remember. but fifth grade was 18 years ago. the classroom, the teacher, the short story—maybe theyre not as i recall. maybe i exaggerated them. fabricated them. maybe it never even happened. maybe i saw it on a tv show and stole it for myself, a little mental bauble now indistinguishable from a real memory.
my grandmother had alzheimers. it ate away her memory for years before it finally took her body. my father and i sat with her in the cafeteria at the nursing home on christmas day. conversed with a woman who didnt recognize us. told her again and again about our plans for the holiday just so she could feel our attention. just to fill her with a few more fleeting moments of love. even if she couldnt hold them for long.
at least thats what i remember. maybe the table i can see in my mind never existed. maybe we sat by her bed. maybe it was really passover, the springtime flowers just budding on the trees. i dont know whats true. what really happened. but somehow i learned how much of us lives in our memories. how much stays with us and how much is a story we tell about ourselves. to ourselves.
i remember your bed. high up off the ground like a carriage. cling to snapshots of the way you touched me. cooed your affection. i remember kissing you. telling you i love you. but these are only memory now.
its been almost a year since we last spoke. those last fleeting moments of love. i am still piecing myself back together. meaning i am still remembering. my memories of you are paper boats drifting away in the breeze. this is as close to them as i will ever be again. these are their final moments in plain view. after this the horizon takes us. after this we will be just a story i tell myself.
the taco spot was right near where i was working at the time so i got there on foot. leaned against the brick wall and fucked around on my phone while i waited. saw you coming down the block and recognized you from your pictures. it was the first time i saw you stride, really moving quick, huffing, your homegrown new england gait. you probably walked all the way across the bridge.
and i thought oh she cute.
you wanted to sit outside so we did. on the patio. windy. our napkins kept blowing all off the table and we joked about it. the waitress joked about it. brought us our food and we ate fast, the way we always ate together but nervous like a first date supposed to be.
i was burnt out from work. wasnt expecting to give a shit. wasnt expecting to smile but i did. wasnt expecting to laugh but i did. wasnt expecting this to be a cracking seed or a drop of rain or a handful of dry smoking leaves but it was. us planted and waiting for the downpour. or the forest fire. or both, one at a time.
split the check. hugged like our bodies werent familiar yet. shoulders touching. hips apart. nervous. not lovers yet. not even friends. barely fated. just two confused people parting, walking away from each other and toward each other at the same time.
our second date ended up in the newspaper.
we got dressed up and went to the opening of a local art show. sauntered down an alley and up the back stairs of a warehouse. we took our time. looked at every framed portrait one by one, stark woven faces staring back at us. photographer for the globe took a couple flicks of our reactions. our cocked heads. our body language. the nervous inches between us. followed us for fifteen minutes. all the way around the room.
cant say i blame her. we were gorgeous. light black skin make a white camera fall in love especially when you stunt like we did. especially when you effortless happy like we were. especially when you lock eyes and stretch a smile wall to wall. we turned it on. they wanted our skin pinned up like another exhibit and we aint never disappoint. that flash just letting us know we looked as spectacular as we felt.
wandered back out into the alley and asked you if you smoked. then we got high together for the first time.
joked about it. you know we gonna be in the newspaper right? and we were. a shot over our shoulders while we gazed. our togetherness on display, itself a piece of art. i still look at the photo sometimes. remember what it was like to have so much to learn about you.
down the road they were playing music in the park. reggae that made us swing our hips. closed my eyes and felt the heat of your body against mine. the guitars wailed out and the stage lights flashed and we were there together alone. safe. unaffected. immortalized.
the white people in your neighborhood were worried about a sick tree. they held meetings. put up posters. collected donations to save it. you laughed about it every time we walked by.
imagine, you said, having that much time.
you were already working as a lawyer. coordinating a clients release to the halfway house. donated to his bail fund. you felt suffering as your own. cared about people.
it never corroded you. you still read the sick tree flyers like a storybook. couldnt wait to see what they said next. laughed at your neighbors priorities. a morose joke.
i laughed with you, but the joke was never mine.
we ran out of gas on the way back from providence. sputtered into a closed gas station at midnight and turned off the car. stuck. i burned red, my cheeks full. hated myself for stranding us. but you werent upset. comforted me.
said its okay. people make mistakes.
an hour later, the triple a guy knocked on the window. found us asleep in the back seat, unguarded, curled up in each others arms.
the formation video dropped the same day as your birthday party. we all sat in your living room, crowded around your tv to watch. beyoncé synchronized and flawless. an ornate victorian home. a little boy stunting on the cops. black bodies on display onscreen and in the room. watchers and watched. unapologetic in both worlds.
we finished all the food there was and it was enough. wiped crumbs from the table and passed around a lit bowl. cheekbones raised high. black faces contorted in joy. voices raised high. a celebration of our shared aliveness. we spoke no dead names.
you and i slept well that night. grounded. heavy as a basement. happy even. we fell in love for good reason. we didnt begin so many fragments. didnt begin a crumbling brick. once we stood. once we held each other up.
do you remember when you asked me if i would always come back? we were high. tried to have the conversation sober. got halfway through then smoked in your dining room. sat on the floor next to the table and held each other.
my brain keep me embarrassed. its a clock hand stuttering back and forth over the same second. i repeat myself. make the same mistakes. im so easy to predict. i told you about how i run away from what i love and i told you i loved you. asked if you could watch me back and forth for the rest of our lives.
you didnt answer.
will you always come back?
you lived over the other side of the river on a one-way street. the first time we broke up i walked across the bridge to the train. it was fall and windy. the water sprayed up in a cold mist on my face while i cried. pulled tight the drawstrings on my hood. pressed my hands deep into my pockets.
it was always hard to hurt you. i know it dont seem that way, but it was. the way you looked at me that night—you only used those eyes a couple times, that stare like you couldnt believe i still existed. you called me a liar. you called me a fraud.
i dont make excuses like i wasnt trifling. like i wasnt fucking other women. like i didnt invite my dysfunction into your home. i never pretend to be whole. never did. im always calling my heart a paper shredder. always waving my tongue like a warning flag. i can never avoid a collision so i wrapped around you like a tree.
when i say it was hard to hurt you, i mean its hard when a good person dont recognize you no more. when your skin grows so many scales that you become a horror even to those who love you.
if it seems like im crazy its because i am. if it seems like i fled its because i did. if it seems like our whole relationship was just like that night, like i was hurt for being hurtful, like i was walking away crying from a disaster i designed, its true. but know i was running from myself more than from you.
you called our love lifeless and asked me for autopsy. but for the dead i only write eulogy.
you and i talked about kanye west back in the spring when we was just bullshitting over coffee some saturday afternoon. we knew even then he was due for a breakdown. readied ourselves for his defense. the attacks felt personal. white america always stand ready to hate kanye. even for being sick and we knew he was sick.
they say he need to take his meds. aint know what to do with a brain like his. said it would eat itself from the inside out. said he dont see things right. i know what thats like. stopped taking my meds last month too. forgot about the gnashing beast chained up in the back of my brain and it came loose.
kanye had to cancel his tour but i aint rich enough to miss work. no insurance policy resting on my stability. so when i lose touch i gotta keep waking up. keep scraping myself off the bedsheets. convince myself to stand. hope the anxiety washes away in the shower and it never does. some days life just feels like preparation for death. like a dress rehearsal for my own funeral. like i fell asleep in a coffin and woke up underground.
i read kanye think he an alien. my brain feels foreign too. extraterrestrial. dont feel like myself all drugged up. feel like the world aint trying to kill me and it is. like i aint trying to kill myself and i am. feel too safe and i start picking at my stitches. gotta be careful. end up handcuffed to my bed too.
kanye and me, we the lucky ones. got people to check on us. most black boys dont get to be crazy. this country would rather feed us a bullet than an antidote. cant deal with a human problem while they see us as animals. we supposed to rip flesh and crack bone. kanye a lot of things but he aint an animal. aint irredeemable. taught us to love ourselves even fractured. even black. even sick. and you knew i was sick.
you only saw me break down once. came back from dinner with my parents and fought in my living room. said i dont see things right. said you aint know what to do with a brain like mine. watched tears well in my eyes and slide down my face. watched me clench and shake, my brain eating itself from the inside out. and would you still love kanye if he looked like this? raw and vulnerable? fragile and scared? what does a broken black boy deserve if not love?
the last time i saw you, we passed on the street. tensed up and focused our eyes forward. ignored one another. kind of silly really for two people so intimate to lie. but we did. nervous as we were.
i understand the silence and the sadness that grew it. i understand the fear, the longing, the embarrassment, every one of a thousand emotions still lingering. whether i pass you or see your name or just get lost in a thought, they are there teasing. we built a monument together and this is what we experience in the tearing down.
i dont know what i want to feel. but i do know that someday all of those emotions will go away. someday we will be strangers again. someday we will pass and feel nothing.
cut my hand chopping an apple for a soup. left a long thin gash on my palm. slice line pointing up toward the fingers. its been a couple of days of dull ache while the wound closes. been watching it. been rubbing in neosporin and changing the bandage. been looking at my body build itself back.
soup was good. lumpy and sweet. amateur. the ingredients knew they were meant to feed. like i aint know exactly what i was doing but did it anyway. it always comes out this way. thats why i like this recipe. was the same when i made it for you, when we ate it on my couch with that fancy bread you bought at the health food store. pulled clumps straight off the loaf and dipped them in.
i gave you the recipe and you tried it once. tried to be clever. changed the spices. blended it down to a paste. you know how to cook. have the tools to do it right. your soup was better but i didnt like it. didnt recognize it. missed the burst of the apple flesh on my tongue. it didnt remind me of home anymore. lost something necessary. it wasnt the same symphony of imperfections. just a meal.
and then the first time i make it alone again i slice my hand up. it was worth it though. soup was good. im starting to remember how to nourish myself. how to love my experiences for what they are, not what they used to be with you.
i am healing. my hand will be fine. im not too worried about being split open.
Memory first published by SlamChop, April 2017.
First Date first published by Rain City Slam, June 2017.
Photograph first published by The Elephant Magazine, March 2017.
Poems and web design ©2017 glassEyeballs, LLC.