The pen tip jabbed in my back, I feel the mark of progress.
I will not dance alone in the municipal graveyard at midnight, blasting sad songs on my phone, for nothing.
I promise you, I was here. I felt things that made death so large it was indistinguishable from air—and I went on destroying inside it like wind in a storm.
The way Lil Peep says I’ll be back in the mornin’ when you know how it ends.
The way I kept dancing when the song was over, because it freed me.
The way the streetlight blinks once, before waking up for its night shift, like we do.
The way we look up and whisper sorry to each other, the boy and I, when there’s teeth.
When there’s always teeth, on purpose.
When I threw myself into gravity and made it work. Ha.
I made it out by the skin of my griefs.
I used to be a fag now I’m lit. Ha.
Once, at a party set on a rooftop in Brooklyn for an “artsy vibe,” a young woman said, sipping her drink, You’re so lucky. You’re gay plus you get to write about war and stuff. I’m just white. [Pause.] I got nothing. [Laughter, glasses clinking.]
Unlike feelings, blood gets realer when you feel it.
Because everyone knows yellow pain, pressed into American letters, turns to gold.
Our sorrow Midas-touched. Napalm with a rainbow afterglow.
I’m trying to be real but it costs too much.
They say the Earth spins and that’s why we fall but everyone knows it’s the music.
It’s been proven difficult to dance to machine gun fire.
Still, my people made a rhythm this way. A way.
My people, so still, in the photographs, as corpses.
My failure was that I got used to it. I looked at us, mangled under the TIME photographer’s shadow, and stopped thinking, Get up, get up.
I saw the graveyard steam in the pinkish dawn and knew the dead were still breathing. Ha.
If they come for me, take me home take me out.
What if it wasn’t the crash that made me, but the debris?
What if it was meant this way: the mother, the lexicon, the line of cocaine on the mohawked boy’s collarbone in an East Village sublet in 2007?
What’s wrong with me, Doc? There must be a pill for this.
Too late—these words already shrapnel in your brain.
Impossible in high school, I am now the ultimate linebacker. I plow through the page, making a path for you, dear reader, going nowhere.
Because the fairy tales were right. You’ll need magic to make it out of here.
Long ago, in another life, on an Amtrak through Iowa, I saw, for a few blurred seconds, a man standing in the middle of a field of winter grass, hands at his side, back to me, all of him stopped there save for his hair scraped by low wind.
When the countryside resumed its wash of gray wheat, tractors, gutted barns, black sycamores in herdless pastures, I started to cry. I put my copy of Didion’s The White Album down and folded a new dark around my head.
The woman beside me stroked my back saying, in a Midwestern accent that wobbled with tenderness, Go on son. You get that out now. No shame in breakin’ open. You get that out and I’ll fetch us some tea. Which made me lose it even more.
She came back with Lipton in paper cups, her eyes nowhere blue and there. She was silent all the way to Missoula, where she got off and said, patting my knee, God is good. God is good.
I can say it was beautiful now, my harm, because it belonged to no one else.
To be a dam for damage. My shittiness will not enter the world, I thought, and quickly became my own hero.
Do you know how many hours I’ve wasted watching straight boys play video games?
Time is a mother.
Lest we forget, a morgue is also a community center.
In my language, the one I recall now only by closing my eyes, the word for love is Yeu.
And the word for weakness is Yếu.
How you say what you mean changes what you say.
Some call this prayer. I call it watch your mouth.
When they zipped my mother in a body bag I whispered: Rose, get out of there. Your plants are dying.
Enough is enough.
Body, doorway that you are, be more than what I’ll pass through.
Stillness. That’s what it was.
The man in the field in the red sweater, he was so still he became, somehow, more true, like a knife wound in a landscape painting.
Like him, I caved.
I caved and decided it will be joy from now on. Then everything opened. The lights blazed around me into a white weather
and I was lifted, wet and bloody, out of my mother, screaming
It’s been a long time since my body. Unbearable, I put it down on the earth the way my old man rolled dice. It’s been a long time since time. But I had weight back there. Had substance & sinew, damage you could see by looking between your hands & hearing blood. It was called reading, they told me, too late. But too late. I red. I made a killing in language & was surrounded by ghosts. I used my arsenal of defunct verbs & broke into a library of second chances, the E.R. Where they bandaged my head, even as the black words kept seeping through, like this. Back there, I couldn’t get the boys to look at me even in my best jean jacket. It was 2006 or 1865 or .327. What a time to be alive! they said, this time louder, more assault rifles. Did I tell you? I come from a people of sculptors whose masterpiece was rubble. We tried. Indecent, tongue-tied, bowl-cut & diabetic, I had a feeling. The floorboards creaked as I wept motionless by the rehab window. If words, as they claimed, had no weight in our world, why did we keep sinking, Doctor—I mean Lord—why did the water swallow our almost human hands as we sang? Like this.
brushing my teeth at 2 in the morning I say over my shoulder you guys you guys I’m serious what are we going to make of this mess my voice muffled with wintergreen foam what are we going to do now that it hurts when I look at those I love like you two you who have been through so much together the thick & thin the skin of it I’m proud of you both I say as the foam pinkens through my lips I’m told our blood is green but touches the world with endings my name a place where I’ve waited for collisions you guys are you listening I’m sorry for being useful only in language are you still with me I ask as I peer into the tub where I placed them gently down the two white rabbits I had found on harris st the way back from Emily’s where we watched American Dad! on her mom’s birthday her mom who would have been 56 this year we ate rocky road in bowls with blue tulips I’m too tired she said to be this happy & we laughed without moving our hands perhaps the rabbits are lovers or sisters sometimes it’s hard to tell sex from breathing earlier I had scooped them from the pavement they were crushed but only kinda one had a dented half-face the other’s back flattened like a courage sock I cradled them wetly in my sweatshirt but now the tub is a red world save for the silent island of fur flickering in my fugitive words guys just wait for me alright just wait a while longer you guys I swear I’ll take us home I’ll leave this place spotless when I’m done I say reaching back to my wisdom teeth forgetting it’s been 4 years since they were gone