Odds & Evens

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from February, 2022.

I. bak kwa, n.

A new year, another long day
corralling teenagers into
an English class reading a book
half of them won’t open.

Stayed late again, grading essays,
finalizing semester grades.
The smell of pork in our foyer
from the dinner you’re cooking.

II. crafternoon, n.

You’ve been working late,
like every other January.
The sun sets before you’re home —
before you even start driving,
I’m sure. I created a sun
using some tissue paper from
the tub of wrapping stuff in the closet,
hang it over the gas fireplace, switched on,
so you could bask in its warmth.

III. haterade, n.

For 15 minutes, I ramble
about the grading system erroring out
all afternoon,
making me hand-enter each grade
for my 170 students.

You listen patiently
to complaints I’ve made
so many times before.

IV. orthogonally, adv.

After I place food on the table,
you take your usual seat
on the side of the table to my right —
the same seat you took
on our first date years ago,
saying that
the seat directly across from me
would be too far away.

V. shakebuckler, n.

I finally stop talking and
ask about your day.

You talk about the traffic downtown
on your way to city hall,
an argument you had with
Councilmember Meyers
about building better infrastructure
for busses and bikes around town.
“He said to me, no joke,
‘You bring this issue up
at every damn council meeting.
We simply don’t have the funds.’
And then, when I brought up
last year’s increase to police funding,
he slapped the folder out of my hand!”

VI. antiquating, n.

Meyers has been
— and always will be —
stuck in the past.
I’ve argued with him
— constantly —
throughout my entire tenure
on city council.

VII. oojamaflip, n.

There’s a term you always use
to describe Councilmember Meyers
that I can never remember
until you say it again.

The memory plays back,
but the audio muffles.
I see your smile, I hear our laughter,
but I can’t hear the word.

VIII. froideur, n.

I continue,
“It’s like he can’t even entertain the idea
he might be wrong or
should change course
ever. He just double-downs on
every. single. issue.
Even Louis Armstrong would call him
a moldy fig.”

You laugh.

IX. chicken finger, n.

Some students eat in my room at lunch —
the commons’s chaos too much for them.
They carry little cardboard bowls,
small cartons of chocolate milk.
We talk while we eat, and
they ask about you.
When I tell them about
your infrastructure bill
and Councilmember Meyers,
they are as heated as you were
at dinner last night.
They ask if they can do anything to help,
and I get an idea.

X. chopsy, adj.

Meyers gives a longwinded speech
at our next council meeting —
the first Monday of February.
His prattling is punctuated
by his wrinkled cheeks shaking
every time he sneers the word
“homeless.”

XI. bonze, n.

My class’s next unit
focuses on world religions,
so I invited a priest
from the Buddhist temple across town
to talk to my kids.

They talked about
community.

XII. japchae, n.

I take a long lunch
after the morning session —
long, because of the time it takes
to get to my favorite Korean restaurant across town, both
by foot (because of the distance)
or car (because of the traffic),
which are the only viable methods of travel
due to the inaction of city council.

XIII. rakeshame, n.

Kids tend to talk in simplified terms —
good people, bad people,
nothing in between.
So when my lunch group talks about
organizing a protest,
I have to remind them
(albeit begrudgingly)
that Councilmember Meyers is a person,
not a monster.

XIV. passado, n.

The restaurant is empty,
like most days,
despite signage outside detailing
their deals,
their signature dishes.
They greet me by name (and title).
I watch car after car
pass by.

XV. maple leaf, n.

The season’s last leaf whimpers
on a branch outside
my classroom window.

Change begins with
whispers on a breeze.

XVI. anecdata, n.

While my lunch cooks, the daughter
who runs the cash register tells me
her family’s history — how busy
they used to be, before
Main Street became a highway,
starving side-street restaurants
like theirs.

XVII. foul case, n. and adj.

It’s so hard to not step in
when your kids — so full
of passion, energy — 
stumble over their words,
to not take the reins.
They need to learn this,
do it themselves.
You're just there to support them.

XVIII. haggis-headed, adj.

My heart hurts as she gives me my lunch.
I want to help them, and every other
family-owned business in my district, but —
but.
I stumble over my words.
I can make promises all day;
promises don’t help people.
The laws need to change.

XIX. witches’ broom, adj.

Every day more kids show up
to prepare for a protest on the 14th.
They complain about
their families’s stores struggling,
not being able to get anywhere on their own.
They call Councilmember Meyers a fungus.

XX. whoo-ee, int.

I wake up Sunday morning
while you’re making breakfast,
my phone bursting with notifications.
The top one is a message from my assistant
with a link to an article in the Tribune
in which Councilmember Meyers
calls my plan “unamerican,”
“an attack on our way of life.”
A day before the vote and he pulls this.
I hate
how little I’m surprised.

XXI. enoughness, n.

The kids decided on a walkout
at the end of 4th period
leading to a march to City Hall.
They timed it so they would arrive
just as arguments
on the infrastructure bill
would begin. They created signs,
flooded Instagram and Snapchat,
built a crowd to overwhelm the sidewalk
they’d have to take there.

XXII. dwaal, n.

As the session gets closer,
I sift through the notecards
of my speech, eyeing
the window to the courtyard.
You said your students would arrive
as the session began. What if
they don’t show up? What if
I fumble my words? I miss the gavel
marking the start of the session;
Meyers takes the floor.

XXIII. gyaff, n.

One of my students in sixth period
tells me some parents joined the march
with wagons full of water bottles and
granola bars from Costco.
Only one-third of my students remained
at the end of the day.
I’m out of the parking lot before the buses.

XXIV. genericide, n.

Meyers moves through
the usual talking points
as a crowd forms outside.
They pour in, all these kids,
fill the balcony, signs waving 
about their independence.
His speech drowns in
their cacophony.

XXV. garderobe, n.

I have to park in the library parking lot
a block away from city hall, because
all the street parking is taken.
Some students shout to get my attention
from the middle of the crowd outside.
They clear a path for me to get inside
to the staircase to the spectator balcony.
I look over a mountain range of heads
just in time to see you stand up
to begin your speech.

XXVI. woofle, v.

“What my colleague fails to realize is that our community is growing. This growth is beyond the comprehension of our predecessors, who fervently believed that sprawling outward was their best option — an option supported by the modern real estate community and some members of city council.

“The sprawl is unsustainable, both in a physical and a communal sense. We have neighborhoods extending out of our city limits into unincorporated areas, but the children in those incorporated neighborhoods attend schools within our limits, within our care. Those children — like the children filling the balconies now — need to have access to our city’s assets: our parks, our schools, our stores. They must be able to traverse the land in our care effectively and safely- whether that be by foot, bike, or public transit.

“The dependence on cars has hurt our local businesses. Many small stores, the family businesses that built this city in the first place, are struggling, collapsing due to a declining customer base, primarily due to the siphoning of routes to Main Street and their shops being one block too far off that path.

“This bill, which I authored, allocates city funds to the creation and maintenance of resources to fix these problems: sidewalks on streets within school zones, bike lanes on major roads throughout the city, buses with more accessible and reliable routes.

“Certain members of this council have called this plan ‘unamerican.’ And, they are are correct if we only take an antiquated view of what America was. If we look at what America is, what America could be, this plan is as American as it gets.

“The vitriol with which some members of city council use to denigrate this bill is antithetical to the promises they’ve made to support their constituents and their community.

“We should be fighting for our community. We should be fighting for the independence of empowerment of our youth. We should be fighting for our local businesses. We need this bill to aid in these fights.

“Thank you.”

XXVII. antical, adj.

Thunderous applause
as you step away from the podium.
Your name
chanted by students in the balcony.
Your face
so full of pride, confidence, triumph.
You wave
when you find my face in the crowd.

My heart is so full.
I love you so much.
I am so proud of you.

XXVIII. jump-up, n.

The path of progress
has a steep incline,
many switchbacks,

but eventually, we will
reach the summit; the future —
the line where the sky and ridge meet.

There is no one else
I’d rather be on this journey with
than you.

A Traveler’s Hymn

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from January, 2022.

I. caravette, n.

He packed his bags and threw them back
behind the driver’s seat.
His destination was not known,
but still he headed east.

The engine revved, the shifter clicked,
and gravel stirred below.
His horn honked twice, he waved his arm,
and turned onto the road.

II. limbo, v.

The highway’s flat and straight until
the city’s skyline spouts
and overpasses form above
his head so full of doubt.

He ducked his head — no logic there —
when under every one.
And all the morning, he did chase
his guiding light: the sun.

III. hagiologist, n.

He prayed to Bona, Pisa’s saint,
as dusk became the night.
She watches over travelers, when
the sun is not so bright.

His eyes were heavy, night was young;
at some point he must stop.
He hoped that Bona'd keep him safe;
his head his arm did prop.

IV. chutzpasik, adj.

He drove nonstop throughout the night
to see the coast at dawn.
Not tired, he said, then shook his head
when lines began to yawn.

His car’s warm hood, while parked askew,
sent steam into the sky.
The sun did peek from o’er the sea;
its beauty made him cry.

V. hagfish, n.

When hunger fin'lly sank its teeth
into his quiv’ring ribs,
he walked across the parking lot,
and tore off trash can lids.

He dug around to find some food
inside curled fast food bags.
A bite or two to get him through
that morning’s final drag.

VI. belongingness, n.

He ate, returned to beach’s edge,
and inhaled salty air.
He combed his matted hair by wind
and at horizon stared.

He breathed in tandem with the sea —
the tidal ebb and flow.
He wanted this to last fore’er,
but knew he had to go.

VII. driving box, n.

The driver’s seat was worn and cold
and sighed when sat upon.
He had to find a job so that
he’d have new clothes to don.

His wrinkled shirt from Applebee’s
was fading, tearing more.
It’d lasted sev’ral summers, but
no longer could be worn.

VIII. up a daisy, int.

He drove until a hiring sign
did fin’lly ‘pear downtown,
then par’lleled parked across the street,
the visor’s mirror down.

A deep breath there, then slapped his face 
and stared into his eyes.
“You got this, Adam,” said he then,
and donned a clip-on tie.

IX. ghostbuster, n.

“For months now, we have heard these wails
from down below the shop.
We’re ‘fraid a spirit’ll one day rise,
the floor our blood will mop.

“Now, I’ve been told a spell exists,
or something science-y,
to rid us of this blight. Can you?
We’d pay you handsomely.”

X. inadvisably, adv.

No hesitation in his voice,
he took the job and said,
“I’ve never failed to catch a ghost
or zombie or undead.”

The shopkeep pointed to the door
that to the basement lead.
His confidence successf’lly hid
a plan to fake instead.

XI. gee-whizzery, n.

Atop the stairs, she left him there
to go down on his own.
Her glasses fogged with nervous sweat,
her legs were heavy stone.

He closed the door to hide his work
and falsify results.
So dark and cold, a thick’ning fog
reveals something occult.

XII. zom-com, n.

A paw broke through the concrete floor
with saggy, patchy flesh.
Long nose and tail, now on all fours,
teeth flared to eat afresh.

Then Adam reached behind his back
to find something to throw.
He didn’t know ’til out his hand,
it was a squeaky bone.

XIII. scrimmaging, adj.

Like lightning, pounced the dog on bone,
whose squeaks to heaven cried.
Its rubber shards like mist in fog;
its tone grew low and died.

The dog’s eye sockets, empty voids,
to Adam turned at once.
T’ward him a blur of fur did dash 
like he’s the prey it hunts.

XIV. bridle-wise, adj.

In grade school, Adam wrangled cows
at Uncle Nathan’s ranch.
When bored of ropes and tying knots,
he’d settle calves by hand.

His callused palms had softened since,
but muscle mem’ry stayed.
He took a stance to catch the dog
in order to get paid.

XV. ghoulishness, n.

He caught the dog with thund’rous boom,
the hind legs in his hands.
The sound of crackling tendons popped
like snapping rubber bands.

Adrenaline had blinded him,
so fearing for his life.
Removed both legs, then broke each bone
and grabbed his pocketknife.

XVI. summum malum, n.

To throat he took his knife to slice
to separate the brain
from body; with no signal then
on concrete floor it lain.

From out the neck, a thicker fog
as black as void did rise.
It filled the walls, and ‘cross the room,
as red as blood, were eyes.

XVII. sitooterie, n.

Engulfed in black, no gravity
nor distance clear, alert
he was to all. A canvas rip 
below him revealed dirt.

He staggered back onto his feet.
A willow tree gave shade
to chairs, a man in tailored suit
with red eyes said his name.

XVIII. cardioid, n. and adj.

“Now Adam, why would you do that?
My heart, you drive a stake.”
His voice consumed all other sound,
left silence in his wake.

“You’ve killed my dog, I can’t forgive
this slight upon my house.”
He raised his palm, a flash of light,
in flames, the willow doused.

XIX. garden bean, n.

While burning branches fell around
his twitchy, icy hands,
he balled his fists, assumed the stance
that he, for ages, planned.

He knew the man with eyes of blood
would find him once again.
His constant moving to escape
from every demon sent.

XX. fantysheeny, adj.

His pocketknife, passed down to him
on father’s bed of death,
vibrated harsh — a phantom pain,
perhaps his final breath.

Unsheathed then clicked the blade in place,
glowed yellow, orange by flame.
“I’ll exorcise you with this knife
that bares my father’s name.”

XXI. baje, adj. and n.

He lunged with blade in hand and dodged
a fist engulfed in fire.
He stabbed with a calypso beat
against the well-dressed pyre.

So many holes, his knife did leave,
in that maroon suit coat.
No blood did pour around its waist,
no fibers drenched or soaked.

XXII. witching, n.

Despair set in; defeat was near —
he’d die without a sound.
Blue waves of light flowed ‘crossed his knife;
he spotted dewy ground.

He plunged the blade into the spot,
then twisted it in place.
His arm aimed toward the eyes of blood
set in his father’s face.

XXIII. spirit-stirring, adj.

He felt a stream of water flow
from blade through arm to chest.
A geyser ‘rupted out his palm
at he so finely dressed.

He heard a scream, ethereal,
while launching his attack.
His father’s howling scream was there
to take his body back.

XXIV. meet-cute, n.

The flames extinguished, eyes of blood
evaporated then
in mist unholy darkened sky.
His father back again.

The sky, grown black, engulfed the tree
and everything around.
He woke up ‘gainst the shopkeep’s chair,
the basement door unbound.

XXV. ram-stam, adj., adv., and n.

He wiped his hair, and dust and ash 
cascaded to the floor.
“Your problem’s gone, I guarantee.
No ghosts will haunt your store.

“About your door, I’m sorry that
I broke it off its hinge,
but can your help me to my feet?
my lower back’s a twinge.”

XXVI. jai, int.

“Oh, thank you, thank you, so, so much!
The door is no big deal,
‘cause you have saved us all. Can I
repay you with a meal?”

She blushed, and o’er her ear she brushed
her soft magenta hair.
She did not meet his eyes, because
the floor is where she stared.

XXVII. toydom, n.

His heart still fast, like jumbled words,
the pictures in his head.
His vocal cords did vibrate, but
he knew not what he said.

She helped him off the floor and walked
across the shop. Sunset.
His body moved all on its own —
strung like a marionette.

XXVIII. swag, n.

A wave had crashed along the shore
as they had sauntered by.
His lungs were full of salty air;
he felt he’d never die.

His thoughts and limbs back in control;
his body fully his.
He fin’lly asked her ‘bout herself;
she said she goes by Liz.

XXIX. banteringly, adv.

The restaurant Liz chose was lit
by candlelight’s dim glow.
The sun, which set o’er harbor west,
was split by masts of boats.

They joked about the days they had
way after food was done.
The conversation was so nice,
he felt no want to run.

XXX. drivel, n.

The truest form of ease, of home,
is when you talk about
whatever happens to come up,
as free as geysers’s spouts.

So, Liz and Adam talked all night
until they kicked them out.
But then, they just walked ‘round the pier —
a moonlit walkabout.

XXXI. haggard, n.

Throughout the night, unceasingly,
his thoughts returned to home:
an aging farm, his father back
to tend it on his own.

He built a shell, their future pruned,
he tried to not look sad.
“As much as I would like to stay,
I need to help my dad."

Through a Fog

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from September, 2021.

I. padfoot, n.

They sit cross-legged,
back against the fence,
head low,

next to a rock
the size of a football
painted in blue and green swirls.

They murmur between deep breaths,
place a dandelion by the rock,
walk back inside their mom's house.

II. mycophilia, n.

Their stepmom is in the kitchen
humming to herself,
slicing white mushrooms,
throwing them into a saucepan.

They walk along the wall opposite her,
a balance between quick and stealth,
in an attempt to avoid any opportunity
for her to ask how they’re feeling.

III. whangai, n.

Successfully back in their room
unnoticed, they sit on their bed,
open their laptop from school,
get greeted by a log-in screen with
a first name
they wish would die,
a last name from a woman
they wish would leave.

IV. good-sister, n.

“Hey Z,” Layla, their brother’s wife, says
as she enters their room.
Since their brother’s deployment,
Layla has come over each Sunday
after her morning shift at Applebee’s.
She flops on the bed,
releasing a wave of french-fry-scented air.

V. goodsire, n.

“Your grandpa told me
dinner should be ready in about an hour,”
Layla says as she digs through her apron.
“Should be enough time
for the next episode
of Wild Wild Country.”
She retrieves a joint and her lighter, 
as is tradition.

VI. micromania, n.

While the citizens of Antelope
describe how the Rajneeshees
overthrew their local government,
Z stares at their toes
shrinking in the foreground
of their laptop’s keyboard.
Maybe their whole body with shrivel,
finally take up less space.
What kind of life is it 
when your sister-in-law is the only one
who uses your name?

VII. mumblecore, n.

They lose the thread
when Layla goes on about
a movie she watched last week
they’ve never heard of.
Everything spirals back into place
as they realize the episode’s credits
are scrolling by.
Dinner must be almost ready.

VIII. humidex, n.

After establishing an alibi
for their bloodshot eyes,
they walk with Layla
into the dining room.
Sweat drips down their spine.
Their neck aches,
their breaths shallow.

IX. urbanscape, n.

Luckily, their stepmom doesn’t notice
Layla and Z enter the dining room,
too busy going on about
her trip to the glass museum downtown
with her friends and their kids
which Z wasn’t invited to.

X. boody, v.

Z experiences dinner
through a fog.

They eat silently,
can’t hear anyone.

XI. gribble, adj.

You can’t be that surprised. You’re not her real kid. She wanted to be with your mom. You were just part of the package. Maybe Nevaeh left your mom because she just wanted to get away from you. You’ve probably always stood in the way of your mom's happiness. You are just a burden. When people talk about pride, they aren’t talking about you. When people talk about liberation, they aren’t talking about you.

XII. necessarium, n.

Put on pajamas. Go to the bathroom. Brush your teeth. Go to sleep. Go to sleep. Go to sleep. A bottle of melatonin. A bathtub and hair dryer. A razor with a loose blade. Go to sleep. Go to sleep. Go to sleep.

XIII. human, adj. and n.

While dreaming,
Z isn’t confined
to the body they were born in,
which locks them in a box
 people force on them.

They can exist
in a body
free of gender.

XIV. hens and chickens, n.

When Z wakes up, they feel it
wash over them in waves.
Dread of confinement
in a body that doesn’t fit.
Pressure to be someone else
by everyone around them.
Hunted by an idea
of who they’re supposed to be.

XV. yom kippur, n.

Not wanting to be a burden
to everyone around them, 
Z takes up less space.
They don’t eat.
They don’t speak.
Maybe this will make up for
how much they’ve worn out the people
who have had to put up with them.

XVI. spiritdom, n.

After school,
Z sits in their backyard
watching their dog’s ghost
chase squirrels
through their mom’s garden.

XVII. min-min, n.

Lights float somewhere
above the roof of their house.
Closer than a star.
Blurry and flat
like an out-of-focus comet.
They imagine
Herry chasing a bone
across the Milky Way.

XVIII. urbs, n.

Z thinks about graduation —
just a few months away now —
then moving to the city
for school, maybe, but mostly
to get away from this house.

In the city,
they can be their true self
without the shackles of their family,
knowing it is also
without the stars they can watch
Herry chase bones across.

XIX. hearty, adj., n., and adv.

Sometimes, Z isn’t actually sure
they’ll make it to graduation.
They drag an anchor
down every hallway
until exhaustion grips
their heart and brain and
nothing seems worth all the effort.

XX. boohai, n.

alone, engulfed
in the smoke from pickups trucks
without mufflers.

XXI. tziganologue, n.

What if
there is nowhere
you will be accepted
you for who you are?

Maybe
no one else will ever
call you your name.
You may be alone
forever.

XXII. paddling pool, n.

Z sits on the side of the cafeteria
with friends who forget
what their name is,
who say it changes too often
to deserve extra effort.

If high school is this
and the future is made of
people like them,
then why would it be
worth getting to.

XXIII. almondine, adj.

Z walks in
from the backyard,
past the living room
where their stepmom
sits on the couch
eating almonds.
She asks “Aaron”
if they want any,
clearly forgetting
their name, their allergy.
As usual.

XXIV. garden room, n.

From their room,
Z stares out the window
toward the backyard.
They wonder about the height,
how fast they would fall,
the force with which they’d land
on their stepmom’s tomato plants.

XXV. feastly, adj.

At dinner, they savor every
last bite.

Their mom,
home for dinner for the first time in weeks,
takes a large scoop of
the macaroni and cheese
she spent the evening making.

Z eats
until their stomach hurts.

XXVI. slow-bellied, adj.

A full stomach,
they take slow, deliberate steps
up the staircase.

Committed, still,
to the plan they made
completely.

XXVII. pacable, adj.

It used to be bearable,
when Herry was alive,
when he could comfort them
after a hard day.
But since he died,
each day
feels more torturous
than the last.

XXVIII. almuten, n.

A force beyond words.
A slow crescendo inside their skull.
Words they cannot ignore:
You are a burden;
Nobody wants you here;
You do not belong;
Everything you touch decays.

XXIX. hat tip, n.

Cold air through an open window.
Cold words on crumpled paper.
Cold acrylic of a bathtub.
Cold steel of a razor blade.

XXX. alogical, adj. and n.

There isn’t really a word
for the grief that drowns you
when you find your child
dead in their bathroom.

There especially isn’t a word
for the waves of grief and guilt
when you find your partner’s kid,
who you never particularly cared for,
bled white, their final note
in your trembling hand.

Maybe you don’t go back

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from August, 2021.

I. placcy, adj. (and n.)

You’ve avoided
the inside of grocery stores
for over a year.

A pickup order every week,
Fred Meyer insists on
using their own plastic bags.

Your bag of tote bags in the trunk
remains unused;
your stash of plastic bags under the sink
steadily grows.

II. pseudosopher, n.

Your brother’s podcast plays
as you drive up Meridian,
back to your apartment,
so you can know which propaganda
the algorithm served him this month —
which arguments to have and avoid
at the family reunion.

III. zizzy, adj.

The engine revs louder
as you climb the hill
passed the fairground.
As you pass
the assisted living facility
across the street
from the private Christian school,
the sky —
orange with wildfire ash —
comes into view.

IV. bearding, n.

Your brother’s voice
becomes a yell
as you turn
down the side road
to your apartment.

He yells about 
a fraudulent election
orchestrated the bankers
and Hollywood elite.

You know he
means Jewish people.

V. off time, n.

Your Absence has been Approved

This email is to notify you that your requested absence has been approved. The following are the details of the absence:

Leave type: Personal
Start date: Friday, August 13, 2021
End date: Monday, August 16, 2021
Confirmation #: 611391225

VI. baku, n.

You watch
as buildings shrink
under the wing of your plane.

You sigh
as the hypothetical
gender critical rant
by your aunt 
in your head
fades
under Antonioni’s "Malcomer"
as you secure earbuds
in your ears.

VII. lotophagous, adj.

You read
the same line in your book
four times
without realizing it.
The words unfocus into
ridges of a nurse log along
a trail you’re hiking
alone.
You swear
your partner was with you,
but they’re gone.
Their voice flows
through ponderosa pines;
you feel calmer.

VIII. goombay, n.

Awoken by the thumps of
wheels against runway.
Your heart carries the rhythm
as your book falls
off your lap
onto your bag between your feet.

IX. chicken rice, n.

Among the din of impatient passengers
waiting to leave,
you feel so alone.
You start to text your partner
to tell them you landed,
unsure whether they’re
sleeping or driving to work —
you feel like an inconvenience.
You wish they were here,
but remember
how they said
during their first post-reunion dinner
they couldn’t do it again
after last time.

X. muharram, n.

Your father meets you at baggage claim.
Happy to see you, but somewhat hurried,
he keeps staring
beyond you.
Following his gaze, you find
a hijabi woman
waiting for her luggage.
He remarks how
she’s “just been standing there,”
wonders how
“those people are even allowed on planes.”
You gather your thoughts enough to start
explaining how wrong and racist he’s being.
He waves his hand at you,
says, “Better safe than sorry.”

XI. oscines, n.

His truck is loud;
his radio is louder.
He attempts to yell over
the hair metal shaking the door frames
to ask you about your flight.
You struggle to focus
on anything.

XII. machinina, n.

When you arrive at home,
you ask for some time to unpack and nap —
the problem with red eye flights is
the sleep you get is always subpar.
Your bedroom is as it was
before you graduated.
Posters on the walls,
notebooks on your desk,
a stack of novels on the floor by your bed.
When you sit on the comforter,
you remember the nights you couldn’t sleep,
where you’d watch Red vs. Blue
until three in the morning.

XIII. owczarek, n.

Groggy, half-awake,
you hear paws pat at the door.
A head rush as you sit up.
You barely turn the knob
before the door flies open,
a white blur rushes in,
lunges at you, licks your face.
They somehow still remember you.

XIV. chinchy, adj.

You finally feel prepared for your family.
You leave your room,
walk down the hallway
toward the dining room.
Around the corner, just in earshot,
you hear your parents
tell your uncle
how much you all still owe
on your student loans.
He groans about how foolish they were
to pay someone
to poison your mind.

XV. queenborough mayor, n.

When you were younger,
they’d talk about how intelligent you were.
When you were younger,
they’d praise you for your computer skills.
When you were younger,
they talked about your bright future.
When you were younger,
they repeatedly said college was important.
When you were younger,
they cheered when you got accepted.
When you were younger,
they implored you to reconsider your major.

You walk tentatively into the dining room.

XVI. oppo, n.

The subject of their conversation
shifts abruptly
when as you enter the room.
They greet you, tease you for napping,
ask how you’ve been,
how and where your partner is.
You make up a story:
they couldn’t get off work to come.
Your family accepts this and
your other short responses
to their questions.

XVII. changkol, n.

Guilt
about lying to your family.
Guilt
about how easy it was.
Guilt
digs into your bone marrow.
You
feel seedlings sprout on your forearms.

XVIII. gentlefolk, n.

Quiet for the rest of the night.
Claim to be jetlagged,
but really
just lament the actual reunion tomorrow,
when your grandmother gets there.
What questions will she ask?
What lies will you have to tell her?

XIX. busybodyism, n.

Your extended family start arriving
throughout the morning —
a caravan of pickups and trailers.
As you help
set up the food table in the garage,
you are bombarded with questions
when each new group arrives.

XX. freemium, n.

You fill a kiddie pool with ice
for the various potato and macaroni salads
when the news breaks:
The Taliban have encircled Kabul
with little resistance;
the US sends troops
to evacuate citizens from the capital.
You hear it from your father
complaining about
ungrateful savages who can’t appreciate
all that the US has done
to give them democracy.

XXI. pythoness, n.

Your mother chimes in,
says she knew
it would be a disaster
after Biden “stole” the election.
“Incompetent,” she calls him.
A bang
as she open a bag of salt and vinegar chips.
“Senile bastard.”

XXII. dangdut, n.

It is constant —
dog whistles and foghorns,
racism and conspiracy theories
you had filtered from your Facebook feed.

It is overwhelming —
your heart rate increases 
with your internal scream.
You don’t know where to begin
or how.

It is bewildering —
you’ve read so much,
but your throat tightens.
You are in a cage.

XXIII. ophiolatry, n.

Your grandmother finally arrives
in a minivan driven by your brother.
He helps her get on her Rascal scooter,
then she slowly drives herself
by each picnic table in the yard,
excitedly greeting and hugging every person
she can reach.

You brace yourself for her proximity,
her embrace, her questions, her theories.

XXIV. tom tiddler’s ground, n.

You hear your name.
She exclaims it
as soon as she turns
away from your cousin’s table.
She brings up
how long it’s been since she’s seen you.
Her questions are rapid-fire:
How is school?
What can you do with that degree?
How’s your partner? Where are they?
Why aren’t you married?
When are you going to have kids already?

You struggle to catch your breath.

XXV. irritainment, n.

They seem so coordinated,
they must have spent weeks
planning, rehearsing
what to say
to upset you.
It must be funny
to see
you silently fume,
to see
if they can find your breaking point.

XXVI. spinback, n.

When your brother
starts explaining how
Jews corrupted the US military,
siphoned off billions from the budget,
and made us lose in Afghanistan,
you’re done.
A quick rush of air catches in your throat.
The dam’s concrete fissures.
The dregs at the bottom of the lake surface.

XXVII. antwacky, adj.

You see red.
Your brother is yelling,
but he sounds far away.
He’s saying something
about his First Amendment rights.
Now, your mother is telling you
to not ruin the reunion
by taking things too seriously.
Your uncle tells you
to stop forcing your beliefs on everyone.

XXVIII. genteelism, n.

Walls are rebuilt
one goosebump at a time.
You offer an empty apology,
excuse yourself,
head back to your room.
The closed door,
a silent monolith of judgement.
Its corona filled
with shadows and laughter of people
happy to be around one another,
probably happy to not be around you.

XXIX. bonny clabber, n.

Things get quiet as night falls.
Your room’s ceiling darkens
the longer you stare at it;
you stay wide awake.
The afternoon keeps replaying,
every comment echoes.
You miss your partner;
they’d know what to do or say.
You can’t stay here anymore.

XXX. cantopop, n.

Hastily pack your suitcase,
download Lyft,
request a ride to the airport.

Leave a note on the kitchen counter
apologizing for ruining the reunion
and leaving early.

To stay awake, your driver
plays loud, uptempo music
by an artist their dash calls Zpecial.

It’s enough to make you feel far away
from that house and those people.
You can breathe again.

XXXI. merdeka, n.

In your partner’s arms barely
through the threshold of your apartment.
Welcomed. Accepted. Loved. It’s all here.
Why did you ever leave?
Maybe you don’t go back.

There’s always a chance you’re wrong

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from July, 2021.

I. hen scratch, n.

An omen,
they say,
crawling across the sky.

Hard rain,
thunder, lightning
will scar our cropland.

II. baksheesh, n., adj., and adv.

To stop the storm,
we offer a loaf of bread
wrapped in

a ceremonial woolen cloth
buried beneath
an ancient cedar’s roots.

III. zinger, n.

“You actually believe in
the burying bread thing?!”
my son laughs.

“You might as well ask them
to make Monday follow Tuesday!”
He shakes his head.

I sigh.
“You’ll understand when the rain calms
and the clouds burn away.”

IV. noctambulist, n.

Moon walks behind the layer of
blue-black clouds —
a bruise across the sky.

Stars appear, sprout rays toward the moon,
which set clouds ablaze —
a sheet of pale flame.

V. astrogator, n.

I point at the clear morning sky.
“You see! You see!
They took the offering”

My hands wave back and forth.
“They cleared the storm
with the moon’s fire!”

“Preposterous. There must be
a scientific explanation for all that,”
he dismissively shakes his head.

VI. seven-pennyworth, n.

“Look here, right here!
An explanation for the storm!”
He points to an article in the newspaper.

“An abnormal weather pattern
brought about by the changing climate.
It’s science, Dad.”

VII.  amazingness, n.

I scan the article.
“Reasonable, I’ll give you that,
but you cannot be certain.”

Pointing to the final paragraph,
“There’s always a chance you’re wrong.
It’s science, Son.”

I sip my coffee.
“The climate, the moon, or the stars —
The fact is: the storm is gone.”

VIII. dunger, n.

A quiet drive in my old truck,
a Ford whose red paint has faded
to the hue of a house finch’s breast.

Its motor’s hum,
the only sound
between my son and me.

IX. okada, n.

The truck hiccups,
comes to
a complete stop.

“Did the moon and stars
kill your truck too?”
He laughs, pulling out his phone.

I pinch my eyebrows.
“So what if they did?
We’re stuck either way.”

He calls a friend who lives nearby,
who can get him to the station
on their loud motorcycle.

X. krump, v.

I stay with the truck
to poke at it, see if I can
figure out what the problem is.

I turn on the stereo on the seat
which I bought after the built-in one broke
to find a radio station to help me think.

It catches when I try to start it up, and
I pop the hood to find
something moving around the engine.

XI. odditorium, n.

A bushy tail.
Eyes red as arterial blood.
Two long claws on each paw.

A claw cuts a cable.
A hiss through sharp teeth.
Two wings unfurl, carry it all away.

XII. seventhly, adv. and n.

Dave arrives to tow me home.
“What the hell happened?
Leo said your truck just died?”

I completely forgot the plan
we came up with when we saw
Leo only had enough service to text.

I can’t keep my voice down.
“I don’t know! Did you see that?!
Why are there so many omens lately?!

“What
is
happening?!”

XIII. ovulite, n.

Dave cannot draw
the connections himself,
so I help.

I talk about the storm, the stars,
the creature in the truck,
every weird occurrence around town,

how each element
fits together
like sedimentary rock.

XIV. dogleg, v.

Dave listens as he tows me home,
curves around the backroads,
nods politely as I talk.

XV. automorphism, n.

It can’t just be me.
Everyone must see it too;
it’s too obvious.

Dave gets it.
He doesn’t say so,
but he does.

XVI. staycation, n.

“I think the sun might be getting to you,”
Dave says as he maneuvers
my truck into the driveway.

“You might need to rest a while.”
His sentence punctuated
by the grip of the emergency brake.

XVII. papri, n.

Dave leaves. I pop the hood,
the knife of my leatherman
unsheathed, ready to strike.

Nothing emerges.
I find the broken cable,
unattach the loose halves.

I get Leo’s road bike from the garage,
ride it to the AutoZone by the strip mall.
Its thin wheels hum in the wind.

XVIII. mandela, n.

The stereo on the counter
blares some talk radio voice in the store;
its antenna pokes over the register.

I pace through the aisles ’til
I find a replacement cable,
then return to the counter.

Ger methodically rings me up, grumbles,
“Always namedropping insteada
doing anything to change anything.”

XIX. custard pie, n.

Ger holds the cable
in his callused hands.
“How this happen?”

I sigh,
“The truck died, and
a monster under the hood cut it.”

He looks at me, then at the cable,
raises an eyebrow, then guffaws.
“Musta been one scary squirrel, Harv!”

XX. butin, n.

Not wanting more ridicule,
I notice the month with no clouds,
but say nothing.

At least
the storm
didn’t destroy our crops.

XXI. buster suit, n.

Midafternoon.
Condensation pools around
a glass of water on the table.

In the waves above the road,
I see myself as a child
running in the soft rain of early fall.

XXII. star shot, n.

An omen, a message
from the stars, hanging from
the sitka spruce branches, I say.

A common mold, a fungus
without meaning or purpose,
Leo says, showing me a picture on his phone.

XXIII. olive branch, n.

Lift my cap, scratch my head,
“It wouldn’t hurt
to leave an offering just in case.”

“A loaf feeds us for a week.
We can’t afford to waste it.”
He rubs his eyes with both hands.

XXIV. rebetika, n.

Midnight —
when the moon and stars meet
to discuss their plans.

Midnight —
when crevices and faults open
to release demons to our realm.

Midnight —
when I take our last loaf of bread
to bury under the ancient cedar’s roots.

XXV. genteelness, n.

“Dad. What the hell?
Where’s the bread?”
Leo slams the cabinets shut.

I rub my shoulders.
“We can get by without it.
The offering had to be made.”

Before he speaks, I hold up a hand.
“Now hold on. Listen.
Rain will come and save us and our crops.”

XXVI. roman à clef, n.

I try to read the stars
as they appear just after dusk,
to see if they’ve listened.

Without a cipher,
I don’t recognize any of the names
they mutter to themselves.

XXVII. unplug, v.

Leo makes breakfast the next morning:
coffee, eggs and
toast.

I stare at the plate.
“Where did you get more bread?
I thought we couldn’t afford it.”

“I dug up that loaf you buried.
The soil kept it cool, the cloth kept it clean.”
He smiles at his own cleverness.

He has
no faith in the process,
no idea what he’s done.

XXVIII. Henatrice, n.

A hellish caw
echoes over our acreage,
shakes the window frames.

In the sky, a winged beast,
feathers and scales
and menace in its eyes.

It soars over the house
toward town,
death in its wake.

XXIX. ang moh, n. and adj.

Looking at the window,
blood drains from Leo’s face,
now pale as calla lilies.

“I- I don’t-
I don’t understand,”
he stammers, wide-eyed, mouth agape.

XXX. Parafango, n.

I get out of my seat.
“You took its offering.
Now we need to fix it.”

I gather all the pieces of the loaf,
blend a mixture of
wax from a prayer candle, ash from the wood stove.

After coating the bread in ashwax,
it’s wrapped in a woolen cloth,
reburied at the cedar.

Shielding my eyes
while running back to the house,
I hear its caw as it returns.

XXXI. Greeze, n.

“How did you know that would work?
It’s nonsensical,”
Leo scratches his head, as the beast flies away.

I take a deep breath.
“It’s drawn to the ash and wax,
something the elders said worked long ago.”

“That’s all superstition though!
That’s not scientific at all!”
He grips the hair above his temples.

I put a hand on his shoulder.
“Science isn’t an answer;
it’s a question.”

The Ballad of Coll Tabe

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from December, 2020.

This story is part of a collection called Shards of Kardpaz, which are texts I’ve written for the world of the Dungeons & Dragons campaigns I run with students at my school.

I. Sprunny, n.

The tavern din
surrounds me,
an undercurrent for a song
I’ve heard before—
a hundred times from a hundred bards.

They sing and dance
the way you do
before your love
is torn from you.

I see her dancing with them—
her ghost
swaying with the lyre—
the way she did
before.

II. Celebrous, adj.

Polite applause
from drunken patrons
after his song ends—
the same thing as every other act.

Finally, then, they took the stage,
shouldering their lyre.
A legend ‘mong bards, whose name is known
to fill souls with newfound fire.

I first saw them perform here
years ago
on the Hash Brown Tavern stage.
The first song they played,
they called “Corse Boyfriend,”
chilled me to the bone.

In their chords,
I heard his voice, I saw his eyes,
I lost my breath until the last note died
to a smattering of applause.

I returned each week,
to study their hands—
to learn the chords
to produce his eyes
on my own.

My bloodstained lyre
keeps him from me
still.

III. Auguste, n.

Whenever I perform,
I stick to standards—
the shanties they want
from a halfling like me.

They laugh and cheer,
but I always fear
That I, not the story’s fool,
am the object of ridicule.

IV. De-Extinction, n.

The last time I held you,
there were rocks flying over our heads.

The last time I held you,
your blood was soaking into my cloak.

The last time I held you,
they pried you away

from me.

The last time I was home,
I watched you die in my arms.

The last time I was home,
they chased me to the edge of the forest.

The last time I was home,
they said my kind isn’t welcome

anymore.

V. Briticism, n.

Leaving Mossmeadow meant
leaving the winds of Lake Quarx.

The capital
isn’t far from Mossmeadow,
but the way people talk in
Arcton
took time to understand—
some words they use
aren’t used the way
I’d ever heard them at home.

Leaving Mossmeadow meant
leaving my son.

Walking through the city,
I see many families—
many children
learning the ways of their culture,
the foods of their families,
the stories of their elders.
I think about who is raising him,
how much he is missing.

VI. Bigly, adv.

“Coll, you’re up,”
says the tavern keeper—
an old dwarf
whose auburn beard
has started graying out.

I down my ale
to handle my nerves,
grab my lyre,
head to the stage.

“Good evening, I’m Coll Tabe.
This is a song
I used to sing to my son
to teach him about our history
back when he was young.
This is the story of Maro Lightfoot.”

I play so loud
the wall shake.
I hope they hear me
back in Mossmeadow.

VII. Magnalia, n.

The first love of my life was a baker
who brought rolls
to my family’s inn, and we’d talk
’til the church bell tolled.
I asked her to dance in the village square
under the setting sun.
We were wed nary a year 'fore she died 
delivering our son.

The second love of my life was a farmer
who brought gourds
to the autumnal market, and I’d buy
all that I could afford.
We drank one night in public for once,
and then they made us run
from rocks that flew and broke his skull,
and then they took my son.

I don’t know why the sky and sea
must take them all away from me.

VIII. Slobberknocker, n.

A string breaks.
Back on stage.

The happy song
had traveled with me
into the memory,
became a lament
without my realizing.

It’s apparent
in the audience’s faces—
it is not what they wanted.

IX. Anemious, adj.

It’s nights like this
that make me move
from city to city—

a leaf on a breeze
that never lands
anywhere.

X. Zero-Sum, adj.

I sulk back to the bar.
A fresh pint by my chair.

“It’s alright,”
the tavern keeper says.
“You’re getting better,
for sure.
In the meantime though,
their displeasure in your playing
makes them buy more ale,
so this one’s on the house.”

XI. Sportingly, adv.

“You really think that?
That I’m getting better?
It doesn’t really feel that way
at all.”
I take a swig.

“Oh, of course, Coll.
Everyone eventually
gets better
when they put in effort.”

I shrug.

“You think
I was born
able to make the best hash browns
in all of Kardpaz?”

I sigh.

“It took me a long time
to find the secret
to cooking potatoes, Coll;
It’s true.

“You know,
Uku was just like you
when they started playing here
all those years ago, too.”

“What?”

“You look up to them right?
I saw you scribble notes
after they performed
‘Raccoon with a Dagger’
last week—
never cared for
that raccoon friend of theirs—
Anyway, you’re usually here
when they perform, and
you get so focused
until their set’s done, then
you start scribbling on
whatever you got.
It’s pretty obvious.”

Dying inside, I clear my throat.
“You must be real old, then, Rosti.”
I gulp my ale.

He laughs,
“Older than stone.”
He turns, back to work,
helping someone a few seats away.

XII. Gee Willikers, int. and adj.

After Rosti leaves,
I finish my ale,
rest my forehead
on the cool rim of my stein.

“Hey, uh, Coll, right?”
A voice behind me asks.

I nod,
tilting the stein with my forehead
off then back on
the counter with a soft tap.

“I just wanted to tell you
I thought you did well tonight.
I’ve head Maro Lightfoot a lot,
but never a rendition
with so much heart.”

Vaguely familiar voice.
“Um, thanks. It means a lot.”
I turn to shake their hand—
a custom in human cities.

A kind smile
on an elven face
the shade of night sky
on the summer solstice.
A poof of white hair.
Uku Silve is standing in front of me.
They’re talking to me.

Wait.
They complimented me?!

XIII. Bokeh, n.

“Wow! Um, thank you!
It means so much!”
I can’t keep my cool.
“Sorry, I just never thought
you’d know my name.”

“It’s alright, dude.
Don’t worry about it.”
They gesture
at the stool next to mine,
“May I?”

I nod
fast as hummingbird wings.

I stammer,
“Mind if I ask you a question?”

They nod.

“Is it true, what they say?”

“You’re gonna need to be more specific.”

“Is it true
you were kicked out of your village?”

They sigh, nod slowly.
“Yeah.
My parents kicked me out as a kid.”

“I only ask because
I was kicked out of my village, too.
And seeing you succeed,
hearing your songs,
just gave me so much hope.”

“Your parents kicked you out too?”

“No, it was my dead wife’s parents.”

Uku nods, holds up a finger,
writes something quickly on a paper,
puts it in their cloak pocket.
“That sounds difficult.
How’d that happen?”

“A lot of it’s a blur.
They caught me drinking
with my partner at the tavern, decided
I was not a fit parent for my son, Towhee,
took him and ran us out of town.”

They shake their head.
“Damn. Where’s your partner now?”

“Qualen’s dead.”

XIV. Mentionitis, n.

“He died?”

“Yeah. He didn’t make it
out of Mossmeadow.
They threw rocks while chasing us.
He got one in the head.”

“They killed him?”

“Yeah.”

“Your dead wife’s parents killed your partner.”

“Yes.
They didn’t approve of me
being with another man.

“They never really liked me. I think
they blame me for Corvin’s death.”

“How’d she die?
Wait. That’s rude.
You don’t have to answer.”

“It’s alright.
She died giving birth to Towhee.”

“Shit. That’s a lot of trauma for a person.
Was all that recent?”

“Not really. They ran me out
about four years ago;
she died ten years before that.”

XV. Pastinate, v.

Uku sits with that for a while.
“You’ve had to hold on to all that
for a while.”

“Mhmm.”
I fiddle with my stein handle.

“It comes out in what you play.
It gives your songs a different hue
than when other people play them.”

“Is that… good?”

“It makes you
unique.
You got a future, Coll.”
They jab my arm.

They say they
have to travel in the morning,
look forward to seeing my next set.
They tell me
to get in touch
the next time I’m in the city,
to maybe try checking out
the temple of Pelor down the road
to see a friend of theirs.

XVI. Sir Roger de Coverley, n.

The last time I met clerics of
the god of sun and time,
They played their lutes and sang their songs,
the equinox was nigh.

We halflings love to drink and dance;
we let ourselves indulge.
The steps are so important that
a misstep would repulse.

A shift they brought to people’s mind
when songs and dances ceased.
They looked from o’er their shoulders then,
would scowl and glare at me.

XVII. Ruck, n.

I do not sleep.

All night, discomfort— I toss and  turn,
pace around my room in the tavern.

I do not sleep.

Cannot forget, but should I forgive
people who hate me for how I live?

I do not sleep.

Uku said that they have a friend there;
they would not send me into danger.

I do not sleep.

I hear her last breath, see his blood spill,
feel hollowness that cannot be filled.

I do not sleep.

XVIII. Meeja, n.

The sun rises—
the clerics describe it as
Pelor greeting us,
reminding us of his grace.

The sun rises.
I can see it arch over
the temple’s bell tower
through the window
from over the bed’s edge.

I’ve heard the praises my whole life—
the background of half of our songs.
Pelor’s temples always the largest,
the most polished.

Their clerics travel
throughout the kingdom
to convert more fanatics.

Begrudgingly,
I make the decision
to get out of bed
and go to the temple.

XIX. Hysterology, n.

Above the temple doors,
a giant seal of Pelor.
Gold, intricate details
of His face in the sun.

Around the necks of vendors,
small symbols of Pelor.
Metal pendants on small chains,
they grasp and whisper into.

Behind the tavern counter,
a sun carved into a plaque.
Silent and everpresent,
always watching from above.

Entering Mossmeadow,
a yellow sun on red banners.
Tall humans in long cloaks
want to help, spread the word.

In songs they sang to us in school,
the sun god saves the day.
He feeds the starving, heals the sick,
deserves all our praise.

XX. Pronoid, adj.

Even in the early hours of morning,
the temple is full of people
praying alone, lighting candles,
confessing to clerics and priests.

Lost in a forest of humans,
I look for a cleric to ask
about Uku’s friend.

I bump into someone,
turn to apologize.
“Oh, I’m so sorry.”

“It’s no problem,”
says a cleric, a young human
sitting in a floating platform—
a chair with no legs.
“Are you okay?”

“Yes, thanks. Um, actually
I’m looking for someone, a cleric.”

“Well, I’m that, so can I help?”

“I’m looking for someone specific.”

“Okay. What’s their name?”

“I’m told they go by
Applelegs?”

“No one goes by-
Who sent you here?”

“Uh, Uku Silve.”

He nods.
“Yeah, that sounds like them.
You’re looking for me,
I’m Elyon.”

“Why Applelegs?”

“When we met,
I used parts of an apple box
for my chair.”
He taps the side of the floating platform.
“I assume they thought
it would be a good joke.
Which, to be fair, it is.

“They and their friends
got me this new chair
after our, uh, adventure.”

“If you don’t mind me asking,
why do you have the chair?”

“Oh, I can’t use my legs.
Never could, but,
thank Pelor,
I was raised in this temple,
so I was well taken care of.”

XXI. Nirl, v.

“I know what that face means,”
Elyon nods.
“You don’t need to pity me;
I get around fine.
The way I move through the world
may be different from yours, but
I am no less of a person.
I’m not some charity case
to remind you of your privilege either.
Had to go through a whole thing
with Uku’s friends about it—
they were obsessed
with trying to ‘fix’ me.

“So, can we skip that whole bit?”

XXII. Teh Tarik, n.

“Right, sure. You’re right.”

“Good.
Why did Uku send you?”
Elyon scans the pews.

“I’m not entirely sure.
They watched me perform
at the Hash Brown Tavern
last night. We talked afterward,
and they said I should
stop by the temple to see Applelegs.”

“Well, that’s ambiguous,” he chuckles,
squints at the stained glass
over the temple’s entrance.
“Follow me.”

He floats away from the pews,
down a hallway with fewer people.
“Have you eaten?” He asks,
opening a door.

“Not really,” I say,
walking into a cafeteria
in the side of the temple.
People in rags and bandages
sit at tables,
huddled around warm mugs.
Clerics serve food, sit with them.

Elyon gestures at an empty table,
floats behind the counter.
He returns with two mugs
of something I’ve never seen before.

He hovers across the table from me,
sips from his mug.
“Uku usually sends people to me
because of their past
or ours.
So, which did you talk about?”

XXIII. Gorger, n.

I recount
everything I told Uku
about my past.

Elyon nods;
sips from his mug;
loses attention, gets tense
when an older man
enters the cafeteria.

His robe adorned
with thick metal chains,
a staff in hand
topped with an intricate carving of Pelor.

A priest.

XXIV. Futzing, n.

Elyon clears his throat.
“Ah. I think I understand now.”

He places his mug down,
eyes it, rotates it slightly
with his thumb and middle finger,
aligns his napkin by it
with his index and ring fingers.

He holds his hand up in a fist,
analyzes his arrangement, nods.

“You’re stuck. Uku probably
thought I could help you get unstuck.
Follow me.”
He floats over to and up a spiral staircase
at the end of the cafeteria.

I follow him. “Stuck?”

“You haven’t noticed
how much you talk about their deaths?
Your loss?”

I pause.

“It’s normal thing to struggle with;
I’m not saying you should shrug it off—
just that I think I can help.”

I nod.

“What happened to your family?
Your parents?”

“They’re still in Mossmeadow.
Why?”

“That’s lucky. Traditionally,
people have their parents
as a support structure.”

“They didn’t really try to
help me when shi-
things went down.”

“Oh.
Should’ve seen that coming.”
He sighs.
“I never got to meet my mom, so
I kinda idealize parents—
assume the best in them—
I guess.”

“You never met her?”

“No. She, um, also died in childbirth.
Delivering me, actually.”

“Oh. I think I understand why
Uku sent me here now, too.”
My thighs start to ache.
“How much further are we going?”

“Oh, right. Here.”
The stairs arrive at a platform.

“That was convenient,” I gasp,
bend over to stretch my legs.

“Well, it’s a magic staircase.
It pops you to whatever floor you want.”

“What?
You could’ve done that
the whole time?”

“Yeah, but
we were in the middle of a conversation.
It would’ve broken the rhythm.”

XXV. Jough, n.

Elyon takes me to his room,
an entire wall covered in bookshelves.
“First things first,”
he gestures at the shelves,
“please don’t touch any of the books
without asking first.
The last time someone was here,
they knocked over the shelves
and I had to spend hours
putting everything back where it belongs.”
He sighs, “It was Uku’s friends.”

I hold my hands up.
“Not a problem.”

The door creaks behind me.
“Morning, Elyon.”

The priest is outside the doorway,
a mug in hand.
He takes a sip.

Elyon turns around quickly,
lowers his head.
“Morning, Father.”

“I trust you’re showing your,”
he looks at me,
“guest the best hospitality?”

“Yes, sir. Absolutely, sir.”

“This won’t impede your duties
in the temple, I gather?”

“No, sir.
I will complete all my tasks, sir.”

“Very good. Have a Blessed day, Elyon,
Elyon’s guest.”
He turns.
His steps echo from the staircase
going upward.

Elyon releases a breath.

“You alright?” I ask.

“Yeah, yeah. Everything’s okay.”

“That guy seems intense.”

“He can be, but
he had his morning drink, and, well,
he can be better whe—
well, it’s a balance.”

“You live and work here
with a guy like that?
A guy you tense up around all the time?”

“Well, yeah. He’s the high priest.
He raised me.
He took me in when I was a baby.”

“He doesn’t seems to... like you
at all?”

“He’s just stern, you know how
religious people steeped in tradition
can be.”

I hear rocks bouncing off tree trunks,
breaking Qualen's skull.
“Uh, yeah. I guess.
That doesn’t mean
you need to put up with them though.”

“Coll, the sun shines on all people
regardless of who they are,
what they do or think,”
he pauses,
“or who they love.

“The people who killed your partner
do not represent Pelor
or His will.
They are hurt people who hide
behind His name.

“I hope you would not lump us all together.”

XXVI. Howzit, int.

I’m quiet,
imagining different timelines—
where I return and they welcome me,
where they never ran me out,
where I return and they reject me,
where Qualen didn’t die.

“You alright?” Elyon asks,
putting a hand on my shoulder.

Back in the present.
“Um, yeah. I’m alright. I just-
I can’t just-“

Elyon nods,
clasps his hands in his lap.

“How can I just
forget and forgive
everything?
How is that a
reasonable
thing for a person to do?”

He bites his cheek,
looks over at the bookshelves.

“Some say
being in the shadows is
a choice a person makes.
Pelor shines on all land, all people,
indiscriminately.
His light will hit
anyone who wants it— it is
a choice to go into the shadows,
a choice to stay there,
a choice to avoid His light.

“He cannot keep you warm all the time;
He must attend to
the needs of all people, of course.
But night ends,
and His light and warmth returns—
if you choose to embrace it.”

“Are you saying
I’m choosing to be upset
at Qualen’s murder?
At Towhee being taken from me?”

“Of course not, Coll.
You should be upset.
Anyone would be.
Avoiding to grow or move from it is
a choice though.
What you do
with the hand you’re dealt is a choice.

“No one can steer your life
but you.”

XVII. Zeroth, adj.

“I get that Pelor has done a lot for you,
and you have lived in His service
your whole life, but
leaning on some dude in the sky
can’t be your only plan!

“To assume
everything will work out
comes from a place of privilege, Elyon.
You’ve had a safety net
your whole life that will catch you
if you fall too far, too fast.

“I don’t have that!
I’ve been on my own for years!
If I fall,
I hit god damn ground!”

XXVIII. Throgmorton Street, n.

“I hear you,”
Elyon says, grabs a book off the shelf,
offers it to me.
“Make yourself a net then.”

I take the book, open the cover.
“You want me to have this?”

“You can get it back to me
when you’re done with it.
Now, if you’ll excuse me,
I have chores to do.”

I thank Elyon for his time
and the book,
leave the temple, then find a bench to sit.

The book is Elyon’s journal
from the time
he spent with Uku and their friends.
I read
listening to the din of the market.

XXIX. Radiatore, n.

I eat dinner at the Hash Brown Tavern,
Elyon’s journal by my pint on the bar.

Closed, fully read,
his story echoes in my head.

Rosti waves a hand in my face.
“You there, Coll?”

I shake my head, rub my eyes.
“Yeah. Yes.”

He places a plate by the book.
“The daily special.”

“Thank you,” I say. He knocks twice
on the bar, moves on to someone else.

I stare at the plate. Looks like
a pile of open ribcages in a pool of blood.

A vision? The past? The future?
What am I to do now?

XXX. Acheronian, adj.

“Coll, you’re up,”
says the tavern keeper.

I down my ale,
grab my lyre,
head to the stage.

“Good evening, I’m Coll Tabe.
This is... a song.”

An improvisation:

your boat’s in a river
shrouded in smoke
out to deliver
your soul down below

you look up t’ward the sky
trying to find
anything warm to dry
your drowning mind

he greets you with eyes black
deep as coal mines
you’d seen them before back
in empty steins

shattered skulls on cave walls
painted in blood of
everyone in your life who
made you feel loved

shattered skulls on cave walls
painted in blood of
everyone in your life who
made you feel loved

XXXI. Bicky, n.

Silence after the last note dies,
but I don’t mind.
There’s an old elf in the back
with misty eyes.

I go to the temple of Pelor
in the morning
to drop off Elyon’s journal
with a cleric.

I go back to the tavern
to say goodbye,
and Rosti is cleaning the bar,
removing steins.

He looks up when I enter,
signals me o’er
offers a bread wrapped in cloth.
“One for the road.”

Leave the tavern and realize
where I should go.
Need control of my story.
I’m going home.

A Note Should Suffice

There’s a tower out on the horizon.

You’ve lived in this forest a long time. So long, in fact, that you’ve started to name the trees— not the species names, like spruce, cedar, hemlock; those you learned on your grandpa’s nature walks years ago— names like Rela, Sophia, Brett.

The black face of the tower is stark in contrast to the orange-green hue of the treetops across the valley in the morning light. Its top half is coiled like a serpent around a shaman’s forearm, coming to three sharp points a hundred feet above the western red cedars at the base of the mountain.

The tower wasn’t there yesterday. You’re almost certain. You don’t remember a tower living there— isn’t that where Storm River started? At the base of Thunder Falls? The face of the glacier still sunbathes on the mountain. It must still drift there. You don’t remember the last time you really paid attention to that area. You don’t remember the names of those trees, if the trees are still there.

You strain your eyes, grasping at the finer details just out of reach. Soft, faint, purple cyphers flow along the tower’s coils, glowing in a slow pulse that climbs up the snake’s spine.

The colors of the treetops by the tower are washed out. The leaves and pine needles pale, white as day-old coals. The bark’s black as night. No life there, no movement. You could almost feel the absence of the grubs that crawled within the folds of the bark.

It’s cold, as mornings here tend to be. The sun, contrary to what city people say, is not a morning person; it takes its time stumbling over the mountain. You’re halfway through your earl grey, meaning you’re toward the end of the hour between dawn and when the sun is actually visible.

Your porch is quiet in a loud way. The quiet has a presence, and it demands to be known. One morning, about a week ago, a crow landed on a maple branch on the northeast corner of your front yard. It cawed, then froze and, you swear, lowered its head apologetically before flying away.

You finish your tea, then pack several days of supplies in your backpack. Your partner is still asleep. Not wanting to wake them, you leave a note on the counter saying what you’re doing, where you’re going, when to worry.

A Moored Ship After a Storm

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from November, 2020.

I. Spiritato, n.

Rosa sits between
her sister, Haylee, and Uncle Martin.
Tired from the four-hour drive
across the state.

Her grandma asks Uncle Martin
to lead the family in Grace.
He clears his throat loudly,
so that the kids in the other room hear too.

His Grace is long—
as it is every Thanksgiving—
expressing thankfulness
for every event in the family’s year
he gathered from his Facebook feed.

She stretches her neck left and right,
looks at each bowed head
with closed, reverent eyes—
utterly baffled at the sincerity.

II. Volcanello, n.

Uncle Martin closes Grace
quoting the priest of his church

which Rosa stopped attending
her junior year in high school

after he gave a sermon
about women’s role in the home.

She bites her cheek,
metal on her tongue,

closes her eyes, a scream
escapes as a restrained sigh.

III. Pastinaceous, adj.

Grandpa Leo carves the turkey,
serves a slice to each person
around the table,
same as he does every year—

a tradition
passed down to him
from his father,
from his father’s father—

a taproot
reaching down
so far
no one can see the end.

IV. Overberg, n. and adj.

A polite smile on Rosa’s face
as she accepts her slice
from Grandpa Leo.

He pauses, smiles.
“We’re so glad
you were able to make it this year.”

She nods, fidgets
with her napkin on her lap
to avoid eye contact.

When she looks up, it feels
like looking at a mountain range
from a fire lookout.

V. Sprusado, n.

The Walker-Estradas are not a
sedentary family.

As soon as it seems like
everyone’s done eating,
there is no sit-and-talk
like business people during a lunch rush.
No, the dining room is abandoned
for places to stand—
the kitchen, the patio, the living room.

Rosa gets up from her seat,
pinches the button-up
she wore on Wednesday’s shift
through her cardigan,
flattens any potential wrinkles,
adjusts her tie.

A deep breath before
she grabs her water glass,
tentatively walks
toward the patio.

VI. Hot-Brain, n.

Rosa didn’t really plan ahead—
the decision
to drive over the pass
to see her mom’s family
for Thanksgiving was
last-minute.

She was wiping down
the tables and booths in her section
after the last party left—
the Wednesday before Thanksgiving
always nonstop.

All night,
she heard people talk about
their plans—
seeing their families, elaborate recipes.
The hosts were talking about it while
wrapping silverware in napkins for Friday
when the dam broke—
she missed home.

Afraid of chickening out,
she stopped by the Arco
on the corner of the parking lot,
bought gas and a 5-hour Energy,
drove toward the highway.
Her only stop
was at a rest area outside Srague
for a nap.

VII. Cheesed, adj.

Maybe it was
a reasonable response,
maybe it was
because she slept in her car,
but

when she got to the patio,
heard Uncle Martin grimace about
“illegal votes,”
she groaned,
“Oh shut up, man!”

All eyes on her,
every conversation halted.
“Um, excuse me."
She sips her water,
walks back inside.

VIII. Chedi, n.

Solace in the bathroom
down the hall by the guest room.
Rosa places her glass on the counter
next to a picture of her sister
waving from the top of a ladder
leaned against exposed plywood.

She sits on the toilet lid
taking deep breaths to center herself.
She stares at other pictures, souvenirs
on the wall from Haylee’s
white-savior, voluntourism trip to Mexico
with her church group.

IX. Waynpain, n.

Before enough time passes
that her family would think
something’s wrong,
Rosa flushes the toilet for
the illusion of normalcy.
She washes her hands—
pure muscle memory—
stares at the soap dispenser.

She remembered

an afternoon
when
she was a child watching
Legends of the Hidden Temple reruns
when
her dad came in
after working in the yard,
his shirt inside out
over her ears, draped like a ponytail.

“Wanna see a magic trick?”
he asked between gulps of water
from a weathered half-gallon jug.
Rosa jumped up from the couch,
followed him to the sink.
He ran the water. “Clear, right?”
He filled his jug to illustrate.
“Watch.” He paused,
concentration on his face.
“Abracadabra!”

He shoved his hands under the water,
gripped his fists, twisted them like
he was trying to get the last bit
of toothpaste out of the tube.
The water pooling in the sink
turned brown, matte.

“Whoa!!!” Rosa exclaimed.

He snickered,
leaned close to her face, whispered,
“I turned it into poop.”

Rosa continued yelling,
but out of disgust,
as she ran back to the living room.

X. Presentific, adj.

Deep breath, Rosa.
They’re family, Rosa.
It’s going to be okay.

XI. Earthfast, adj.

Hand on the knob of the door,
one step from rejoining her family,
after practicing
all of her small talk.

She freezes.

Her fingers twitch.
Her breaths short.
Fully conscious of how long
she’s hidden in the bathroom.

Move. Move. Move.

XII. Pricket, n.

She closes her eyes,
counts to ten
between inhales, exhales.

Thaw the ice
in your skin,
Rosa.

She gulps
the rest
of her water.

XIII. Spiritus, n.

She breaks through the door
like a pika out of its burrow,
fueled by adrenaline
and guilt.

XIV. Callidity, n.

"Oh, don’t worry. I’m alright.”

Interspersed head nods,
sustained eye contact.
Ask follow-up questions
to avoid saying more
than necessary.

Be a screen
they can project onto.

XV. Ambilogy, n.

“Oh, you know,
work’s work.”

“Yeah, bills have been tough,
but I’ve managed.”

“No, haven’t really
been up to much else.”

XVI. Fascine, n.

To get a break,
Rosa walks over to the fireplace,
a fresh cord of wood
on tightly layered kindling.

She sits on the carpet, cross-legged
like she did as a child during story time.
Closing her eyes,
she feels radiant heat wash over her.

She imagines it mixing with
the warmth under her cheeks.
She starts to cry.
It shouldn’t be this hard.

XVII. Brewstered, adj.

She could feel the distance
palpable
between herself and her parents—

her shoulders and the mantle
accented
with plaques, senior portraits.

A dark marble slab
floating
in a red brick facade.

XVIII. Badderlocks, n.

“Hey Rosa!”

She shakes her head,
back in her body.

Haylee is behind her,
leaning to her left,
a plate in her right hand.
“You doin’ alright?”

“Uh, yeah,”
she stammers, rubs her eyes.
“I was just, uh, cold out there.
Needed a minute to warm up.”

Haylee straightens up, nodding.
“Mind if I sit with ya?”

She scoots over,
gestures at the space
before hugging her knees to her chest,
placing her chin in their crevice.

Haylee sits,
picks a grape tomato off her plate,
eats it. She asks, still chewing,
“Want one? I grew ‘em
in the planter out back.”

Rosa looks at the little bulbs
on the tilted plate, smiles.
“Sure.”

XIX. Reptiliferous, adj.

“You think you’ll ever tell ‘em?”
Annabelle asks
from the bench
adjacent to Rosa’s.

She wedges her mask down
to sip her mocha, readjusts it back up.
“I don’t know.” Her head shakes.
“Maybe.”

“Why wouldn’t you?” Annabelle asks,
adjusting her scarf back over her nose.
“I don’t wanna pressure you, but
they should know.”

“It’s not- it’s hard.
My family’s not like yours.
We don’t-
I haven’t even
been back home in two years.

“And, like, everything I say
has to go through so many filters
when I talk to them.
Layers
of social appearances, Jesus, money-
I can’t just…
say it.”

Annabelle nods slowly,
sips her chai tea.
“They know you’re gay, right?”

“Uh, yeah.
I told them in high school.
It wasn’t a big thing.”

“You were able to tell them that.
Is this that different?”

Rosa stares at
where the sidewalk ends.
“It feels different.”

Annabelle reaches an arm forward,
clasps air,
struggle in her eyes.
“Is there
anyone in your family
you could tell?”

She takes another sip of her mocha.
“Haylee, maybe.”

XX. Molly-Blob

Haylee runs
her fingers through her hair—
blonde as marigolds—
over her ear.

Always protective
of Rosa, even though
she was the younger one
by two years.

Less judgmental
than her youth group friends—
bridges she’d torch in public
if scripture was quoted to justify hate.

A pang
of guilt in Rosa’s heart—
their roles
worn backwards.

XXI. Cockle Stairs, n.

“So, uh,
how has Whitworth been?”
Rosa asks.

“It’s pretty good, actually.
I mean, as good as it can be
with all the remote learning stuff.
Got to save money
by staying here though.”

“That ever annoying?
Like, not getting
the actual college thing as a freshman?”

“I mean- yeah?
I get why, but it IS disappointing, y’know?
Plus, Dad decided to start a new project,
‘cause workin’ from home
wasn’t enough for him—
turns out, most of his work day
was talking to his coworkers.

“Before he started building
that outdoor living room
for Seahawks games,
he’d try to talk to ME while I was in class.
I learned the mute button REALLY fast.

“It’s like-
I don’t know-
like, we’re all trying to get through this,
be better and responsible, right, but
it feels like
no matter how much we do,
we keep ending up
in the exact same place.”

XXII. Footpad, n.

Rosa nods slowly,
sips the last drops of water
in her glass.

“What about you?
How have you been?”
Haylee asks,
nudging her shoulder into Rosa’s.

She regurgitates her rote response.
“Oh, uh, it’s been alright.”

“That’s good to hear.
I’ve heard
it’s been really hard over there—
closures and restrictions
on restaurants and all.”

Rosa gulps.

“I worry about you is all.”

Rosa bites the inside of her lip.
“Well, uh” she starts.
Deep inhale, exhale.
“It actually has been hard.”
She nods, swallows.
“Most of my cash comes from tips;
when everything closed, that dried up fast,
let alone the reduction of shifts.”

Haylee places a hand on Rosa’s knee.

“I, uh-“
A gulp. A breath.
“At one point,
my dinners were leftover fries.
I’d, uh,
tell the cooks
one of the tables wanted
another helping of ‘em,
and since Red Robin does endless fries,
they wouldn’t question it;
they’d just scoop some in a basket,
place it in the window.
I kept a to-go container
under my coat in the back,
and stash ‘em there.”

“Rosa, you know
we’d help you if we knew-“

“I-“ Rosa cuts her off.
“I- I know.
It’s just…”

Rosa doesn’t finish the thought.
Her sister does what she always did:
hold her close and tight, tell her it’s alright.
Rosa does what she always did:
nod, go limp, cry into her shoulder.

XXIII. E-Waste, n.

In that moment—
a puddle in her sister’s sweater—
Rosa remembered
what she really missed about
home.

She thought about
the memes
her family shared on Facebook
spouting love and support
unconditionally,
how hollow each one left her.

But here,
it feels
real, full.

XXIV. Ambigu, n.

Her grandma’s turkey,
her mom’s cheesy mashed potatoes,
her uncle’s rosemary garlic bread,
her sister’s tomatoes.

Warm,
familiar,
home.

XXV. Cryonaut, n.

Uncle Martin
appears above them,
clearing his throat.

A plate in each hand.
A slice of pumpkin pie
her grandpa baked,
a scoop of ice cream
for each of them.

He purses his lips, nods,
offers a plate to both sisters,
who accept their desserts.

Rosa scoops a bit
of pie and ice cream,
bites.

She’s five, playing tag
in her grandparents’s backyard
with Haylee and their cousins.
Sundown. Only able to see
by the lights outside
her grandpa’s shop.
Their mom calls them in
for dessert.

She’s 40, returning
to this house again—
probably by self-driving hover car
or something— maybe
with Annabelle and kids of their own,
who play tag with Haylee’s kids,
and she calls them in
for dessert.

She realizes
she had never
imagined a life
that far in the future
for herself
before.

XXVI. Magnanerie, n.

In her head,
the house was plain,
peeling paint,
full of insects
gnawing at everything good.

She felt, now,
her misconception,
saw the bigger picture—
the soft sweater sleeves
wrapped around her torso.

“Haylee,” she hesitates.
“There’s something I need to tell you.”

XXVII. Amouring, n.

Not ready to say it
in front of her whole family,
Rosa leads Haylee
outside
to the driveway.

On the way, she rehearses what to say,
remembering July—
when the cases were low,
when she told Annabelle,
who immediately drove to her apartment,
despite Rosa’s protests, saying:
“In an emergency,
you have to break protocol.”

That night, after it all
calmed down,
as their legs were entwined on her bed,
she felt
human connection for the first time
in months.
Her head on Annabelle’s chest,
her heart a metronome in her ear,
up and down with her breath—
soft as a breeze through cedar branches—
like a moored ship after a storm.

“You didn’t have to come here-“
she started, waves of guilt in her eyes.

“Stop. I had to. I love you,”
Annabelle interrupted, then
tenderly kissed the top of Rosa’s head.

Rosa started to feel
like maybe
it was worth being alive.

XXVIII. Empedoclean, adj.

The driveway,
a large patch of gravel—
jagged fragments of earth shift
under her feet as she walks.

The fireplace,
a glimmer flickering in the window,
barely visible through
the November mist.

Deep breath,
cold air fills her lungs—
a brisk bite,
the kick she needs to move.

“Okay,” Haylee shivers.
“What’s going on?”

Rosa sighs, holds her elbows.
“So, uh- It’s hard to say.”

Haylee rubs her biceps.
“It’s alright. Take your time.”

“Things have been...
worse than I told you.

“When everything shut down,
I, uh, got laid off for a while.

“In July, when it seemed
like everything would turn around,

“my hours stayed low, and
I couldn't covers both bills and food,

“I was so isolated— couldn’t even
see other people, so-“

She winces, looks away from Haylee,
toward the stars over the road.

A gulp.
“I tried to kill myself.”

She lifts her shaky hand, rolls back
the sleeve of her shirt and cardigan.

XXIX. Slummock, v.

Haylee stares
at the scar
on Rosa’s wrist.

Quiet.

After a few seconds, maybe hours,
Haylee speaks.
“That’s a lot to process.
I appreciate you telling me;
it must have been hard.”
Her jaw clenches.
“Why didn’t you tell me earlier?
Were you afraid to tell me?”

“No, no- I just-
I didn’t want to worry you,”
Rosa stammers.

“Well,” a frustrated exhale,
“you don’t have to tell me anything
you don’t want to, but
I’m always here for you;
I’m always going to support you.
It’s my job.”

“I want to tell you.
I wanted to tell you then, but I didn’t know how.”
She rolls her sleeve down.

Haylee grabs Rosa’s hand,
ice-sickle fingers around Rosa’s palm.
“Do you want to tell me what happened?”

Rosa nods rigidly.

“I, uh, made the decision around 4, when I would have gone to work. A steak knife from the knife block on the counter. I held it in my hand; I could barely think. I texted Annabelle to say I’m sorry. She called me as I, uh-“

Rosa gestures at her wrist.

“I froze, heart racing, dropped the knife on the floor. The clang broke my concentration, and I answered her call. She came over immediately, told me to put a towel and pressure on it and not move until she got there.”

A gap. A space for Rosa to breathe.

“She saved me that day. She helped calm me down, didn’t try to push me into anything— just sat with me for hours.

“I don’t know if it was the blood loss or the heightened emotion of the whole thing or the first time I’d been with her outside of work in months, but I was overwhelmed, lost control over myself— I wrapped my arms around her and kissed her like-“

“Rosa. Gross.”

“Oh, right. Sorry.”

Haylee laughs, hugs her sister
tight as kite string in coastal wind.
“You don’t have to apologize;
I’m so glad you have a partner like her.”
She cries into Rosa’s shoulder.
“I’m so glad you’re still here.”

XXX. Hammer, n.

Her brain may be
where shadows loom;
where memories echo
in jarring fragments;
where thoughts, feelings,
breaths are held
for someone else’s sake.

But 
in the gaps between fractured earth,
in the secondary light of the moon,
in the warmth of her sister’s heart,
Rosa felt like she could overcome them.

you cannot escape what you did

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from October, 2020.

I. Father-Lasher, n.

Grayson locks his car;
its beep travels over the empty parking lot.
He walks toward the school,
shrouded in thick fog.
His lanyard wraps around his fist
as he puts his keys in the pocket
of his raincoat.
 
His steps don’t echo,
and he thinks about that
when he looks up at the flag,
already risen,
hanging limp against the pole
in the windless, predawn sky.

II. Garboil, n.

“Good morning, guys!
Just give me a sec
to click the record button,
since that
is something
adults do.
 
“Al-
right.
To-
day,
we’re going to need our
handy, dandy
notebooks
for our entry task—
I’ll share my screen,
so you can read it
there.
 
“It’s so weird
talking alone in a classroom,
you guys.
Like,
I know I’m talking to all of you,
but I’m just
so conscious of the fact
I’m the only one in here,
ya know?
 
“Sorry,
anyway,
I’ll give you a minute
to write your response to the entry task.”
 
He jerks his head over his left shoulder,
holds it there for a few seconds,
turns back to his computer,
blinks slowly several times.
 
“Did you guys hear that?”

III. Deleatur, v.

It sounded like a gasp,
a desperate attempt at breath—
right behind him.
 
The chat fills with students saying
variations of “no” and “what.”
 
He looks again.
Must be the heating system;
he writes a note
to put in a work order
at lunch.

IV. Hore, n.

The district prioritizes
HVAC issues,
so a maintenance worker arrives
that afternoon.
 
He shows up
as Grayson packs his laptop.
A lanyard, polo, and mask
with the district logo,
denim pants and work boots.
“Grayson Chapman?!”
he exclaims as he puts his toolbox
on a nearby desk.
He gestures at himself. “Bryan Lloyd.
Ms. Olson’s English class in 8th grade?
We worked on that poster project
for the Giver together?”
 
Grayson puts his mask on.
“Bryan! Oh man! How have you been?!”
 
“Oh, ya know, getting by.
Tons of HVAC work lately
between the virus and the wildfires.”
 
“Ugh. No doubt.” Grayson shakes his head.
“Oh!
Ms. Olson still teaches here!
Still has her old room too!”
 
“No way! How old is she?!”
 
“No idea, but she looks
EXACTLY THE SAME!”
 
They reminisce and joke
as Bryan inspects the HVAC system
of Grayson’s classroom.
 
“Yeah, dude, I don’t know what to tell you.
It’s filthy in there, for sure,
but I don’t see anything
functionally wrong with it.”

V. Schlep, v.

“Nothing? Really?”
 
“Nothin.
The building’s 20 years old,
so there’s just a ton of dust in there.
What the issue you had?”
Bryan asks,
flipping through forms on his clipboard.
 
Grayson stammers,
“Uhh it was like a gasp,
like it sprang a leak or something.”
 
Bryan puts the clipboard down,
pokes a pipe with the end of his pen.
“Yeah.
I don’t see anything
that would cause that sort of thing.”
 
“Huh,” Grayson nods.
 
Bryan packs up his tools, waves goodbye,
says he has another job
across town.
 
After zipping up his backpack,
Grayson squats by the vent
on his way out of the classroom.
A dull wave of static. Even. Regular.
 
There’s an ache in his back
as he climbs down the stairs,
his backpack heavy.

VI. Dictitate, v.

A message from Nevaeh,
a student who missed the live lesson
that morning:
 
“hey mr. c sorry I missed class today. I had to help my sister get set up in her class and her computer wouldn’t load teams right. I went to watch the video for your class and there’s something weird with it. It won’t play right.”
 
Grayson follows the link on his class’s page,
the video loads.
He hears himself talk about
notebooks and the entry task,
then it skips.
 
“… so conscious of the fact
I’m the only one in here—
I’m the only one in here—
the only one in here—
the only one in here—
the only one in here—
the only one in here—"

VII. Junk, n.

A dream:
 
high noon
salt air
cloudless sky
a boat 
360 degrees of ocean
 
the only one onboard
 
clouds spiral
sky darkens
wind rain
a sudden familiar gasp
 
He wakes up.
His shirt soaked in sweat.
His lungs empty,
his ribs heave as he searches for air.

VIII. Fun, n. and adj.

Next lesson ends
with a game of Kahoot!
to review vocabulary
related to colonial America
before a test.
 
An upbeat jingle plays
as he reads each question,
announces each success.
The chat scrolls quickly—
ggs and emojis.
 
He barely registers
the blurb announcing
a new student joining the Teams meeting.

IX. Perlage, n.

It’s not there
when he scrolls the chat back up.
The blurb is gone.
The name isn’t there.
 
Was it really there?
So familiar.
Why
her name?

X. Water Thief, n.

That’s where the recording of the lesson,
which eventually gets uploaded
for his students,
ends.
 
For Grayson, however,
the lights went out.
The faces of his students froze
as the internet died,
the screen dimmed.
 
The gasp again,
followed by crying.
Quiet sobs
from someone
behind him,
 
under his desk,
which he stopped
teaching online lessons from
after a week when his legs got antsy.
 
He crouches to look,
soft pops from his sore knees.
 
Nothing there.
The crying stopped.
The lights come back on.

XI. Ethnobotany, n.

A memory:
 
Eighth grade. Winter. Grayson wears an AC/DC shirt under his band uniform. A bouquet of poinsettias strategically hidden behind his backpack and trombone case in the corner of the band room. Going to ask her tonight. The concert ends, and the mob of teenage, tuxedoed Santas pours back into the band room. High fives and unclasping cases fills the air. Grayson puts his trombone away, clasps the case shut, takes a deep breath. He looks over his shoulder, spots her. Now or never. He picks up the poinsettias and walks across the crowded room.

XII. LOL, v.

Grayson steps back
from his empty desk,
hesitantly sits in his chair.
 
He shakes his head,
laughs.
 
“Just hearing things,”
he says to himself.
“Probably just need more sleep.”
 
He looks at the tree line
outside his window.
 
His shaky fingers type her name
into a Google search.
The top result, an obituary.
 
The blinds shutter.
A laugh.
 
H
er laug
h.

XIII. Coddy-Moddy, n.

He jumps from his seat,
grabs his jacket and backpack,
runs out of the room
fast and wobbly as a starved seagull.
The door bounces off the wall,
swings slow
to a stop before closing.
 
the keyboard clacks in the empty room opening a new tab to edit the description and viewing permissions of the recorded lesson the link copied pasted onto the class’s website a sigh floats over the screen and modem as they shut down

XIV. Nyctinasty, n.

A memory:
 
Poinsettia leaves bounce frantically across the band room, red with embarrassment. They hesitate, stutter, then lean forward, their earth shifting under their feet. A silence. They wince, look up in time to see a crater open, laughter erupt like a geyser. They turn away, bump against giant pillars, fall into a dark room that crinkles under their weight.

XV. Participation Mystique, n.

The morning after,
Grayson locks his car,
stands in the stillness of the parking lot.
 
“It’s nothing.
Random coincidences.
Possible the blinds just fell on their own—
they’re old and janky.
Just overly stressed between
 
“teaching, grading,
 preparing for conferences.
Your brain just filled the silence.
Not sure why her voice though.
Probably just a random memory.”
 
Cloudless sky.
A breeze flows by a nearby streetlight,
cuts right to his bones.

XVI. Grand Coup, n.

After three books fall
off the shelf during lunch—
The Hate U Give, Looking for Alaska,
Wintergirls—
he spends the night searching
“curses,”
“ghosts real,”
“how to get rid of ghosts.”
 
Grayson devises a plan:
He will politely— but firmly—
ask the ghost to leave.

XVII. Pravilege, n.

First one in the building,
Grayson disarms the security system,
walks up the stairs to his classroom.
His key sounds extra loud
unlocking his room’s door.
He places his backpack in his chair,
keys on his desk,
then clears his throat.
 
“Good morning. I understand you may have some unfinished business to take care of, but I must insist that you leave my classroom to do it. There’s a lot of work that I need to do to help my students, and I just can’t get it done with you here. Please leave.”
 
faint sound of velcro ripping two eyes open on the whiteboard his phone dings in his pocket siri’s voice says you think im really just gonna leave because of some random bullshit rule you read on the fuckin internet

“Heather. Please.”

XVIII. Art Mobilier, n.

A memory:
 
“So, how’d it go? What’d she say?”
 
“I don’t really wanna talk about it.”
 
“Oh no. That bad?”
 
“… She laughed in my face.”
 
“She what?”
 
“She laughed. In my fuckin face.”
 
“That bitch.”
 
“I know. It’s fine.”
 
“It’s NOT fine, man!”
 
“No, it’s alright. She sucks anyway.”
 
“Yeah, I bet she does. That slutbag.”
 
“For real, though. She’s probably done it with like half the dudes on cross country team.”
 
“You think people realize what a whore she is?”
 
“Definitely not. I know I didn’t until l was out of her spell... We should help people see her for what she really is.”
 
“Yeah! Like start a MySpace group or something?”
 
“Yeah! And we could like take the pictures from her profile, edit them to show what a whore she is, and send those to everyone too!”
 
“I’m on it.”

XIX. Blue Law, n.

after what you did you really think you can just ask me to leave and ill just comply like its that simple how fuckin dare you insult me like that why should you get to dictate the ground rules for my trauma you asshole my business does not need to fit into convenient boxes for you why can’t you see five goddamn feet away from yourself

XX. Slobberhannes, n.

grayson’s encounter with heather ends as quickly as it began
 
He stands
in his quiet classroom
alone.
 
That night,
between matches in Overwatch,
he mutes himself
so that Stephen and Jim don’t hear
him debate with himself
as he orders an EMF meter
on Amazon.

XXI. Woodhenge, n.

The EMF meter arrives on Saturday.
Grayson reads the manual twice on Sunday.
 
He enters his classroom Monday morning,
hyperaware of the meter
sitting in his backpack against his hip.
 
The desks,
once in neat rows spaced six feet apart,
sit fishbowled, inner and outer circles.
 
Cautious steps
along the wall;
eyes glued to the desks
until he gets to the whiteboard,
now eyeless.
 
a pale translucent head rises from the floor in the middle of the fishbowl

XXII. Anxiogenic, adj.

floating above the desks now the figures arms raise their fingers extend like spiderweb on a breeze a mouth yawns open revealing a spiral that spreads wide the web entangles graysons arms as the vortex envelops him
 
you
 
a girl sits on her bed head cocked mouth agape laptop on a throw pillow in front of her the screen flashing with notifications in multiple applications she stares at a page for a group with her name in the title next to word whore she rhythmically clicks the refresh button and the number of members grows each time
 
cannot
 
a girl sits alone at the corner of a table in a crowded lunchroom neighboring tables overflowing with two students in each seat she looks up occasionally as someone approaches the table before quickly turning a different direction
 
escape
 
a girl stands in front of a fulllength mirror analyzing her body molecule by molecule pausing only to turn to her laptop refresh a discussion post in that group where she learns about another feature of hers someone finds inadequate
 
what
 
a girl does crunches on a bathroom floor while the shower runs counting and cursing between each rep the ceiling encased in steam
 
you
 
a girl sits at a crowded table with people sharing stories with exaggerated arm movements and scooping macaroni and cheese out of a large serving platter in the middle of the table she sits with her shoulders hunched hands between her knees holding the ends of her hoodie sleeves over her wrists her eyes steady distant various side dishes meticulously scattered mixed together across her plate
 
did
 
a girl falls asleep on the floor by her bed returning to where no pain lands

XXIII. Brightsmith, n.

Back in the classroom.
Sweating. Panting.
He stammers, sobs.
 
“Heather, I’m so sorry. I didn’t understand. I was just a dumb kid— I had no idea. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry. Please, I’m sorry— I— I’ve spent years trying to become a better person than I was back then. I’m so, so sorry. Please believe me— Please. God, I’m so sorry. I realized way too late how much of an asshole I was— I swear. I’m sorry. Oh my god, I— Heather, I’m sorry. Oh god—“
 
He curls into a ball at the foot of his desk.

XXIV. Noodge, n.

“I’m better now. I’m
better now. I’m bet-
ter now. I’m better
now. I’m better now,”
Grayson says into his hands,
knees to his chest.
 
the figures spiraling maw ripples wavers with a chuckle the webs constrict into short arms the pale intangible shape of hair restricts from ringlets pulled back into a ponytail into a short shaggy cut that puffs out above the ear the arms wrap around the torso as the chuckle becomes a laugh
 
holy shit youre so fucking easy i cant believe it

XXV. Kannywood, n.

Grayson grabs the crucifix
hanging around his neck,
holds it to his chin,
begins praying the Hail Mary.
 
you really think god is going to help you now god didnt help you before and they wont help you now its bonkers that you would have even tried to pray away the greatest prank ever pulled and now you act like youre above it like you never even did it finding god doesnt erase everything you did

XXVI. Fankle, n.

Grayson looks up
from his clasped hands mid-verse.
 
the voice a familiar timbre
 
His hands split,
palms fall to the floor.
 
the face a reflection in a decadesold mirror
 
He lifts a hand, tentatively runs
his fingertips over his cheeks and nose.
 
what is there something on my face

XXVII. Smartful, adj.

Up on his weary feet.
“I— I don’t understand.”
 
for real is there something on my face you gotta tell if I got shit on my face
 
“Are you—
me?”
 
ugh i hate it when there’s shit on my face so goddamn irritating 
 
“But I’m not—
dead? Am I dead?”
 
no one said youre dead bro so fuckin dramatic
 
“But you were— her? She wasn’t—“
 
naw that bitch wouldnt spend her time haunting you
 
“So then— was that… her life…
just a trick?
 
oh no all that happened i was there it was fuckin hilarious

XXVIII. Garbageology, n.

“How can you say that?
There’s nothing funny
about someone killing herself.”
 
oh come on dont act so superior
 
“I— how dare you? I would never—“
 
ugh shut the fuck up you haven’t changed at all your targets did
 
Grayson furrows his brow,
mouth agape.
 
god i become so dense holy shit you wanted heather dead you hated her for what she did to you for what she made you feel
 
sure you never said it out loud whatever dont bother giving me any of that shit i was there i know the thoughts you had i know the hate that flowed in your bone marrow
 
sure you dont wish death on people who wrong you anymore but you havent evolved at all hate groups or billionaires whatever you still watch the news and mumble about the president youve sighed and groaned and wailed at the ceiling asking why he couldnt have died by now
 
im trash youre trash just fuckin accept it

XXIX. Zeppelin, n.

“No way.”
He slowly shakes his head.
“I’m not that person
anymore.
 
“I’m
not
you.
 
“I recognize the terrible things
I did, I said—
I own all that.
 
“I
have
changed.
 
“I donate to charity.
I work extra hours to help students.
I run clubs for kids who don’t fit in.
 
“I’m
better
now.”
 
a pause a smirk a chuckle the figure evaporates slightly with each laugh creating a pale cloud that grows darker every inch it crawls across the tiled ceiling the laugh grows deeper echoes off the trembling walls
 
its nice you think that

XXX. Fairy Godmother, n.

the cloud gathers envelops the fluorescent light dangling from the ceiling above his head in its black fingers small pops like knuckles being cracked as the cloud wrings it
 
a spiral grows from the middle outward exposing the gnarled casing for the fluorescent light at its center
 
grayson feels a gust grow in the room rustling his clothes dismounting the student artwork on the walls fingers frigid as warmth is pulled out of him he watches his skin turn gray as dry concrete
 
labored breath sweat eyes heavy ribs rattle with every heartbeat dark muffled sound
 
a bright light sparks in the center of the ceiling. a beam intense as the sun. the saber swings up and down left and right, dissipating the cloud, killing the wind.
 
Grayson pants, gray hand on his chest.
 
a new figure stands on his desk, the beam of light reaching out several feet from her right palm. it retracts as she balls up her fist, stares at grayson over her shoulder.
 
it’s her. heather.

XXXI. Question and Answer, n. and adj.

Grayson’s legs wash out with
a wave of relief.
He props himself up with one arm,
feels his heartbeat with the other
to make sure it’s real.
He laughs—
loud, gasping, wheezing laugher.
“Oh my god, thank you!
Thank you so much!”
 
she turns, still on the desk.
her arms straight at her side, fists tremble.
 
“But why?
Why did you come back here
to save me?”
 
she steps forward, flows off the desk
like a waterfall onto the floor.
 
“I just don’t understand.
I was so terrible to you.”
 
her eyes are gray fractals,
her gaze intense, unblinking.
 
“I’m so sorry, Heather.
I would take it all back if I could.”
 
she places her hand on his chest.
its warmth spreads like spilled coffee.
 
“I don’t deserve your help.
I—“
 
she opens her hand.
the beam of light goes through
his hand, his chest, his back,
into the floor.
 
she leans in,
her face close to his.
“fuck you.
your blood is mine.”
 
she leans back, balls up her fist,
watches the light leave his eyes.
she sighs,
a weight taken off.
waving her left hand counterclockwise,
the artwork remounts on the walls,
the lights ungnarl,
the blood soaking into the carpet evaporates,
his wound closes.
 
she leaves his corpse on the floor,
his hand still on his chest,
eyes wide with fear, surprise—
a plausible facade for a simple conclusion
that whoever finds him will believe.

A Scrapbook for Our Anniversary

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from August, 2020.

I. Chicane, v.

A sheet of notebook paper. Wavy as Saharan dunes. Pastel purple ink in your handwriting. Steady, certain curves. Circles for dots. A play-by-play description of your biology class. Casualness I convinced myself meant more than it probably did.

II. Angeliferous, adj.

You. That band uniform Merklin made you wear. Your smile. The way two of your front teeth didn’t quite line up. Your eyes. Your blonde hair a lighthouse in a sea of band uniforms shuffling around the band room with pre-concert jitters. Your sax strap tucked under your collar. You. Just. All of you.

III. Sitz im Leben, n.

A selfie you took of the two of us in our usual seat on the bus. Spring sun through the window. My eyes squinting. A small heart drawn with eye liner under my right eye to match the ones under yours. My cheeks pink as you lean into me, rest your green hair on my shoulder. Each of us with an earbud in connected to my phone playing “Los Ageless” by St. Vincent.

IV. Coorie, v.

A picture of me asleep on my bed that you took after the first time my dad yelled at me in front of you— the first time you saw how small I could get. He stormed out, slammed the door to the garage, and I just stood in the middle of the kitchen, frozen. You lead me to my room and told me to rest. I fell asleep, exhausted in the summer heat. Tears stain the sheet below my face. The picture is mostly empty, mostly shadow around my head, which you filled with a silver sharpie, writing: “ur the best & I love u.” The first time you used that word in direct relation to me.

V. Schola Saxonum, n.

Your family’s dining room. Every seat at the table filled. A roasted turkey splaying like soaked notebook pages. A container of mashed potatoes swirled and steaming. A bowl of green beans. A plate of beets that would remain untouched. A basket of dinner rolls. A vegetarian roast your mom bought after you asked if I could spend the holiday with your family. Half of my face obscured by the floof of your blue hair.

VI. Chicken-Pecked, adj.

A selfie I took of us in the back row of the movie theater when we saw Spider-Man: Far From Home. The light reflecting off your hair makes it look like you’re wearing half a Spider-Man mask— like if Peter Parker was also the Phantom of the Opera. You’re looking off frame, distracted by the kid a few rows ahead of us complaining to their adult that they wanted to see Toy Story 4. By the second trailer, the pair had left the theater and you loudly sighed with relief.

VII. Ambitus, n.

A screenshot I took of the Form our school made for ASB election ballots after they committed to being paperless. Admin called you down to get your picture taken to be displayed by your name on the ballot for 10th grade representative. You flung your green swoop over your right ear and held a peace sign under your left cheek. Your opponent, Dylan Forster, stood stoic in theirs, arms crossed over their soccer jersey. Their campaign posters used the word “no-nonsense” a lot, followed closely by “logical.” We were sad when you lost, but I was so proud of you for running and insisting on being yourself.

VIII. Sinistral, adj. and n.

A selfie you took of us sitting on the steps outside the main office. Yellow leaves tucked behind your ears, blending in with your hair. The office lights off, staff long gone. Waiting for your mom to pick us up, because I forgot my phone in Rosales’s classroom, making us miss the bus. I’m slumped over the steps, staring the at awning’s ceiling, my face hidden by my elbow, probably mid-apology. “It’s alright,” you’d said. “Don’t worry about it.”

IX. Top Bin, n. and adv.

A soccer field. People cheering in the background. I’m wearing my home jersey, black with green lettering, sweating and gasping for breath. You’re cheering, your face half-painted in silver. Behind us, several of my teammates rush toward me. In the moments after this picture was taken, I was tackled then hoisted up on shoulders for scoring the winning goal.

X. Calligram, n.

I had an art assignment in Supang’s class that seemed like a cool idea for a Valentine’s Day present. To do it, I needed to make a picture using words, shaping and coloring them to make the picture come alive. I had the picture in my head that I wanted to do, but trying to think of the words that would fit everything I felt about you was difficult. You know that I’m not great with words— the letters get all jumbled like headphone wires in a pocket. So, I tried starting with just the picture first and then I could fill in the words as they came to me. That revelation didn’t happen though, because I got so caught up in the details of the cherry blossom branches and the wispy clouds in the sky that the words never came to me. So I just sketched and painted them for you.

XI. Yever, adj.

A booth at Chipotle. Homecoming night. You. A burrito in your left hand, your right covering your mouth as you tell me to put my phone away. To not take your picture. But I don’t think you understood how much I loved you in that exact moment. Sitting under the florescent lights of a fast food restaurant. In your fanciest clothes. Devouring a burrito. Sofritas dribbling into your basket. I don’t think you understood how many futures I saw in the refracted timelines in your eyes.

XII. Bearless, adj.

A summer afternoon. Vapor waves from the sidewalk in the distance where your neighborhood turns away from the woods behind the elementary school. You’re holding a small watering can, a brighter shade of red than your hair, shaped like an elephant, pouring a steady stream of water into a planter of pale dirt. You had bought tomato seeds at the Home Depot by the park on our walk after the last day of the school, and you watered them every day that summer, always talking about how bomb your BLTs were going to be. They never reached above the soil.

XIII. Palynology, n.

Late August. Muted clothes shuffle between tables with small paper plates with small sandwiches on them. Your eyes are tired from the long night you spent dying your hair black with a cheap, temporary dye, rather than the dyes you usually use. You said a memorial is too solemn a place— you didn’t want to draw focus. Your hesitant hand is on your mom’s shoulder, who is cradling an urn against her stomach, who asked me to take “one last picture of my daughter, my sister, and me.” A bee sting, you told me later, while watering pumpkin sprouts in her backyard.

XIV. Acid Drop, n.

A selfie. My couch’s old, floral print fabric. Both of us with Sour Patch Kids sticking out of our mouths. We were watching something, but I can’t remember what. I remember you heckling the movie the whole time, until you double-dog-dared me to dump the sour sugar from the bottom of the bag into my mouth all at once. I groaned as my cheeks tightened, and I coughed. You coughed too, but from laughing. 

XV. Dulcarnon, n. 

A copy of the acrostic you wrote to ask me to homecoming. You told me it took you weeks to figure out how to ask, what to write. You scribbled couplets in the margins of your science notebook, you showed me afterward, saying, “It’s so hard to rhyme every line. Why can’t people just write their thoughts.” When I showed you the Wikipedia page for free verse poetry, you slapped my phone onto the comforter of your bed. “Ugh! Shut up!” you groaned, falling back into your pillows.

XVI. Angustation, n.

A picture of you sneaking up on a gaggle of geese at the lake in the park near your neighborhood. Your hair blending in with the grassy field. The brisk spring wind a welcome escape. You were so busy with tests and clubs and sports, I barely got to see you. I was stuck in my house, sequestered to my room to avoid crossing paths with my dad, having to endure another lecture about some other failure I had committed. You, squatting near the geese, your arms tucked like wings, staring at me with your eyes wide as theirs, were a breath I didn’t realize my lungs needed.

XVII. Observanda, n.

A summer afternoon. In the backseat of your mom’s Forester swerving left and right to avoid potholes in the road. Our hands splayed open, our fingertips dyed purple from hours of huckleberry picking. You wanted proof that you were the better picker, because the fact that your old Costco soup container was more full than mine wasn’t enough.

XVIII. Soirée Musicale, n.

A cheesy homecoming picture that I insisted we get. You rolled your eyes at first, so cliche, but you agreed, because you knew I wanted it. What I appreciate is how invested you got, not just standing there like a hostage. Really, I just wanted to remember the time we got so fancy and dressed up and happy, because I never imagined that I would be able to do all of those things at the same time.

XIX. Delicatesse, n.

The before picture you took of my brown hair before you helped me dye it for the first time. You said we should match for homecoming, and I agreed, because I knew you wanted it. Stress palpable in my eyes— uncertainty. I knew you knew what you were doing; I never really doubted you or your ability, but I couldn’t stop the worst-case scenarios playing in my head. My left eyebrow is bent from me trying to lower the volume.

XX. Meep, v.

The after picture you took of my blonde hair when you were done. Your excitement escaped from your hands over your mouth. Relief palpable in my face— jaw unclenched. I knew I could trust you to make sure it all went well. You made me feel safe enough to do something I never would have otherwise. My eyes contain the horizon, the sun, the ever-expanding possibilities— or its just the edge of the counter and the light above the mirror. Either way.

XXI. Rozzle, v.

A selfie I took of us as we walked around the mall before seeing Pet Sematary. My hand in yours. Fire. My fingers twitched every so often, I’m sure you noticed, with excitement. Fake cowering to justify getting closer to you. Setting the chair arm up to get it out of the way. Feel your warmth in my arms, against my chest. Shushing each other when the movie gets quiet. Quickly readjusting when the usher comes in with their flashlight to check the exit doors and scan the crowd.

XXII. Querimonious, adj.

The art show our school put on at the end of the year to exhibit the best student work. Somehow, a collage I made from a torn up printout of one of my Instagram posts and its comments was chosen for the show. I guess those troll comments were worth something after all? The collage is hanging on the wall, and you and I are standing next to it. I look nervous, you look proud, my dad is taking the picture. After you went to congratulate one of your band friends, he asked me what the collage was about, why I hadn’t told him people were saying these things to me before, why I would ambush him with it like this in such a public place. He shook his head before walking away to talk to the soccer coach on the other side of the commons. 

XXIII. Phlogiston, n.

A drawing I made for you. Not something required for Supang’s class. A lot of reds and oranges, yellows— warm colors. An abstraction of a portrait. No firm lines. More like waves of color lapping at the shore. Frantic energy along the edges, so shaky they blur and fade. It’s you. Well, I was trying to capture what makes you, you, at least.

XXIV. Totem, n.

A picture of a capybara that I got from Google. There’s an adult standing by a watering hole with a few younger ones. You always said you loved how calm and collected they look, how friendly they are to other animals. You frequently look up compilation videos of them when you feel stressed. I know you hate the term “spirit animal,” because we’re white and it’s racist to claim to have one when you’re not part of an indigenous group with those beliefs. I don’t mean to go in that direction at all. I just thought a cute capybara would be nice for you when you get anxious. You’re as calm and friendly as a capybara, even when you don’t feel like you are. 

XXV. Past Master, n.

A crowded ballroom. Rows of round tables, each with four large bowls in the center. One bowl full of crab, the others filling with their empty exoskeletons. Every chair filled. You are sitting in front of a plate with a crab claw lying on it, a small clump of lettuce and tomato on the side, a seafood cracker and pick in your hands. I am sitting to your left, my plate full of dinner rolls, a similar attempt at salad pushed to the side. My dad stands behind us, smiling, posing with a hand on each of our shoulders for this picture to commemorate the end of his term as Worshipful Master in his Mason lodge. A large chain collar hanging over his shoulders, a thick blue fabric the same shade as your hair, which he would later pass to the person who would succeed him.

XXVI. Ex Abundante Cautela, adv.

A screenshot of the first texts we exchanged where I asked you if you wanted to hang out. A lot of non-committal language to give the impression that my heart wasn’t an earthquake. Phrases like: “or whatever” and “idk” and “sure.” I almost don’t recognize the person I was trying to be there. I remember distinctly the sigh of relief when you agreed though. I remember sitting on my bed, breath escaping as my head fell into my pillow, looking at the ceiling and its safe, congratulatory waves. 

XXVII. Bamstick, n.

A selfie from the chaotic din of the Paramount, faint light from the stage rolls over the crowd, amplifying your blue hair as Sleater-Kinney goes into “Hurry On Home.” During the outro, someone behind us tried to start a mosh pit, leaning and thrashing around into whoever happened to be there, including you. You stood up straight, rubbing your shoulder, assuring me you were alright. The song ended right after that, and the thrashing whimpered into a stop, multiple people shaking their heads. 

XXVIII. Coopetition, n.

State Solo and Ensemble Contest stage. Silhouetted heads eating into the edge of the stage. The lights making your green hair stand out even more than normal, which may have been why Dylan had told you to dye it “normal” beforehand. They’re on the piano beside you gently walking through the chords and arpeggios for “Hallelujah,” while you swing through the melody on your bari sax. Your eyes are closed. Not wanting to see the crowd or falling into the song, I can’t tell. 

XXIX. Artotyrite, n.

The coffee table in your living room covered with a cheeseboard and a platter of your mom’s homemade sourdough. Barely in frame is your gas fireplace, slightly obfuscated by red and green stockings, a basket of children’s books. You have a slice of sourdough in your hand, covered with a slice of brie. Your mom is next to you, talking about how the sourdough recipe was passed down from her father. You’re nodding, knowing how this story goes, because you’ve heard it so many times before. 

XXX. Nudum Pactum, n.

The sky. Sparse clouds float over the park. I took this with my phone while laying on the grass next to you on the first day of spring break. I had just gotten the question that was stuck in my throat out. A question that I lacked vocabulary for— labels, exclusivity— about wanting to be yours. You said yes. There was a breeze then, a new breath. I took a picture of the sky then, the sky where we started. 

XXXI. Ambuscado, n.

I hid this scrapbook in the bottom drawer of my nightstand, the only place I could think of that you would never look. I spent several late nights going back through my phone history to find the best pictures, print, trim, and arrange them. Had to ask your mom for some that I knew she took, carefully placing them into my backpack between my binder and my calculus textbook, when you weren’t around. I wanted to surprise you. I’ve never put more effort into something than I did into this. For you. Because you deserve it.