Future Versions of You

I saw a version of you
on a cave tour in South Dakota.
Middle-aged.
Three kids, all with your red hair.
A husband with a circle beard.
An accent from a place you would have stayed closeted.
While ascending 300 steps from our tour’s destination,
you joked about not needing a Stairmaster
if you just lived above a cave.

I saw a version of you
in a national park gift shop.
Late-twenties.
Round, thin-rimmed glasses.
Two older people with you,
maybe members of your extended family
or the people who took you in.
A purple dress with neon-green bats
indicative of a family that let you be different.

I saw a version of you
at an overlook above some badlands.
You were with a photographer,
a graduation photoshoot.
A shirt from an 80s band
under a cardigan two sizes too big.
A dandelion twirled between your fingers.
You looked like you.
You looked happy.

Whatever Home Is

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

I. flatshare, v.

Someone always there
to take care of the dishes.

Someone always there
to sign for packages.

Someone always there
to watch for red Corollas.

II. amirite, int.

They walk up behind me
as I watch the traffic
two floors below— green Forester.

A hand on my shoulder, they sit
on one of the throw pillows
we scattered on the floor in front of
the sliding glass door
to the porch— blue Civic.

They flick their wrist
toward the street, say,
“Next summer blockbuster!”
Met with silence — yellow Mustang.

III. infodemic, n.

It takes time to sift through it all —
the humans on the sidewalk,
the song of warblers by the window feeder,
the caws of crows by the garbage cans,
the whistle of their tea kettle boiling,
the glare of the sun in the glass door —
in order to focus on the cars in the street.

IV. amscray, v.

Early evening, a familiar shape
of headlights come round the corner.
They slow by our building, connected
to a body the shade of dried blood.
I spin so quick, the pillow slides out
from under me across the fake-wood floor,
and I have to scramble to my feet,
dash through the apartment to the bedroom
closet, slam the door shut.
A suitcase’s coarse fabric rubs my temple.

V. bardo, n.

No light.
Three thumps.
A click.
A squeaky hinge.
Muffled voices.
Silence.
A suitcase’s zipper in my fingers.
Footsteps in the hallways.
A gulp.

VI. fastballer, n.

Everything happens
in the blink of an eye.
The closet door opens,
my arm is pulled,
the suitcase is packed,
and I am planted
in the backseat of the car
staring out the window
as the curb flows by me
like the water of a river.

VII. phantastikon, n.

A man runs along the curb,
jumps over hydrants,
swings under streetlights,
grinds along benches.
He speeds up, slows down
in tandem with the car.

VIII. Fast-medium, adj. and n.

I’m put in a chair in front
of a large desk covered
in loose papers, sloppy folders.
A person in a wrinkled suit
sits behind it, says their name,
quickly asks a bunch of questions, 
checking boxes on a piece of paper
hidden by a beat-up clipboard.

IX. amatorio, n.

On the person’s desk is a small tray,
no bigger than a side dish, which has
a couple stress balls in it. After several
questions I don’t answer, they offer
a ball from the tray, which I accept,
because it feels like the right thing to do.
The tray is thick, uneven, and in the vacuum
left by the ball I grabbed is some writing
painted on messily. “Mom” and a heart is all
I see before the tray is back on the desk.
I squeeze the ball and breathe.

X. fairyism, n.

I am not in my body
for the rest of the interview.
I float through the ceiling fan’s blades,
watch my body’s mouth
answer her questions,
don’t hear anything.

XI. taffety, n. and adj.

When I land back in my body,
my eyes lock on the curtain
over her right shoulder.
Teal waves against
an overcast sky.

XII. scribacious, adj.

She hands me
a composition book with a cheap pen
to express my thoughts, saying
it can help
me process my feelings.
She escorts me to a small room
with a desk and a twin bed,
says we’ll talk tomorrow.

XIII. botheration, int. and n.

I don’t get how writing something is going to help me think about anything. It doesn’t even make sense. I’d just “process” the literal words on the page; there’d be nothing deeper than that. How is writing a detailed play-by-play of me walking to the grocery store going to help anyone do literally anything? It’s just stupid. Fucking pointless.

XIV. slow drag, n.

It was last Tuesday. We were out of milk and bread, so I had to walk to the Safeway on the other side of the apartment complex.

Taylor wanted to have Mac and cheese for dinner, but without milk, they couldn’t make it. I suggested just using water, but they scoffed at me.

The bread was my idea. I thought it would be good to get a fancy sourdough instead of our usual 12 grain loaf. It’s December; people get to splurge during the holidays.

I didn’t realize how icy it was. I saw it snow that morning, yeah, but I figured over the course of the day, it must have thawed out.

I was wrong.

I only made it around the corner of our building before I slipped. I landed hard on my hip. That’s why there’s a bruise there. 

Nothing else happened.

XV. ballyhack, n.

Wake up. Breakfast. Write. Group. Write. Lunch. Write. Solo. Dinner. Write. Bed.

XVI. lachrymabund, adj.

It happens suddenly,
middle of the
the second night.
A weight presses
on my chest —
I can’t breathe.
Every memory alive
full-throated screaming into
a flat pillow,
wet with tears.

XVII. fairwater, n.

Around three, I give up
on sleep, stare at the
constellations in the ceiling tiles.
Maybe there is a future
where my brain doesn’t eat itself,
where my ribs aren’t a windy cavern.
I slide the notebook off the nightstand,
scribble in the dark.

XVIII. autokinesis, n.

There’s a streetlight visible
through the metal mesh
of my room’s window.
It swings in a wind
that doesn’t affect the tree branches
or the pole that holds it.

XIX. popskull, n.

The first time was the morning after Taylor shared some moonshine they made in their apartment’s detached garage.

It was their first attempt. They were so proud of themself. So I tried it. You have to support your sibling, right?

My mouth and throat felt like a python had contracted around them. I took each punch as well as I could. I hadn't had liquor before, but people at my school talk about it all the time, so I figured it would grow on me. A rite of passage or whatever.

When I woke up the next morning, my head throbbed. It felt like Neil Peart was doing a drum solo on my brain.

The pain was unlike anything I’d felt before. Felt like it would never go away. I wanted to let it out. So, I dragged myself to the craft drawer and found the X-Acto knife. Took it to my thigh.

XX. medium coeli, n.

During every solo session,
the lady talks to me
about what I wrote
during the previous writing session
as if
I’m the protagonist of a tv show
she’s binging.
Like I fit into some archetype,
some box, and she already knows
everything about me.

XXI. sunstay, n.

There’s supposed to be
some epiphany
I have while locked in this room.
That’s what they tell me.
That’s what happens in movies.
Where the fuck is it then?

XXII. supervacaneous, adj.

I give up on correcting her
the fifth time she calls Taylor
my “brother.”
She must have selective hearing
or selective memory, at least —
whatever fits the narrative.
I only need to last
one more day.

XXIII. toyi-toyi, n.

“… and that’s why I believe it would not be in your best interest return to your brother’s apartment.”

“You can’t.” I stand up. “You can’t.”

“It simply isn’t a safe environment for you. Your writing indicates,” she flips open my notebook on her desk, “he served you alcohol, thus creating a situation in which you purposefully harmed yourself,” she flips to an earlier page, “and your bruises have dubious origins that you are not being honest about.”

“You can’t. You can’t. You can’t.”

XXIV. belsnickel, n.

Everything feels
slow motioned and fast forwarded:
my hands slam her desk,
two nurses grab my arms,
hallway doors like trees along the highway.

Last year, Christmas Eve,
Taylor spent hours
making dinner for the two of us.
Because that’s what you do
after your family exiles you.

XXV. jough, n.

Christmas night, two years ago.
After a day of small talk,
stories from decades past,
unsolicited advice from aunts and uncles,
I escaped to the patio
just outside the porch light’s range.
Taylor came by, placed
a warm mug in my cold hands.
We sat in silence under
cloudy sky, falling snow.

XXVI. gombey, n.

I put on a stoic face when they come
to pick me up with my suitcase.

I put on a grateful face when I arrive
at a foster home full of strangers.

I put on a welcoming face at dinner
while I tell stories about a made-up past.

XXVII. lime, n.

There are three other kids
around the dinner table.
They nod along with my lies,
introduce themselves, but
their names
don’t register in my brain.

XXVIII. ginny gall, n.

I hate it here. It doesn’t matter
how much food they give,
how much personal space is provided,
how much anime we watch.
It’s a strange house full of strangers.
I hate it here; it doesn't matter.

XXIX. hen-cackle, n.

Under the shroud
of pre-dawn twilight,
snow crunches
under my weight
with my suitcase.

XXX. sinigang, n.

I don’t recall
these streets,
these cars.
I try to remember
Taylor’s soup —
how it made me
feel warm, like home
even on the coldest nights —
and use that to guide me.

XXXI. willie-waught, n.

The place I sit, a bus stop bench,
is co’ered in ice and snow.
I guess I’ll sleep till morning comes.
I wish I had my phone. 
The cold consumes my fingertips
and gulps my soggy toes.
While snow upon my hat does pile,
my eyes begin to close.

I hear my name, a frosty crunch,
familiar to my ear.
I struggle up, but cannot see;
the streetlight's reach too short.
But once again, my name is said.
I rub my eyes and blink.
Then from the dark is Taylor’s scarf
unraveling from their neck.

They wrap their scarf
around me, hold my face
in their trembling hands.
Sitting beside me, they ask
what happened, dig out a flask
from their jacket.
After a swig, they offer it to me,
then take me back home.

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.

On a bench by a pond

Something about wet two-by-fours
feels like home.
Xe sits on a bench, wet from morning dew and mist,
on a boardwalk overlooking a pond.

Two mallards paddle in front of xem—
a slow game of tag or awkward flirting, xe isn’t sure.
Soft croaks from red-legged frogs emanate
from the kinnikinnik covering the ground.

Xe could breathe here.

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 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.

Cottonwood Seeds en Route: III. Suri Dihan

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

This is the third entry in Cottonwood Seeds en Route. It is a continuation of Part II: Crystal Coleus.

I. Amour Fou, n.

“Morning, Suri!”

I finish the outline of
the swoop of the prince’s hair
(the kingdom’s kinda stuck in their 2000s-emo phase)
before looking up.

When I do,
Crys and Violet
are standing across the table,
holding hands.

“We have something we want to tell you,”
Crys says, blushing.
Violet is smiling
more than I’ve ever seen.

“Alright,” I say,
placing my pencil
in the crease of my sketchbook.

Crys stutters.
“Well, umm,”
she looks at Violet, who nods.
“We’re dating.”

“Oh my god, you guys!
That’s awesome!
I’m so happy for the both of you!”
I get out of my seat and hug them both.

I act surprised, but it’s obvious—
she watched The Good Place
within a week of Violet telling her about it.
I’ve bugged her about She-Ra forever.


II. Plutography, n.

Obsidian and ruby—
Carefully I draw in the shine on the prince’s necklace.
His silk robes, black as night,
wave in his castle’s courtyard’s breeze.

Is eyeliner too much?
Nah. He’s totally in his feelings.

He holds a goblet in his left hand
as a servant nervously pours wine in it.
A small band of lyre players perform
by a line of pink tulips in the background.

Kordra kneels in front of him, 
blushing, accepting their quest.


III. Informator Choristarum, n.

When I was in 7th grade, I was so excited
to join the choir.
My family sang all the time—
I always stole the solo or lead.

But there was a huge difference between
the music the director chose and
the Irani songs my family sang.

It didn’t feel like I fit there;
I was otherworldly.


IV. Astroparticle, n. (and adj.)

I don’t remember
if I’ve seen a student who looks like me
in Puyallup.
We have to drive to Tacoma for the nearest mosque.

It was hard for my parents,
when they moved here, being othered
everywhere they went, especially
after 9/11,
through 2003, when I was born.


V. Booky, adj.

Wednesday night,
I drive to Target,
clock in, walk to the break room,
put my purse in my locker.

“Hey Suri.”
Nadine sits at one of the tables,
doesn’t seem to look up from
The Things They Carried.

“Hey. Break or waiting for your shift?”
Nadine has a habit
of going straight to work after school
to read uninterrupted until her shift started.

She picks up an old notecard,
one of its edges curled and brown from age
(and probably spilt coffee).
“Waiting.
Tim O’Brien demands attention.”

“Because… of how they carry things?”

“Oof. Stop,”
she laughs,
gets up, puts the book in her locker.


VI. Geodynamo, n.

My parents
have always pushed me to do my best.
Their jobs are similar to mine,
which is why
I had to start working when I turned 16
to help support our family.

My parents
always talk about me becoming a doctor
or an engineer for Microsoft, but
I just want to draw.

My parents
talk about UW as much as Crys
(somehow possible), but
I keep looking at
student work on Cornish’s website,
Art Assignment videos on YouTube,
Muslim comics on Instagram.


VII. Historicist, n. and adj.

It feels necessary
to look into the past,
bring it with you,
showcase it somehow.
The past made what you are, you know?

That’s what occupies me
as I set up the endcap for
Hearth & Hand.


VIII. Metamathematics, n.

COVID-19 spreading
into Washington 
unearthed
what I thought was dying.
Brown skin
seems to be enough to
label as infected,
warrant wide berths in the hallway.

Usually,
it’s an occasional “joke,”
like some white boy in a COD shirt says
”Allahu Akbar”
before simulating an explosion
when I enter a classroom.

Or,
there’s a hesitance
when an adult tries to explain
something President Trump said.
It doesn’t really matter what—
they take long pauses, staring at me
while they talk.

My mom
lectures me about not wearing a hijab,
while Crys
lectures me about how they’re oppressive.

As if
anything
is that clear-cut.


XI. Trainspotting, n.

Everyone else
walks around
like they belong,
like they have a role to play,
like they are pieces of the same puzzle.

I
feel like I’m
sitting on a bench,
watching each one pass by,
losing count.


X. Geometric Progression, n.

Nervous.
Uncomfortable.
Like background noise.
Made worse
seeing people fit into boxes
with ease.
Like they come with instruction manuals.

I feel like
I can never find my box.
Maybe that’s why
my hijab never felt right.


XI. German Tinder, n.

When Crys asked me
why I never wear a hijab,
I told her it’s because
I wanted to be liberated.

When my mom asked me
why I never wear a hijab,
I told her it’s because
of racism at school.

Last year, one night
when my parents were getting groceries,
I put my dad’s taqiyah on my head
to see what it felt like.

It felt
the same way
my hijab felt—
not right.


XII. Timelily, adv.

It was during lunch this morning,
at the end of a half-day for conferences
that were canceled due to COVID-19,
when Isabella looked up
from her magnetism notes
to say to Nadine,

“Did Suri show you
her
drawing Kordra slicing off an ettin’s heads?”

It chafed.
It felt wrong.
I wanted to say something, but
I didn’t know how.

After I got home,
I got an email saying
tomorrow
is the last school day for at least six weeks.

It feels like something I should tell them in person,
the way Crys and Violet did.
Nadine and Isabella supported them—
Violet used Kordra’s pronouns right after I told her.

Tomorrow has to be the day.


XIII. Train-Scent, n.


Friday morning, snow
falls on the bus window,
blankets the grass and tree branches.
Static from the tires turns into
static from confused teachers turns into
static from the lunchroom.

Nadine is the last one to our table,
placing The Handmaid’s Tale next to her sandwich.
They’re all here.
I wait for a lull.

“Hey, uh.
There’s something I wanna tell you guys.”
They all turn to me; my throat is dry.
“Um, I’ve been feeling, uh, off lately,
like something isn’t fitting, and
I think that thing might be me.

“I mean— this is hard.
You know how Kordra is non-binary?
Well,
I think I might be too.”

There’s a silence. I can’t tell how long.

“So,” Isabella starts,
“do you want us to start
using they/them pronouns for you?”

“Um. Yeah. I think so.”

“No problem,” Crys smiles.
“Thank you for letting us know.
That was a brave thing you did.”
She starts to go for a fist bump, stops,
offers her elbow
for a more-hygienic elbow bump.


XIV. Uranography, n.

The night Kordra returns to the capital
to return the king’s scepter—
which cultists stole
for a ritual to summon a harpy army—
they walk to a hill on the edge of town
that overlooks the city and its harbor.

They lie against a madrone,
start connecting constellations.
Legends still play out
in the blue-black fabric.
Small figures move across a map
dodging dragon wings and poison fog.


XV. Black Friar, n.

“Now, just because schools are canceled doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to continue your studies.”

“I know, mom.”

“You will spend seven hours a day studying. An hour with the Quran, an hour with math, an hour with history, an hour reading. Each of your classes, you will find a way to study. No exceptions.”

“I understand. I will do my best. But, what if my hours at work change due to the closures, though?”

“Your studies come first! You are a student. Your school must be your first priority.”

“Alright. I’ll make it work.”


XVI. House-Lew, n.

Monday,
the first would-be-school day at home,
I wake up early,
start studying before my parents wake up.

When they do, they prepare quick breakfasts,
head to their jobs,
which, thankfully, haven’t been suspended
yet.

After the sun rises,
I prepare
eggs and toast
for my
brother and sister.

After they eat,
I send them to their rooms to read while
I clean the living room—
disinfect, sweep, vacuum—
then sit down to study trig.


XVII. Fleadh Cheoil, n.

Day two.

After lunch,
I clear the living room,
tell Yusef and Amina
to not go back to their rooms.

For about an hour,
I show them dances
our grandmother taught me
when I was their age.
I sing the songs myself.

Yusef giggles
as he trips over his own legs.
Amina murmurs
the lyrics under her breath,
gradually raising her volume.


XVIII. - Securiform, adj.

Day three.

I scoop same blackberry jam
on one of our small, rubber spatulas,
spread it on a slice of wheat bread
for Yusef’s sandwich.

“Suri,
I really liked the dance you showed us yesterday.”

“I’m glad, but
you’re not getting extra jam on your sandwich,”
I say,
pointing the spatula at him accusingly.

“No, no. It was just fun.
I’ve never really danced like that before.”
He looks at the counter,
rubbing his wrist with his other hand.

“I could teach you more today.
The same dance?
A different one?”

“That’s— well, is it normal for boys to dance?”

“Of course, Yusef. Everyone dances.”

“But none of my friends dance.
And you taught us a girl dance.”

“Dances are dances, Yusef.
You can dance whatever dance you want to.”


XIX. Talavera, n.

Day four.

I get the urge
to make something
with my hands.

My sketchbook:
buried in my backpack,
untouched since Friday.

Yesterday, I shelved
these bowls at work that were
an obvious, mass-produced appropriation.

Maybe I can try to draw
in the style like those bowls’s patterns,
fuse their culture to mine.

All art
borrows, blends;
we are all one.


XX. Baselard, n.

When Kordra was young,
they walked everywhere,
a dagger holstered on their hip.

Not welcome
by a family who
praised an unforgiving god,
lamented a blight on their names,
hid their faces in public.

When Kordra left home,
they walked across the kingdom,
a dagger pang in their chest.

Not welcome
by civilians who
glared at their dark skin,
winced at their accent,
scoffed at their pronouns.


XXI. Colour-de-Roy, n. and adj.

The morning sun slips in the throne room
when Kordra returns the king’s scepter.

The king rises out of his seat, walks to them.
His hand appears from under his purple robe,
a victorious eagle embroidered on his chest.

He accepts the scepter in his left hand,
His right on Kordra’s shoulder.
“Thank you, Kordra.
You have done a great service for our kingdom.
I am so sorry for how our order has treated you.
You have brought great honor to yourself and
the Order of the Cottonwood.
Our kingdom owes you dearly.”

Applause echoes off the aged stone walls.
Loud, overwhelming, Kordra starts to tear up.
In the last moment of clarity,
before their vision blurs completely,
they see the prince rise from his throne,
his smirk, his smooth hands clapping.


XXII. - Frammis, n.

“What does that even mean?
I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

It turns out
a pandemic
isn’t the best time
to come out
to your orthodox parents.

“That makes no sense.
There are men and women.
That’s it.
You think you’re a man?”

“No.
I don’t feel like a man or a woman.”

“Nonsense.
You are a woman.
You’ve been a woman your whole life.”

“Sex assigned at birth
has nothing
to do with gender,
Dad.”

“Of course it does!
It always has and always will!”

“It doesn’t have to!”
I pause to breathe,
to flatten the wrinkles in my mind’s bedsheet.
“Look,
cottonwood trees have either
male or female
reproductive organs—“

“Trees have organs?”

“The seeds, Dad.
That biological fact
doesn’t change how you see or treat
the tree;
you’d still walk up to it,
look at the fractured sky through its branches.
Gender is something people made up—
it has nothing to do with
the body a person lives in.”


XXIII. Bridge Coat, n.

For Kordra,
after the ceremony,
the prince fastens up his coat,
invites them to join him on a walk
with a head nod.

For me,
after I come out to my parents,
my father zips up his jacket,
rubs his eyes with his hands
as he shakes his head,
leaves.


XXIV. Macaronic, adj. and n.

Not going outside
except for work—
limited for me
by my mother’s request—
has disrupted my laundry cycle.
Nothing
seems dirty enough
to justify the necessary
water consumption
of the washer.

My clothes piled on my dresser
like a messy beanie.
My hamper
empty
as a classroom.


XXV. Leggiadrous, adj.

day nine, i think.
tuesday, i’m pretty sure.

feels like
i’m watching my family
live out a bad multicam sitcom—
unfunny and boring, an unlikable protagonist,
a formulaic rhythm.

that suri
wakes up, makes breakfast, studies
like everything is fine.
she
smiles and laughs and plays with her siblings
like it’s a normal day.

how does she do that?
she never misses a beat.
how does she keep up?
i’m exhausted.


XXVI. Proclivity, n.

Today, I take a break from
babysitting and acting like I’m reading
to draw.

I never realized
how normal
being around people all day
is in my life.
The absence is palpable
like a baking aisle without flour.

My hand sketches
outlines of people,
a crowd gathered for a concert, maybe—
shoulder to shoulder.

I miss
Isabella’s facts about Mars,
school-Nadine’s book recommendations,
Cris’s arbitrary soapboxes,
Violet’s questions about everything.

Their faces appear
on the figures in the front row.


XXVII. Wallydraigle, n.

It’s hard.
Competence.
Feeling any of it.

My laptop has endless
notifications from teachers posting assignments.
The counters have endless
dust from so many meals made each day.

Did I use this glass yesterday?
Did I shower this morning?
What day is it?


XXVIII. Anaerobe, n.

This morning, Isabella Skypes me—
still in the oversized sweater she slept in,
unkempt hair lazily scrunchied,
drinking from her SciShow mug.

Her way of coping with everything
is focusing on data, making charts—
I’ve never seen anyone
tear through a spreadsheet fast as her.

After she shows me some graphs she made
(so proud, that nerd), she asks,
“So, how have you been holding up?”

“Getting by, you know.
I gotta take care of
Amina and Yusef during the day,
but it’s all manageable.”

“That’s good. What about you though?
You been drawing?
Kordra go on any adventures?”

“Here and there, when I can.
It’s hard to find time.”

“I know what you mean—
Alejandro keeps me busy too.”
A Doppler effect of giggles and stomping;
she turns her gaze off frame.
“Can I ask you something about Kordra?”

“Uhh… sure.”

“Could they, like,
travel to another planet and fight aliens?”

A pause.
Laughter explodes from me,
the hardest I’ve laughed in what feels like years.
“What!?”

“What!? I wanted to help you think of adventures!”

“I don’t think space travel works in D&D!
They wouldn’t be able to breathe!”

“Sure.
Dragons and magic are totally logical,
but you draw the line
at the vacuum of space and aliens?
Preposterous.
There has to be a spell or something for that!”

“Why is everything always about
space
with you!?”

“Why is everything about
hunky, non-binary paladins
with you!?”

I laugh so hard, I cry.
We should so this more.


XXIX. Cockshut, n.

From the desk in my bedroom,
I can see the edge of ER’s roof,
which turns goldenrod as the sun sets.
It makes me think about endings.

How
this closure will end,
my time in school will end,
lives end—
how the day dies in long, drawn-out breaths.

When my grandmother was dying,
she showed me
an old painting by Massoud Arabshahi
she snuck a picture of at a museum back in Iran.
She said it stopped her in her tracks—
the cool colors, warm circles scattered
like a map of watchtowers or
“Allah’s ever-presence” as she put it—
so full of comfort
and anxiety at the same time.

She gave me that picture that day.
I keep it
above my desk,
next to the window where I can see
the sun’s shadow engulf the world. 


XXX. Baby Blues, n.

Can’t stay mad
at my mom
being so overbearing.

The last time
she was this
intense was after
Amina was born.

New checklists everyday,
every moment scheduled—
desperately seeking structure.

If she can
get through all
that, maybe she’ll
see me for
me one day.


XXXI. Sumpitan, n.

And so, Kordra
lays their sword across their palms,
kneels before the prince.

He grazes the blade with his fingertips.
“Are you really done
protecting our kingdom?”

They chuckle, shake their head.
“No,
the journey is never over, Your Grace.
It just changes shape.”
They lower the sword onto a cloth—
fine silk, black (duh)—
swaddle it, hand it to the prince.

They rise to their feet,
lift their pack onto their shoulders,
a spear knotted to its side.
They walk away, stop in the threshold.
“When you need me,
you’ll know where to find me,” they say.
They wink at the prince, and leave.

Continued in Part IV: Isabella Dudosa.

Cottonwood Seeds en Route: II. Crystal Coleus

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

This is the second entry in Cottonwood Seeds en Route. It is a continuation of Part I. Violet Caligos.

I. O, n.

When Violet says
she got accepted into the program,
I squee.

Not new-One-Direction-music-video level—
we’re in class— but
I squee,

and hug her
until she sputters,
“Crys. Please. My ribs.”


II. Mauvais Quart d’Heure, n.

I hated my red hair
for years.

In third grade, the boys
whose parents let them watch South Park
started calling me soulless,
a monster.
They said it was a joke,
but after 50 times,
it started to sound like
a fact.

If another white guy tells me
media doesn’t shape culture,
I’ll scream.

So, a week before 7th grade,
I dyed my hair black.
Dyed it every time
it started to show again.
Kept it buried.
It took me until last year,
when I started going to ER,
to dig myself out of the shame I felt.


III. Zeuxis, n.

At lunch, Suri shows us
a piece she’s working on for an art contest
through the Pierce County Library System.
“Well? What do you think?”
Her eyes bounce from face to face
hectic as reporters after a press conference.

I’m not good at art.
I can type 800 words on
the implementation of meatless Mondays at lunch,
but I can’t even draw trees.
What Suri’s done—
the shading, the soft details,
familiar, intimate,
“Stunning.”

“You really think so? I mean I know I spent a lot of time on it, but, like, it’s just us, you know, but as like a hydra, and instead of elemental powers or whatever it’s writing and art and science and stuff. It— it’s dumb. I don’t know.”

“I love it,” Violet says,
bringing the cuff of her hoodie to her eye.


IV. Religieuse, n.

As a
Mormon,
I don’t consume caffeine.
I drink La Croix for the kick, but
I recognize
my body shouldn’t be exposed to addictive
substances—
I should be able to stand and breathe on
my own.

It doesn’t make sense to
me to block
gay people from
Heaven, from
God.
I don’t think
I am less of a
Mormon for that belief—
our church was founded on the
principle of standing up for what
you believe.


V. French Cut, n. and adj.

“Looks like Jaime Smith is running again,”
Mom says at the dinner table, spinning spaghetti noodles in her fork.

“Oh? That’s good. She got close in the midterms, right?” Dad asks, dabbing his mouth with his napkin.

“Mhmm. Only lost by 600 votes.”

“Your office gonna doorbell?”

“Probably. Depends on how much Jennifer wants to organize.” She shakes her head. “We should do it, though. We can’t have another term of Chambers.”

Dad nods, tightens his hair tie. “I’ll probably not have this by then. Better curb appeal, I guess.”

“Dad, no one is going to care if a grown man has long hair anymore,” I interject. “It’s 2020.”

“It’s Puyallup, Crys,” he responds. “Plus, someone’s gonna need it more than me by then.” He smiles, drapes his ponytail over his shoulder. “A couple more inches, I think, and it’ll be long enough to donate.”


VI. Letterato, n.

Violet came over to
study for the SAT.

Digging a notebook out of her backpack,
she asks,
“Are you sure
you need to take it in March?
Can’t it wait
until June or something?”

“You need to make sure you get a great score to have a great application so you can get into a good college with the best professors and good programs so you can get a good job and have a fulfilling career to be able to afford a good house and provide for your family and your parents when they need you and you need to prepare for a good retirement yourself—“

“Crys.
Crys.
Pause.” She interrupts. Her hand
on my knee. Her steadiness
makes me realize how much it was bouncing.
“You have to live in today, not 50 years from now.”

I close my eyes,
try to still the tremors in my fingers.
“But you can’t just live in today,” I say slowly,
“You need to think about 50 years from now today to be prepared.”

“You shouldn’t
let tomorrow consume today though.
You need
balance.
You need
to breathe.”


VII. Kirkify, v.

I love history.
So, when I find out
we’re going to do presentations in civics
about how religion has shaped politics,
I go all in.

Our group gets assigned
Presbyterianism.
Violet and I agree to do research,
Suri says she’ll draw some pictures
to make our slides unique.

I love history,
because the closer you look,
the more complicated everything gets.
There are nuances on nuances;
no one’s great, no one’s evil.

Mark. A Matthews,
First Seattle’s longest-serving minster,
backed progressive ideals—
fought against governmental corruption,
helped create Harborview Medical Center.
He even went to Congress to argue
on behalf of Japanese immigrants
during World War I—
before the whole
putting-them-in-concentraition-camps period.

But Mark A. Matthews
argued against women’s suffrage,
argued against unionizing workers,
argued that Jewish people were the real menace
to the United States.


VIII. Literose, adj.

Revision
is the hardest part of
the writing process.
For me, anyway.
Mostly because
I tend to go a bit
overboard.

I’ve been practicing
college application essays
whenever I can,
and
I keep doubling the maximum word count.
And,
when I go back to see what to cut,
every word, every detail,
seems important.


IX. Mug, v.

Over the last few weeks,
we’ve had rain pretty much every day.
Slick roads, large puddles,
perpetually obfuscated sun.

Over the last few days,
we got hit with a rainstorm.
Torrential downpour,
power outages, floods.

It made me think of when
you have four projects due
the same week, because
teachers don’t coordinate with each other, and
you have to stretch
your time management/organizational skills
on top of what they already expect of you;
how overwhelming all that is;
how those weeks
make you appreciate
times when there’s
only an occasional worksheet due.


X. Crimp, v.

A part of our presentation grade
is everyone speaking in front of the class.
Suri thought
if she put extra effort into her drawings,
it might be excused.
It won’t be.

The day before our presentation,
we practice
after school
in Ms. Hendrix’s room.
Suri mindlessly riffles through her notecards
while we plan and organize.

First few run-throughs,
she riffles between every slide,
reads word-for-word from each card,
never looks up.
She asks us (Ms. Hendrix included)
if we can sit in the audience while she reads.

After seven times,
she looks up at the end of her sentences,
thwaps her cards with her thumb
when she finishes her slides
without looking down a second time.
Ms. Hendrix changes seats each time,
says when she can’t hear us,
applauds at the end every time.

In the last run-through before the activity bus,
She glances only at the beginning of each slide,
adds hand gestures,
ad libs details about what she drew.


XI. Ice Bolt, n.

When it’s our turn,
we get up to the front of the room,
stand just like we did when we practiced.

It all flows, smooth
as the extra milkshake from the cool tin cup.
Violet and Suri kill it.

I
say Matthew A. Matthews
instead of Mark. A Matthews,

and I try to go back, correct it,
but my mouth hangs there. No sounds—
my notes become doodles.


XII. Missment, n.

I look at Violet,
try to talk with my eyes.

She shuffles her notecards,
continues, “Mark. A Matthews was a minister…”

Suri carries the last slide
until the lunch bell rings to end the period.

I walk to the bathroom,
sit in a stall, my face in my hands.

Violet knocks on the stall door,
says, “Crys? Hey. We’re here.”

Suri scoots her sketchbook, opened to a page which
says, “It’s ok. It happens. We still love you.”


XIII. Bastle House, n.

“You know,
a bad presentation isn’t the end of the world.”

“It’s the grade
that UW is going to see, Violet.
That
is the end of the world.”

“... You ever think about those houses
they’re building over by Glacier View?”

“… What? No?
What does that have to do with anything?”

“It’s just— like,
there are all those people
building those houses, right?
They’re all responsible for something,
the job has to get done, and done right
or the people living there won’t have
power or flushing toilets and stuff.”

“… Yeah?”

“Well, so—
it can’t be possible
for all of those people
to be perfect all the time, you know?
There has to be a misplaced nail somewhere,
a loose cabinet door.

“But the house is still there, Crys.
The house still has lights.
The house still flushes poops.
Even if one of them messes up a little bit.

“I don’t think one bad presentation
would make UW hate you.
And,
if it does,
we can egg their admissions building.”


XIV. Bae, n.

There’s something in
how she rustles her notecards,
how she says “poops” to make me laugh,
how she comes up with metaphors for everything.

I don’t know what this feeling is—
my stomach hurts.

She’d say that I’m just like Chidi,
and I think
she might be my Eleanor.


XV. Home-Along, adv.

You know how when cottonwood pollinates,
its seeds fall everywhere
like a switch is flipped—
one day there’s almost nothing,
the next it looks like a blizzard?

That’s kinda how I’m feeling now— everything flying in all directions,
no navigation.

I usually talk things out with my parents,
but I’m afraid.
They’ve always said they love me,
they’ll support me in whatever,
but there’s no guarantee
their actions will match their words.
We are Mormon, and
we’ve all sat in the same sermons
with the same old rhetoric.

We go on a trip to the San Juan Islands
for mid-winter break—
a four-day weekend around Presidents’ Day.
Dinner is awkward— for me;
they all seem normal.
I don’t know if now is the right time, but
what would a right time be?
There’s no universal 
tell-your-parents-you-might-be-gay
scenario.

We’re in a public place,
a brewery with a local guitarist playing “Homeward Bound.”
I think now is
as good a time
as I can get.


XVI. Deek, n.

They say the right things
like they’re reading from a script.

But, it’s the way
they avoid eye contact
for the rest of dinner
that shows their discomfort.


XVII. Gribiche, n.

The next night,
we eat at a French restaurant
overlooking the sound.

My mom
lifts a spear of asparagus,
scoops the spread from the dish
on the platter.

“It’s not that we don’t love and support you; it’s that the you we thought we knew is gone.” She dabs her lips with a maroon cloth napkin.

“I’m not gone. I’m still here.”

“But the you that was in our heads, the future-you that we imagined, is gone.”

“I don’t think my future-me has changed. She can’t be gone. I’m not even sure what I am or what I may be.”

“So it’s possible it’s just a phase?”

Silence.

“It’s just a lot to process, Crys. Nothing like this has happened in the Coleus family before. It’s going to take some time for us to get used to it. I’m going to pray on it, I promise.”

“You shouldn’t need to pray on it,” I wish I could say out loud. “I’m your daughter.”


XVIII. Gype, n.

Violet and I
go out to watch Birds of Prey
Monday night,
the end of Mid-Winter Break.
Her second time—
she couldn’t shut up about it.

Absentmindedly
I put my arm on the armrest
where hers is.
She nudges her arm to share.
Our elbows touch—
my skin’s on fire.


XIX. Hailsome, adj.

She rests
her head
on my shoulder.
I hook
my pinky
around hers.

I feel
so warm,
so whole—
like I’m home.


XX. Hake, n.

Back at Edgerton,
when they taught us how to watercolor—
second grade, I’m pretty sure—
I always used the thinnest brush.
I focused on each detail—
small, smooth strokes.
Yes, even the sky;
I rarely completed a painting.

I’m a bit embarrassed to say
I continued that pattern—
focusing so much on school, college, the future,
I never stopped to breathe.

So, it feels big
that in this breath,
the warmth in my chest
when Violet swooped her hand under mine,
interlaced her fingers in mine,
is still there the next morning
when it’s so cold even the clouds stay home.


XXI. Overton Window, n.

A few days later, when we get to my house after school, Violet kisses the back of my hand, which she’s been holding since I shifted into drive (not the best driving practice; sorry, Mr. Williams).

Violet sees my mom’s Outback parked in the driveway. “So, have you told them?” she asks, leaning her head against the headrest.

I sigh, close my eyes. “No. I haven’t.” I look at my Tetris keychain dangling from the ignition, afraid to see her disappointment. “I’m sorry.”

Her voice is soft, starts as a half-whisper. “It’s alright, but why not? I thought you said they were cool with you being gay?”

“That’s what they said, yeah, but the way my mom tiptoes around me now… She hasn’t told the rest of the family yet, and she told me to not say anything to them either, because THEY wouldn’t be ready for it yet… I’m not sure she’s really ready for me to be dating someone. Like, I’m afraid she’ll antagonize you, and that would kill me.”

“Okay.” Another half-whisper. She nods, thinks for a bit, tapping her fingertips on my knuckles in a rhythm I can’t follow. “So, how many points do you think you lose if you antagonize a queer teenager? Like, a thousand, right? Because of the increased risk of depression and stuff?” Her smile is sad, but still warm.

“Yeah. Easily,” I chuckle. “A real dick move.” I kiss the back of her hand.


XXII. Bloody Caesar, n.

Saturday morning,
I wake up
more tired than when I went to sleep.
I sit on the top of the staircase,
my body not wanting to move anymore.

Mom sits
at the dining room table,
Warren and Sanders pamphlets
litter its surface.
The smell
of the cocktail
she drinks on weekend mornings
wafts up the stairs.

“You think we should
drive or take the light rail to the rally?”
Dad asks.
He places his mug on the table,
takes a seat,
grabs one of the Warren pamphlets.

“Traffic in Seattle is going to be awful.
Especially
if the protests at Kennedy Catholic keep up—
I can’t believe
they would force
teachers to resign because they’re gay.
So, I think the light rail might be better;
her campaign’s said
they expect a large crowd.”
No hesitation in her voice,
no doubt.

I exhale,
head against the railing,
elbows on my knees,
face in my hands.

Her pastime seems to be
comfort at a distance,
like a church dance
where you need to leave room for Jesus.


XXIII. Swellegant, adj.

My parents leave early to get to the rally,
wanting to be first in line for volunteers.
I thought about going, but decided
to stay home
to work on an essay for civics on caucuses.
Plus,
if Lexi can’t even manage to focus for algebra,
she definitely wouldn’t survive political speeches.

When I think about Seattle,
I see people free
to express who they are, open
and accepting and weird.
No closets there,
no skeletons hidden in old Ikea bags.

I know it’s not true; it’s a fantasy. But,
I see myself
walking across UW’s quad some spring morning
as the sun meets their cherry blossoms—
quiet, peaceful.


XXIV. Yes But, n. and adj.

family is important and you shouldn’t upset them.

yes but i deserve to be true to myself.

yes but that is selfish, crystal. you have to consider what other people need.

yes but hiding myself for the sake of everyone else means that i’m not even worth my own respect.

yes but you need a place to live until you graduate high school and you shouldn’t risk that kind of stability.

yes but being with Violet makes me happy. 


XXV. Dicker, v.

I hate
hiding from them,
feeling ashamed.
I hate
hiding my relationship with Violet,
making her feel like I’m ashamed of her.

Dad’s family
comes over after church every Sunday.
Maybe
I should tell them then.
I can figure
out a way to ease them into it—
I’ll write
a hasty Facebook post in case I chicken out.

Violet will hold me to it.


XXVI. Swinehood, n.

After church,
aunt Clara and uncle Wyatt arrive.
Five children
flood out of their Expedition
into the driveway.
Clara balances a bowl of orzo salad
in the crook of her left arm as
she waves at my dad.

Their kids run around the yard as
we eat brunch.
After covering pleasantries, the work week,
Wyatt steers the conversation.

“Did you hear about the new Supreme Court case?”

“Oh yeah!” Clara answers, “The one about whether gay couples can adopt! Can you believe it?!”

“Right,” My dad nods, coughs. He and Clara were raised to never discuss politics, so they rarely ever talked about the news. “That’s a big deal.”

“It IS a big deal!” Clara agrees. “They’re trying to restrict that agency’s religious freedom! They can’t do that!” She waves her arms, gesturing at the obvious oppression.

“It’s a terrible thing,” Wyatt adds. “I mean, there’s plenty of research that suggests that kids need a mother AND a father.”

Both of my parents politely nod. I burst.

“So what, I shouldn’t be able to adopt a kid if I want? You wouldn’t trust ME with a kid?! Are your kids messed up from all the times I babysat them?!

“A person’s orientation has nothing to do with their parenting ability— are you kidding me?! I cannot believe how intolerant you are, how willfully ignorant you are! It’s obscene!”

My fork clangs as it hits my bowl. I feel tears boil on my cheeks. I gasp for air, stand up. “Excuse me.”

There’s silence as I walk into the house. The tap of my shoes on the hardwood floor bounce off stunned walls.


XXVII. Twite, n.

I lay on my bed, stare at the ceiling—
gray as wintry clouds.
I imagine a small bird,
brown like Violet’s eyes,
flying south to escape the frigid breeze.

Cold and alone,
lost in the current,

until she finds a flock of birds,
different colors and shades and hues
like the intricate, harmonious patchwork of a quilt,
that welcomes her with ease.


XXVIII. Yevery, adj.

What is a family that doesn’t see you?

I won’t let them
dig a hole in my heart.
I won’t let them
make me feel empty.

I want more than that.
I want
to come out
to everyone,
to get a bold haircut,
to be with Violet with no shame,
to demand more diverse books in ER’s library,
to demand representation in history and English classes.

They will not hide me.
I will not be erased.


XXIX. Resiliating, adj.

Monday morning,
I text Violet
that I want to tell our friends about us
if she’s okay and ready for it.

My phone clacks
as I put it on the bathroom counter
to brush my hair.
In the mirror,
there’s a fire burning on my scalp, tendrils
try to reach the ceiling.
My brush was
like a helicopter with a water tank containing
a forest fire.

Last night, I told her about what happened
with Clara and Wyatt.
I ugly-cried on FaceTime and everything.
My parents didn’t came to my room—
still haven’t talked to them.

A post-it note I find
on my door when I leave my room
in Lexi’s handwriting reassures me
everything’s going to be alright.
She wrote:

“Crys—
ur the best big sister ever
ur the bravest person I know
love u forever!
- L”

Continued in Part III. Suri Dihan.