For Your Ninth Birthday     

For your ninth birthday you had a tropical island-themed party. In the kitchen your mother was icing a volcano shaped cake, made from scratch, while you, in the living room, in a matter of minutes, had already managed to blow through two hours of party games and distribute the corresponding prizes to the debatable victors.  You had always wanted the sort of birthday party like your friend Macy had: thematic, with regimented games, snack platters and goodie bags.  But your household had never run that way. Your mother was trying her best but still sick. So you and the other children proceeded to fly around the house having nothing else to do: hiding in laundry baskets, behind the couch, under tables, boys vs. girls and the floor was made of lava. Trying to reach home base you slipped on a strategically placed couch cushion and skidded your elbow across the hardwood floor. You ran crying to your mother just in time to hear Joshua J. ask her why she had a tube sticking out of her chest.
At Night the Lights     

You look in through other people’s windows more than you’re supposed to. You are that person your father was lecturing about when he yelled at you to close the blinds at night, but you don’t care about seeing people in their underwear and you’re not plotting to steal their TVs. Past the dim evening exterior of suburban dwellings, through the glass, illuminated fluorescent by  Seinfeld reruns, you catch glimpses of chevron wall paper, a staircase lined with photos, and untouched china cabinets. You find it satisfying how vaguely similar they all are, how the outlines of all these lives appear the same, only distinguished by details you can’t access in a glance. What surprises you still is all the colors, the impression of a place illuminated by a strange emerald, fuchsia or lavender light: what sort of person lives in lavender light? On occasion you can just stare straight through, catch the silhouette of a lamp, the top of a recliner, a house plant as your line of sight shoots straight through the setting of someone’s life through the back door and into the rest of the world.
A small slit     

A small slit has been opening and growing on the side of your body for many months. You toy with the idea that you are in-fact a small doll living an existence as some child’s play thing, falling apart at the seams. The idea is dismissed once the slit has grown wide enough to reach your fingers inside to confirm you are in-fact not full of stuffing but rather a void. Perhaps a void is an extreme description of what you are full of, the melodramatic way of putting it. In fact, from this slit now a firm two and three-eighths inches in length a cavern can be accessed, you of course have never seen into the cavern but your lovers have and you have felt the smooth shimmering pebbles they speak of when you run your fingers along the caverns sides. Only in an intimate setting do you let anyone know about the opening and only a lucky few will you let place their mouths up to the slit to yell sweet nothings into your cavern. The pebbles rattle, the sound reverberating the words up through your body and out of your mouth as a sigh.

The Moths      

You’ve never lived in a house that didn’t have moths in it.  On uneventful evenings when you are on your own, they flutter past your peripherals. Mostly you’ve always left each other alone except for those instances where the moth got too close. Their presence disturbed you; moths in the cereal box, burrowing in your sheets, or eating away at your sweaters.  In these moments you would try to swat and clap them, but seldom did you ever managed to capture one of those fluttering gray insects that played the extras to your life.  If you did find your blow was fatal, all that would be left, powdered across your palms was a fine dust. So you let it be—you let the moths sink into the background of your life. You still see them flickering at the corner of your eye, though you pay them as much mind as a distant cough made by an upstairs neighbor or grime collecting on top of the ceiling fan: A reminder that you are not alone but also that there are some problem you’re willing to live with.
What You Never Knew     
When your father would get his hair cut as a child his grandmother would make him burn it or bury it in the garden—this is your favorite story about him out of the few that you know. He was raised the sort of Christian where you speak in tongues to be close to God—a concept unfamiliar to you. He grew his hair out long in resistance, sprouting in all directions, spent most of his time outside avoiding runny eggs and okra, and when he grew into a man your mother cut his hair and threw it in the trash. Your father was never worried about evil people trying to use his hair for witchcraft, he just hated the smell of burning hair, the hassle, being told what to do.

When you first heard this story you, well on your way to adulthood, resented that you didn’t even know what okra tasted like. You stopped cutting your own hair. You let every hair on you body grow long, each inch a testament of time past, symbolic and heavy with the time you spent growing it. The smell of burning hair isn’t what bothers you either.  You just can’t stand the idea of giving up a part of yourself; your need to have control. Long hair being the Proof of the stubbornness you share with the man that you know little about.  You know he likes painting pictures of water-towers, lemon cookies and fishing, and he’s always thought the world is moving against him when really it’s moving without him.
Cold Tint
You tie lead pipes to your legs and the lead pipes to cinderblocks so that you can be more supportive to your friends and family. You talk to yourself only in second person to relieve the pressure of confession. You-to-yourself as comforting parental figure: “don’t forget you have to send that email by 5pm”; “their problems aren’t your problem”; “you shouldn’t take it so personally”; “why are you always so sensitive?”; “you really have been trying”; “it’s obviously not you who hasn’t been trying”; “clearly they’re just looking for reasons to dislike you.” Your hands are dyed bluish from trying to dye your hair blueish—even though all you managed to do was make strawberry blonde ashy blonde—Making the cold tint to your fingers the only noticeable change outside of a freshly frosted demeanor. You're shivering. “You’re shivering.” your inability to feel warm directly proportional to your inability to understand the conversations going on in other peoples heads, between other people’s heads. “why do you take everything so personally”; “why do you make everything about you?”—but what did I do wrong?


You received a birthday card in the mail today. You knew right away it was something special, hand addressed unlike all of that “sign up now!” credit card mail. The card was signed “Aunt Kathy and Grandma Vera.” Enclosed were twenty-six dollars for twenty-six years of life. All in two dollar bills. Regularly you receive a letter containing their most recent woes: “Cousin Shannon’s husband is leaving her for the checkout girl at Fast-Mart,” “Uncle Bobby is caught up in some pyramid scheme selling vacuum cleaners,”

“The neighbor boy is always slamming doors.” You imagine Aunt Kathy and Grandma Vera spend their days worrying at home. Stuffing their small bills under sofa cushions, into spice jars, and between books on shelves, When they’re not making plans to rearrange furniture or canning fruits before they spoil.

In their letters they ask you “to please come visit soon” They “hope medical school is going well, maybe you can have a look at Vera’s eyes?” You write them back that school is good but you’ve given up medicine in pursuit of geology. They write you back wondering “if maybe you could have a look at the foundation, it seems to be eroding and the house is slipping down the hill.” You write them back and say that’s not really what geologists do, but anyhow you’ve given that up and will start working as a carpenter’s apprentice next week and maybe you can help with the foundation after that.

You’ve grown very fond of the two old women in the past three years since you moved into your current apartment where the letters started to arrive. At first you didn’t respond, in fact you didn’t open the first two, but eventually the seasonal stamps and hand written address to Brian Long drew you in. The letters smelled like gingersnaps when you opened them, and it was nice to receive a few bucks and be wished a happy birthday on some random day in late November. Plus you had no way of knowing where Brian had gone and you didn’t think the two women could take the loss. Kathy was losing it slowly and Vera can’t keep track of a thing anymore, so who knew where Brian was? He could be the mailbox 9 to your mailbox 8, but it’s not like you could or would go around asking everyone in the apartment complex “who’s Brian Long?” You don’t know any of your neighbors, all you know of them are overheard footsteps and lovemaking. It's clear,  Brian doesn't worry about Kathy and Vera the way you do, concerned with Vera’s slow decline and Kathy’s inability to possibly get on without her.

Your inability to get on without them both.
2022, Richmond, VA.