C

*Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault*

You are my earliest memory.

Those nights, all I wanted to do was to
play with your G.I. Joes and Power Rangers

as our mothers gossiped in your living
room. Your room was a sock-strewn
clubhouse for broken home boys like me,

a place where you taught me
to quietly giggle words like shit
and damn into my hand so my mother
couldn’t hear. You were an older

brother I never had, a model
of miniature masculinity, so when
you told me that your father taught
you how to be a man, I wanted
to learn—what boy at age four

could resist this knowledge? You led
me to your closet and pulled the door
shut behind us, swaddling my eyes
in darkness until you found the cord
and clicked light into existence. Standing
under your striped t-shirts and passing

dusty recycled air between our lungs,
I was lost in my own head, wondering
who had showed your dad how to be
a man and why my father hadn’t shared
this mandate with me himself, so when
you pulled down your pants, and showed
me your shriveled manhood, all I could do

was stare; I was too young to know
that I should be embarrassed by your naked
body. I didn’t understand how being cramped
in the closet with you was going to make me
a man, I had never heard any other boys
whispering about such a rite of passage,
but you told me to trust you and I did.
You spit into your hand and tugged,

as if you wanted to rid yourself
of yourself, and all the while I watched,
afraid I would miss something if I looked
away. Later, you reached out and took
me in your hand, showing me our body’s
awful machinations, telling me that I was
being a girl when I started to cry. You told me

to nurse you like a lollipop, like something
sweet I’d get from the doctor for enduring
a shot. I hoped you were telling the truth,
that when the closet door swung open
I would be a man and the whole world
would be different, but when the light rushed

in and the eddies of dust stopped swirling
your dirty socks were still on the floor,
our mothers were still laughing in the
living room. It’s said that when we die our lives
will flicker in front of our eyes in slow-motion

technicolor, the tapes of our lives rewinding,
constantly rewinding, the sights growing brighter
frame by frame, the smells and tastes sharpening
in our mouths and noses until we’ve looked

back and it all finally makes sense. This is why
I’m afraid of dying—I don’t want the last image
that will ever burn in my eyes to be you,

panting, hand outstretched, as if you
were the answer to all life’s questions,

as if even in death you were coming for me.

K

The first time we made love
was in an empty high school gymnasium

late at night. When I finally saw all of you
in the moonbeams rippling through the grubby

windows behind us—tanned skin, heart-shaped mole,
scars like miniature waxen railroad tracks

crossing your knees—I remember thinking
it’s happening, it’s finally happening, though at the time

I thought it just meant losing my virginity.
We were together for seven months, each lonely

night spent on the phone listening
to each others day echo through the crackling static

vacuum of phone towers stretched 990 miles
between shady hollers and shifting dunes,

so when you came to visit after Christmas
I couldn’t wait to put our words to rest and rely

on the body’s archaic language to tell you
how I felt. Once you were here, though, I realized

that I didn’t want my family and friends to meet you—
I wanted them to meet my girlfriend. You were a topic

of conversation, a doll made of glass in my hands,
something I flaunted, like you were a trembling bunny

I had caught in the woods and brought home to present
to my parents before letting it go at the edge of the lawn.

Do you remember when we fucked for an hour and a half
on my bathroom floor? I faked it twice. It may seem

impossible, but my knees were tired of the tiles
and my parents were sleeping soundly

in the next room. By then, I knew you weren’t
the naked girl I found in that dirty high school gym,

I knew that the moment we shared on the cold
metal bleachers was just that—a moment, frozen in time,

a dusty moonbeam reverie I had created
for myself because I was tired of being lonely.

On Research

The artist has to be something like a whale swimming with his mouth wide open, absorbing everything until he has what he really needs.
–Romare Bearden

One of my favorite things about writing is the research that goes into making a piece well-informed and honest in tone.

When I was in college, I stayed as far away from research as possible, preferring to write analytical essays about whatever novel or article I was reading at the time. Writing essays meant that I could rely on my own findings, my own beliefs–it was very inconvenient trying to find scholarly articles that backed up my argument, reading them, & then condensing 20+ pages of scholarly discourse into one or two sentences that felt more like a distraction from my voice/argument than a supplement to it. Truth be told, if I had never taken a creative writing course, I probably would have left UK believing that looking up information that wasn’t readily available to me was an act of torture.

During both semesters of my Senior year, I took poetry workshops with the professor that I would consider the most influential in my desire to become a writer. During the course, she often berated us for limiting ourselves by not actively looking for new words, ideas, & trends in the world. One moment that sticks out in my mind in particular is when we were asked to read Brian Doyle’s Joyas Voladorasan essay that examines the hearts of hummingbirds–for the next class. I read the beautifully written essay like every other piece of writing I was given to analyze in college: I read through it once to understand the general themes within the piece, a second time to find connections between them, & then put it in my binder to wait for discussion the next week. Going into class, I felt prepared to talk about Doyle’s examination of the heart with my classmates.

After tying her hair back & setting out her books, my teacher asked us if we had enjoyed the essay. All agreed we had, & we lapsed into a shallow discussion about things that popped out to us in the writing–beautiful imagery, particularly well-written phrases, things that lit the bulbs in our minds when we ran our eyes and fingers over them. We had prepared these answers, thinking we knew what she wanted to hear from us. We had not prepared an answer for her next question, however.

“Who looked up what joyas voladoras means?”

None of us answered–stuck in our collegiate mindset of dissect & analyze, we had forgotten to search for the meaning of those two little italicized words on the page. She wasn’t happy with us, & she let us know it. What she said that day has stayed with me:

“As young writers you can’t shy away from the things you don’t know. If you are too afraid to admit that you don’t know something for fear of seeming ignorant, you will be ignorant. LIfe is too short to be left in the dark. You must read everything you can get your hands on, look for new words, discover the nuggets of information buried deepest in the mud, for those are often the most precious.”

Before that moment, I had never associated research with knowledge (a very stupid oversight, I’ll admit). I had seen it as just a way to get credit on papers. I couldn’t see the merits of looking up things that I didn’t know because I had always associated this with the aspects of academia that I hated. To think of research as something that could bring me joy was an extremely foreign concept.

My teacher preached about the merits of research over the course of the year. The epigraph (if you want to call it that) at the beginning of this post comes from her, & its since became one of my favorite quotes to share with someone. She showed me that adding a dash of well-researched information into a poem could incite interest in my pieces while making those bulbs fire in the minds of my readers; for instance, take a look at Dorianne Laux’s Facts About the Moon. It begins with an interesting fact about the moon & then gracefully transitions into her own voice, her own point of writing the poem. Throughout the poem, she continually reminds us that she is writing a list of facts as well as a poem. It’s that kind of tactfully placed information that gets my blood pumpin’.

All of this talk about research comes after a few days of researching the processes of blacksmithing & armouring. I’m doing this research in order to craft a piece that talks about these processes with authority while also placing my own poetic spin on them–much like Laux does in Facts About the Moon. The piece will be for a dear friend of mine, so once I’ve gotten it perfected to a point where I don’t hate looking at it anymore, I’ll post my draft here.

Thanks for taking this journey with me, reader. Lord knows I couldn’t make it on my own.

P.S. After class I went home & googled joyas voladoras, discovering that it meant “flying jewels” is Spanish. Has there ever been a better metaphor for the small, bright birds?