An Explorer’s Guide
Once, the center of the universe was marked by a column of smoke.
Once, there was no rope combusting at both ends nor a charred ladder
like the Greeks said there would be. Once, a ring of fire came
surface of the sea. And just this once, you were tasked with
finding a myth. Told to find a mother reclaiming her womb.
Here meaning: that you must start said search where
it all begins. Waves of white teachers giving lessons on all
the people who should be my white heroes. The soils
errant pulse that finds white people’s hearts bigger than mine. The coaxing
tongue that says their skin softer and thinner. The whimpered
thing that the brain does which recalls mine as coarse and molasses thick.
Here meaning: whiteness is a delicate thing. That my uncombed hair
looks like an earthquake to you too. Watch as I’m turned inside out
and the liability does not go away. See the burden
of a boy. The boy-faced apology for existence:
it’s a heirloom. Yet still, you must start
here. For there is an origin story—there is emergence.
For white people’s feelings cannot be the center
of my universe any more. The fire was lit, the column of smoke
arose, the galaxy right here. The University professor who says
‘nigger’ a dozen times. The article about Michael Brown my St. Louis friend
posts one day. The Buzzfeed article about cottage cheese that he posts
the next. The Lifetime movie reel of days in the bathroom trying
to scrub dirt from a not dirty place. Now please note:
this is not self-discovery. No one found themselves.
My own was already my own and I will spend the rest of my life
taking it back. You are finding an undone knot. The putting
out of swallowed flames and wafting from
my very skin. Many will say: ‘I have known him—from where
did this blue-black tsunami come? He did not used to be
this way!’ Realize that this is the demand of gravity. It is
the demand of walking into every room and revolving
around the white-hot sun. So find my lungs. Find
where warnings are futile if livelihood is a burnt
tongue. Observe: the deadened miracle I was too
many times. Articulate, vapid boy with two eyes
that someone also gave a name. For in him is a
toothless smile. In that smile is a barren
mouth. In that mouth is its barely spoken pain, for it
was told its pain did not exist. So indeed there was
a fire. Now, a supernova reborn eight hundreds
times a day. There was a burning
ocean. And now?
I am the flames—
The Parsing of Things
That’s not what I meant, always summersaults
dances its tiny limbs off our cliff-tongues, perils
itself between the chosen, the found, the nest
of your lips. Could have landed anywhere.
Correction: this is a thing we did not avoid.
But now, this unnerved lawn, this vacuous grass,
this painful act of lying with you. You’re the song;
I’m the symphony. Signifier / signified. Mowed
green, million whispering blades, muckraking slugs,
misheard truths. Truths. All of them.
Here’s the tale. I was hollow and you loved to sing.
Another one. The night we go out my hand cradles
your back. The turtleneck looks fine; it dawns that
you want to make a good impression. Funny word:
impression. So many letters for a gentle kiss. A
delicate stamp. I knew we’d have to break up eventually
you don’t say. Yet. I mail myself to the moon.
Here’s another tale. Our chests were sprouting.
Boisterous, truly ample things. They became us.
You danced and charmed. In a trance, I clutched
glass stems--two of them--because the wine was
for us. As there, as of then, was an us. If the story
had not already, it reveals itself. My lungs, watching
yours, unfurl. They’re trying to catch yours; some joke
you’ve told--the fact all my friends laugh.
And here’s the now. There was and there is a tune.
Even when the instrument does change, the notes
stay the same. The conductor gets miles ahead
of himself, and the violas, with their burrowed sounds,
are full of notes preceding their trailed rooted limbs.
Music is the variable. It is the change over time.
And so the bird flirts with the sky until it’s certain
where to place its feet. The staccato notes slur.
Our words spread themselves gently. Or, well,
Joshua Allen Aiken is a poet and playwright whose work has been featured in publications such as the Winter Tangerine Review, Cactus Heart, and cahoodaloodaling. He is a graduate student at the University of Oxford.