Age: 17, Grade: 12
School Name: Spence School, New York, NY
Educator: Sara Beasley
Writing Portfolio: You Took My Lips
|There are oceans in my name,|
Sicilian vineyards, mangoes rotting on red
sand in summer. Mowgli has become
my father. He eats blueberries now,
popping pearls, wiping with linen napkins.
When I was born my father named me—
Divya—two syllables of divinity.
English melts between my mother’s
lips: she pronounces the “Ch”
in Chicago like the beginning of Chihuahua.
I swore to never go to college in a city
she couldn’t fit in her mouth.
I am seventeen and still
she adds a third syllable
when she calls me for dinner:
I have lost myself in
A decade ago, when Cousin Vijayalakshmi
asked me my name, I added the third syllable—
I had been called for dinner 2,555 times.
My cousin told me I was saying it wrong, then
showed me how to balance
tongue on palate, how to pulverize
mother’s love with jaw.
Seventeen and still
I don’t know my name
But I have a mother who pricks
her fingers as she tries to mend
the uneven stitches between India and
Italy. South Asia
is an awkward ball for a boot.
|Whenever I complain |
about being Daughter to a Mamma
who can forget
to love, she bites lips
and says, “Then you can’t even
imagine my mother.” And so I imagine
nimble and dark, stitching
and mending our lives
back into one piece.
massaging wheezing dough,
pumping out air bubbles
as if resuscitating the flour.
leaving crimson stains on my
swinging old belts made of the good
Sicilian leather. The images don’t work
in my mind. My Nonna,
not a mother but the weekly phone call—
laughter tucked beneath tongue
as I heave my backpack down
the avenue. Lips spewing plots
of Spanish soap operas you memorize
and rewrite in our minds as if
the words are Italian and you stayed
in school past second grade.
We all blame our pasts, and so
I remind Mamma that her own
Nonna birthed you between shudders
of American bombs in Sicily—
you, a collection of bones
surviving on onion peels in caves
until Hitler shot himself.
birthed of conquering, of the need
to discipline those who were only
ever obedient. You painted your story
onto the body of my Mamma
so she would know how to paint
her own story onto me, too.
I forgive you, Nonna—us three,
linked by palms on cheeks. Only,
I wonder if I’ll grow up to be an artist too.
|I ask my brother if he will become a rapist|
when he grows up as our limbs slither along
the cool leather of the beige couch. My insides
melted in June but now it has struck July and
the pores lathering my vessels are boiling off.
My intestines keep changing phase and I’ve lost
my appetite. My brother’s legs are long and tight,
like coiled rope. His neat skeleton can stretch itself
to the other side of the couch—the part that’s cool
from the absence of human rears. As his toes gum
themselves to the callused leather, I watch the curves
of his ribs ruminate. I’ve seen my brother naked—
the suffocated cylinders of thighs drowning in air,
the soft pink yearning to kiss. I imagine wrapping
fingers around the diameter of legs and waving him
like a flagpole—surrender beckoning. When my
brother was four, he learned how to give himself away.
The boy, a walking reminder that my parents still
loved each other for a moment after I was born.
When my brother was four, he learned how to own
himself without owning his body. At six, I gave myself
permission to hold infant waist in palms and bury nose
into bloated stomach, the baby powder cleansing
childhood off my cheeks. For a moment, his belly
could button the slit between my infancy and youth.
Now, as his shoulders heave in the heat of our shared
existence, I gaze into the gray of pupils and wonder
what kind of boy longs to master a body that spurns
belonging. I wonder what kind of boy yearns to sharpen
the loose, folding curves of flesh into a dagger that will
forever yield foreign blood. I wonder what kind of boy
never got to know a mama’s womb, a grandma’s
musty shawl, or a sister’s unshielded questions. I wonder
what kind of boy turns into the kind of boy hungering to feel
body sailing over body. Sometimes, we all need to learn how
to capsize. I wonder what kind of boy never learns how to love
himself. I am wondering what kind of boy mine will choose
to be. A single rivulet of sweat is meandering along his
collarbone like a swollen tear. As if in reflex, he gathers
together his tangled branches and curls into a matted ball.
As he rocks himself against my side, his dark head tucked
into the curve of my elbow, I wonder how any boy becomes.
The Landline After the Divorce
|Dad you there it’s cold|
here the house feels empty
i think even the dog knows
you’re not coming back
hang on i think i silenced
you it’s so easy to mute
you sound tired hello
i thought i lost you
fine i’m good we’re
all just fine shattered
my glasses last week
having trouble seeing slept
in contacts yesterday pupils
glued to plastic thought i would
forever see the world out of eyes
i stuck to brown paper bags
in kindergarten hand puppets
remember i miss our childhood
are you listening i can hear sirens
your new apartment is near
the police station god how
will you sleep knowing
we’re all chasing you
just kidding can’t remember
what it means either i love
you or maybe i’m forgetting
yes, you’re safe won’t crack
in the oven i know i’m sorry
i forgot what yes i said porcelain
won’t suffocate like we can
maybe meet for coffee
do you still need caffeine
now that you can sleep
at night if you’re sure
you’re ready just press start
Category: Personal Essay & Memoir
| We keep leather-bound photo albums on the bookshelves. Dust slithers over the front covers, reminding us to read our memories like encyclopedias, to search for the definitions of who we could have been. My mother has stacked them onto the shelf at the back of the living room, behind the piano no one plays anymore. On some Sunday mornings, as her espresso whistles on the stove, she sits at the dining table, her baby blue bathrobe draped over her narrow shoulders. She leafs through the books, her eyes wide. It’s my first birthday again. The pale pink cotton of the little embroidered dress wafts over my body, the body my mother forged with her own hands, her own thighs, her own breasts. As I sip on my orange juice and try to balance redox reactions on the table, I watch her out of the corner of my eye. Her eyelids are fluttering, her face changing. One moment, her lips part to reveal her small jaw of beautiful, straight teeth. The next moment, she is gnawing at her lips, little vermillion carnations bursting in the thin line separating each half of her smile. Briny drops the size of the dew clinging to the petals on the terrace flow down the concaves of her cheeks. My mother never could hold back tears. |
She leans over to me, holding the book in her arms like a sleeping infant. “Divya, look—this was your first birthday.” My gaze flutters over to the image. My hair is thick, dark, soft—raven feathers humming at my shoulders. It seems that I had my mother’s hair, once. Little gold bangles suffocate my fat little wrists. I am holding onto the pole in the playground for balance. I must not have been able to walk properly yet. My first two little teeth are showing, peeking out from behind my moist, plushy upper lip.
I don’t look at my mother. I refuse to engage. I swallow the growing lump in my throat. I don’t remember that girl, but I miss who I imagine she was. I bite the inside of my cheek until I can taste metal stinging my teeth, rotting my gums. My mother’s fingers are stroking the waxy paper the same way she caresses the dog’s flaxen curls. “Weren’t you so sweet? Look how happy you were.”
“Leave me alone.” I turn back to my chemistry homework. But no matter how hard I try to focus my eyes, I can’t make out the oxidation number I am staring so hard at. As I squint, a drop of warm liquid slides out of the safety of my bottom eyelid, leaking onto the paper. The crystal of fluid oozes into the instructions at the top of the page. The water pools into the ink, clinging to the fibers. I think about the polarity of water, and for a moment, I hate knowing the chemistry behind my tears. I imagine what might have happened if I had not known the instructions yet or started the worksheet. Could I have gone to Mr. Nick and told him “my eyes consumed my homework”? I wonder what he would have said.
I can’t concentrate anymore. I’m beginning to confuse single and double replacement reactions again. My mother has gone on to look at the album for my seventh birthday. She appears to have her favorites. I rest my chin in the curve of my elbow and think about how much I loathe my mother’s use of the past tense. I don’t have the stomach for nostalgia, for the “weres” and “would have beens” of this world. I can’t reminisce about my childhood without feeling my intestines clench and gurgle inside me like a ticklish fetus. At the moment, I don’t want to be pregnant with sentimentality.
My mother is stacking up the albums as she finishes with them. She’s moving more quickly now, her fingers accustomed to the routine of pinch, flip, turn, slam, stack. She’s on my tenth birthday now. That was the year my mother organized a little tea party. We binged on petit fours and saccharine pink tea that smelled the way my skin did the time I poured my mother’s rose-scented perfume all over my arms like body oil. For the party, I wore a blue-and-white sailor dress. I wonder what happened to that dress. I notice that she has constructed a single pile of books now, stacked high and slanting precariously like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. She is finished. Her eyes lost in the leather, my mother traces the covers, her fingers circling the hills and valleys of what may once have been animal skin, but now shields my childhood. For a moment, I wonder why my mother isn’t looking at the photographs from my more recent birthdays. I feel the space in my mouth begin to increase in size behind my closed lips, pressed tightly together in the shape of the “m” sound. But just as I am about to interrupt her meditative silence, I slam my jaw closed. I already know why. After my tenth birthday, I became increasingly conscious of the way my cheeks swelled in pictures that would last forever, the way the dark circles under my eyes sunk into my skin like black holes. I stopped letting my mother capture the progression of my smile, either with palms shielding my face from the grenade of the flash, or by simply letting my eyes frost over with a hard, angry expression. Sometimes, my mother still managed to capture some images when I wasn’t paying attention, but only with her grainy phone camera. An actual camera would have been much too obvious. After the party, I would demand that she hand over her phone so that I could systematically check the Photos app. I knew where to look—she had been playing this game with me for too long to feel safe about leaving the photographs in the normal Photos section. So she had begun deleting them. These images would remain “hidden” in the Deleted Photos section until my swiping fingers, bent on annihilation, would encounter the bolded red letters warning me that if I chose to delete the already deleted images, I would never again be able to retrieve them. Yes, I told the device. I understand. I would breathe a sigh of relief as I expunged the few moments that my mother had been able to secretly capture—blurry images of my face, neck bent back, as I sipped some water, or as I turned my back to continue a conversation. None of these snapshots were worthy of preservation. On my most recent birthday, as I handed back my mother’s newly-cleansed phone, smiling strangely with a mix of relief and irritation, she refused to look at me. Her waiting fingers grasped the sides of the slippery case and slid the device into her purse without a pause. She zipped the bag closed and trudged forward into the wet April afternoon. We walked for a few minutes in silence, our steps in sync. As I rubbed my bare arms, the chilliness seeping into my bones, I clenched my jaw. I was peeved at her reaction, but not at all at the fact that she had taken those photographs, despite my many warnings. I had almost learned to enjoy the tradition: letting my mother engage in her foolery just to punish her for it. But at the same time, I felt almost guilty. What other teenager would force their mother to hand over her phone so that the child could survey and delete information off of the device? I began to wring my hands, taking a deep breath as I prepared a beautiful, flowery introduction to an apology—
“You will regret this.” Her sharp voice sliced through my train of thought.
“What do you mean?” I had stopped walking, taken aback by her brusquerie. I folded my arms against my chest, ready to defend myself against any bullet she tried to shoot.
“One day, you are going to wonder where all these memories are. Don’t come blaming me then. All I’ve ever tried to do is to help you preserve them, to lock them into books that one day you might have flipped through to let your childhood flow back in.” Her voice was beginning to tremble. “I was a child once, too. I only wish that my mother had taken this effort to hold down those few moments of happiness, before they flew away, and pinned them down to paper. You don’t know how it feels to reminisce and then wonder if your mind is playing tricks on you. You don’t know how it feels to live each day the way the breeze zips through your hair—with you one moment, gone the next. All I’ve been doing is trying to help you save yourself.” Her voice was thick and wet, but also hard, like frozen ice. It seemed that we both already knew this secret—anger is the best kind of tissue. She didn’t wait for me as she continued to march up the street, the brown paper bag holding the leftover cake slamming against her thigh. I let her keep walking, imagining the lilac frosting clinging to the sides of the plastic. Standing at the corner of the sidewalk, I folded my arms against my chest and snuck my chin into the concave formed by my elbows. As my throat began to close, I let myself travel back to my first birthday. I was an infant again, blissfully ignorant of flashing cameras, of the rolls of fat cascading down my pudgy legs. I wondered, momentarily, how I had such clear memories of my toddler self, playing out like a film in my mind. Tucked behind my irises was a leather-bound album, with a series of photographs so similar but for slight differences—a movement, a change in background. My mind had learned to splice the images together, creating its own album out of the memories someone else had found worthy enough to capture.
Our Turn to Grow
I imagine there was a time of skirts, whistling
in wind, salt-stained breath frolicking
between flounces. My mother, once child,
concave chest, knees rippling beneath wet
silk. Chapped toes sunk into sand—beach glued
to body—Mother is ocean until cigarettes learn
to dangle in the cracks between teeth as if hanging
from a precipice, nails carving alphabet into bedrock.
But cries do not echo from the hollow of parted lips
because the earth knows you too well to let you go.
Wisps of the dry hair fingers tear from scalp
flutter at her ears like a wingless bird—shorn
of plumes—beak stolen by breeze but still
a bird because once upon a time, it was born
Bird. We become what our bodies dare to remember.
I wonder if my mother’s arms recall oozing into their
reflection, melting in pooling tears coated in brine
like branches of a willow tree? I do. I, who met Mother
before body craved to self-destruct into life. I, who met
Mother in a space too loved to belong to Body.
Her spine curves like jazz now—cold metal dissolves
in saliva trilling over tongue. My ears pull her out
of extinction—tympanum beating to the hollows
of her history. I will inseminate myself with my own
name—this time the pregnancy will deliver company:
mother is twin to my loneliness. We will child
this earth together—women turned inside out,
unfurling skin like sails, draped over cage of ribs
holding breath prisoner. Suffocating on our insides,
we will refold our tendons, unscrew the hinges of bone
until we can compress our humanity just enough
to stack ourselves into soil—seeds sown
into uterus of bloodless earth. We wait
for our turn to grow—reborn
into this collecting and recollecting
ourselves, again and again.
Category: Science Fiction & Fantasy
| Boris was strong, sturdy, rooted. But not like an oak tree that just stood there, watching in awe as its sapling eyes found it increasingly difficult to make out the ants crawling through the dirt. One day, the oak would stand so tall that the only colors it would be able to make out in the dank, ripe air would be green and blue. No more brown. Such change was a source of great surprise for the majestic tree, the kind of shock that would cause its body to relinquish its autonomy to the wind and begin swaying just to tickle the fancy of the summer breeze. But Boris had been ready for the changes. He had been waiting. When he first began walking three weeks after his birth, stomping out each waddle with great conviction, his mother and father had looked at each other knowingly, although their eyes did not glisten in the same way. His father, Bill, had felt his stomach gurgle pleasantly in a warm, satiating way. He was satisfied. There was a 1/9 genetic chance that every family in Thewston would produce a giant. Cathy had given birth to eight other normal children, and so Boris had been expected, from a technical point of view. But during her entire pregnancy and even during her excruciating four-day labor, Cathy had prayed that her ninth child be normal. She had visited the mother of the retired postman who was known for being knowledgeable with herbs. Cathy had taken to drinking one vial of thick, muddy liquid every morning, numbing her taste buds and destroying her appetite in the hope of birthing a smaller baby. Spokespeople for the Thewston government frequently assailed the general public with fliers that stressed the “great significance” of giants to the economy, to infrastructure, and even to combatting climate change. While the non-giant members of the Thewston community could pioneer research, write dramatic screenplays, and study the great violence of ancient revolutions, the giants were needed to construct the architecture designed by lauded engineers, to defend against threats from the West, and to farm and cultivate the crops—Thewston’s primary source of income. The government had deemed the giants’ brains too small to hold both the neurological information necessary to power their gargantuan bodies and to store knowledge that could be gained from the talented professors who taught at the prestigious universities scattered throughout Thewston. Thus, the giants were denied admission to all institutions of higher education. As children, despite being taller and wider than the other young people, the giants could attend primary school. Although relegated to the back of the classrooms, where the sloped ceilings afforded more space, the giants were able to have at least some semblance of normalcy in their early lives.|
Cathy knew all of this, but this was by no means the worst of it. Although she had no close friends or even acquaintances who had parented other children destined to grow into gigantic forms, she had heard horror stories of government officials forcing themselves through locked doors on the eve of the eighteenth birthday of some child-giant. Ignoring the desperate pleas and rage of the parents, the officials would chain up the giant, tie the child to an army wagon, and drive off into the night. That was the last these unfortunate parents ever saw of their child. The Thewston government had relegated the giant community to one dark and dirty corner of the country. Their disproportionately sized village bordered the largest expanse of farmland in the nation where many giants toiled daily while others trained and learned defense tactics in the fields that had grown barren. Still others would make weekly trips to the northernmost tip of Thewston, where the glaciers had begun to melt and the sea level to rise. These giants were responsible for constructing underwater walls—barriers made of the sand and gravel that had once decorated Thewston’s shoreline. Given the success of the endeavor—the ice sheets had begun to stop sliding past each other—more and more giants were being recruited for this dangerous task despite the number that had lost their lives after contracting hypothermia in the gelid waters. The giants, despite how little credit the government gave them for their emotional capacity, were growing angry. Cathy had heard of the riots in the north—giant men and women were storming government buildings and institutions with torches. She had been shocked to learn, at one of the mandatory meetings some officials had held in their town, that giants could not have children—the women were infertile and the men sterile. “This is why,” the official asserted, “it is of utmost importance that our Thewston families have as many children as possible. Only normal people—only humans—can produce these creatures, as they—” the official who had been making the speech had paused, turned up his nose, and slowly slurred, “—as they cannot interbreed.” Interbreed. As if the giants were animals. As if her own son—her own Boris—belonged to an entirely different species.
On the day before his sixteenth birthday, Cathy woke with a start. Her face was damp with sweat, silver hair clinging to her ears. Two more years. Two more years with her baby boy. Although, he wasn’t quite a baby anymore. He had just reached eighteen feet in height. He was gaining over a foot per year, growing at a faster rate as each year went by. The series of mattresses that she had torn open, stuffed with leaves, and sewn back together into a single mega-mattress appeared to be shrinking. Bill had needed to break down a few walls to extend the length of Boris’ bedroom after her older children moved away from home. Bill and Cathy had needed to obtain multiple authorization slips from the government in order to move their roof farther and farther away from their heads.
It was that morning, as rain danced on the shingles scattered unevenly over the poorly renovated roof, that Cathy decided she must do something.
Ever since she had birthed Boris, she had studied the rules that governed the giants of Thewston. She knew that the government had access to all of the doctors’ records and that they were tracking her son’s physical progress. He was growing so quickly—almost too quickly. Cathy knew that Boris would likely be designated to do the work for which the largest giants were needed—the most dangerous work. She would not let herself imagine her son sacrificing his life as he held his breath below ice sheets, trying to reverse nature’s response to global warming. Cathy knew that there was only one exception to the rule—only one way a giant could avoid being recruited—suffering from an injury or disability that fully inhibited their participation in such work. And so Cathy began to plan. Fully aware that Bill was a steadfast believer in the righteousness of the government, and that, as an ex-government worker, he had dedicated himself to living by the law, she could not share her plot with her husband. Bill, who had instilled in Boris his own values, believed it was not only his son’s duty, but also an honor to serve Thewston in such a manner. To console herself, Cathy would remind herself that her husband was very simple—he had not finished high school and had never understood or appreciated the inner workings of the government. He had not studied the history of the giant class, nor did he keep up with the events in the north. Bill was obsessively interested in following rules imposed by authorities with what Cathy believed was a particularly unhealthy mindset. Her husband was patriotic simply because he had cleaned some clerks’ toilets and received some extra tips from officials looking to deceive simpletons like Bill with generosity that meant so little to their overflowing wallets.
And so she began planning how to hurt her son just enough to save his life.
On one warm July morning, Cathy kissed her husband and her eight adult children goodbye. They were going off to the south for their annual camping trip. She had sent Boris into the forest to rummage for blackberries, knowing that he would only pity himself as he watched his brothers and sisters piling into their father’s van, comfortable and happy—without him. When Boris had grown old enough to accompany his father on the trip, he was already too large to fit into the van. It was simply more convenient to exclude him. But Cathy knew how much it hurt her son to be left alone. The child breathed, slept, and consumed nature. He was nature. As a toddler, already almost her height, he would run around the plot of land behind the house, laughing and leaping in the wind as he called out for the swaying trees to wait for him. To take him with them. He would have loved to spend an evening in the forest, deep among the trees—the only creatures that he claimed understood him, his size, his loneliness. But it would have been too dangerous for the others. If Boris accidentally knocked down a trunk with his clumsy arms or kicked a log as he tossed in his sleep, his father or one of his brothers or sisters would be dead in a moment. To avoid all the hassle, Boris and his mother began their own tradition—their one day together—just the two of them. Cathy would pickle cucumbers, prepare salted fish, and simmer the tree bark soup—the kind of food her husband never could stand. The summer camping trip also marked the one day during the year during which Bill left his wife alone. Cathy knew that this was her only chance to implement her plan. When Boris returned from the forest, his arms lined with scratches from the brush, Cathy cleaned her son up and told him that she needed help in the fields. “I want to do some plowing while your dad’s away. He thinks it’s men’s work, even though I grew up on a farm.” Boris had looked at her strangely, but smiled. “Sure, ma.”
While Cathy climbed into the tractor, Boris walked out some distance into the field. He was to direct his mother. As she turned the vehicle on, she drew in a shaky breath. She knew that she was rusty. She hadn’t driven a tractor in decades. But wasn’t that exactly the point?
She wanted to do it quickly, to get it over with. Boris, one day, as he drank his coffee in their home, would thank her. And so Cathy pressed the heel of her yellow clog onto the gas and sped straight at her son.
The doctors said that Boris’ legs needed to be amputated. The accident had destroyed some of the major arteries in his thighs, causing the circulation in his legs to deteriorate to a dangerous level. The force of the tractor against his limbs had also slashed many of the nerves in his legs. While Boris was in rehabilitation, recovering from the surgery, the doctor scheduled a meeting with Bill and Cathy. Dr. Peters offered to construct a pair of artificial legs for Boris. He said that he had occasionally done so for some of the giants injured by farm machinery in the north. It was a complicated process, but possible. And very expensive. Although Bill had initially seemed very relieved, upon hearing the cost of the brass legs that could be attached to his son’s waist, the disheveled father turned to his wife. He had hardly slept since Boris’ operation. It had been very dangerous, as the child’s size called for an inordinate amount of intravenous anesthetics. Boris had survived, but had fallen into a coma. Dr. Peters reassured his patient’s parents that such a reaction to an amputation of that scale was normal—expected, even—and that he would recover within a few weeks. Cathy had not exchanged a glance with her son since the day of the occurrence, let alone a word. Not since her wild, glinting eyes had bored holes through his forehead as the tractor tore down her son’s body. Cathy could still picture the way that Boris’ sickened gaze had leaked down at her. He had looked confused—not worried, not afraid. Not of his own mother.
Bill was clearing his throat now. “Cathy, um, well?”
His wife looked at him, looked down at her mud-caked fingernails, and shook her head slowly. “We don’t have the money.” Even if Bill could take out enough mortgages and she could procure enough loans to gather up the necessary funds, Cathy would never agree to Dr. Peters’ offer. Providing Boris with a way to walk would render her efforts utterly useless. His body needed to remain destroyed.
Dr. Peters sighed. “Well, in that case, the best I can do once Boris has recovered will be to provide you with a wheelchair that will fit his body. I will have my team take measurements and begin construction. You see…your son will never be able to walk again…” The doctor paused as he noticed Bill’s shoulders begin to heave. “And I suspect that he will remain your…ward until the end of his life.”
Cathy led Bill, sobbing uncontrollably, back into the van. As she drove her husband home, she tried not to listen to his painful gulps, to his hoarse voice pleading for air. When breath finally returned to him, he turned to his wife. “Why, Cathy? Why?” He wailed. “How did this happen? To us? To Boris?” He had asked his wife this question every morning when he woke up beside her. He asked her at every meal, during every waking moment. And each time, Cathy would exhale a shallow stream of air, fight the urge to confess to her husband, and would gently say, “Darling, it was an accident.” And then Cathy would feel her own shoulders begin to shudder. She would lean into Bill’s arms and they would cry together—husband and wife grieving for their youngest son. She had never forgiven herself for birthing a giant.
When Boris finally slipped out of his coma, it was May. At the end of the week, his torso was transferred to his new wheelchair and the child was wheeled home. Now, from the tip of his head to his waist, he measured eight-and-a-half feet. His measurements no longer fit into the range for a healthy giant his age. Thus, the boy had become an unhealthy giant, also known as a particularly tall human being. When Boris’ pediatrician removed the diagnosis of “Giant” from his record, Cathy had almost given a little squeal. Her son was normal. At last.
Boris seemed not to remember what had happened. He never cried, never made a sound. Not a single word had slipped out of his lips since he had returned home. But Cathy was so pleased to have her son back. She relished the evenings that she and Boris spent together as she sponged warm water over his closing wounds. She sewed a wide belt made of oak leaves she had so lovingly gathered and tied it around his waist so that neither he nor she could discern—aside from the empty space where legs should have been—that his body ended at his waist. She would read to him, cook lavish meals for him, and sleep beside him in his large bed after she and Bill had heaved the half-giant onto the mattress that was now almost too big for him.
One morning, when Bill had gone out to buy some bread, Cathy wheeled her son to the porch. “Boris baby, isn’t the morning beautiful?” Cathy had not felt so happy, so content, so satiated in longer than she could remember. Her son was safe. She had no worries. She took a deep breath, inhaling the crisp air. “You can even smell the evergreens.”
She heard the squeak of rubber against wood as he spun his seat around to face her. He parted his chapped lips. “The morning, ma? Today’s just okay. You remember the morning when you tried to kill me? That was even more beautiful.”
Cathy felt her heart thudding against her chest, her stomach swelling inside her. He knew.
“Boris, baby, I never—I would never hurt you. Baby, I wanted to protect you—” Tears began to inflame her throat. Her son let out a low, hoarse laugh. The depth of his voice stunned Cathy.
“Protect me? Ma, you’ve…you’ve destroyed me.” Her youngest child began fingering the leaves around his waist, stroking them gently.
“Baby, they would have destroyed you. You can’t imagine how those government officials treat people like—” She stopped herself, breathing deeply. “You can’t imagine how they treat giants. You aren’t—you weren’t human, not in their minds! Baby, I’ve been protecting you. I never told you this because—”
“What am I now, ma? Giant? Human? Half of each? Ma, all I ever wanted was to become a tree, grow into the sky.”
She stroked his cheek, feeling the bristles of manhood tickle the calluses on her fingertips. But as she continued to run her hand across Boris’ face, his skin grew softer, thinner. As a breeze trickled across the porch, it carried off some of her child’s face, his chin oozing away in a cascade of rich, velvety leaves.
Cathy’s lips trembled in the clean air. She tried to scream, to hold onto Boris’ hand, but when she looked down, all she was holding was a bouquet of warm, dewy oak leaves, newly budded. Her son was blowing away, his hoarse laugh blending in with the wind. She had lost him. Without his legs, he would never be rooted into the ground. Boris had wanted to share himself with the sky, and he would. In the clouds, he would stand again.
Ghazal: Pregnant with Body
They tell me I was born with hair as clotted as a lie—
inky and tangled like ivy snaking through stone, curls bowing in a plié.
At seven, the sun burnt my scalp into sticky shards of caramel, the same kind rotting
my gums. Mama forces mint chains into my teeth, stitching tongue to palate, lie to lie.
Ulcerative colitis hurled me out of childhood—vermillion cream oozing
out of intestines, the carnations blooming in my cheeks learned to underlie
the ivory ash that drifted over skin like a veil cloaking a glistening pool of rainwater.
As clumps of raven feathers kissed follicles goodbye, I turned my vessel into a lie.
Curled against my pelvis is God—I am Mary, unwarned. No angels to visit, to bless the soft
skin of stomach, pulsing. Over and over, I give birth to myself—my body, broken by lies.