This is a greeting I picked up when I was younger, a carry-over from a desire to be a cowboy.2 2 Documented in old family films, my sister3 had dressed me up in a summer dress, floppy hat, and cowboy boots. My response to […]
Issue: Identity (September 2014)
My father and I clear the throats of mason jars
before they can clear our places from the kitchen.
We carry devices to the counter.
Father: a camera like an injured bird,
gentled in two curled hands.
Daughter: a tea kettle rumbled quiet,
the morning warble lingers.
We hold gentle these heartless objects
as they nest and make wings of our hands.
Should we frame photographs in the mason jars,
develop them in boiled water?
Take empty jar as promise, glass for wing.
We ignore the wingspan of our fingers.
Our devices count feathers,
eat the bird from our hands.
The injured bird sleeps
in the camera’s belly,
the soft grumble of the kettle
flies over the mason jars
and strums a birdlike tune from the glass.
We take our place at the table.
she wore her tattered chucks like a ballerina’s curving and war-torn pointe shoes. silk that’s tough and weathered, yet leaps through the air, drawing circles and slicing arcs. her uncertain footsteps made beautiful. she wore her yellow hair like a tomcat’s ball of yarn. by […]
“My name is Geoffrey,” Geoffrey says.
I count his fingers again.
“I’m your new friend, Geoffrey,” Geoffrey says.
I’ve never seen Geoffrey before. I’ve never seen someone with four fingers before.
“Do you know my Mom?” I ask.
Geoffrey shakes his head. His pointy ears don’t flap like an elephant’s. I wish they did.
“Mom!” I call.
“Yes, dear,” Mom says. I hear her walk down the stairs behind me. She opens the door. It swings shut behind her with a thwap.
“Hello,” Mom says.
“Hello Mom,” Geoffrey says. She is not his mom.
“I’m going to live with you now,” Geoffrey says. He smiles. His teeth are pointy like a dog’s.
“Do you need a lunch for school?” Mom says.
Geoffrey shakes his head and shows Mom the bag on his back. I didn’t see it until now.
It has Ninja Turtles on it. Mine is just green.
“How was the test today, Geoffrey?” Dad asks.
“It wasn’t bad,” Geoffrey says. He twirls spaghetti around on a fork. He slurps it up.
He looks like a big squid, the type that lives deep down in the ocean.
“Geoffrey studied hard all night,” Mom says. She smiles. She helped Geoffrey memorize the capitals of states while I did division in the living room.
“I scored a goal today,” I say. I don’t really like soccer.
“How was practice?” Dad asks.
“I scored a goal today,” I say. Dad smiles. He liked it better the second time.
Geoffrey won’t clean his room. He leaves his books and toys all over the floor. Geoffrey has trouble reading. He gets the letters in words all jumbled.
Geoffrey throws the book across the hall. It hits my door. My drawing of our cat, Snowball, falls off the door. Snowball is dead.
“I’m sorry,” I say.
Geoffrey is mad. His nose holes get big and small over and over again.
“I want to read,” Geoffrey says.
“I can help you,” I say. I’ve been helping him clean his room.
“No, I want to read,” Geoffrey says.
I grab another book off the shelf. I like this one. Mom gave a lot of my books to Geoffrey. He needs to like our home.
“Put it back,” Geoffrey says.
“I thought you wanted to read,” I say.
“I want to read. We need to clean,” Geoffrey says. He takes the book and puts it back.
I wave Geoffrey across the log. Sam looks at Geoffrey funny. Sam doesn’t think Geoffrey can cross the log over the stream. There are rocks at the bottom.
“I don’t think he can make it,” Sam says.
“He can,” I say. I wave Geoffrey across.
“His big ears are going to make him slip,” Sam says. Sam isn’t trying to be mean.
“That doesn’t even make sense,” I say.
Geoffrey steps on the log. He doesn’t fall. He teeters forward. I start to sing the song from the Christmas special. Geoffrey smiles. He loves Christmas.
Geoffrey’s white sneakers get dirty, but when he gets to the final steps of the log he jumps across.
He wraps his big grey arms around me and laughs his Geoffrey laugh. Even Sam laughs.
We get to the pond before Mom calls us for dinner.
Geoffrey and Sam sit together on the bus to school now.
I sit in the row behind them. Liz sits next to me.
Liz is quiet and doesn’t talk a whole lot. She likes to read some of the same books as me. So we’re friends.
Mostly Liz sits quietly and reads next to me. I listen to Geoffrey and Sam laugh. I poke them to get attention.
Today’s Geoffrey’s birthday. It’s not really his birthday.
Mom just picked a day.
We picked out a big carrot cake for him and invited Sam and Liz over.
Geoffrey bites the cake.
I nibble. The carrots ruin the cake.
Dad tries to sing happy birthday. He sounds like a sick animal. I clap anyways.
Geoffrey blows out his candle. He gets only one.
Geoffrey pedals his bike.
The special pedals that help hold his big feet are blue. His favorite color.
I pedal my bike after his. We turn the corner around the Costanzas’ house. Their dog barks.
I don’t see the curb.
My bike hits it.
The world flips over and under and all around and around.
I land on my face.
My mouth tastes funny.
Geoffrey pedals back.
I look at my knee. It’s red. And it hurts. A lot.
Geoffrey opens his mouth and music comes out.
It’s not even a song. Just a bunch of sounds escaping his mouth. I can sing a real song.
The auditorium sits quiet. Sam is smiling really big.
Liz doesn’t smile. Her arm has a purple spot.
I sit next to Mom. She’s smiling. I think she might be crying.
“Your brother has such a beautiful voice,” she whispers to me.
“I know,” I say.
The phone rings. It says it’s Liz.
“Hi, Liz,” I say.
“Hi,” she says.
Her voice is funny. Not like SpongeBob funny.
“What’s the matter?” I say. My arms get all prickly. Something in my throat falls out.
Liz is quiet.
“Are you there?” I ask again.
I can hear her there. There’s someone in the background. I can’t tell because it’s a phone. I wish I could see her face.
“Yes,” she says. She’s quiet now. Like real quiet. Like whisper quiet.
“Can I talk to Geoffrey?” she asks. I don’t say anything. I call Geoffrey over. He was reading a book.
I listen to them talk. It doesn’t sound like words. It sounds like an iPod playing into a pillow.
I sit on the stairs and draw a picture of a squid on the wall with a crayon. Dad makes me clean it.
“You ready for today?” Dad says. “It’s a big one.”
“I know” I say. It’s not. Graduating fifth grade shouldn’t be a big deal.
“Middle school is a big step!” he says. “Next thing you know you’ll be marching out the door to go to college.” He fake cries. I roll my eyes.
“Why aren’t you coming again?” I ask him.
“Your mom’s going,” he says.
“Why can’t you come too?” I ask.
“Because your mom’s going,” he says laughing. “Now get out there. You’ll miss your bus.”
Geoffrey’s already on the bus. I sit with him.
Alex sits across from me in math.
Geoffrey’s taking eighth grade classes. He’s always a year ahead.
I try to copy what Miss Anderson is writing on the board.
Alex is looking at me. I think. I can’t tell.
I look up.
Miss Anderson calls Alex to the board to do a problem.
He turns his seven into an elephant with the chalk. Miss Anderson rolls her eyes and sends him back.
I laugh. He looks at me.
I look away.
“I hate dances,” Liz says.
“Come on, Liz. It’s our last one!” I say.
Liz has claimed a table in the cafeteria. She draws a picture of a vampire sucking blood.
“Last one, until high school,” she says.
“But it’s the last one we’ll have together!” I say. Liz is moving schools.
“You just want back up to ask Alex to dance,” she says. She adds extra blood to the fangs.
“No,” I lie.
“Just go do it, okay? It’s just a fucking dance,” she says. Liz curses a lot.
“Is this because of Geoffrey?” I ask.
“No,” Liz says.
“You know the loud music hurts his ears. That’s why he couldn’t come.”
The fangs get sharper.
“Liz, I know-” I start.
“Just go upstairs and dance,” Liz says.
I leave Liz to draw. I open the door to the stairs.
“Alex’s going to say no. You know that right?” she says.
I go up the stairs.
I wait with Geoffrey by the bus stop.
“How’s school?” he asks. His ears twitch. Winter’s bad for them. They get really cold.
“It is,” I say.
“Always so mysterious,” he says. He smiles his pointed smile.
“How’s your school?” I ask.
“It is,” he says.
“Haha,” I say.
We wait together for a moment.
“You really don’t have to wait with me,” I say. “Mom’s probably waiting to drive you to school.”
“I like waiting here with you,” Geoffrey says.
“You’re weird,” I say. I punch his arm.
“You know I don’t like being called that,” he says.
The bus turns the corner.
They wrote a word on my locker.
Probably with Sharpie.
It’s just a word.
It’s ugly and black. It almost looks like charcoal.
I pretend not to see it.
I know it was Alex.
It’s a lie.
I smell smoke from the porch.
I walk outside. Dad’s sitting there. He rocks on Grandad’s rocking chair.
He holds the little brown thing between his fingers like a pen.
He taps its and ash tumbles out.
“Hi,” I say.
“Hi,” Dad says.
“I had to get out while Geoffrey’s at practice. You know how he hates these,” he says.
“He’s really smart you know that? I’m really proud of him,” he says.
“You won’t tell will you?” he says.
“I know you won’t. I’m sorry about your locker.”
“I don’t like people lying about my kids,” he says.
The walls of Geoffrey’s school are big and made out of a bunch of rocks.
Not at all like the cinderblocks over at mine.
It’s pristine, and modern, but also sort of ancient. I can’t look away.
I walked here after school. I don’t know why. I skipped the bus. I let Sam sit by himself.
I wait for the bell to ring and for the boys come out. They wear jackets. Not for the cold, but to make themselves look nice.
I don’t get it.
Geoffrey walks out. One of his friends—Jack, I think—walks with him. They laugh and push each other. He’s just a guy to them.
Geoffrey sees me.
I wave and try not draw attention to myself.
My blue jeans and t-shirt must make me look like a redneck.
“Hi,” he says.
“Hi,” I say.
“Why are you here? Why didn’t you take the bus?” he asks.
“I don’t know,” I say. My throat feels clogged.
“Are you okay?” Geoffrey says.
Jack walks forward.
Geoffrey shoos him away or something.
“Are you okay?” Geoffrey asks again.
I shake my head.
We walk home that day.
Geoffrey turns on the television.
We flip through the channels.
I heard once that Friday night is where television goes to die.
Maybe that’s true.
He sits down next to me on the couch.
He gave up his Friday night for me. Jack and his friends wanted to go somewhere.
Sam was sick. I was alone.
Geoffrey stayed home.
“How about-” Geoffrey asks. It’s one of those parody movies.
A rhinoceros chases its son away.
Two women scream at each other. One pulls the other’s hair.
Geoffrey climbs the channels.
I look outside the window again. I know Dad is gone.
I feel like I should cover myself.
It’s silly. To feel wrong with your own body in your own home. Even when you are naked.
I stare in the large mirror on the wall.
I trace my face with the tips of my fingers and run them along my body.
“Hello?” Geoffrey asks from behind the closed door. I had sent him a text.
I open it.
It just happens.
I want to tell myself that Geoffrey starts, but I don’t know.
I feel his arms across my back and our faces are slipping together over and over again.
I reach and pull off his shirt.
We back tread without thinking.
I feel his sharp teeth grab at my lip and I laugh.
I fall backwards onto my bed.
Both of us lie together for a while.
Two people tied together.
People have always called Geoffrey my brother.
He’s never been that.
He’s always been different.
“Hi,” I say. It’s all I can say.
“I’m sorry,” Geoffrey says.
I smile. He tries to.
I’ve known Geoffrey for seven years. I don’t remember any frowns.
I place my fingers on his lips, and I try to pry a smile out of it.
Geoffrey nips at them. I jerk back.
I want him to laugh.
He wraps his hands around my back.
We touch foreheads.
“I’m sorry,” he says.
I roll over.
I roll over to the edge of my bed.
I roll back.
I sit up and fumble about the sheets.
He’s hiding. I tell myself. Like when we were kids.
I stick my head under the bed.
I open the closet.
I go to Geoffrey’s room.
There is no room.
The door is gone.
It’s a bland tan wall, stretching downwards and sideways to the winding stairs.
I knew there was a room.
I knew there was a boy.
Dad sits on the porch.
He holds the cigarette between his fingers.
I sit down next to him.
“Hello,” he says.
“Hi,” I say.
“How’s your mom?” he asks.
“She’s okay,” I say.
“That’s good,” he says.
“Do you ever-” he says.
“Yeah,” I say.
Dad taps it again.
I look at the road and watch the cars go by.
The only truly solid, unchanging part of identity is fingerprints. Even those can be burned off. We are soft clay, molded by roots and stimuli—constant works-in-progress. Our work is never done. We lose ourselves, sometimes just to re-build ourselves on firmer foundations. We still are […]
I am not the phoenix,
but I am the flower that blooms
in the wake of her ashes.
Accepting that for now I am
bound to this flightless form,
but aspiring nonetheless after
her magnificent departure,
that one day I too may
shed my earthen skin and
take a truer form.
But for now: grow.
Grow strong, grow tall,
grow gold and green.
Grow so that the fire may
have more to consume when
at last it comes, for it surely will.
Grow so that they may see
the fire for miles and
feel the radiating warmth
thawing their frozen bones
after a winter-like slumber.
They will marvel at the sight, and
they too will feel reborn,
if only for a moment.