Vanishing point (New york) 2021
"Let’s say the Devil is played by two men..."
"Language comes in discrete sentences..."
"It’s the little things that’ll kill me..."
Caryatid (Pacquiao) (2015)
"Humpty fucking Dumpty was weak..."
"To say that I have always been good at sacrifice..."
  • Desperate Jazz by Freddie June
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  • You Are Jeff

    Richard Siken

    Richard Siken is the author of Blue Jupiters (Copper Canyon Press, 2021), War of the Foxes (Copper Canyon Press, 2015) and Crush (Yale University Press, 2006), which won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award in 2004. He lives in Tucson, Arizona.


    There are two twins on motorbikes but one is farther up the road, beyond the hairpin turn, or just before it, depending on which twin you are in love with at the time. Do not choose sides yet. It is still to your advantage to remain impartial. Both motorbikes are shiny red and both boys have perfect teeth, dark hair, soft hands. The one in front will want to take you apart, and slowly. His deft and stubby fingers searching every shank and lock for weaknesses. You could love this boy with all your heart. The other brother only wants to stitch you back together. The sun shines down. It’s a beautiful day. Consider the hairpin turn. Do not choose sides yet.


    There are two twins on motorbikes but one is farther up the road. Let’s call them Jeff. And because the first Jeff is in front we’ll consider him the older, and therefore responsible for lending money and the occa- sional punch in the shoulder. World-wise, world-weary, and not his mother’s favorite, this Jeff will always win when it all comes down to fisticuffs. Unfortunately for him, it doesn’t always all come down to fisticuffs. Jeff is thinking about his brother down the winding road be- hind him. He is thinking that if only he could cut him open and peel him back and crawl inside this second skin, then he could relive that last mile again: reborn, wild-eyed, free.

  • 3

    There are two twins on motorbikes but one is farther up the road, beyond the hairpin turn, or just before it, depending on which Jeff you are. It could have been so beautiful—you scout out the road ahead and I will watch your back, how it was and how it will be, memory and fantasy— but each Jeff wants to be the other one. My name is Jeff and I’m tired of looking at the back of your head. My name is Jeff and I’m tired of seeing my hand me down clothes. Look, Jeff, I’m telling you, for the last time, I mean it, etcetera. They are the same and they are not the same. They are the same and they hate each other for it.


    Your name is Jeff and somewhere up ahead of you your brother has pulled to the side of the road and he is waiting for you with a lug wrench clutched in his greasy fist. O how he loves you, darling boy. O how, like always, he invents the monsters underneath the bed to get you to sleep next to him, chest to chest or chest to back, the covers drawn around you in an act of faith against the night. When he throws the wrench into the air it will catch the light as it spins toward you. Look—it looks like a star. You had expected something else, anything else, but the wrench never reaches you. It hangs in the air like that, spinning in the air like that. It’s beautiful.

  • 5

    Let’s say God in his High Heaven is hungry and has decided to make himself some tuna fish sandwiches. He’s already finished making two of them, on sourdough, before he realizes that the fish is bad. What is he going to do with these sandwiches? They’re already made, but he doesn’t want to eat them.

    Let’s say the Devil is played by two men. We’ll call them Jeff. Dark hair, green eyes, white teeth, pink tongues—they’re twins. The one on the left has gone bad in the middle, and the other one on the left is about to. As they wrestle, you can tell that they have forgotten about God, and they are very hungry.


    You are playing cards with three men named Jeff. Two of the Jeffs seem somewhat familiar, but the Jeff across from you keeps staring at your hands, your mouth, and you’re certain that you’ve never seen this Jeff before. But he’s on your team, and you’re ahead, you’re winning big, and yet the other Jeffs keep smiling at you like there’s no tomorrow. They all have perfect teeth: white, square, clean, even. And, for some reason, the lighting in the room makes their teeth seem closer than they should be, as if each mouth was a place, a living room with pink carpet and the window’s open. Come back from the window, Jefferson. Take off those wet clothes and come over here, by the fire.

  • 7

    You are playing cards with three Jeffs. One is your father, one is your brother, and the other is your current boyfriend. All of them have seen you naked and heard you talking in your sleep. Your boyfriend Jeff gets up to answer the phone. To them he is a mirror, but to you he is a room. Phone’s for you, Jeff says. Hey! It’s Uncle Jeff, who isn’t really your uncle, but you can’t talk right now, one of the Jeffs has put his tongue in your mouth. Please let it be the right one.


    Two brothers are fighting by the side of the road. Two motorbikes have fallen over on the shoulder, leaking oil into the dirt, while the interlocking brothers grapple and swing. You see them through the backseat window as you and your parents drive past. You are twelve years old. You do not have a brother. You have never experienced anything this ferocious or intentional with another person. Your mother is pretending that she hasn’t seen anything. Your father is fiddling with the knobs of the radio. There is an empty space next to you in the backseat of the station wagon. Make it the shape of everything you need. Now say hello.

  • 9

    You are in an ordinary suburban bedroom with bunk beds, a bookshelf, two wooden desks and chairs. You are lying on your back, on the top bunk, very close to the textured ceiling, staring straight at it in fact, and the room is still dark except for a wedge of powdery light that spills in from the adjoining bathroom. The bathroom is covered in mint green tile and someone is in there, singing very softly. Is he singing to you? For you? Black cherries in chocolate, the ring around the moon, a bee- tle underneath a glass—you cannot make out all the words, but you’re sure he knows you’re in there, and he’s singing to you, even though you don’t know who he is.


    You see it as a room, a tabernacle, the dark hotel. You’re in the hallway again, and you open the door, and if you’re ready you’ll see it, but maybe one part of your mind decides that the other parts aren’t ready, and then you don’t remember where you’ve been, and you find yourself down the hall again, the lights gone dim as the left hand sings the right hand back to sleep. It’s a puzzle: each piece, each room, each time you put your hand to the knob, your mouth to the hand, your ear to the wound that whispers.

    You’re in the hallway again. The radio is playing your favorite song. You’re in the hallway. Open the door again. Open the door.

  • 11

    Suppose for a moment that the heart has two heads, that the heart has been chained and dunked in a glass booth filled with river water. The heart is monologing about hesitation and fulfillment while behind the red brocade the heart is drowning. Can the heart escape? Does love even care? Snow falls as we dump the booth in the bay.

    Suppose for a moment we are crowded around a pier, waiting for something to ripple the water. We believe in you. There is no danger. It is not getting dark, we want to say.


    Consider the hairpin turn. It is waiting for you like a red door or the broken leg of a dog. The sun is shining, O how the sun shines down! Your speedometer and your handgrips and the feel of the road below you, how it knows you, the black ribbon spread out on the greens between these lines that suddenly don’t reach to the horizon. It is waiting, like a broken door, like the red dog that chases its tail and eats your rosebushes and then must be forgiven. Who do you love, Jeff? Who do you love? You were driving toward something and then, well, then you found yourself driving the other way. The dog is asleep. The road is behind you. O how the sun shines down.

  • 13

    This time everyone has the best intentions. You have cancer. Let’s say you have cancer. Let’s say you’ve swallowed a bad thing and now it’s got its hands inside you. This is the essence of love and failure. You see what I mean but you’re happy anyway, and that’s okay, it’s a love story after all, a lasting love, a wonderful adventure with lots of action, where the mirror says mirror and the hand says hand and the front door never says Sorry Charlie. So the doctor says you need more stitches and the bruise cream isn’t working. So much for the facts. Let’s say you’re still completely in the dark but we love you anyway. We love you. We really do.


    After work you go to the grocery store to get some milk and a carton of cigarettes. Where did you get those bruises? You don’t remember. Work was boring. You find a jar of bruise cream and a can of stewed tomatoes. Maybe a salad? Spinach, walnuts, blue cheese, apples, and you can’t decide between the Extra Large or Jumbo black olives. Which is bigger anyway? Extra Large has a blue label, Jumbo has a purple label. Both cans cost $1.29. While you’re deciding, the afternoon light is streaming through the windows behind the bank of checkout counters. Take the light inside you like a blessing, like a knee in the chest, holding onto it and not letting it go. Now let it go.

  • 15

    Like sandpaper, the light, or a blessing, or a bruise. Blood everywhere, he said, the red light hemorrhaging from everywhere at once. The train station blue, your lips blue, hands cold and the blue wind. Or a horse, your favorite horse now raised up again out of the mud and galloping galloping always toward you. In your ruined shirt, on the last day, while the bruise won’t heal, and the stain stays put, the red light streaming in from everywhere at once. Your broken ribs, the back of your head, your hand to mouth or hand to now, right now, like you mean it, like it’s splitting you in two. Now look at the lights, the lights.


    You and your lover are making out in the corner booth of a seedy bar. The booths are plush and the drinks are cheap and in this dim and smoky light you can barely tell whose hands are whose. Someone raises their glass for a toast. Is that the Hand of Judgment or the Hand of Mercy? The bartender smiles, running a rag across the burnished wood of the bar. The drink in front of you has already been paid for. Drink it, the bartender says. It’s yours, you deserve it. It’s already been paid for. Somebody’s paid for it already. There’s no mistake, he says. It’s your drink, the one you asked for, just the way you like it. How can you refuse? Hands of fire, hands of air, hands of water, hands of dirt. Someone’s doing all the talking but no one’s lips move. Consider the hairpin turn.

  • 17

    The motorbikes are neck and neck but where ’s the checkered flag we all expected, waving in the distance, telling you you’re home again, home? He’s next to you, right next to you in fact, so close, or . . . he isn’t. Imagine a room. Yes, imagine a room: two chairs facing the window but nobody moves. Don’t move. Keep staring straight into my eyes. It feels like you’re not moving, the way when, dancing, the room will suddenly fall away. You’re dancing: you’re neck and neck or cheek to cheek, he’s there or he isn’t, the open road. Imagine a room. Imagine you’re dancing. Imagine the room now falling away. Don’t move.


    Two brothers: one of them wants to take you apart. Two brothers: one of them wants to put you back together. It’s time to choose sides now. The stitches or the devouring mouth? You want an alibi? You don’t get an alibi, you get two brothers. Here are two Jeffs. Pick one. This is how you make the meaning, you take two things and try to define the space between them. Jeff or Jeff? Who do you want to be? You just wanted to play in your own backyard, but you don’t know where your own yard is, exactly. You just wanted to prove there was one safe place, just one safe place where you could love him. You have not found that place yet. You have not made that place yet. You are here. You are here. You’re still right here.

  • 19

    Here are your names and here is the list and here are the things you left behind: The mark on the floor from pushing your chair back, your underwear, one half brick of cheese, the kind I don’t like, wrapped up, andpoorly, and abandoned on the second shelf next to the poppyseed dressing, which is also yours. Here’s the champagne on the floor, and here are your house keys, and here are the curtains that your cat peed on. And here is your cat, who keeps eating grass and vomiting in the hallway. Here is the list with all of your names, Jeff. They’re not the same name, Jeff. They’re not the same at all.


    There are two twins on motorbikes but they are not on motorbikes, they’re in a garden where the flowers are as big as thumbs. Imagine you are in a field of daisies. What are you doing in a field of daisies? Get up! Let’s say you’re not in the field anymore. Let’s say they’re not brothers anymore. That’s right, they’re not brothers, they’re just one guy, and he knows you, and he’s talking to you, but you’re in pain and you cannot understand him. What are you still doing in this field? Get out of the field! You should be in the hotel room! You should, at least, be trying to get back into the hotel room. Ah! Now the field is empty.

  • 21

    Hold onto your voice. Hold onto your breath. Don’t make a noise, don’t leave the room until I come back from the dead for you. I will come back from the dead for you. This could be a city. This could be a graveyard. This could be the basket of a big balloon. Leave the lights on. Leave a trail of letters like those little knots of bread we used to dream about. We used to dream about them. We used to do a lot of things. Put your hand to the knob, your mouth to the hand, pick up the bread and devour it. I’m in the hallway again, I’m in the hallway. The radio’s playing my favorite song. Leave the lights on. Keep talking. I’ll keep walking toward the sound of your voice.


    Someone had a party while you were sleeping but you weren’t really sleeping, you were sick, and parts of you were burning, and you couldn’t move. Perhaps the party was in your honor. You can’t remember. It seems the phone was ringing in the dream you were having but there’s no proof. A dish in the sink that might be yours, some clothes on the floor that might belong to someone else. When was the last time you found yourself looking out of this window. Hey! This is a beautiful window! This is a beautiful view! Those trees lined up like that, and the way the stars are spinning over them like that, spinning in the air like that, like wrenches.

  • 23

    Let’s say that God is the space between two men and the Devil is the space between two men. Here: I’ll be all of them—Jeff and Jeff and Jeff and Jeff are standing on the shoulder of the highway, four motorbikes knocked over, two wrenches spinning in the ordinary air. Two of these Jeffs are windows, and two of these Jeffs are doors, and all of these Jeffs are trying to tell you something. Come closer. We’ll whisper it in your ear. It’s like seeing your face in a bowl of soup, cream of potato, and the eyes shining back like spoons. If we wanted to tell you everything, we would leave more footprints in the snow or kiss you harder. One thing. Come closer. Listen . . .


    You’re in a car with a beautiful boy, and he won’t tell you that he loves you, but he loves you. And you feel like you’ve done something terrible, like robbed a liquor store, or swallowed pills, or shoveled yourself a grave in the dirt, and you’re tired. You’re in a car with a beautiful boy, and you’re trying not to tell him that you love him, and you’re trying to choke down the feeling, and you’re trembling, but he reaches over and he touches you, like a prayer for which no words exist, and you feel your heart taking root in your body, like you’ve discovered something you don’t even have a name for.

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  • cyclops & slashes

    Katherine Hubbard

    The urge to write comes in waves sound waves vibrational in the mind as in i can hear the language in my head differently then the speaking voice that acts as guide irritant self proclaimed protector the language comes in discrete sentences and with increased frequency i can only think of it as akin to being a child and told in quaker meeting that when the thought keeps coming it means you have to stand up and share it speak it out to the group so the thoughts keep coming and once this was considered to be the word of god coming from within the potential to be minister to be pastor to be conduit and we keep forming ministry into language that works to communicate express make whole and i am stuck in the thoughts that aren’t coming whole or the ones that i dont want to share in the first place and these thoughts stack like bricks forming half walls stumps for the voice to sit on i think about zizek and a documentary film about him that i once watched where he keeps his socks and underwear in the drawers of his kitchen and when asked why he replies something along the lines of living inside his ideas that they are not ideas separate from his ability to exist as a human as a being and i think about this as a way of doing something and i want bigger ways of doing some things about the collective fear that i have been told recently we live under and the collective attention to phones and phones being for the individual in relation and wondering how to rethink some of the collective problem from inside the collective psyche that we are sharing we are sharing we are sharing and i am reminded that recently i wrote to someone that we is a collective decision not a linguistic given and that we have the right to ask and we also have the right to say no yet saying it can be so deeply hard and then someone explained to me that the primary difference they experienced being on testosterone was that the voice went away the voice that reconsiders and asks questions and hesitates went away the hesitation went away and in reducing the testosterone dosage the voice of hesitation returned and yvonne rainer taught us to say no so long ago and to so many things but maybe its just one of those lessons that we need to keep learning and maybe all lessons need to be learned again and again and again and the repetition we encourage in children should be maintained and the repeating back we encourage from children should be maintained apart from questioning the very things we ask to have repeated back in the first place and then the question of teaching and then study is close to follow so i am reminded of fred moten insisting that study happens when we leave the classroom and loving the mispronunciation of words and saying that deviance is an original placement that comes before the norm and flesh comes before the body and considering the presence of flesh over the parameter of skin an astrologer told me to live in the ambiguity and life is messy and people are messy and this space doesn’t always feel good and not feeling good is ok and theres also life in the discomfort and life in pain and life in irritation even as we settle into middle class middle mind middle child in the middle middle age midtown we have to live in the middle and the implication of triangulation that inevitably points to ends in either direction and this middle is sinking down to great depths in the sea like everything else we throw away lit only by the phosphorescent antennae of all the animals you and i will never meet and never see in person when i see images of these animals i am caught by the evolutionary path they have taken albino exoskeletons with engorged eyes much less sensitive then their nervous feelers extending in the dark with toothy mouths pushed from the face on a slow path growing closer to the source of food and i want to push you because maybe you need to be pushed and i don’t mind if you push me back even if i fall because laurie anderson said falling is like walking and walking is a way that we can use our bipedal structure to move and when we move the brain works differently thinks differently remembers differently regards differently because there was a time when our movement towards a food source determined our survival and maybe the terms of survival have shifted and maybe we should talk about that and i think about love as an orientation as a way of knowing where someone is standing in a room and an energetic eye reconstructing the cyclopean image as something no one else can see and dont forget to breathe when you read and dont forget to breathe when you love just because the page didnt save space for your lungs and its so easy to forget the body or why is it so easy to forget the body and forget the flesh before the body and isnt all that comfort asking us to do that all the time to forget to go easy dont we neutralize anger down with words like easy and easy comes from the twelfth century old french aisie meaning comfortable rich well off so when we appease anger with the word easy we are saying the middle will make all this go away and someone told me they felt broken recently and ive never been this broke but i am so tired of the neural pathway threading broke with fear that i went in with tweezers and just took it right out of my brain and im storing it in a small glass jar of rubbing alcohol in the bathroom because the pathway is regenerating already i can feel it and im collecting pathways one by one each time until something shifts and sometimes i just want so much more space so i can spread and i want that space for you as well and i want you to want things and then want them for me and want them for the person standing next to me and is the record an ontological offense to the irregularity of performance because i have been thinking about the record as an event unto itself events giving up the referent and it is a question of presentness and a question of time and a question of the logic of values and the value of logic needs a shake down too but the blanket is so heavy and sometimes the weight feels so good so its just another minute under logic just another minute wait just a minute longer under value and conjunctives and next and on like that practicing additive conjunctives as we walk around the perimeter evaluating the parameters that are required to calculate the parameters themselves which we are sharing we are sharing we are sharing and you havent done anything wrong

  • strawberry! by Jonah Yano
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  • Love and Heartbreak are Fuck Buddies

    Billy-Ray Belcourt

    Billy-Ray Belcourt is a writer and academic from the Driftpile Cree Nation. He is an Assistant Professor in the Creative Writing Program at the University of British Columbia. A 2018 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar, he earned his PhD in English at the University of Alberta. He was also a 2016 Rhodes Scholar and holds an M.St. in Women's Studies from the University of Oxford and Wadham College. In the First Nations Youth category, Belcourt was awarded a 2019 Indspire Award, which is the highest honor the Indigenous community bestows on its own leaders. He is the author of three books: This Wound is a World (2016), NDN Coping Mechanisms: Notes from the Field (2019) and A Brief History of My Body (2020).

    love and heartbreak are fuck buddies who sometimes text each other at 10 in the morning. today, love asks: is this what the living do? as he tries to shit but can’t be- cause he doesn’t eat enough fibre or exercise regularly. it’s the little things that’ll kill me, he adds. heartbreak responds, ignoring the first message: you emptied your body into the floorboards of me. they creak when i am lonely. if i am a haunted house, then let’s make up a theory of negativity that notices the utopian pulse of sad stories like ours. well fuck, love types out. he deletes it. he sends a selfie with the caption: how’s this for a theory of negativity? heartbreak laughs. true, he quips. love doesn’t respond right away. he thinks there is something queer about leaving loose ends untied. love is a native boy from northern alberta who decided almost everything he does is an attempt to repair the brokenness-of-being that is indigeneity.

    last month, love fucked a security guard in the basement of a parkade at midnight. locking the door behind love, the security guard joked, don’t worry, i’m not going to kill you or anything. love wonders if it is the possibility of being killed that partly animates his desires. that’s fucked up, heartbreak tells love when love tells him this story.

  • love hypothesizes that the parkade basement might be a metonym for the world. heartbreak thinks out loud: how do you know when the world is not that basement anymore? love answers: my kookum and mooshum don’t use pronouns or proper nouns to address one another: they made their own language. that is how.

    From This Wound is a World by Billy-Ray Belcourt Copyright © 2017 by Billy-Ray Belcourt

  • Quiet as it's kept

    Sable Elyse Smith

    A crime can change the construction of a face.

    Can move the jaw because after, it cannot find its way back to unclenching. Can move flesh around. Can spread at first like tiny cracks in the worn paint of a wall. Can shift shadows and color around until, like the membrane from beneath an eggshell or one of those cheap ass paper-thin beauty mask it just sort of falls away. The face you were familiar with for 15 years just vanishes overnight. The next time you lay eyes on him it is the definition of fright. A slow alarm tingling at the balls of your feet. It’s a kind of perfume, nude terror signally towards everything dim and quiet in sight.

    Prison can shape you into the bowels of possibility. And the act threads an aura around you. Or it did him. Silhouetted sound wave. He has touched you before ever approaching. Each time he shows up, he is himself in drag. Himself as junkie. Himself as broken. Himself as punisher.

  • I’d known his face for the 4000–plus days of our adolescent years. It was my sophomore year when the geography grew and stretched between us. My mother picked up and drove us three-days away from the home we once occupied, to now straddle a sorry collection of favors across couches, and one twin mattress on a floor. Stretches of land and grey and color and one Patti Labelle cassette tape ringing in our ears. We have so much practice siting in silence.

    He was one of those family members you played house with. He and I being the oldest, we each were the head of our own houses. He playing a single dad and me a single mom. The younger siblings splitting up between us, a casual declaration of who their favorite person was. Which means the teams of this game never changed. I think we both gave the siblings new names or at least I did. I find that I might have always been obsessed with naming things. And I’m discovering now the root of it. What I will also say is that at this point: there, dividing a play room into two, in the subterranean level of a split-level home, just at the crook of a cul-de-sac, I knew nothing.

  • I knew my mother or father would drive me over there every day. I knew that winding through the neighborhood you could see pastel siding holding the houses together. Each like some Easter-themed bandage. It’s not that I perceived a wound present. It was just like the neighborhood itself was so careful, so preemptively protective. Ready for anything. The neighborhood itself had a name. Some enclave, a word which would come later but seems appropriate to pin now.

    You would turn off the main road into the community and feel welcomed. See children riding around on bikes. And this is the stuff of TV and I’m told, sometimes this is the stuff of real life as well. People in the neighborhood knew and spoke to each other. Somehow intertwined their lives in ways that still remain mysterious to me. And then we would get to this house on the end. A joy for me.

  • In my own home, I only had me to play with. So, it was a comfortable and anticipated routine to be a part of this small clan of little and then slightly bigger people. I was a child who wasn’t really allowed to have friends. My mother: “Your family are your friends.” And then: “I’m not your little friend,” or, “We are not friends,” but the description of what she was sounded like bits and pieces of what I heard about god, both good and bad. I think I was lucky enough to have escaped that whole religious thing that people go through in their life. Yet, somehow there was a gospel pinning each of us to the other; and the unpinning has taken a lifetime.

    I think a slow violence has ping-ponged through each of our bodies without having ever been spoken. You could smell absence frying in the fish grease upstairs while the whispers moved. Teenage confessions came over telephone lines that I didn’t know what to do with. I just let them linger hot and patient until a smile cracked open the silence. Or that god/mom walked in and told me to get off the phone in the first place.

    Now I get overwhelmed at the thought of any single mother out there, just out there being. Having to be. Isn’t life the toughest thing any fucking person has ever dreamed up.


  • I’m looking up at his face again. We are both in our thirties now and a tiny war erupts inside just being in his presence. I know how to be silent. How to ignore. We all trained in this for years. The silence has acted like both scalpel and tweezers, slicing open and pulling out what it doesn’t want. Always missing the root, I’d imagine. But what was discarded has attached itself to his face now. And like a piece of metal it heats up and he begins to spread. What is hidden behind some angular sharpness is left open to witness. I think it’s actually like looking into the birth canal. I think that hell is a place among the living. I think that breath is the continued blow of the battered. What I mean is I am gasping for air here. I do not want to face anyone.

    I don’t quite know what changed him or when the change happened even. I know whispers. I know the boldness of speaking into the distance, towards a face that can’t look back at you. We were landline babies, before FaceTime and video calls. I know a story about his friend’s sister dressing him up like a girl, once or so. I listened to this story like any other story. Like a regular recount of some favorite television show. The framework of sexuality had not entered my logic yet. What I heard recounted to me was a game. And then I heard joy or pleasure. They each use the other to describe themselves. Yet somehow, I know they are different. And then the day simply went on.

  • Maybe it is a pathological to make lists.

    And yet, here is an index of what I know:

    I know there were many nights when he came home late. Like far beyond a normal hour. A black boy in high school trying to be a man in a suburban margin, so he dated a white girl. One who had no edges to her. No features, just a slate of face and hair and body. The kind of white girl who does date a black football player but not the type who dates the star. Just any nigga on the bench to be honest. He didn’t play a position where one quantifies if you are good or bad. He played. A lot. Was always in the game, but in the game just as some necessary piece of the action. Games, they are things we are told to do. He was told to do, or there was nothing else for him to do.

    To win is to feel powerful.

  • I was even forced to play games once. So far away from him and this. I do not have a father anymore and so some man tried to shape himself into a figure. I am going to tell you now I don’t know what to do with these pieces. I don’t know what to make of who I knew before the call, before we left.

    I know that pain and winning are said to go hand in hand. And fear and exertion can be a type of high. In a locker room, where bodies are gathered close together. Where heat has been emitting. Where the legs move a little further apart to adopt a stance, a firm position—though still insecure, head slightly bowed stepping closer to the center of the room. The arms gradually moving up and out until they find a body on either side and wrap themselves around it. Exposed ribs now gluing themselves to others and though it is actually just limbs thrown over or pressed against other limbs, the tension is such that it feels like a linking. A hand on the back can be a clicking into place when it’s tuned just right. The light is always harsh in these spaces, it flickers about like zapping flies. The boys are in various states of dress and undress. The voice of the father comes on, a kick drum of commands and incitement. Coach/daddy, preacher/daddy. He heaves his chest and out comes what the boys in front of him are told is: encouragement, discipline… What the yell does is it tunes the body up before the words register. What the yell does is it places something in the left side of the gut. GET OUT THERE, BOYS. WE’RE GOING TO FUCKING DEVOUR THEM. I’ve been told that then they slip into a rhythmic rocking. A swaying back and forth arms sweaty across backs and shoulders and necks. Bass and thirst passing between them. Little conduits. Little boys. Little bodies offered up to this game. It’s simply a game. And this is manhood and this is respect and this is discipline and this is winning.

  • You can have this four times a week or how close we have all been to an understanding of capable…

    I’m not sure in which places we actually learn love. Me and my therapist have been walking through all the rooms.

    My last relationship, to her: I am not capable of going on…

    And in the news: No one knew what he was capable of…

    ...having the ability, fitness, or quality necessary to do or achieve, Sufficiently able, having power or capacity, qualified to grasp, lay hold, take, catch, undertake, take in, hold,

    To. be. large. enough. for.

  • To draw an outline of a shape that is larger than life and fill it up so that its easier for him to step into, to make a suit. Coach/daddy voice booming. Vibration moving the heart rate up in notches. Do you hear yourself and who are you? Can he separate from the parts he is playing? 6’4 shell with an escape hatch in the back of the head. Do you hear yourself?

    Or how close we have all been to an understanding of capable...


  • On a drive across country I try to imagine what he sees. I have heard the news and being in a car triggers the thought. You see, no one knows he’s even left the state, until a phone call and then a mug shot comes through. No one even knows why he would be in this new state. And has no clue how he would know anyone there. The only thing we know is that he is now a crack addict or so the police report would suggest. And so, you do not get confused this is happening sometime after prison. After his 15 years.


  • I’m not sure in which places we actually learn love. Or who can do the undoing. Or if it is outside of our control. Or how to untie when childhood is all about learning how to thread the knot. And putting things in place, and where it fits and inside the lines. I think these primary-colored pictures are more complex and dimmer than we want them to be. I think it’s hard to believe that we weren’t protected enough. And just how glass little bodies are.

    I witnessed my mother pick herself up off blood-stained floors and so I know when the time comes how to glue myself right back together again. Humpty fucking Dumpty was weak.

    I just want to know what happened to him. Maybe I’m forced to realize that monsters might not be born but are made and incubated and that standing shoulder to shoulder sometimes you feel warmth. Which is to say sometimes you feel no sign at all. But you see I had already been prey by that time. Though it would take 19 years before I ever spoke it to someone. And then another 10 years to speak it again. To make myself clear, any language about what happened to me had not been formed. I’m not sure I ever even conjured the memory back then.


  • My encounters with sexuality came on slow. My own curiosities muted or rather their sound was drowned out by the loud screaming of young boys’ desires grabbing at me, with wet mouths and thoughts not formed. And I felt myself getting quiet inside. The imprint or graze of genitals just a kind of mechanical expectation that moved at a pace and in locations my own desires were not able to find nor catch up to. In a slate-blue bathroom stall, with a boy in High School, my brain could register kissing while my desire ran through the hallways trying to find me. Trying to make sure I was not alone, and panting rapidly with its hands on its knees. All I had was his penis in my hand and fear draped around my neck like a herringbone chain. I didn’t know how to not be where I was. I didn’t know that “no” was a thing deployed. Or that you could just take your time. I didn’t know that meeting a boy in the hallway, under the guise of a bathroom break from Spanish class ended with a dick erect. I didn’t know that little boys walk the hallways trying to find sex. Yes, I heard the word sex thrown around all over campus at lunchtime and that such and such was having it. But words unpinned from the experiences they describe have no teeth, when you are 15 in the world. I understand now I was not grown. And in that bathroom, my hallway friend and I were playing a game we had not caught up to. There was no difference between being friends and being in proximity to an opportunity to have sex it seems. Who else out there thought this was the definition of high school? Who else woke up today and just got scared for their unborn, unconceived, unimagined little girl. Who else is out there?

  • I’ll tell you a secret, I’m still trying to get grown right now. I’ve uncovered. OK, my therapist has uncovered that even now I allow people to pick me. I’m still trying to understand exactly how “no” can be a thing deployed. No, that’s a lie. I’m just not giving my desire time to come find me. I’m just moving.

    I’m always moving. I have not stopped once. These words are moving across this page and so I do not have to sit with a single one of them. I see you too, you know.

    I want you. I think I want you to want me. You have been so many different people and I don’t blame any of you. You weren’t capable either. I guess I learned that a body was a thing slowly and quietly passed around and secrecy was precision-training in my home.

    There was that time behind the car in the garage at my great-grandmothers house. Both the neighborhood boy’s sister and I were six years old. There was Mike’s bedroom under a black light with his mother in the kitchen. There were hallways and the back of school buses with jackets over laps. Bathroom stalls and locker rooms. There was drunk after prom at Malcolm’s house with his much older cousin and the morning after, with some senior who was also sleeping on the floor. All in silence I was guided up and into a bathroom, a corner, some secluded shadow. They didn’t tell me not to speak they just knew I was without a voice and made my mouth their vessel. A slow-dance ventriloquism. Opening and closing and terrified. And from six to high school I had not lost my virginity yet. Just a series of passed-around moments. I have formed and found words from the top of this page until now. But have not found the word rape yet.

  • At 13 I sat frozen on the edge of a bed. I was in a two-story townhouse, with three bedrooms and no real furniture. In the living room downstairs, just a big over stuffed black leather sofa and a huge flatscreen on the wall, with various video game consoles spread about on the floor below. I was on the edge of a bed in one bedroom with two grown men. My mother’s boyfriend and his friend. They were both smoking weed and either playing video games or watching TV. The boyfriend left after a while and I was just in the room sitting on the edge of a bed with this other man laid across it. The bedspread was white and waffle patterned. It was soft and textured in the palm of my hand. The ceiling fan was running and the door was open. Che-che-che-che-che; the sound paraded around the parameter of the room. Which was bright and illuminated by two windows flanking either side of the television. This man started stroking my hair in a long slow motion. He told me, “You’re so pretty.” My hair was pressed and maybe reached down to the middle of my back but when he got to the end, the last strands of hair slipping out of his fingers. He didn’t even hesitate. His hand continued slowly down the middle of my back and sort of buoyed off the waistband of my jeans, catching the small of my back, a crescent of ass, before fizzling out over the seat of my jeans. My body grew hot inside and startled sweat into pouring profusely from every surface.

  • Ten minutes later I got up to go find the boyfriend to call my mother. I did not have a cell phone. I called her and asked her to come pick me up. She said, “Where are you?” Because she did not know.

    She knew he had picked me up from our house to go to the mall. She had called me and told me he was going to take me shopping. She told me to go with him. Why did he leave me in that room alone with that man? I didn’t say anything to my mother about it, but every single inch of me screamed inside the moment he started touching me, the moment he spoke to me. The fear was so immense it took days for that terror to lift itself up from my skin, shed all its tiny connections and fall down around my ankles. Then the days just carried on, the same blue.

    Sometimes it seems like men pass women around like handshakes. And here I am, calling my own child self: woman. Knowing that language fucking matters. Knowing that I cannot untie the knot.

  • I want you. I’m waving around out here like cling wrap. The static can be anything in the world, anywhere. If I’m lucky maybe it will get blown back across my face, a reverse inflating as I try to suck air in. I want her to slip her fingers inside and resuscitate me. Lay two lips down atop mine and get stuck there. I see you too, you know. Looking.

    It can sometimes be easy to pack your family up into a box and seal it. I think that’s no mystery. The problem is you still have to cart this box around with you. You have to take it where you go. You have to find a place for it in your closet. You have to have a fucking closet for it. And every once in a while, someone you let in your house will hold it up to their ear and shake it. And not always for the right reason. For some people the sound of your shit will be both entertaining and practical. If it’s loud enough they don’t have to hear their own. If it’s tragic enough they won’t have to skip one beat from chaos and they get stronger biting you instead of biting themselves every night. Every stilted body propped up against this backdrop is a life on fire.


  • He came home from prison missing a tooth. To come home is a common phrase but actually he did not come home. What was a home long ago, shattered. It was not just not a home for him. It wasn’t a home for any of them. I don’t think. I can’t see how.

    On the contrary I never had a home. What I mean is if someone asked me to describe my childhood home. Well I’d have nothing. I’d go blank or probably my mind would hop around. Do I come back to the place with the blue carpet? Or the place that was mostly vertical. Or the apartments facing the interior courtyard. Where do I go? I guess where I go is not the point. Where does he go?

    But he came home. Sometimes it seems like prison is a disappearance. I mean I’ve known so many people in and out and how and what yet it’s still written in my body that when one enters they don’t return. And ideologically I know why that is but I don’t know how to shake that feeling. Or rather don’t know why my mind and body aren’t talking so well. Or don’t really seem to be on speaking terms.

  • Every single person who has fanned out around him: cousin, brother, mother, aunty, uncle, cousin, brother, grandmother, has been given an artifact. Semicircle brushing our lives against each other. The patinas building across this unclean surface. He has returned and we have been given a small packaged space. A fucking hole in his head. And each of us can imagine exactly how it got there. I’ll just say it: We can partake in the violence.

    I remember one time in his junior year, so I was a sophomore, his forearm had been ripped open during a football game. I think like a three-inch gash that exposed a white material, blood, a bloated skin that would eventually cake and crust over and a dark purpling around it. This might be the opposite of what everyone else thinks but the body seems so artificial when a wound is exposed. Obviously, I know it’s real. I guess what I mean is that seeing the insides now reversed, now outside is surreal. So foreign because I guess the only place we witness this is in our entertainment. But in the physical presence of a real wound, one is not entertained. You see how much and how easily the physical body can be broken. And so you learn these pictures of vulnerability like flash cards over and over again. His broke arm; mom bleeding from mouth, fire ants splintering up leg, mom bleeding from eye, tears caked across face, stings from a slap, thread-thin cuts from belt lashes against thighs, blood on the television screen. In your head you see just how worn down the body can get. But no one has told you about the mind.

    No one had mentioned how the neatness of this tiny space in his mouth could bring such a satisfaction. It contains no blood, no gore. Yet it is perfection.

  • It’s a weird sensation in the mouth to say you know a murderer. Or maybe the sensation is not in the mouth it’s in between you and the person you’re saying it to. It’s on their face. It’s in what you assume they are saying to themselves about you, upon hearing it. You have to understand that we sit next to people who have done all kinds of things all the time. Your coworker may beat the shit out of his wife and everyone may know it. What do you do? You sit there. You may laugh involuntarily and listen to your friend telling you about traveling to South America solely to have sex with sex workers and that his wife doesn’t know, and that the women have papers and you may watch the smile spread like a wildfire across his face. And you listen to the love he has for his wife spill out of his mouth coated with the same saliva as the secret. What do you do? You sit there. You listen to his plan to somehow make money off of his travels by buying property in that country, but then there is a sentence about a guy who gets the girls. And you wonder what the fuck that means. And for you that makes it sound less like sex work and more like agency has been removed. Like something scary. His smooth-toned lullaby of the excursion just another version of those handshakes exchanged. Bodies passed around like beers. Like those hallway games. Like never learning the difference. I’m telling you we’ve all sat next to him.

    And if you’ve grown up in a place that has a high rate of violence well then you know someone who has committed it. And the definition of murderer is someone who has taken a life. And so I know some murderers. Although the dictionary defines murder as “the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another.” And so, it is preparing you for the fact that it can be lawful and that the killing has to be done by a human being; leaving a system off the hook; leaving an institution off the hook.


  • I hear the laughter in the wind all around us and I want to harness it. Say it is ours too and have nobody look twice at me. I didn’t want the world to build this suffocating life around him. He didn’t deserve it. But now he cannot escape it. He wadded up his hurt in wet rags and stuffed it down his own throat. How foolish some would say. It’s both gut-wrenching and hard not to look at him. I don’t want to look anymore. And yet the wind keeps blowing. Keeps picking up bits and piece of everybody and carrying them under my nose. They are not exactly like smelling salts but they jolt me into something. They remind me of a thing I barely missed. They teach me that time travel is not as it’s portrayed on television. They show that fate is a thing closer to the skin then we think. And skin breaks.

    I guess your childhood is inevitable but after that there is power. There is fate and determination and thoughts and will and imagination and dreaming and circumstance and timing. And you take part.

  • I’ve wondered so long about the things they say or rather the questions they ask about nature and nurture and why there are either ors, and how I fit into that. Always comparing myself against the other. This one came from a good family. Was my family that bad??

    Afraid to come lay this box at your feet that you didn’t ask for. But you asked for me. And then I think, She knows me without a list of hurt and broken memories. She knows what it feels like when I laugh. And somehow in my worry or fear I didn’t think to write about the laughter. Am standing fully in happiness in this moment, so many dimensions away from all of that and yet it never dawned on me to write about the laughter or the butterflies, or the sweat beneath sheets and sunlight. The sweet smell of her body next to mine, or the evening light. I guess because those are the things I want to keep and moving this pen pressing these keys is putting it somewhere else. Nonstop tapping it into another space. I think it’s saying it all in one breath, or like without taking a single breath I mean. Shedding the skin and then looking at it, and then turning your back on it, and then walking away. You are the snake, coming out of a canal that is your own size and shape. Two yous and the shed thing can’t bite you. You are the snake. I never saw it that way before.

  • There are too many words we use that have no real meaning anymore. Like we’ve exhausted them. Say them like clockwork. Like involuntarily switching on the light as soon as you walk into the bathroom. They don’t even make a sound when they drop to the floor. They have no goddamn weight. The words are silent spilling out of the mouth, floating around your house, hitting the floor. It’s like you say them and then no one really knows they happened. Like of course we smile, we perk up, we look into each other’s eyes. And then no one really knows what the other one means.

    I want to tell you, I understand now. What I’m trying to say is that I love you and I want to hear a loud crash once the word finally reaches the floor. I want us to realize that it is still in the room with us. That it is not going anywhere. Like an ice cube it will melt and coat the ground beneath our feet, permeate everything so that we are always standing on something that is the same.


  • And I guess it’s this page. I needed a witness more than I thought or more then I could admit. I had to tell someone about him. I guess he was my first real friend.

    And for so long I’ve been sitting up here watching people ignore and avoid. Wondering why in the beginning they don’t just teach you that talking and naming, learning to speak is such a difficult thing. That no one congratulates or celebrates us for saying a name or learning a word because the whole entire world will cease to do that once you grow up. Will turn their backs when you open your mouth and pray some non-prayer that you never open your mouth at them again. They only want your nonwords and your shape. No one wants to take all of you. They will beg please with their eyes and their silence and their devastating inability to stand for you only to attach fake things to them. Those one-syllable things, the two-syllable things that modify. Just modify. Please. Do not disclose.

    I don’t want to be one of those people


  • Coach/daddy slaps the asses of all his players and players slap ass back round and round laughing and calling each other faggot. It’s a game. Coach/daddy also host parties at his house. Testosterone flows, peak adolescence, balance tips. Young white girls find themselves stewing in their father’s racism. Find themselves opening up their bodies like their mothers. Find themselves searching for an escape hatch but calling it an amusement park. Find that their bodies intuitively know what to do with those black bodies. Find they feel alive. Coach/daddy might be their daddy. To win is to feel powerful.

    The black boys begin the games again. Run to the backyard of coach’s house, daddy’s house. The grass has a spring to it. Intoxicated and virile the boys glide across its crisp wetness. Outside of them, you’d just hear the scuttle of water across each blade. They don’t even realize when they are trampling over things and so they can’t feel the foot on their necks either. Pornography teaches them, to apply a strong grip to a neck and that screaming and looking away and yelling and a reprimand and a slap and the eyes rolling so far away because they are looking to get outta there is all a part of the game. The back yard has a harsh floodlight that pops on at the detection of their presence. They don’t notice. These are boys whose bodies have been under the watchful technology of detection from birth. Coach/daddy sings to them about spotlights and flashing lights and their big bodies moving them toward fame, moving them upfield. Coach/daddy often yells, GET OUT THERE ON THAT FIELD BOYS. To win is to feel powerful.

  • In this house it seems like all the lights are off. This is what he told me. And it makes sense for young people to want to grope around in the dark together, fingers running across other hands up and down a banister—but it’s the grown man who turned the lights off. Who slaps ass and makes cock jokes and in the same breath threatens to let another boy beat the living shit out of some other boys. Men, and all the ways they fix their mouths to say excrement. To push it out in speech and on to someone else. To hold humiliation and homoeroticism close to the bare chest. To feel the heat of it all. To watch those boys jump up and down in the spotlight, and see the dew collect. Who is looking out for them?

    These parties were frequent. Something whispered, and running along the edge of lockers in high school hallways. He was in regular attendance at these parties.

    He and I ran atop parallel experiences. All us little ones trying to escape back to neutral ground—places called school and your aunties house—and acting upon each other what we didn’t even know was done to us, nor really by whom. Or rather the whom could be complicated. Sleepwalkers you might call us, walking among the adult world as objects and then the world of the child. Pass me around and around and around.

  • I went outside and filmed the rain last night.

  • What do you want me to tell you?

  • He did it.

  • He murdered a child.

  • I cup my hands around my mouth and scream, hoping a sound comes out.

  • I went outside and filmed the rain last night.

  • I took the clothes pins off my shoulders and fell off the line. I am no longer there hanging. I put the pins back in the box called family and drove it down to some salt water coast. Walked up to the edge, let the tide roll across my feet and welcome me. I thought about her. The moment her lips played the tune. The moment the track got stuck on I love You. I’ve climbed out of the box. Unfastened myself. Nudged the box into the water and let it recede and return, as the moon pulled water closer to us. Closer to the earth. I sat on the edge of this world for hours. One foot on sand and another digging through across the threshold. One ankle was wrapped in embrace by the grip of lukewarm sand. It was tiny but it was a birth. I moved forward.

  • The Way Your Hair Looks on Most Days by Freddie June
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  • Ray J by Freddie June
  • Sticky Romance by Freddie June
  • The Cree Word for a Body Like Mine Is Weesageechak

    Billy-Ray Belcourt

    Billy-Ray Belcourt is a writer and academic from the Driftpile Cree Nation. He is an Assistant Professor in the Creative Writing Program at the University of British Columbia. A 2018 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar, he earned his PhD in English at the University of Alberta. He was also a 2016 Rhodes Scholar and holds an M.St. in Women's Studies from the University of Oxford and Wadham College. In the First Nations Youth category, Belcourt was awarded a 2019 Indspire Award, which is the highest honor the Indigenous community bestows on its own leaders. He is the author of three books: This Wound is a World (2016), NDN Coping Mechanisms: Notes from the Field (2019) and A Brief History of My Body (2020).

    the cree word for a body like mine is weesageechak. the old ones know of this kind of shape-shifting: sometimes i sweat and sweat until my bones puddle on the carpet in my living room and i am like the water that comes before new life.

    i was born during a falling leaves moon; which is to say that i have always been good at sacrifice. it is believed that women are most powerful during their moontime and because of this do not take part in ceremonies in order to let the body cleanse itself. there are weesageechak days when gender is a magic trick i forgot how to perform and my groin floods and floods trying to cleanse itself like the women and i too become toxic for men who have built cages out of broken boys.

    maybe if i surrendered myself to grandmother moon she would know what to do with these pickaxe wounds. there is so much i need to tell her about how my rivers and lakes are crowded and narrowing. how i managed to piece together a sweat lodge out of mud and fish and bacteria. she gives me the cree name weesageechak and translates it to “sadness is a carcass his tears leave behind.”

  • and the crows and flies who don’t care about gender will one day make away with my jet-black finger nails and scraggly armpit hairs. they will lay tobacco at my grave and tell their crow and fly kin that i was once a broad-shouldered trickster who long ago fell from the moon wearing make-up and skinny jeans.

    From This Wound is a World by Billy-Ray Belcourt Copyright © 2017 by Billy-Ray Belcourt

  • Kinky Jazz by Freddie June
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  • Heavy (But Not In Wait) by L’Rain
  • END