one and a half.
i cannot teach babies to speak, cannot take their lips into my fingers and impress the words upon them, cannot summon the voice with my nails and form it between my fingers like loose ripped cloth, syllables dying their tongues pink and brown as they speak until they turn white and die, legs snapping like frictionless fingers. once i close my eyes with a little palm curled around mine and i heard him, talking to me, and he said:
i want you to take my skin and peel it back, as though i am just bloody silk and you need to find my real flesh, underneath, white and hard; and i want you to bite me, to chew me, and i want you to crawl your teeth inside my tissues and attempt to swallow me with the misplaced and torn organ-skin of your lips, your canines discovering the secrets the body attempts to hide with cowardly pulsing flesh, i want you to wear me so tired and thin with sharpened jagged rocks planted on top of your mossy gums; i want you to wrench me, a fish from an unforgiving ocean, a matchstick burning in the fire it birthed from an ashy womb, a child whose father was a sea monster, a prophet, a schizophrenic; i want you to save me.
"if that's what you want," i tell him, quietly.
my eyes curl open and my lashes peel back to reveal brown, white, black. i can see the pink inside of him, glowing like a lit cavern, crouched and hiding beneath his outer shell, his bruised and fat skin. with my teeth pressed against my lips i moved forward to him, silently, his mouth half-open and wordless, a yelp in the back of his throat, a god before his eyes, shading him down.
in his shadow he is a rock-a-bye cub, but i know that this is a lie, a darkened and skinned and thin caricature of what he really is, underneath, simmering for release. his hands fall limp inside of mine and i understand his sign language, his telepathy, his language. i have taught him to speak, this baby, this child, this infant, this demon, this mortal, this sin-swallowed angel.
"then hold still."
god tells me a story in three parts:
my mother is made of diamonds, oozing thick from all of her openings, at the tips of her toes and from her half-moon breasts and her shed fingers and her pocketed womb. she holds me close to her chest and i close my eyes and she is rubbing her hands along my back, feeling my spine like a rope to something forbidden. she trails further and further, trying to find me, maybe where i began or where i would like to start. she hums to herself and i feel her nose press into my forehead, her eyes like insects squirming in my hair, writhing as they die. the noise from her throat echoes against my ear, a bee coming closer, a four-by-four i cannot stop.
her other hand dips down and i shudder, as she has me pressed against her, starkly naked, dribble-skin thrown down, and she lifted her presence from my back and grabbed my hand and pushed me, down there, she said, go, go, go, stay. i closed my eyes and she bit me, hard, a thousand sharp rocks and stalagmites and terrible nasties inside, and i cried and said i am not afraid i am not afraid i am not afraid, and she said shut up, and behind me a ghost began to lick along my spine, leaving welts and bruises on my meat.
she squeezes. "stop, stop, stop," she says, and lets go, hot on my hand. "get out. get the fuck out."
my father is a leaking pipe, and he makes sibilant noises as he hushes me away into rooms that are made of pale flesh; i am living in a white man's chest, hitting at his lungs and demanding less air, less wheezing, let me sleep for a while. his hands are thick around my chin and he holds me there and he begins to speak but stops himself, stops stops stops, and i lean forward and touch his lips and i have seven thousand things to say:
speak, father, speak; tell me what mother's middle name is, what she whispers at night, what she is most ashamed of, what she never said sorry for; tell me why sometimes rooms are dark and tell me why sometimes water isn't warm; tell me why those moments are so terrible when mother is smiling and holding her head back and those few seconds pass where her mouth falls, slinks off and away, and i cannot bring it back, and she turns on me with eyes made of salt and washcloths and she grips my sides hard and says what the fuck do you think you are doing?; father tell me why you don't make her stop, tell me why you tell me you're sorry, tell me why you are so silent. for a moment there is a figure above my father and i let my hands fall from his place and someone reaches to my father's head and pries all of his secrets off, and he wheezes, long and hard, running out.
my father sighs. he opens his mouth: "listen," he says, and then he pauses, hesitates. "you wouldn't understand."
there is no light but there is maybe a sun somewhere, exposing the veins on leaves and falling fragmented between branches and reaching arms. i think about the sea and i think about my teddy bear, and i think about sweat and i think about the way it smells on my mother's forehead when she palms me down, and i think about locks and the one on the door my father disappeared behind. i am smiling and then i am crying and my face tastes like hungry plant-skin and bark and salted water and sour perfume and soft flesh,
and i am being held, pressed, a smooth and shiny stamp, and time slowly sidles the whip off of my back and my mother loses her hands and then her eyes and my father takes his mouth between his hands and pulls it off, a sickening wrenching noise, and then god is taking me in, swallowing me with his lotion fingers and thick friendly skin, and he says welcome, welcome, welcome, i've been waiting for you, welcome.
i lean forward and i break in two, four, seven, one. "hello," i say, and i am surprised at how easy it is. "i always knew you'd come for me."
when she dies i am not sure i understand what they were trying to tell me, what was being conveyed when she closed her eyes, what the meaning of her silenced breast was, what her absent chest was trying say. i lose her and then i am standing up and i am looking at her skin, cream brown, drying out before me, the skeleton peeking through out of curiosity, loneliness, and i am leaning over her and pinching her cheeks and demanding color from her sacred skin, and i am yelling, i am yelling, what? what, what, what? what does this mean? what do you want?
and someone is rattling off long quotes about sorrow and i am closing my eyes and hating ghandi and hitler and martin luther king jr and jesus who thought he had the right to get his paws onto our sins, to touch onto our lives and tell us about love and charity, who thought he had the right to play human with our skin and our bones and our blood strumming inside his skin like unearthed veins of gold and cherry juice and whispers, and i say you took her, didn't you? you took her and you took her and you stole her and you took her, and they say calm down, and their hands are taking mine away, pinning them on my back, telling me, no.
they want to take away her body and shove it down, open up the palms of the earth and layer her down like she belongs there, like she could make friendly chat with the worms and like she could be mistaken for a litter of dark rocks, like the distance from the earth would be satisfying, rewarding, peaceful. i scream and my palms are down inside the anatomy of the ground and they do not let me stop and when i get down, all the way, i find her white bleached smiles, fat and thick and curled, and she is rotting and she has been rotting, and i expect to find her healthy blood and a heart that is quivering for breath a pair of lungs that are begging to be set into her moth-colored ribcage, fluttering away, but she is already gone, has been for a long time, but i pull up her remains and i say she loved the earth, here, here, have some, come back.
they tell me she has been dead for a long time, for so long, that she was so tired. they tell me she was so exhausted, they tell me she was so worn-out, they tell me she was like clothing and lips anymore and it was maybe best that she got to lose her skin and her weighted brain and all of her water, dragging her down to find oceans beneath oceans, waterless lakes, streamless rivers. drowning, they said, practically burning up. it's for the best, she has been dead for so, so long, let her live.
and i say "but just yesterday," and i don't finish. they take me away, pulling me like a puppet with my arms strung up useless, and i wait for the sky to make a move, to tremble a little, to shake. she is left alone, naked, uncovered, her bones bleaching in the dirt, turning a sour white.
your cheeks are so filthy, layered thick in shiny berry water and dew you have demanded from the morning. you close your eyes and you say it, again and again, stop stop stop stop, don't you dare keep going, don't you even think about it. your hands reach for me but you stumble backwards, trying to find the wall with your spine, a trail of dust covering you up like a second skin and termites eating through the wood in your back, making a meal out of you. they chew you up and you are swallowed, whole, and you say, please stop.
i am honest.
"i would love to."