Lingua Franca The first-ever medium, that is, the earliest mechanism through which information travelled, was air. When I visited Italy, I went to the oldest anatomical theatre, where students would observe dissections of a cadaver, and sometimes they would hang the skeletons for decoration. Originally a medical term from Medieval Latin defined as “(fever) lasting a day,” the word ephemeral refers to something transitory, short-lived. The only Italian I learned—piccione and bottigllia—was perhaps because language just reflects to us what is available. I think I should leave the rest of this to the linguists. But for now, I’ll say, that for some reason, when you describe my body, I let the words float. So maybe, like language, our love can translate for us what is right there. And I urge you to name something more accessible— more instinctual and honest than the rustle of your breath.
Elegy for D.Z. He must have been in a lot of pain, too, to receive an elective spinal surgery a year after my class graduated from a school that protected its status over its students. With coffee drinks and baggy jeans, reporting stories from Jersey, and a red, red rose embossed on the wall, he read all our college essays and prepared us for the AP exam with vigor. We spent so long studying existentialism— if he taught us anything, it was definitely life is absurd. And maybe that’s why someone who was so easy to poke fun at never took anything to heart; the giggles, disrespect, and disobedience. He didn’t know not a single person read The Trial when it was assigned. His favorite quote: “Literature is the question minus the answer,” (written on the whiteboard) made me cringe every time. In the margins of my Frankenstein essay, he encouraged my writing—everyone does— by scribbling “I want to see more of this version of you.” After class, we lined up at the door, trying to sneak out before the bell rang, not pulling one over on him, just seeing if we could get away with one more thing before the end.
The Dancer On the couch, watching The Sopranos with our joint HBO Max subscription. The turquoise sequins bounced on screen, and what I perceived as a teasing nudge, a fish for reassurance turned confession. While the kitten slept between us, belly-up, he told me about the clubs, the drugs, the dancer, whose neck he thought must be sucked. Though she said no, you didn’t pay—not enough—, he continued with mystified conviction, caressing her breasts. I saw how easily his hands morphed into those that once grasped the small of my back. I didn’t recoil when he asked for permission to touch me. I cried over what I’d never have. No, not her body, her apology.
Relapse Fantasy after Kaveh Akbar The peddlers across the street must know everything. She jaywalks toward
the music. It carries like the love- sick songs arranged by the boy atop a mountain.
Having slipped inside a dress, she wants to rip her skin off less, for the first time since
the voices on her phone began to sound unfamiliar. Someone winks. The room
blushes with candlelight. Glasses of red wine flicker through her head like a kinetoscope. She remembers what it’s like to be charmed. No one will contain her wildfire body tonight. She’s not afraid to die a third time. There’s a rabbit’s foot in her purse. The tiny white toes chase her.
I should get goosebumps more often because you’ll kiss me with your fevered lips and move the pillow from behind my head and pull the ribbon out of my hair and tie my wrists together in a bow like a ballerina’s ankle and twirl me on my front I’ll be more comfortable forgetting I’ve got a figure at all still watching my reflection in the dark screen the way I saw Alicia Silverstone with that yellow plaid skirt in Clueless the first time I wondered why I didn’t look like perfection instead I’ll ask you to finish off on my face so I can’t see myself which I hate except when you call me baby which I love but makes me wish you’d carry me like an English bulldog the ones that are so ugly they’re almost cute I shiver when you squeeze my thigh with your thumb and pinky finger at the same time it hurts to both want and not want something so badly I’ll say I love you so I can come up with a list of reasons you don’t that are easier for me to believe than nothing to do with the size of the space between my fingers anything besides the scope of the cosmos the color of kisses you left on my chest
Dead Girls I was ready for one of us to die because that would have made sense— the drowning drunk or junkie grasping at a raft of rosary beads. I wasn’t prepared for it to be anyone else. I didn’t know her, but I knew of her. I always knew who the pretty ones were. Time moved slowly after they announced it. At a friend’s house for lunch, we couldn’t eat, just sat quietly for what felt like weeks, and I wished it had been me. I still feel guilty for skipping the funeral. I prayed for her family, even if I didn’t believe it, and less so now. I know I’m not supposed to understand why I’m here when my faith was in substance, tinting my lips blue; why girls die with tiny gold crosses hanging from around their necks.