the peony

They didn’t notice the vultures overhead until it was too late, and ran panting from the house of Rocco’s mother, passing all the things they used to love; the red brick, the black cat that she had grown so fond of, and the blue stain that had manifested after Jane’s last visit. He had tried to be sweet, not asking questions, and simply taking her hand and leading her towards the ice cream shop down the street. She hid the fear behind her ice cream sandwich that day.

Rocco stopped outside of the Robertson’s house when he noticed the blossoms, their pink and white heads shining in the mid-July sunlight. He reached out and plucked one from the bush. As he handed the pink peony to the lovely brunette standing to his side, he noticed her lip quivering. She looked up at him through her glassy brown eyes. I suppose he can’t hear the screams, she thought.

“Thank you,” she smiled through her grimace, and let him wrap his arms around her waist.

“It’s almost as beautiful as you,” he stated matter-of-factly. His façade of sweetness had faded in her eyes, and she winced. When he asked her if she was okay, she replied with a quick “I’m fine,” and turned her face to the ground. How awful, she thought, to give someone a dying thing, especially when it was not yours to begin with.

She held the soft, pink flower in her right hand until the car ride home, when she placed it on the seat next to her. She could feel its eyes burning holes in her body.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered to the blossom, “I wish I could’ve stopped him.”

When at last she reached the kitchen, she took the blue and red porcelain teacup from the cupboard, filled it with water, and, as gently as she could, placed the peony inside. She knew it was too late as soon as she heard the screaming. The once beautiful petals began to dry and crack. The water turned a sickly brown color. The girl stood looking at the blossom until it was dark outside, and she set it on the windowsill, hesitant to throw it out.

She was startled by the ringing of the landline, and she picked up after the first ring. It was Rocco, as expected, calling to say that he already missed her. She was glad that he couldn’t see her shaking, and she ran her index finger over the petals of the blossom.

“It died,” she said in her soft voice.

“What died?”

“The peony. I put it in a cup of water but it died. I tried to save it.”

“Why not dry it?”

“Isn’t that a little morbid,” she took her finger off the blossom, “to let a thing die and keep its corpse?”

“No, love. That’s what forever looks like.”

how to find heaven without leaving the suburbs (conversations with straight men)

“Have you ever been with a girl?” he asks.

Yes. She was beautiful. She was almost holy. She looked at the world with eyes full of wonder that resembled nothing less than moonstone. We spent days sharing mittens when the snow came. Nights were spent on top of stained quilts, close, but never touching. She sang like a robin in spring, and created worlds with the touch of her index finger. She made videos of me singing to musical theatre soundtracks, and laughed at my ridiculous mannerisms. She held my hand once in the dark. When the winter came for us once again, she took her things in her father’s car and drove towards New Mexico, shedding pieces of me out the window. Interstate 25. 434. 376. Santa Fe.

 


 

“Have you ever been with a girl?” he asks.

No, but we’ve watched hundreds of films, and I’ve thought about kissing her hundreds of times. She makes my skin itch. We were never closer than a head on a shoulder or a kiss on the cheek. We never did. We never have, and I’ve danced on the edge of action with her so many times that I’m afraid she might break if I touch her. I think it’s possible to love a girl too much to kiss her.

 


 

“Have you ever been with a girl?” he asks.

Briefly, in high school. She was stony-faced but straight laced. She wore combat boots but always did her math homework. She self-identified as ‘butch’ but loved winged eyeliner. She lived her life on the in between’s, a perfect balancing act of can’s and can’t’s, should’s and shouldn’t’s. All of my fears burned up in her atmosphere. She taught me how to climb barbed wire without scratching my palms, that fear is pointless, and that there isn’t a thing that can’t be solved with rumpled sheets, cups of earl grey, and David Bowie. She forgot how to love me. She was everything, and then she was nothing.

 


 

“Have you ever been with a girl?” he asks.

On a date, once. She was bathed in swirling lights; pink, yellow, lavender. We danced in a crowded room of strangers. Her hands were smaller than mine, and when she kissed me I lost track of time. She shielded me from the eyes of strangers. We talked about her plants, her ex, her brother. There was mold growing in her lungs, destroying her from within. She took pride in becoming nothing.

 


 

“Have you ever been with a girl?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I reply.

“That’s hot.”

love was here

We fell in Love here

Beneath string-light stars and white drywall.

Cracked palms on smooth skin,

decaying kisses.

 

We fell in Love here

above grass as green as the sea.

Kisses in darkened closets,

Love on

living room floors.

 

We fell in Love here

within forts of crumpled sheets.

Quiet whistles,

guitar picks.

 

Love came

With short brown hair

and an easy smile.

With long legs,

pearlescent skin.

 

Love came

with desire,

hope.

 

Love came,

and Love left.

 

We fell in Love here,

and out of love,

in an 8 month

migration.

 

I fell in Love here,

and I watched you leave

like a housewife

in wartime.

 

For you have battles to fight

and I cannot fend off the monsters

for long.

 

Darkened closets

and forts of crumpled sheets

can only provide so much shelter.

 

For they will come,

baring teeth,

clenched palms,

and they will try to take you.

 

But dear,

if nothing else,

do not let them take

your tenderness.

 

Remember that it is a virtue,

Love on living room floors,

in darkened closets,

is a virtue.

 

Remember to find tenderness

in the darkest corners,

to climb the barbed wire

and stand with your face in the sunlight.

 

And when you find it

in the nape of another’s neck

remember me.

 

There was a time before,

And there will be a time after.

 

And when you think of this,

remember:

 

Love was here.

the virtue of tenderness

Sometimes I wonder if you remember the snow globe

that I broke in your room when I was four years old,

curious, and desperate to see the world it held.

 

I had cried for hours that day,

Feeling such guilt and shame at my clumsy fingertips

as they attempted to pull it from your shelves.

 

It was a glorious shatter.

 

Afraid as I was, you were not mad.

You wanted to know why it had happened,

and when you did,

you told me that

you would have taken it down for me if I had asked.

 

It’s no wonder that your favorite things nowadays

revolve around

understanding.

 

***

 

You and I were born wildflowers in a field of thorns.

 

I’d like to understand the mindset of a man,

the twists and turns of ego,

rage.

 

I can feel some of it within me,

but I was born tender.

 

I cannot understand how gifted scarves

can turn to nooses

in mere moments.

 

Nor can I understand the piercing pain I felt last December.

 

When you break, I break.

 

I suppose.

 

***

 

When they ask you why your body wafts roses –

your face lavender, lemon, and honeydew,

please remember that their words mean nothing.

 

You were spawned from the soil of the Garden of Eden,

the fruits of Eve’s labors.

 

You were born into this world to be tender,

so please,

when they come questioning,

do not let the snakes that bind your wrists control you.

 

The image of Minerva that hangs from a chain around your neck

cannot match your strength,

your vigor.

 

You are the culmination of the cosmos,

the epitome of

 

Woman.

 

Hold that title with pride,

for your scars show that you have earned it.

 

You have bled,

wept,

rejoiced,

loved,

understood,

and for this;

 

You deserve nothing less than the world itself.

the fishermen (anthony & koffi, year 3000)

It was early June, just before the ship arrived, and Anthony sat with his legs outstretched, looking out into the vast expanse of water before him. Fish blew bubbles that floated to the top of the water just below Anthony’s feet. He was expecting Corrine and Matilda soon, but knew they were taking their time. Their falling in love was something that Anthony had noticed only recently, and he was filled with joy at the idea of his childhood friends together. Anthony stood and walked to the end of the wharf.

“Beautiful day,” he said, smiling at the other fishermen.

“Oh, absolutely. I hear the ship is coming from somewhere along the southern coast,” said a gruff-looking fisherman. The southern coast referred to the area that was once known as South Africa. With the fall of banks and country lines in 2502, people from all over the world began to migrate to wherever they wished. Some visited, and some stayed for the entirety of their lives. Anthony’s family had migrated from the area that was once known as Sicily, Italy, when he was only three years old. It was here, in the area that was once San Francisco, that seventeen-year-old Anthony had found his work.

His father worked as a jeweler, and his mother as a painter. The three lived in a beautiful white house just across the bay, looking onto where it fed into the ocean. They owned two dogs by the names of Piper and Charlotte, and let them run in the large backyard. On warm nights, the family spent hours together in the yard, eating dinner, playing games, and laughing together. Anthony’s parents were surprised when Anthony told them what he felt called to do, as they had raised him around so many forms of art. They supported him nonetheless, and were incredibly proud of the selfless and giving individual that they had raised. Maybe the love within his family was what drove him to do what he did for his town.

As Anthony gazed across the bay, remembering his days spent on the wharf with his parents, a large ship began to pull into the bay. It chugged slowly through the water, and Anthony sensed the palpable anticipation in the air. Everyone in the town had been waiting for this day for months, preparing packages of fresh fish and vegetables, blankets, and organizing living quarters. People gathered around the wharf to greet the newcomers. Anthony spotted Corinne and Matilda in the distance, wandering towards the wharf, hands intertwined. He smiled, feeling the connections to the people around him, the love in the air.

When the ship was anchored and docked, citizens that had gathered around the wharf began cheering. Hordes of people began crossing the gangway of the ship, and as each one passed, Anthony greeted them with a smile and handed them a package of fresh fish. People were coming from all over the world- a beautiful woman wearing a blue sari stopped to introduce herself. She wore winged eyeliner and tall combat boots, and Anthony admired the juxtaposition of her style. He loved the hipster cliché of it. Among the people that crossed the gangway, several stood out in Anthony’s eyes. A young man with dark skin and piercing blue eyes stopped to greet him. His ears were pierced in many places, and he wore a silver hoop through his left eyebrow. He introduced himself as Koffi, and stated that he had arrived from the area that was once Ghana. He wore the colors of his family in his clothing, and he beamed with excitement as he looked around. Anthony noticed that Kofif’s eyes nearly matched the sky, and glistened when he spoke.

As Koffi left the wharf with his friends that had traveled with him, he stopped to turn back and look out across the vast expanse of water. He laid down in the grass. He felt everything – the warmth of the sun on his skin, the light breeze that whispered in his ears. He heard the birds as they called to one another. In the distance, he heard the laughter of two young women. This is home, he thought. And he almost loved everything.

the sun and the sky (corinne & matilda, year 3000)

“Tell me a story.”

 

Corrine and Matilda laid side by side in the grass, their pinkies barely touching. They had planned to go to the wharf to visit the fishermen, but had stopped to take in the view. The sky was remarkably clear and blue, not a cloud in sight. Looking up at the sky, Corrine noticed that the birds were singing to one another. On her left, a robin chirped, and on her right, a small woodpecker responded. The thought of such different birds connecting in such a way brought a smile to her face. She thought of Matilda. Just the sight of her brought warmth to her heart in a way that she had never thought possible.

“What kind of a story?” Corrine inquired, rolling over to look at Matilda. As she did this, a lock of her golden hair loosened itself from behind her ear and fell in front of her face. As Matilda reached up to help, Corrine felt a flush of warmth rush to her cheeks. This was the first time of many that Matilda would do this. It was in her nature to help others, and Corrine was no exception.

“Tell me about Matty,” Matilda stated, smiling in a crooked sort of way. She had a way of melting Corrine with her smile. Her brown skin glistened, the sunlight reflecting off the blue eyeshadow on her eyelids. She had let go of all reservations with her personal style. She wore her hair large and curly, favored bell-bottom jeans over other pants, and she always adorned her hands with rings given to her by her loved ones. Among her many rings, however, she did have a favorite. She wore the thin silver band on her left index finger. It was simple, but it was Corrine who found it while swimming in the bay.

“Matty was a ridiculous kid that I met when I was five. She was wearing a blue skirt, a blue shirt, blue tights, and blue sneakers. She told me that she wanted to be as happy as the sky. And that was the day that she became my best friend, because that same day I was dressed head to toe in yellow because I wanted to be as happy as the sun.”

”I guess that Corry was just as ridiculous,” Matilda said, laughing in her sing-song way, remembering how life used to be for the two of them. Their hands intertwined as they looked at one another. Although their concentration never strayed from the vastness of each other’s eyes, they could smell the grass below them. They could hear the birds singing to one another from across the treetops. They could feel the rays of sunlight filtering down onto their skin. Out of the corner of their eyes, they could see the clear, blue sky. They almost loved everything.