if anything, it’s the cream of autumn
fleeting that leaves a scar: the sky so dim,
dimmed like the grass during that time of loss.
the clouds gray, evened against our lamb
skins when we’re pressed together, two birds
pecking in the backyard. it’s the secret of our bodies
plaguing us: your eyes fixed to mine, the brown
of them dressed, then undressed each other
to understand the season: curiosity. like a pond
mad for warmth when frozen over, my father stepped
into the scene. without much movement, his voice stilled
our meddling. if i looked beyond, i know
mount rainier rested the teal horizon. the trees stilled,
too, within the roots, to forget their coming nakedness.
tossed pinecones. shredded maple. i can’t speak
on the breeze of the hour. or of the pockets of dirt
keeping our feet’s pink. but i imagine their twinge
when my father grabbed me by twig-wrist—held
the bones, embarrassed the bones. and i let him—
you see, i was used to being taken. like that. without
consent. but that’s another story of touch. believe me,
i knew the rules and into the kitchen he dragged
us—our wilderness for sifting—to rip us small,
small enough as if plucking the head of a dandelion.
my chest opens to it: faggot—and once arrived
from my father’s mouth, i name it omen, as i do things
that nest inside me, claws then stretches its talons
before erupting into flames—little phoenix, little blushed bird
and so the bird reconstructed the meaning of self: faggot
slept beside himself, felt himself rise, strummed the body
a storm of smoke, moaned until the moan blended
with another faggot—this faggot black as oil, slick, stripped
the word’s true form, crawled inside the sin, or was sin itself.
how christ became the stakes
beneath the thorns, shook, spread like blood, like
faggot you want this, say you want this
i do. i’m a locust: i hum, grind my throat against:
the wood would unleash
the difference between hunger and human: how faggot chisels
the skin to charcoal when burned.
or when my father threw, don’t let them faggots touch
you, don’t be no faggot, a match spelled, spun my insides
to wildfire, the wildfire tossed its head to gloat
until the faggot imploded black ash, as ash settled
at his feet—was once flesh. son of a merciless father.
the ash piled. became fertile.
and out of the ash—one could say demon,
spawn of hades. could be hell’s bat that birthed
within the dusty mound, could be another savage, eyes
abysmal, more bottomless than the grave made
to bury him—
but was a hatchling sprouting: bobs his head
to new breath, sharp as wind that tarries, howls
when whipped slim.
beak peeked open. squawking for his mother.
And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?
at the end of the day, agony
is a mouth. in the mirror, i watch
the mouth shiver. if it’s not
the warmth of knowing, then it’s nothing.
hear me: i’m black. i was taken.
there was a couch i slid between. then
darkness. outside of me, my brother
marveled at the inner workings.
mine. the porous moon stumbled into
the sliding doors. stole us for what
we were. and what were we?
i told you—i thought.
when he plunged until he couldn’t,
my systems collapsed. the stiff sounds
of flesh smacking flesh fishing cotton
harpooned my ear. i imagined
how blood responded
to intrusion. the static dance. and then
i didn’t. ache became
the bones’ framework.
the basement—a generous surrogate
for making—opened. we severed
the house. the city. i ruined
commands: stop. ouch. my brother
was hypnotized, powerless
to the curiosity. as night cleaved, so did he,
catching a new wind, watching skin halve.
who to slur? i don’t know.
but lovers have asked
about bruises left when it was over.
the couch still a couch. the basement learned
me. i’m still black. i have a mirror.
how i am abusive
clenched around the thyroid, your palm is
a wide-mouth smile. i grew accustomed. i—splayed
open. or minced to pieces. or made slaughterhouse red—
memorized the flight: steady the lungs, still the slope, pocket the pain.
if it was raining: fingered the drops.
what amazed me was the skin’s rehabilitation.
in mirrors, i watched the husk split
for my making. again. again. i wasn’t sorry. the next day, i wanted
you. revisited the language. i—splayed. or minced pieces. or made
slaughterhouse. when you reached the bladder,
my eyes squealed from their duct. when the sun set atop
my black, there was god. like you,
he was insistent. would vein the spine.
that’s not the point, you’d say. arch in
another sentence. i mean to say, body. i’m sorry. or divide
more slowly. would you believe all my insides
kept: wires, tendons, blood.
i wasn’t grateful. i was bloodlust revisited. i—
pieces. or slaughterhouse . . .
i. i. i.
or what was said to be love, lips of velvet and flame-
licked, was only a shadow. a hue of memory where
a boy’s hand fathered a pyre, fell into the back’s smooth.
or, instead of emptiness, the maroon morning
when silk rose from his boxers like a bell
in mid-chime, hanging, at the top, of a baptist church.
i wanted the act to ingest me. by then, i grew
restless of living alone inside the heart’s whirl
and stitched home. or, as his mouth opened, a butterfly
nestled his hearth, wings gilded, brushed the roof
as he spoke of us. us. for so long, i tamed speech to stray
from those horns. us. a careened tree in the middle of a storm,
was firm before barbaric winds thought the earth
to be drums. and them gods. us. a virgin blood, or a lotus leaf
inside the stomach, making way up the throat, and into the air.
alternate ending with weeping
but i am human. i repeat it. finally. without his touch
inside me. this open space where once was skin.
was a pulled back shirt. was hands combing. behind me,
there was a backyard of things—i couldn’t tell you now.
i’m sorry. i’m sure he was good. he said it, sometimes,
when kissing. but without actually saying it. he would force
a bend of me. a degree to which meant, “welcome.”
i didn’t know the body, then. if anything. i was twinned
at the mouth. it was slender. beside me, an empty fireplace.
that abyss. growing less happy. you have heard it
before: relax. relax? i instructed nothing of limbs:
legs, arms, unballed fists. i had to expand
from the inside. be brighter. a bloom
of painlessness. and now, at the cliff of morning, i lift it
by the sound. a tired awakening. the parietal lobe.
or a window half-split to dawn’s rituals:
sunlight knitting the basket of trees,
winnows—their melodies—sitting on the sill,
a man reading on the front lawn across the street.
Luther Hughes is a Seattle native, but is currently an MFA candidate in the Writing Program at Washington University in St. Louis. He is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Shade Journal and Associate Poetry Editor for The Offing. Winner of the Brutal Nation Poetry Prize and Windy City Times Chicago, 30 Under 30 Honoree, Luther’s work has been published or is forthcoming in Columbia Poetry Review, Vinyl, NAILED, Solstice Literary Magazine, and others. You can follow him on Twitter @lutherxhughes. He thinks you are beautiful.