Because the summer feels more hellfire than hellfire.
June 3, 2022
In this city, where ocean waves are too close they could drown you, I stay naked underneath a ripple—what better tithes could I even offer other than a tenth of my burrowed breaths? With sound muted to maybe feel your godliness through slippage, through crevasses of my skin, through tides undoing my body—fingers nothing to clench. Nothing clenches my fingers; only the taste of salt lingers on my tongue trying to hold a language.
Underwater, I scan for coral bones. Cartography of faces. If I find any, I’ll name them each after moons of Saturn like how we name children who died last summer, as if we know them enough to forget. Above me, sunlight strikes through paper-thin tides like exit wounds. These little constellation holes. Every prayer that enters is now an accusation. At knifepoint, I fish them. These teeth. Like this. Hook all the carcass left in my hymnal.
Because the summer feels more hellfire than hellfire. The sun bares its teeth on the skin, unforgiving like a god’s punishment: I tell my sister—a scream is more prayer. That the thought of dead children killed in the drug war crosses but stays a mere thought. I believe: all of this is imaginary. The sky fuming with August haze. A child dying on the pavement, bloodshot. Hands clasped like a cathedral. The crows pecking for his Eucharist. And last night, a child took a gun. He mistakes it for a god. A child fears his breathing according to the police report. (And I want to believe in this fable)—he points to his animal head. He pleads to God. God answers like lightning. But he struck him twice. He closes his eyes like an answered prayer.
If I could love more than what’s left of love in me, I’d tell you about my nightmares. How they mimic water in my throat and are suddenly gone. How they faithfully lodge below the tongue and are merciful. That the footsteps arriving like a procession in front of my mouth constellate a guillotine. How a sound takes the shape of death. I do not know. How? How? How easily my body seeks refuge in God’s warmth, mouthing invocations. Perhaps to ward off ghosts, perhaps for a blessing, or perhaps for a hand I do not have. It’s strange—for a man to kneel, you need his legs cut. This is always the patriarchal paradigm: sands grating the skin, revealing weakness. How it unravels the skin for its prayers, unhinges the bones, and drowns—a myth, I almost told her. That a man could never enact grief more than violence.
On my knees, I ask God: What happens to the hallowed alchemy of decaying machineries, to the dusts of my body, the dark particles? Would I become a shooting star etched on the edges of galaxies and burn the night sky with scorching scars? Because what else is worth remembering other than the burning. That the only way to prove you lived, sometimes, is unwanted marks of the skin—the moonlight making your bones look holy. Because waking up feels more and more like purgatory. It’s almost death but not death enough. In this labyrinth, one could only hope for a Messiah to touch him. Because who else can hold this sacrilege, this burning offering other than God? If you must know anything, know that once, I tasted the rain in the middle of summer. How it kissed my parched lips like a lover with an intention. That I stayed for this drought—this manifestation to end. That for a brief moment, I listened to cicadas singing a flat chord in unison. As they gathered around my feet—pilgrims mapping each phalanx like attending a funeral. Look at my body: drenched, as if baptized, but barely. Sometimes I imagined spring in this ritual: sunflowers greeting me with a hook. Moths buzzing like army helicopters on a Sunday morning. When I enter the teeth of the church, I remember the swallowing like how I remember that rain. At the altar, Pastor speaks in tongues as if the holy spirit is with him: the body of Christ—and I open my mouth like a slant O and answer a mumbled Amen, as if my tongue holds me of another sin. And I walk outside, like an opened gospel. Stained glass mosaics of saints behind me. And still, summer does not forgive.