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Two Poems by M. Ezra Zhang

“Two Stories About Drowning” & “Self-Portrait as a Dead Dog”

Poetry | Poetry Tuesday, poetry
November 28, 2023

Two Stories About Drowning

I have a new name.
Unlike Margaret (not yet a deadname), it’s
more shield                       than snuff box, more dagger
than memento case carrying
everything I love. Which is to say I love everyone                 who calls me
Ezra, who understands this necessary gulf
(its propensity                       for drowning) even
if they don’t want it.                       And I name myself
Ezra to everyone I fear because
that way they can’t touch me, even when they are
saying my name.

Once in a club                     I plummeted through the nightfall
of the crowd, yelling don’t touch me           don’t touch me don’t
fucking touch me                     (my body touching
every glass tender as glass, every body
tender as plum). Six security guards carried me
out—of course I didn’t remember
in the morning           but was told by two friends
who would never look at me the same again.
Their eyes: reluctant
to touch me. I wished they had known
me as Ezra before they could know me.

And sometime before that, bawling on my ex’s mattress
as he broke up with me for crying far             too frequently
and violently (I get it),
I said, Michael—
I only want one thing.
I only want you to be proud of me.
I just want someone to know me deeply
and feel proud in spite of me. I must’ve said a thousand iterations
into the night,           even as he left the room to shower,
even as he lingered just outside the bedroom,
explaining to his frat brothers
that he couldn’t come out to play
poker right now, as much as he wanted to.

Self-Portrait as a Dead Dog

Yesterday I had everything and then lost it.
I remember it perfectly, the snow-scorched field.
My shoulder tips covered in a fine layer of sun.
My vision so white I forgot for a second the world held other colors.
I liked it that way. I liked being a different man than my father.
Then the house crumbled around me like the future,
or the present. The remnants of the house around me: a broken window,
a door frame with no wall around it, like a portal to another life.
A voicemail from my roommate: Won’t you please check
on the gas stove, I may have left it on before I left
for China, where I will uncover the rest of my personhood.
How I ran then through the frame
and landed face first on my front porch.
I threw open the door and the whole house
wreaked of dead houseplant and rotting. No rustling of fur
or jangling of collar as I peered into the blankness of the space.
I knew then what I didn’t want to know but already knew
even before I arrived. I closed the door
and never opened it again. I walked
a hundred miles into Jersey City. Now here’s the catch.
Years later, when I revisit that moment, there is a squeak
just as I close the door. Perhaps it is the door itself.
Was it an unoiled door? I don’t know. I am too far
from the memory and the memory is too far
from me and I am too far from my first apartment
and too far from that magic door frame
that brought me into the world screaming and kicking
as a child traveling through space for the first time.
Was he still alive and am I still alive? Should it even matter
to a grown man whose dog death has colored
every cavity of his personhood?