Sweet orange almond crumbs stuck to my sweater front
as I wobbled into the dining room—having eaten
all the leftover naan, flat-out in a stupor on the couch.
I found my brother and friend, Maddy, cross-legged on the floor
behind the table, tossing smoke from their tongues—
each sucking the other’s back in.
The suggestion of sex flapped in my skull—thousands of moths
tunneling until eardrums. Intimacy has always disturbed me that way,
because I’ve always felt outside of it.
I stood, elbows cupping the sink, red face-palmed,
fingers wound at my scalp. Is it about a boy? Maddy asked—
bleed-grazed and let—Is it about a girl?
I think I might be bi, I said. The first round
of many comings out, each dilated and out of body.
I skimmed the stairs on all fours, squalled into my bedroom,
a spool to bedding-thread—rolled in tight enough to atomize a self.
Sniveling downstairs again, I took up my brother’s drumsticks,
waled messily on the skin of the snare.
I have wondered sometimes, Maddy said, leaning in, nervous feet anchored
behind the door frame. My brother stood clutched and tall
beside her. Me too! Everybody wonders! I banged a little longer,
hunched over, then hushed.
The next morning, we were without words for it—
the night, a shared and precarious dream.
At dinner, my brother looked over the check,
Did you like the waitress? he asked, and moths lifted again
as you imagine them spraying over a Front Range mountainside en masse.
It isn’t like that! I said, hard-receding into the corner of the booth.
He continued carefully, pretending not to notice the distortion.
I’m trying to decide how much to tip, he said, and smiled
an apologetic sideways—guiding me on his arm from the eclipse,
like their nests were not spun in my throat.
Before Dawn November 13th, 2008
That’s what it all had to do with.
How I’d looked so long in the mirror as a child
sparring selfdom. Unwittingly, a pollen-mite
in blooming the world over.
Not in the sense of anonymity.
My name an imminent vine
on the trellis of this reflection.
The pang of my stare
volleying, narrowing, as a black hole might
before swallowing itself
in the after-throb of predestination.
I followed her floral scrubs
through a halogen passage
into a stiff carpeted atrium,
shadowed servile as she
traced left to reception. I sat
with my back to the counter
in a blue cafeteria chair.
She spelled my name to a woman
behind the desk, who
entered me into the system.
The common area reminded me
of the dorms. I felt entitled
to it—the way the upholstery was
worn flat, the over-wired rubbing
their hours on it.
Unnamed carriers sowing
the hybrid-fabric pills
that clustered and breeched
in rows from it. I don’t remember
feeling afraid. It was 2 am by then.
She led me into a cold tiled room.
Its oldness struck me—the stale
lighting, the jaundiced air.
She sent me to a far corner,
behind a curtain
and told me to undress, as if
privacy were for the act of revealing,
not the exposure.
Everything, she said. Though I
knew that to be untrue. Not me
in this world. Not me
with all of my privilege.
I shucked clothes away
down to the women’s pajama shorts
I wore as boxers on my stranger.
Everything, she said
again, expecting this
routine. I imagine, mostly
from girls like me.
I let them fall off and stepped out.
She looked me over—empirical,
unflinching at these
alien breasts, a woman
could bear children with these hips.
Her eyes fell at my left wrist
where all the eyes had fallen
for weeks. The white PUMA
sweatband, brazen—bitter lime ringing
the tarsus of a single pigeon,
splitting through its flock.
Is there something under that?
she asked, evenly. Yes, I said,
apologetically. You’ll need to
take that off as well.
Elbows clenched at my ribs, arms
crocheted purple with humility and cold,
I buckled an IV swelled finger
under the elastic fabric—
time-washed, yellow as
my birthday newspaper
careful in my mother’s dresser.
I pulled it over my left palm.
Two measured amber brands
sidewinding, wide and parallel—
and taut around their edges.
Oh, she said.
(impressed, I thought)
You can’t cover that.
Step back, spread your arms and legs.
I, the laughable Vitruvian Man,
the proportion of these limbs
to each other,
to the scope of my life
and all of the world’s spores
carried to effortless sex on a wind.
I stood before her,
suddenly bared to her
as though she would
take the virginity of a flesh
I marked but refused to possess.
She lifted the Polaroid
and began to take images.
With each angle,
with each click and print,
I began finally to own this body,
to know it as myself.
Hannah Beresford, originally of the Helderberg Escarpment of upstate New York, earned her MFA from New York University after spending four years on red dirt as a D1 athlete at Oklahoma State. Her poems are published or forthcoming in; The Adroit Journal, Lambda Literary, The Cimarron Review, The Sycamore Review, and elsewhere. She serves as a poetry editor for No Tokens.