Post-Ballot Bodies

Published in PEN Center USA's Only Light Can Do That

My grandmother told me when we die the body breaks open like a river. So, I fill my chest with deep breathes, trying to remember how to outstretch a hand to a man I can’t yet understand. I soak my eyes in ocean waves, swimming out beyond hate. Yet, even from there I can still see scowls in my windows. I can see a protestor crack open her reflection. I see a Klansman rally cold eyes in white sheets through neighborhood streets, and I see you – standing there ballot stub in hand. And while you don’t wear a white hood you still waved a white flag to walls around bodies, to fires around families, to hands invading my hips. And as our red, white and blue falls to half mast, I watch these new shades tattoo your face, making it impossible to speak without gawking at your streaks.

So, I fill my throat with gulps of the sky, savoring the taste of somewhere’s pine, trying to mirror nature’s vastness. My grandmother told me when we die our bodies break open like rivers, so I wonder when that day comes will our waters lay still suffocated by slime, or will they gush freely down mountainsides? Will our chests break open gasping for air, or will they soften as organs learned to do knowing hate rots the body, knowing land mines will be laid when hearts freeze and hope runs astray. I kneel at my grandmother’s feet and ask her how to like you, how to hug you, how to look at you and not cringe at the graves you dug bloody ballot in hand.

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