When my brother was born,
he didn’t breathe
easy for the first hour and Mom says
she would’ve been scared if she wasn’t too busy
looking up at the sky, because she says
that when my brother was born,
the world started dancing
and the sun lit itself into a softer kind of flame and
the birds flooded into the hospital parking lot to sing their indigo songs and
the mulberry tree outside the window ripened suddenly, offering up its fruit,
and the people in the streets and in the waiting room and in the ICU
smiled brighter even though they weren’t sure why.
She says that when they rushed him out to clean him up and fix his lungs,
Dad tried to go with them but they wouldn’t let him
and so instead he leaned out the hospital window and plucked mulberries
and indigo songs and he and Mom ate them up until they weren’t scared anymore.
She says the sun was so excited
that it reached out a dancing ray
to my brother’s tiny shoulders
until he was warm enough to leave the hospital and babble all the way home.
When we were younger, we lived by a house with a mulberry tree and Mom says
that in the summer, when the mulberries ripen to their deep dark purples and drip juice on the stairs,
you can still sometimes hear their indigo songs
and the ground shaking with laughter
and the earth rejoicing over and over,
celebrating my brother’s sickly baby body
pounding down breath in a hospital room.
i boxed with the moon last night
in my defense, heartache.
in my defense, the junebugs—
she punched me out,
light refracting into bruises. she said she
was sorry when she wasn’t. her knuckles were craters
and they smiled back at me.
in my defense, the way that wanting scalds. in my defense,
icarus only died when the sea smothered him. in my defense,
it was never about flying— the sky cleaved from apology.
they don’t tell you that the blood in your mouth is a sunset, biding its time. that when it dries on your skin, it will taste like swall
in my defense, i loved her.
in my defense, i wanted more.
in my defense, when i breathed
in last summer, i caught
junebugs in my mouth and grew
wings from the inside out—
i just wanted to test them.
i never wanted to hurt her,
only to see
how far i could go.
We’re roaring down the South 93 in November,
late morning sun, unfolding foliage,
small silver cars threaded into the thick of the traffic on the other side of the grate,
the brand of headphones you recommended tracing their way over your ears.
I’m quiet, barricaded beside you with my mouth sewn shut.
The trees, standing righteous, at attention, bare military dress, are flickering and fading out, casting thin strips of light and then dark and then light again
on the denim of my jeans,
the fabric of my scarf.
I want to tell you everything,
a desperate attempt to evacuate the dark things inside my chest,
they’re black and visceral and they’ve lived there for years,
I want to cough out the blood pooling in the back of my throat
until it’s your hand squeezing my shoulder,
those little bits of lonely
evaporating into dust in the light.
But there are no secrets here.
There is only the stretch of highway against painted-over canvas,
and there’s no words for what I want to say,
only the faintest gasp of morning medication on my tongue,
and I want to say something
before the city tears itself into us,
but there’s nothing left to say.
We’re flying down the road now.
The exit is pushing itself up against my lips,
it’s hurling gravel and silt on the tips of my shoes,
and in my mouth, underneath sea salt and road signs,
my teeth are clenched.
Wake up, I say, pressing the soft animal of my palm onto your jacket,
misted with rain.
I tell you: I’ll miss you.
and I go back to window watching.
It’s not enough, because I can still see decades lingering
in the space between median strips,
in the space between my palm and yours,
but there’s this:
the weight in my throat feels lighter.
When it happens,
this is how it happens:
moss spilling out of his mouth when he breathes. Shadow backing into skin.
Trading tongue for seawater.
It’s not his fault— he saw the way ultraviolet and earth danced
around each other like mid-morning lovers. The shadow between them. All he wanted was to introduce soil to sunlight and sing about the opposite of intervention. All he found was a way
to stop drowning. To become the sea instead.
The boy opens his mouth to apologize
but finds clover sprouting from his lips. He wants to be a greater good
so he lets it grow.
Here is how it happens: boy gets tired of bleeding
and becomes the ground instead.
He can’t help it, and so here is how he gives boyhood over to earth
and makes of himself an elegy,
the kind of thing that blooms
instead of breathing.
How the boy with the garden between his lips
becomes the garden with the eyes of a boy.
Here is how the body decides
it is not a thing worth keeping
and pins blades of grass
in the place of veins,
replaces reflections with tinfoil.
Here is the boy, burying himself
before he is born.
Watch for the ground:
find him beneath it, turning the body back to springtime.