When my father says that I’m almost as handsome as him outside in midday heat
with mirthful eyes and a mouth the same weight as mine,
I heave his words to my chest and hold them there ‘til my arms grow tired.
I set them down much later but only after I’ve stretched the width of my shoulders
and the breadth of my biceps in his replica,
hold them there until I ache in all the parts of me that loathe softness.
It takes two new moons of sobbing ‘til I can unwrap myself
in full view of a dirty bathroom mirror
to begin the work of undoing it all from my skin.
I marvel at the tangled vine of my insides
tugging my lungs to a heave;
I choke on myself then.
I wonder if it ever edges his teeth,
the way rioting stems and petals reside in my throat
where an army of trees should thrive, or if he minds
the way his voice bellows and mine whistles
and hisses and falls several octaves short of his
and my four brothers before me.
When he points to the scant gathering of hair
beneath my chin in amusement, I laugh with him
and then at him and then at the absurdity of it all.
They congregate unwillingly, spring up like the uninformed at a rally,
coaxed to passive presence, sparse and standing far away
in fucked-up fear of gathering in the wrong place;
I laugh at the razor-sharp remainders of a beard mowed to shadowy reminder
along a rugged jawline.
I grind my teeth to dust in angry aspiration to a jaw just as strong,
a whole face framed in longing
I want to ask him what he knows
of the bougainvillea plants in his yard—
if he knows that they were discovered by a woman
disguised as a man on a ship that wouldn’t ferry a womb to new land,
even as it sailed the soft side of the ocean’s underbelly,
even as it circumnavigated the lap of Erzulie’s skirt.
I want to talk about other flowers
and the hermaphroditic nature of healthy things that grow on their own
on another hot day in July, with an oak tree in my throat
and coiling vines of bougainvillea climbing the maze
of my insides and be both and neither and a whole forest onto myself.
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