Read time: 2 mins

Bougainvillea Boy

by Jay T. John
20 February 2023

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.

About the Author

Jay T. John

Jay T. John is a nonbinary Trinidadian poet who uses art to contextualize and highlight the nuanced experience of otherness. Their poetry has appeared in the 2018 anthology Unwritten: Caribbean Poems after the First World War, and they have been shortlisted for both the 2021 Johnson & Amoy Achong Caribbean Writers Prize as well as […]