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Emma Törzs - "Watching Fireworks Alone"


"In this country, we are sent home

with lice—we trade it back and forth

and learn to catch the bodies


in our nails, school nurses bent over us

as if in tenderness, for we cannot see

their faces, and they touch us


as would nuns, with clinical worship,

and we on the plastic pews

of our child-sized sterile chairs, our feet


swinging just above the floor, our invisible

ink on the shirts of our friends. We see our father

taking drops of St. John's Wort, his tongue


a meat field in the fence of his bad teeth,

we find our mother writing letters to her sister:

these feelings, she writes, they won't go away,


and until we asked, we never knew

they had it in them to be so unhappy.

Are we not enough? It's a slow climb


to understanding, to the truth

that we aren't blessings on this earth,

and likely we will break


much more than we can fix, and likely

love won't save a mind

from swinging downward, a bird


dipping to the water for a fish

and plunging on, instead. So

there was something we liked


about having the bugs—nights

spent with our heads wrapped


plastic bags, tea-tree oil and rosemary


darkening our hair, those rice-grain bodies

writhing in a small bowl

of hot water…A monkey instinct,


to crave the sift of careful fingers

across your scalp, knowing

you are being cleaned, and all you have


to do is let. Our parents: year by year,

we creep towards the unimaginable darkness

of being without them. We think of them


when a Catherine wheel spins

in the midnight above our front porch,

a starlike fire cycling around an empty center,


the cheering echo of a distant crowd…

We think, oh god:

I can speak only for myself."

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Heidi Shuler - "Trials of a Teenage Transvestite Single Mother"


"My son's black ruffled skirt is shorter than the straight denim one

he usually wears. We're late for school. Don't dawdle, I say

as he swings one leg out of the truck and then the other, far unlike


how my grandmother taught me—knees clasped, pivot at the hips,

feet land together, and stand, ladylike. Those were Iowa manners;

this is Eugene, Oregon, etiquette, twenty years later. A little copper


cowbell clanks against the glass door of the convenience store

as he rambles in, lanky stride long with steel toe boots and fishnet

knees as far out in front of him as a grasshopper. His delight


in the flounce of his skirt is a grasshopper wishing to skip.

The Maybelline black eyeliner applied like someone not long past

crayons and coloring books is a stealth acquisition from my makeup bag,


returned with a flattened tip, which I dedicated to his shaving kit,

grateful we don't share a similar preference in hosiery. At six feet tall

and narrow in the shoulders and hips he strikes an attractive silhouette,


despite the signature slouch of a sixteen-year-old still frightened

by the violence of the body's jolt of height that put him suddenly

at eye-level with teachers, store clerks, and bus passengers. Draped


against a lamppost downtown his accidental elegance betrays him

even without the fake fur coat, his graceful knobby hands flutter

with his story and unconscious laugh. I saw him there one Saturday


vening before we agreed I wouldn't do this, and crossed the street,

sidled up to his longtime friend from back in the days of Oreos and milk

after school and skateboards carving concrete riverbeds in the driveway,


and I asked this boy in a man body like a lifeguard, like someone

who could protect if need be, You got him? Junior lifeguard speaks

with the unpredictable tenor of a new Adam's apple, You know I always


got his back, nobody gonna hurt him. As I wait, two fellas in a semi-rusted

Subaru wagon parked beside me eating breakfast chalupas from yellow paper

grease spotted wrappers are watching him in the store. It's a wager


I hear. It's I hope it IS a faggot I hear. The one from the passenger side

is up and it's the copper cowbell clank I hear. I can see my boy in the back

of the store at the refrigerator leaning on the open glass door probably


looking for the blue skeleton drink with the skull and crossbones

on the bottle because he's a kid and I remember when he was

a very little kid but big enough to run fast and chase the chickens


and then the rooster turned on him and stood ground and danger

was suddenly close, much closer than me, and how would I run fast

enough to grab him up in time ahead of that beak, those spurs and claws?


How did he get so far away, my boy with beautiful brown eyes? Chalupa guy

pretends to peruse the next soda case to get a look at him; I'm too late,

he's laughing. I run. But when I reach the crackerjacks and close the distance


I find chalupa is laughing at something my son has said. Back in the car,

as if we're playing a board game, playing battleship on the coffee table,

he mocks my she-mama-bear hurling through the 7-Eleven mad-dash,


Honestly? Was your sum total game strategy ‘kill him'’ He laughs again

and bends my rearview mirror to straighten the black satin bow

bobby-pinned in his hair, and scrubs a fleck of lipstick from his tooth."

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I relate to this far too much.


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