self-locking mechanism

by Nathaniel Kreeger

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the boy breathes like he is grateful
every day not to be drowning.
the stretch & swell of each inhalation
pulls his skin taut over his bones,
thin & translucent as fine china, as wet paper,
revealing the vague & forbidden shape
of the animal beneath.

if the heart is a trembling joinder of feathers,
no wonder the ribs are a cage.

we go out in the winter, it doesn’t matter
which winter, hands gripping each other’s –
a self-locking mechanism –
inside his fleece-lined jacket pocket.
his nose goes pink with cold & i want
to take him home, haul him in,
make him flush wine-dark & vein-hot
until i know what my body is good for.
until i raise blood to the skin’s surface
in a way that is not violent.

i am afraid of violence. i am afraid
of many things: twinless organs,
a house of mirrors, insects’ compound eyes,
the electric crackle in the air just before someone yells –
the same spark that jumps every time
he has called out for me (o softly softly) in the night.
i do not know how to touch him
without using my hands.

what comes next? i breathe, i sing.
the boy makes a fist around
nothing, all the nothing i can give him,
and together we hold it up to the light, the light –
we hold it up to the light.

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NATHANIEL KREEGER is a Jewish trans man originally from Northern California. He studies English/Creative Writing at the University of Iowa.

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