time & again she says, the ball’s in your court now. this is the pattern: your counselor exposes every situation of your life for what it is, & you acknowledge that she’s right but resist acceptance. you think this phrase refers to basketball, the sweat of players guarding & passing & sinking free-throws, the squeak of rubber soles on slick hardwood, the buzzer when the clock reads 00:00 & the game ends. but you are reminded of chlorine & the smack of wet foot steps at the YMCA after your swimming lessons, of walking into the game room with wet hair & placing your hands on the slick, greasy handles at the side of the foosball table. you watched the way older boys played, their square bodies moving at awkward angles, shoving & tugging as they cursed under their breath. the way they scrambled to manipulate plastic red and blue men into slamming the ball to the opposing goal. struggle.
composition, cursive slant, letters to the girl who lived the damage. her eyes are closed but she does not sleep, listening for the whisper of the opening door, the pull of a car’s humming motor into a driveway. hypervigilant. exhausted. she is a chimney expelling nicotine & secondhand smoke. she is a drain accepting skunked beer & days old tequila & lemonade. write: this is the story as you are living it. then stand, you & the girl, at opposing sides of the table, your fists pumping handles & spinning knobs, the rush of your muscles & desire to win allowing muscle to work, feverish, blind. say, together we will learn where the ocean begins. the splash of little girls in purple polka-dot bathing suits leaping into the pool. the ball is in your court, her court, & then it isn’t.
power–the way it rests heavy & hot behind my ribs, burning just along my spine. the swell & choke of throat as i sink deeper into this body, the shell that closes like an apple snail’s abandoned exoskeleton. father, how can i use this wisely or else shed this great responsibility? first there was a man, & then there was a child, & then there were poor decisions. unwise, unthinkable, unforgivable: choose an adjective. pluck them by the fistful. lose yourself in the yanking as the world funnels, becomes just a pinpoint: the bouquet. you are elsewhere, absorbed, focusing sleepily. this minute becomes an hour, becomes an afternoon. you are stuck in a perpetual loop as time slides right on by.
years later, you will blink, lift your head, become aware for what feels like the first time of the bright sunlight, the purple of the petals fluttering from the stems in your hand. you will ask, is this real? how long have i been here? the sticky, thick tar of sorrow & anger will coat you, will not be scrubbed away. a voice will rise from the water. you pray that your father will listen. as you twist, angle your body, spin your little plastic men to kick, sink a goal, you pray that he will speak your name.
i float on my back in a shallow pool, wearing a child’s body & measuring my breaths. light pierces the water. it is a disc of glass, a mirror, a scope of cognisance that glints, blinds. how can i say this, that whatever loom outside this circle is our unknown, a terrible darkness, terror? the way uncertainty swells, widens, as the light extinguishes. a quarter teaspoon, a heaping tablespoon: the breath, until it cannot be sustained, a consequence of his body crook’d, curved, around this, a child’s, body. in the aftermath, man-shaped silhouettes hang from every corner of the room, the patient sea swallows your toes. you pluck the petals from your bouquets: he loved me, he loved me not, father’s shadow creeping in the dark.