alter (v.): change or cause to change in character or composition, typically in a comparatively small but significant way.
& your hair’s growing out again. junkyard body crying for grace. you’ve gained weight but stayed clean of the scale. every poem is a summer love poem. the nose piercing you walked a mile in the rain with r to get is a stubborn red bruise; the piercers told you that saline heals, so you force long gulps of it down your throat. no, i know that isn’t how it works. this time last year, you were nightwalking after your restaurant shift, little ghost wandering the fluorescent grocery store aisles, touching the produce to remind yourself you were real: humid & heartsick all the time. carrots, napa cabbage, cut fruit, sweet dead childhood lying like a gutted fish in the butcher’s aisle.
maybe you miss the girl you were in high school, all that skinniness and stupidity. the way she mourned before knowing what mourning was. transformation, after all, is in the tender things.
sixteen was a terror, seventeen flammable. now, twenty: you remember everything in liquid dreams, think that you should have died every summer since ninth grade when you first tried to scrape the pith from your organs & then skinned your knees as if to water the parched concrete. when you change, where does the other version of you go? by all rights, you should be a ghost by now. & yet your skin burns gold in the california sun—you’re not the daughter you once were. good girl, small face, pale as white jade, starving animal daughter eaten up by pretty boys. whining like a broken violin or a dog left behind a screen door. you will not be your mother. & yet love is in this story, i swear.
b helps you bleach your eyebrows in the dingy bathroom between your shared rooms: the strange dorm-room floor red as a murder behind you & your forehead stinging when you pull away the cling wrap, makeshift bandage for some wound you can’t reach yet. your face drips tap water, baptismal. the first time you did this, your mother’s inherited brows disappeared right into your face & you felt the umbilical wound open again. you will never understand your mother enough to judge her.
altar (n.): a table or flat-topped block used as the focus for a religious ritual, especially for making sacrifices or offerings to a deity.
when you were a child, you thought god lived in the mountains behind your house. you made up prayers on your way home from school, back when you hadn’t ever been on your knees with a mouthful of bared teeth, before you learned that god was not a man but instead a noose hanging from the family tree demanding you jump. rope-burn on each palm: your blood pours dark red, venous. this body has never been much interested in the business of living.
you’re raw-skinned, opened up all the way / like a switchblade,
the worn-out sum of all your family’s desires & fears /
desperate to feel dangerous again /
scuffing sneakers on the curb for an hour waiting
for a girl to pick you up / identity politics calls you
a cyborg / google translate talks to your mother in your voice /
god made you unformed so that you could form yourself /
divine, human, neither & both / sleeping facedown
with all the windows open, your spine is a tabletop offering / every notch
another wish / gut-deep into july now, plunging your wrists into the viscera of
the season / teethmarks on fallen plums / stonefruit summer, nectarine dusk.
your grief is white noise; it’s never ending but so is the love—
alter, altar: places where divine & human meet. altar as verb is hardly different from godhood. or even girlhood if you’re desperate enough.
in eighth grade at parent-teacher conferences, your humanities teacher told you that you were the spitting image of your mother. maybe more now that you’ve stopped holding such blue-black resentment in your liver. july is a river of light going through you. a pair of shears cutting open the stitches. you search for god but the sun is a rusted coin. blood-tinge in the back of your throat. but we
don’t have to talk about it.
Editors: Alisha B., Uzayer Masud.