Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé
He grabbed the orange clods, slapped the earth on my face. My eyes were shut tight. The gravel cut into my skin. He combed mud from my forehead into my hair, hands sweeping to the back of my neck where they stayed, as if to grab my face.
“This is what being dead feels like,” he shouted into my ear. “They’ll take all your shit, and leave your body in a ditch to rot.”
The poem said to trek the isthmus on our own, into the sea of so many others. It said we would walk the plain under the shallow waters.
I heard the other sentry rifle rations from my backpack, overturning it so my supplies fell out on the wood flooring in small thuds. This was the old training shed the other men had talked about, the deep valley of the firing range filled with water over the years. Some men had stripped off their webbing and fatigues, and jumped into the water.
It didn’t matter that they were yawping like wild dogs in the dead of night. The abandoned range was covered in undergrowth, the jungle so thick they had to cut a path through it with their machetes.
The next day, nothing I did was good enough. Didn’t scrub their mess tins clean. Their bayonets were coated in rust. The tents weren’t sturdy enough. Had me heat the rations, then they booted the food into the mud. That night, I had to suck three of them off. They had a switchblade to my throat, threatened to kick out my teeth if I didn’t do it properly.
This is Rendezvous “Floating Room,” where they bring the queers by truck. We’re made to change into orange suits from the engineers, so we look like hostages or prisoners. “Cocksuckin’ Yardbirds,” they call us.
I knew my buddy was hogtied and left by the banyan tree, cradled between two big roots. He had a deep gash in his right thigh. The rest were bruises from the roughhousing.
After four days, when Christmas had come and gone, we were thrown our fatigues, and ordered to clean up. They unknotted the ropes, except for our ankles. Left the blindfolds on. We heard them radio back to HQ before they took the truck.
Jerry, who sat in the back of the class in high school, placed my backpack beside me. “I’ve left a few rations in the side pockets,” he said softly but hastily. “You need to start trekking from the frangipani trees, then head north. You’ll eventually hit HQ.”
The poem said we had our even chances at a sufficient happiness. That behind the walls curtained our small glances, of shared shame, and denial and acceptance. That they tattooed our hands and genitals and feet, so we’d always be marked, and remember.
The last lines of the poem came first. That if I looked back at the memory again, I would taste the salt of my own transfigured tongue.
Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé is the author of I Didn’t Know Mani Was A Conceptualist. Desmond has also edited more than ten books and co-produced three audio books, several edited pro bono for non-profit organizations. Desmond is an interdisciplinary artist, also working in clay. His commemorative pieces are housed in museums and private collections in India, the Netherlands, the UK and the US.