We only know wishes if they’ve come true. An eagle’s nest, photographed for fifteen years in a frame of jack pines, cascades like ashes of bone. The darkest part of the forest a maple grove in summer. In autumn, the brightest. Mauve slippers billow like wildebeest rushing a river. I hear rustling, a trot lighter than leaves, & I wish for deer. When it comes true—the deer—I think I am dissatisfied, my heels slouching against roots like thresholds. I’m opening a door & another. You make a wish, earn a truth, place a bet. Even the hinges of doors, circadian rhythms of turning, break their backs beneath promise. That’s it, Richard. At war with the light is more light. Every time I leave a building, I don’t notice the exit signs, budding stems rife with guarantee. I’m full of assumptions. I want to say a country looming with bougainvillea can be found & not made. You’d tell me there is no difference in the bones of a promise or a broken arm. Make your fucking wish—if ghosts are what powder a house with presence, then the body is a promise for disappearance. Every dead leaf is a dead leaf. Every branch pregnant with spring bears a womb for future ghosts. Every finger on your hand is a finger on your hand. You don’t need a bird to make a wishbone. You just need to ask for flight. I’m telling you, Richard, I’m telling you, reach out & hold onto my breath. I’m losing you because lips don’t keep people together. The vines of Russian olives are ready to take us, & I’m tired of walking through this swamp. We have nothing keeping us anywhere.
“They smelled of moss in your hand… On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back.”
—Cormac McCarthy, The Road
My sister once sketched me from behind, playing guitar. When my hair was long. When I had muscle. When I had fat. When I wore ponytails at school, then headbands, metal barrettes. When I was scuffing off the glitz of nail polish with the blunt edge of my swiss army knife. When my earth science course taught me nothing of the earth. When the earth was cut by tremors of a boy, inside me, then outside me, then a land bridge. When I was, for a moment, ice. When I was transparent, when dirt was dirt, when what was fed to the soil was what it regurgitated back. When I gave the earth my body & didn’t receive myself back. When my sister knew my name. When my pocket atlas was a place I could go to imagine the world without seeing it. When worldly meant sex, meant gay, meant navigating my mother’s accusation of faggotry. When my hand was a pen against another boy’s body. When I was ink, graphite, smudge. When I was lines, roads, nowheres. When I was leading my mother on a dead-end path. When I had no more earth beneath me to keep walking. When every map could be zoomed in like a camera, down to atomic composition, down to what no one cares to look for. When I could get lost in a forest in Kingsley searching for mushrooms hours at a time. When my father found me huddled beneath a fallen elm’s gazebo of roots. When he carried me. When I was behind myself. When I kept crumbling, the sand drew my body upright. When my bodies reached for me in my wake. When my bodies could have been girls, boys, trans-boys, trans-girls. When I looked at my sister’s finished sketch. When I saw a map.
Liam Strong (they/them) is a queer poet, essayist, and music critic. They serve as Chapbook Coordinator for Michigan Writers Cooperative Press. You can find their poetry and essays in Impossible Archetype, Lunch Ticket, Rathalla Review, Ghost Proposal, and Glass Mountain, among several others. They live in Traverse City, Michigan.