get there before sundown.
only with what nurtures.
let the process of shedding
be joyous in its eternity.
create and call it creation.
tell lashing out that
it isn’t worthy of your song.
beat the drum
instead of yourself.
beat the drum when hands
want to become fists.
beat the drum to get
beneath the surface.
jump off the bed.
welcome waves in the tub.
cook as if dancing.
be a metaphor
when literal is too much.
cry into your journal
as if it is rising’s way.
praise into your journal
like you ain’t apologizing
to no one for shine.
claim into your journal,
for there’s no need
to die waiting.
be too vibrant for lingering
on those who neglect.
to keep treating yourself
be more than knowing.
in case you need encouragement,
you tucked away,
scared you’d be laughed at
trying for more than
that shows you beyond
the bad beats.
who you were before
that season you’ve forgotten.
that every victory counts
and that you’re
one step closer today.
From Well Played (Not a Cult, 2020) by Beau Sia. Copyright © 2020 by Beau Sia. Used with the permission of the publisher.
The other day I almost felt the burden
of sin in Urban Outfitters (church of markups, house
of worship for pretenders, the suburban
teens masquerading as city-born). A blouse
on a rack arrests the gem-light from the rose
window, anemic sunlight dribbling through
stained glass, re-pressing new designs. Transpose
Jesus onto the Grateful Dead, skeletons toe-
to-toe and Our Lord and Savior kneeling, washing
their metatarsals. The mannequins wear
it better here, their pseudo-sockets watching
me mime their poses. Fiberglass arms bare
in tank tops. Legs half-lunging. One foot en pointe
like a disciple’s, for me to kiss. Anoint.
Like a disciple, for me to kiss (anoint)
your face is to mark you for betrayal. Coffee
cups and carafes, my lipstick print disjoined
from the trellised skin—I leave behind a copy
of my mouth at cafés. I find a shop that sells
lattes and tea in the sanctuary, plays
old rap songs that would clatter like shotgun shells
in a Sunday service’s silence. During the weekdays,
the college kids forget themselves and burn
their tongues on dark roasts, mochas spilled, say shit
and cross themselves with a caffeinated finger-
gun to the head, the chest, the shoulders. I sit
and mouth the Father, Son, the Holy Spirit
with every touch, on beat, like a rap song lyric.
With every touch—on beat like a rap song lyric—
my phone works less and less. The telltale check
of Verizon Wireless bums on its side; a satyric
smirk in vermillion, devil-red. At the tech
desk, the employee tests my touchscreen sensors.
He says, It’s almost gone, you’ll need to upgrade.
I let him rob me. His voice resounds from the center
of the store as if he’s preaching the terms of the trade-
in, rules like commandments. Forty dollars a month
to hear another voice, for someone other
than God to speak to me. One hundred up front
to kill the loneliness, to call my mother
some days. Siri records and keeps my confession;
Forgive me, Father, for all our missed connections.
Forgive me, Father, for all our missed connections—
my late-night pillow-prayer. I’ve avoided
going to church for months now, my collection
of excuses practiced, preached right back. I’m loaded
with bullshit, Sunday morning sermons spent
in bed, damning myself for sleeping too late.
But I never set the alarm. At night, I repent
by kneeling bedside, all my body’s weight
branding my knees with the carpet’s pattern.
My comforter clings to the dryer’s heat. I say
Let me explain, Lord, but it doesn’t matter.
We’ve been here before—last week, the other day
when my tongue played Judas and betrayed me, slipped
and cursed mid-prayer, abandoned the usual script.
And cursed! Mid-prayer! Abandoned the usual script
again—you, venting to your angels, another
tally in red by my name. A sinner’s lip
on that one. I picture you watching me stutter
another apology. Your angels gather
around to eavesdrop and gossip about my judgment
day. What would you say if you heard the scattered
chitchat, your cherubs deep in their discussion
about my devil-speak? Have I sent angels
to punishment with this mouth? Cartoonish
really—you pointing like a parent, the painful
silence that follows Go to your room. Their moonish
eyes closed, hands clasped in prayer, asking you
for forgiveness. I hear angels mess up too.
For forgiveness, I hear angels mess up too.
My grandma tells me, An angel fell from heaven
because he started “smelling himself,” her new
expression. Probably ruined it the second
he got up there. I wonder if all my dreams
of falling are really just me losing
your favor and forgetting. To me it seems
that life is a game of this-or-that, of choosing
to deny the self or indulge. My grandma reminds
me it’s never black and white, but different shades
of gray. It ain’t easy being human. Sometimes
we fail a test, or we pass. There ain’t no grades
for that. Everyone sins. Lucifer even, falling
to hell, the heat beneath us licking. Sprawling.
To hell, the heat. Beneath us—licking, sprawling—
sunlight unfurling on the asphalt. My mother
and I amble through an outlet mall, sweat stalling
in the underwire of our bras. I smother
her hand in mine, wrestle her into air-
conditioning in Forever 21.
She fans herself with a coupon flyer, her hair
flapping in waves. I make a fleeting run
through the markdowns, neon tags for clearance, half
off. An employee asks if I need assistance
when I hold a shirt to my chest—its skeleton laughs,
a bouquet of roses in its mouth, its twisted
grin in on all my secrets, my darker version.
The other day I almost felt the burden.
From I Done Clicked My Heels Three Times (Soft Skull, 2023) by Taylor Byas. Copyright © 2023 by Taylor Byas. Used with the permission of the Soft Skull Press, an imprint of Catapult LLC.