I. ISLAND BOI
I was fourteen
with burnt black skin, standing in front of
my grandmother's mirror:
an island child, hair down and
to let in curry heat.
The towel fell:
I stood uncovered before the glass and
pinched my cheeks,
scraping wet hair from my forehead,
working my jaw
angrily like Granddaddy did.
I look like a boy,
I whispered to the steam that
folded upward from the
I dug my fingertips into the mirror,
wishing I could bend glass.
I did not wish to be a boy,
not that day,
but even then I sensed
that these budding breasts had grown
bending my spine.
I am a broken brown boy
bound together with Ace bandages:
I am the confusion of my lopsided face
in the mirror
as I tug one eye closed: Why are my eyes so
crooked? Why is my jaw so round?
My chest is flat in my favorite picture.
I fold my arms across my stomach
and turn my cheek,
so no one can tell the difference
between me and my
father says I am his first daughter,
but I know I am his second son.
So my only inheritance is his thick lips
and anger outbreaks, and as I write this
my right hand types slower,
three knuckles splintered apart and scabbing
from where I buried them in the wall.
My story does not end in testosterone.
My story does not end in phalloplasty.
My story does not end with my fingers
stitching golden half-moons across my chest.
My story chugs on in sports bras and muscle shirts,
and in Jersey dresses and curly weaves,
because if I could just be pretty enough,
yes, if I just looked like all of the girls
I wanted to sleep with,
instead of like their boyfriends…
The last time I slept with a girl,
she called me Daddy. I was Champange Papi
and Sugar for dinner,
but I know she never felt full.
My muscles did not look like her father’s muscles.
I spent my bank account on clothes for her,
jewelry for her, red wine for her,
and, for me, a hookah pen
that filled my mouth with glass and ink.
As she pulled glass out of my gums,
she said I didn’t need to write anymore.
They say artists speak the truth,
but I don’t have any: I can’t write the bible
on masculinity or the manifesto of femininity
or offer any pointed Platonian platitudes
for merging the two;
and although Plato pondered whether a female body
could contain a male soul
my tongue can’t fathom that sticky word.
I am the awkward masculinity
festering at the bottom of a wine glass.
One day a man will scrape me out,
tie me into a white dress
and call me the beautiful mother of his children.
And when the Ace bandages fall like ribbons
to my blistered feet,
I’ll run a hand over my crooked ribs
And I’ll say to myself
when I say to my girlfriends:
Don’t you look so beautiful, baby girl?
Don’t you just look so beautiful?
III. CHIVALRY FOR BROKEN BOIS
Take the punch.
Pretend to love the
crack of knuckles across your jaw,
the cold metallic taste
of blood on your teeth
as constellations spin behind your eyelids:
Men don’t cry,
so square your shoulders, baby boi;
that dapper vest won’t save you
from the asphalt scorching up your
You signed up
to take spit in your eye and pain
in your stomach, the constant knot of
will he hit me?
when you pass a “real” man.
Who’s the coward now?
You fix your tie in the mirror, knowing
that someone could rip out the stitches
in your still-swollen,
left cheek—you dig your tongue
around your mouth to feel it throb.
Who’s the coward now?
You take a punch;
you take cracked ribs,
and you’ll never hit back.
Because, baby boi, you’re a gentleman,