by Sloane Scott
after José Olivarez
I leave home for college and the two trade places. My dorm mother
and dean father tell me it is okay to dream. Let me breathe.
I understand they gave me life. I carry books around like armor.
This is nothing new. I am only smart because I am here. The school
has an acceptance rate of 8.4%, which is lower than the year I entered.
This makes me lesser than the freshman. I made it into higher education
but I don’t feel heavenly, much less celestial. Studying is now prayer,
alarms minutes apart are Hail Marys, exams are days of worship.
I am an English major dropping Intro to Shakespeare. Forgive me Father
for I have Sinned. The weight of the world is textbooks. I shrink down
to the size of textbook typography. Walking home after class I step over
ants in their scramble to get back to the anthill. I think they are under me
and I know I am wrong. I have lived in the anthill adjacent all my life.
I know how Gregor felt in The Metamorphosis. He felt free. Call me
Samsa from now on. I meet the love of my life at the end of my life.
I cannot reconcile that time is circular, that it folds into itself
like a dying star, like a series of collapsing planets being sucked
into a black hole. I am told my eyes are buglike. I can tell my stare
makes people uncomfortable, that it vacuums the space and tiniest
particles out of a room. I can tell when I’m not wanted. Maybe
one day I will not be so concerned with myself. For now I am 20
and unlearning. I know people are not telling me I look like James
Baldwin. Baldwin saw himself in Bette Davis. I see myself in
my mother. My mother is untangling that her daughter thinks she comes
from bugs. To be precise, one, a beetle. Because there are 350,000
beetle species in the known universe I understand why she is confused.
I hold myself accountable by reading a lot of books. I am very good at it.
The trick is to turn the pages one after another like wind blowing leaves
off of trees. I have so many dead trees in my room. Approximately three,
soft and hardwood. The tree in front of my childhood home is dying
and peeling, in sheaves like paper, but the pieces fall to the ground
and compost, in chunks like carcass. The point of reading is to keep myself
alive. Like a shark sleeping with its eyes open, swimming until it doesn’t
anymore and we all know what that means. It has gone to heaven. If I die
in my sleep I will be dreaming beforehand. Of course I will be in the forest,
in the woods behind the house made of wood and plaster and arguments.
I’d like to be buried here. Not inside the arguments, but next to them. I will
be walking the trail I took my first sweetheart on. I will be reading poetry.
The body is a graveyard
animal. The body is haunted by ghosts. In the morning
I find my skull has rolled to my feet. I kick it
like a soccer ball, hear its memories rattle
like the bag of bones in Cien años de soledad
and I too am made of solitude. It is just me
in this place of names and no faces.
Perhaps I should have
played soccer when I was younger,
my life longer.
In the thesaurus of words that touch
there is no synonym for that
which was buried
and may still be alive.
Sloane Scott is a junior at Northwestern University studying English and Gender & Sexuality Studies. Her work has appeared in the Hawai’i Review, trampset, and SOFTBLOW. She is never without her thesaurus.