Your Husband Says Let's Try Something New
—after The Lovers by Rene Magritte (1928)
after your anniversary dinner, a bit of Bordeaux still aging on the corner of your mouth. In the restaurant’s dim corner he frisked
the top button of your dress undone, its plastic clicking against the gold wedding band. His hand a half-formed promise counting the dips
of your spine. You offered yourself up right then, plated, drizzled with need under the table. Your pantyhose, decoration. His fingers
dipped into the chocolate sauce on your plate then paused at your bottom
lip’s altar and you wanted to be the pen he signed the check with, an instrument to do his bidding. At home, he refused to be uncollared,
untied. Left in his cufflinks. Said the night was about how far you could go without going, or coming. Said close your eyes. A few anniversaries ago you opened a slim jewelry box and found
a leather eye mask slumbering in velvet. So we can truly be ourselves in the dark, as he slid it over your head. His body a new body in that manmade night—a hunter gone prey to the beast he hoped you would become. Now, he crowns you with the elastic band once again, the leather’s edge biting a curve into the bridge of your nose. Imagine we’re both someone else, he whispers, guiding your hand
to the gill of his boxers. A few seconds of clumsiness, teeth clicking, the choppy unzipping. Your husband changing shape in your grip, your name changing shape in the air between the two of you. Imagine we’re someone else—as he breathes someone else’s
name, asks another woman for mercy you will not give.
Conversion | On Cincinnati's Converted Churches, God, and Lucifer
The other day I almost felt the burden of sin in Urban Outfitters (church of mark-ups, 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 in 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 tell-tale 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? The image’s 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.
VI. 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 grey. 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.
TAYLOR BYAS is a Black poet and essayist. She currently lives in Cincinnati, Ohio where she is a second year PhD student and Albert C. Yates Scholar at the University of Cincinnati studying poetry. She is also a reader for both The Rumpusand The Cincinnati Review, and the Poetry Editor for FlyPaper Lit. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in New Ohio Review, The Journal, Glass Poetry, Borderlands Texas Poetry Review, Hobart, Pidgeonholes,The Rumpus, and others. She has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, Best New Poets 2020, six Best of the Net nominations, and is the 1st Place Winner of the 2020 Poetry Super Highway Contest.