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The Only Atlas We Need Is One Drafted by Children

I know, because a woman told me,

even a horse’s shoe against stone

can spark a fire that wilds too far.

All humans have forged in the embers

combusts, eventually. The copper busts

of men who believed only in genocide,

are common as clouds. The barrels

of 357s were born red hot, before

they tucked themselves into angry

mens’ waistbands. Yes, I only write

about my body because nobody

wants me to have one. This is not

a lonely life. This is the truth of all

people I have kissed, under the shade

of weeping willows. In Pennsylvania,

we are known to gamble our money

as much as our lives: scratch-offs,

Powerball, lifting rocks to wrestle

both king and coral snakes. Red

touching black, safe for Jack. Red touching

yellow, kill a fellow. Children in a forest

depend on verse, limerick, the iambs

of wind throbbing through birch trees.

Across the country, my desert family

drinks exclusively Pacifico, and grafts

the wounds of cacti—two species eager

to grow as one. This is all to say, most

people understand more about transness

than they let on. My small town let me

play baseball with the boys, let me

dodge the goose shit littering right field,

and let me lead off. All transgression

of gender permissible, if I batted over

.300, listened to 3 Doors Down, Creed,

and supported the war. What comes first,

the hatred, or the curriculum to teach it?

I memorized four centuries of papal

reign before the periodic table. I knew

atomic warfare before the atoms bumping

together to build it. I learned I was alive

before I learned how I became so—

parents all atomic and chaffing. Some

things are inevitable, like rain in April,

a teenager’s newfound lust, and disease

dancing through a child’s poorly tended

ant farm. Somewhere, a child is playing

cartographer in the woods—making

maps of worm writing. Somewhere,

that child marks the roads we should

have taken, in only tempura paint.


When My Fantasy Football League Asks Me

to Write a Poem about the Jersey Shore “Note”

I start by telling them, that in Pennsylvania, during the early 2000s,

the only light at night came from Walmart flashlights and the gentle

throb of heat lightning—casting shadows over hay bales.

Sometimes, on the weekends, spotlights shone out the back

of Chevrolets—deer and owls kept their eyes open. Beer cans

crushed into coins, rural currency. It was a simple time, though

everyone I knew was being abused. Twenty years later, my partner,

who only loves me and the New Jersey tides, sees heat lightning

for the first time from our city veranda, breaking like glass between

buildings. My partner pours out a glass of wonder. The air is hot

and delightful. Recipe is, as recipe does. All the world’s landscapes

make all the world’s humans. You should know the truth. When

it all ends, all we’ll have is the high tide, and the heat, and such

wonder for how we loved. Such wonder at what we’ve done.


A Poem about Batman

For Little Davy

My whole family is looking for dimes

on the ground so they can feel you.

They have a few dollars saved, and

even I keep a few, Roosevelt side up

on the mantle. It’s a small thing, all

those dimes. They don’t pay the bills

piling up on your father’s kitchen counter,

but they mean something—something

about the afterlife, something about

how family always searches, even when

everyone knows, maybe, the search

should be given up. But nobody quits

on you, Davy, not when you were alive,

or this February, as the second year

without you rolls around. Me and you

never really got along, but nothing

matters less when it comes to family.

We once watched the Chicago Bears’

tight end break his leg so gruesomely

that we reached for each other, hand

in hand on the basement futon. I will

remember you just like this, empathetic,

and feeling pain that isn’t yours to feel.


KAYLEB RAE CANDRILLI is the recipient of a Whiting Award and of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. They are the author of Water I Won’t Touch, All the Gay Saints, and What Runs Over. Candrilli's work is published or forthcoming in POETRY, American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, and others.


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