Elijah Hayes

2021, Poetry

PRESSING ON TOWARD CANAAN

1.

I used to think I fell too far down a hole like an acorn and would never sprout, or would sprout backward, die young and unshaven, pot-bellied in the second bedroom.

The electrician tests the fire alarm, it’s hotwired so you know, she says.

No, I don’t know, I say.

We’re searching for the man who lost his face to something in the water, the anchorman on TV says.

The nurse presses a thumb onto the patient’s cyst, It’s like a mini volcano, she says.

The way I talked to you, you didn’t want to talk to me anymore. Birds shouting uh-uh, uh-uh.

Sergei says, I smoke three cigarettes a day to keep my heart rate up.

Like Moses stepping out of the bloody river, the nurse wipes a gloved hand down the length of her scrubs, Shit goddammit.

When someone drowns, you won’t hear splashing. The body becomes too focused on floating and breathing. People will die fifteen feet away from you, and you won’t hear a thing.

I promise to always keep the bathroom floor dry, so you don’t slip.

To make a room grow quiet, talk about your medicine.

Sergei asks if we’re going home, Are we in a boat? he says.

No, an ambulance, I say.

Are we in a plane? he says.

I want the deep olive fruits, mouthful of mist. Keep me simply smiling holding a bag-full of gold. There are bad moods that make us feel joy. Shadow I’m throwing long. I should be calling you, but it’s January and not yet snowed. The fool in me brighter.

2.

The doctor uses a sharpie to draw the incision lines on my chest. This is what we’ll remove, she says. She’s eaten a large breakfast and is truth worthy. Let’s get these off! she says, raising her arms into the air like her arms are celebrating.

3.

I visited the graveyard with Grandmother. She said, Here’s my father.

I used to think our minds should be playgrounds. Woods filled with moss and green. Woods piling into woods. My body no bigger than my bed. Could place myself anywhere, but I’m here.

I used to be young with scuffed church shoes, and it was fine that they were scuffed because I was young and healthy and meant to accidentally break things.

I had been so agreeable reflecting into ponds and ruined the afternoon when I spoke and hated the sound of my voice.

Yearlong rabbit under the bush feeling. Like crawdad in creek shedding guilty body under territorial stars.

I thought the world was the size of a marble and could be swallowed quickly. A fresh start. Jaw widening. Too many lost planets, pink and misty, floating in voids, excellently unraveled.

I know I’m a coward doing brave things cowardly. From a thousand rifles and behind the pine. Nothing special being relentless with the knife. These things are important. The stork does nothing for anyone but sun.

Give me soul. No longer tired and bored. I have been soft and unremarkable and clothed.

A whooping crane who migrated too early and found himself among the pelicans.

I’m removing my dumpy sweater. I clear the land of weeds and snakes.

I will be an old church pew creaking these young, bird drugged bones. Give me holy light, holy night, holy, holy niceties.

4.

I’m learning self-preservation. Been catching on well enough with the help of my rusty umbrella. But it’s missing. That’s why I’m here. To ask for it back. I’m balding and sad. Look how tortured I am feeding my hair to the gulls. I have only this paper bag and an apple. I can’t tell if your eyes are open.

5.

As if an animal is watching out for me when I peel back bark in search of honey. The gravel in the driveway speaking stupid sayings. What will I inherit like wisdom? Skin pulled back? And I’m a man? New man? Boundlessness? When the night is dumb and can only say night.

Let’s not try again, said the boy to the angel, and he became five hundred years older in a day, at once wise, and quite suddenly, a graveyard. That’s when I was born. Toadstool asking for more. But I’m being quiet about it. Like I just hid something behind the sofa. Like all my secrets aren’t easy to find.

6.

 I tie all my dismembered parts to branches after telling my doctor a lie. My face flushed red as the inside of my mouth. I lost my dignity, but regained it after I said I’m really interested in equality. All the lilacs in the world stuffed up my nose.

7.

Needle in my thigh. Weekly big grin. I slept in my face unknowingly every day a hematoma.

How’s forgiveness done the right way? The bedside lamp is on. The dog doesn’t know where to sniff. I leave one strawberry in the bowl. Another truck bed wet with rain. What part is the soul?

Here’s my arm, knuckle, earlobe. I’ll fall backward into yellow-fin, wahoo, marlin.

Sometimes my feet are containers for veins. Slivers of dumb horror. Other times my coffee. My milk and toast.

Wars in my temples. Sapped at the root. A shadow only a sea would keep. I know how to avoid any confrontation easily, diplomatically. My one, good eye twisting closed.

8.

The bumper sticker reads, THERE’S ONLY LOVE FOR YOURSELF, GOD AND BACON. Self-acceptance is terrible. There’s an attempt to make some things beautiful that shouldn’t be beautiful.

Sergei says, Don’t waste time on what isn’t in front of you. I don’t know. Someone past our understanding must pity our situation. Perhaps a great fish in the ocean.

I take out the trash. See a bit of moon. I used to wish for a big stage. I used to pretend the parts of my body were speaking to one another. I used to be spiritless, holy crawling chapel windows. I would have made a great southern wife. I know the wide, open fields. The pits where the eyes belong. A good, earthly sickness.

9.

Something is happening. There’s been a great revival. It’s all alone by the bushes. I hold sweet, southern butter role. Belly too full of fatback to find Jesus.

10.

The night we met again, I rolled my socks into one, neat pile as if I had always been organized. But there was a smell in my apartment, whatever I hid a long time ago and forgot about, and you of course found it, a man bobbing under the surface of the water. My sins under a deep stream.

How can forgiveness be given to someone so guilty? If I mean any act, what is it? Do I lie to myself by using words I don’t understand? Who will point out the treeline with my lost compass and smaller heart? Who will watch out after the parts I kill?

Just follow the disorder. I say these things, but I don’t know. The fridge is stocked: apples, ground beef, a bounding pulse.

11.

I don’t like to share. I’m dancing naked in my upright hut. Mull in me the green afternoon light. Me streaked yellow fresh goodness. In my head there is weather and weather. I’m reeling without pants by the bushes. They’re pink worms grabbing at air. I will kill this year. Drop it at your door. Make it your year.

12.

Sergie says, I’m not fucking with you, it took me fifty years of pain. I don’t feel self-important anymore. Now I only love me in the real way. Truth to get you high and not pipe high, you know, speaking truth . I can’t remember falling. I can’t remember I actually did that.

13.

The longer I’m quiet the closer I am to becoming a cathedral. Moon, lead me to the center of my stomach. I will pay you back with more moons and pond-full and brimming over and happy.

Evening soon. I consumed everything. All desire grinning. My soul cut rope. What would I sacrifice?

I’m looking for a still, grey puddle. I’m not sure what I’ve forgiven. Too much or little. As a girl I was down to the shin-bone with green delirium. Shame-faced stalking any good animal to eat. Now I’m lazy and far up the road. Blueness. A triple of days. Silently eating grapes. Years went by. Where was I? In the skin of a copperhead. Sneaking glances sideways skimming down a muddy river. Ensorcelled by my face. Smiling till epistaxis. Checking the clock for home.

14.

Your postcard arrives: Just wanted you to know, I’ve finally forgiven you.

I’m a part of something large and booming, cries a blue jay. Small birds I don’t know the name of flying. How can you forgive?

I’m wandering in a wilderness instead of pressing on toward Canaan. Sergei said, Live so that when you come to the close, all you have left to do is die. I might understand. I watch and am as a sparrow upon the housetops.


Elijah is a trans & queer man living in Alabama. His poetry and nonfiction have appeared in jubilat, Hayden’s Ferry Review, BOOTH, Cover Lit Mag, Cosmonauts Avenue, Queen Mobs Teahouse and other various journals. He is the author of the chapbooks There is One Crow That Will Not Stop Cawing (Another New Calligraphy, 2016) and Mad Dances for Mad Kings (Factory Hollow Press, 2015). He earned his MFA at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. More can be found here.