That night you opened your mouth to sing & only dust
came out. So you improvised. Instead of singing
you coughed & out came quarters. Instead of opening
your mouth you opened the window to let the rain in.
The bed was already packed so you slept on the floor,
even though it was damp. You made a home out
of the mouths of minor gods & when you inhaled
you tasted envy. The world was ablaze so you opened
your good wine without any occasion. You missed
your plane & you adored all the noise. Everyone
in your introductory calculus class wanted you to be
safe. You caught a cold but you did not apologise.
Your father kept calling but you did not apologise.
You lied yourself awake. When your lover opened
your door all he found inside were cardboard boxes.
You undressed electricity out of its copper. You
counted backwards from 10,000 because your
psychiatrist said it might help. You only got to 5000
but it still didn’t help. So you improvised. You learned
a fourth language, a new number system, & you
counted the rest of the way down. You bought a new
plane ticket. You finished your good wine & you bought
new wine. You baked bread. You practised every city
you’d ever left. When you told him I’m in love with
someone else he didn’t stop texting you & when you
told him please stop texting me he didn’t stop texting
you. So you improvised. You blocked his number.
You found a guitar on a sidewalk & you took it
home. You apologised for the first time in years &
for the first time in years you received forgiveness.
You bought pink hair dye & you put it in your
carry-on. You threw the cardboard boxes out
of the window. When you finally walked off
the plane, your father could barely recognise
you for all the song that surrounded you.
That Summer I Wrote the Same Poem Over & Over
It always came in flashes, pristine as a rebroken
bone. The walk to the ends of the world or at least
ours, fever of monsoon season whittling through
our throats. Every night the same park, the same
dark—what else was there to write about, that
first summer I learned to be beautiful as mutiny.
Watch can be verb or noun, omen or gift. Eyes
everywhere & never enough time to carry hope
to its finish line. That summer we were almost
angels. We pushed back the dry season with our
bare hands, came home each night drenched in
each other’s sweat. In that park I learned how to
be someone’s greatest fear, by which I mean I
learned what belongs to me. I learned that pawn
shops make you sad the way funeral homes make
most people sad. Learned that every night after
you saw me, you went home & sat on your bed in
the moonlight & plucked the feathers off your
back before you went to sleep. I only thought
about the word miracle with your palm in mine.
The world moving but not heavy. From behind,
each passing auntie could’ve been your mother’s
best friend. Call that a love language, breaking
apart at a familiar silhouette on the pavement.
Playlists set to private on Spotify. I didn’t want
to die, I just wanted to love you. You bribed your
brother with corner store cigarettes, watched him
lie to your parents’ faces for you. I couldn’t have
inherited a more stunning betrayal. That summer
I wrote the same poem over & over, & I’d never
been a better poet. There was a time we had
gorged ourselves on promises: Rome, or New
York, or one day, when things are different. Now
all there was to promise was a walk tomorrow
night. Your laughter unbecoming the dark, so
sweet. No one saw us unless we saw us first. At
each blink, another uncle on a well-timed grocery
store run, family friend on the way home from
work. It wasn’t about us so much as the spectres
we imagined into words. Smart girl—do you
know your parents are so proud of you, even
now. Do you know summer has gods of its own.
Do you know which of your mouths wants me.
Do you know you can write the same poem a
million times but you can only wake up once
from a dream. In the right hands, a kiss can
be a crime scene, & I’ve never loved anything
without something to hide. Feathers in the
garbage can, excuses in the cigarette box,
stop me if you’ve heard this one before—
Topaz Winters is the author of three collections of poetry (most recently Portrait of My Body as a Crime I’m Still Committing) & editor-in-chief of the arts organisation Half Mystic. Her peer-reviewed research on poetry, identity, & queerness in Singapore is published in the Journal of Homosexuality. Her creative work has been published in Sundog Lit, DIALOGIST, & Tinderbox Poetry Journal; profiled by The Straits Times, The Business Times, & Entropy; commended by Singapore’s National Arts Council, Vocal Media, & Button Poetry; & featured at the Boston Poetry Slam, the Singapore Writers Festival, & the Other Tongues Literary Festival. Topaz was born in 1999 & is in her second year at Princeton University.