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Sam May 2020
You get used to it: twisting the rod to the blinds,
every morning and every evening, as soon as the dark hits.
You get used to it: laying your laptop across your lap, across milk crates,
flashcards precariously balanced atop, legs folded beneath you.
You get used to it: drinking tea to stall the incoming hunger,
washing everything - doorknobs to dishes - with bleach and hot water.
You get used to it: studying in dim daylight until your eyes fail you,
flickering the wifi off just as quickly as you turn it on,
saving electricity to the last.

You shiver through every bucket shower you take, wish for shorter hair.
You toss and turn; sleep against the wall;
lose the fight against the ever-deflating mattress.
You have burns from hot water on your hands; the smell
of cigarette smoke, woven
throughout every piece of clothing.
These are things that are harder to get used to.

Your cousin takes you out into his city
takes you sightseeing amidst closed buildings, empty streets.
he points out the theater, the library;
the hat shop, record store, night club.
This is where I used to live, he tells you,
gesturing around the sprawling downtown.
It wasn't so nice, then --
and he paints you a picture of gunshots flying, the country's crime capital
and he paints you a picture of affordable buildings and affable people
(the minorities and the poor and the low end of the middle class
every person keeping their head down, body posture careful)
and he paints you a picture of people playing frisbee next to train tracks
of anyone and everyone joining in, just trying to get by.
(you understand, in a way you didn't, before, the way people spit out gentrification like a curse -- like the plague of injustice that it is.)

Your cousin wears a well-worn hoodie,
t-shirt and bleach-splattered cargo pants,
dressed for comfort
And you wear your warmest hoodie,
bleach-covered shirt with jeans,
dressed for practicality
And your aunt wears makeup, a sweater,
carefully selected slacks, blouse,
dressed for appearances.

And your aunt has a shower, a dishwasher and a drier,
And working things: four burners, an oven, a sink.
Your cousin has bookcases of records and CDs,
And functioning things: a microwave, half a sink, a single working burner.

And the train does not
blast past your aunt's house at all hours of the day, the same way
the cobwebs do not
cover unsuspecting areas within your aunt's cupboard, the same way
all manners of bugs do not
jump out of various cartons of food, the same way
the sound of gunshots never
ring out in the dark.

And your aunt and uncle live
in a suburban community,
secluded, a drive up a hill,
trees and mountains surrounding,
where it is safe to wander the neighborhood.

And your cousin lives in a ghetto, and you smile
when the children one house over
run chasing after each other, giggling
to each other in another language, and you smile
at the fresh green in the air,
from the trees all around the property as you
pin the clothes, hang them to dry, and you stay
firmly, safely, within the property lines,
carefully out of any lines of sight.

And there is something odd about this:
Your Aunt's house radiates sunlight and cleanliness,
yet you have never felt so subtly claustrophobic as you do there:
You Cousin's house, for all its faults, feels like a strange brand of freedom.
Sam May 2020
When you are younger, still,
and the school system is trying to teach you
wrong from right,
bad from good,
black from white, no dulled grey edges --
they tell the students to fess up to their crimes.
they tell their students to own up to their actions.
they tell you that blame is pointless:
that what has been done has been done.
                                                           ­                 and you, at 6, and you, at 7,
so very young, still, so very unaware how all your classmates
                                                                ­                                              hate you
you take it all to heart.

and if your 2nd grade teacher derides you for the colour of your skin --
when the chair falls, when the pens are pushed off your desk
you straighten it. you pick them up.
when food gets bumped, accidentally pushed, lands on the floor
you are the first to the paper towel rack, first apologising, first to fix it.
when you are running away, sprinting fast down forbidden corridors
and the other girl is running after you in the halls
you say it was your idea.
take all of Teacher's harsh words so the other girl doesn't.

And if your 2nd grade teacher looks down on you the entire year:
for your hair, for your clunky words, for the colour of your eyes.
maybe, you will think, maybe, looking back--
maybe you didn't help your case.

And maybe those actions were kindness, but none were bravery.
All of them were you, negating the blame.
Saying: actions are actions are actions have happened.
Saying: excuses are worthless, fine -- so let me fix this instead.

There was no point in blame so there was
no blame so
instead you decided
all my fault.

Here, now, in the harsh cold present --
there is a pandemic. there are people dying.
there is the news and there are your relatives,
both of them pointlessly, endlessly, arguing politics.
there was a flood, before, and an earthquake and a death.
there were schools, blurring behind your eyes because there were so many.
and friends. lost, and not.

And sometimes, the helplessness engulfs you whole.
And sometimes, the amount of rage simmering under your skin
is enough for you to tremble and shake with that power,
is enough to almost make you forget why not, why never,
is enough for you to lash out (with your words)
and hurt someone.
So you bite it back and swallow it all
(because not today, because you will NOT lose anyone today)
and you think my fault
until your breathing is calm, steadied.
until the breaking point is buried back, deep beneath your skin.
until the emptiness washes over you, back to resigned, hollow, sadness.

I have done this, you tell yourself, because
even if no one is at fault, and
even if the world is to blame
you never want to become someone who blames the world:
never want to become someone to throw down a gauntlet,
to say, "I have been wronged." to say, "This is what I deserve."
You never want to become someone who thinks they are owed --
because you are not.
because you are owed the same as anyone else and that is  n o t h i n g.

and if this saves you, this thing they did not mean to teach you at school
(and maybe it is self-loathing. and maybe it is self-deprecation.)
if this stops you from that, this twisted version of responsibility
if this helps any other person along the way --
you think it's enough.
Sam May 2020
They tell you there are always three (at least two) sides to every story.

There are three sides to every story.
The good, the bad, and--(earth, air, fire, water)--

Fire can **** you.
Fire will tell its flames to slither atop your skin, to dance prettily.
Fire will then strike, will seer your flesh from your skin,
suffocate away all your air.
Fire will consume you and leave you a burned crisp, nice and black.

don't touch, they tell you, don't touch
(you leave the glowing orb of orange alone)

Water is cold; cold enough to freeze your insides whole.
Water is also so alluring, pulling you in and
until you can only splutter from lack of air.
Fire burns you, but water drowns you.
Takes you far into a deep, black, nothingness of serenity,
keeps you prisoner.

swim, they beckon to you, swim
(you stay far too close to the shore)

Air is never grounded.
Air swirls and changes into gusts of wind,
Takes you off of one path and blows you onto another.
Circles you in a cyclone,
Smacks you onto the ground,
taking any breath of life left in your lungs along with it.

hold on, they yell, hold on
(you are not the one who lets go)

Earth is treacherous.
So used to its existence underneath your feet, but earth is deadly too.
Because when it moves, decides to breathe, you are nothing.
Roots twist, and plates push up against each other, dirt flies:
You are nothing but a casualty left in its wake,
as your feet give out from the unsteady ground beneath
as the buildings crumble from above
as you are left caught in between.

duck and cover, duck and cover
(desks protect no one forever)

But fire can save you, with warmth.
Water can quench your thirst, can quell a burning inferno.
Air can be gentle, too, give just enough of a directional push.
Earth can give you land to go to, can help sprout food to eat.

This is a dangerous world, things that **** you hidden in plain sight, remedies turning to chaos with no warning.

This is a beautiful world, with kids that dance in thunderstorms, and sleep easy through the night.

An imperfect world, be cautious - things are seldom only what they seem.

The elements are a double edged sword, both within one.


there are three sides to every story:(the good, the bad, and--)
                       and the in between of what's left.

Once upon a time, they say, and there is always a monster in this story, lurking behind walls.

So here, have a story:

Once, there were people I loved.

Once, they were monsters.

And Once, (now) they are one and the same.

the monsters are my friends, and the victims are my blood;
the victims are my blood, and the monsters are my friends;
I call them both family.

and there have  a l w a y s  been multiple sides to every story,
always a monster to uncover and a villain to slay,
always an innocent somehow hidden beneath them,
always multiple interpretations of stories that don't get told.

the monsters are the people I've loved since before i knew the meaning of that word.

the monsters are the people I've chosen to love, chosen to stand beside, of my own choosing, of my own will.

and you will call me wrong, and heartless.
and you will call me weak, and deceptive.
and I will tell you that it was the easiest choice in the world to make,
and that will be a lie.
An edited piece from 2015.
  May 2020 Sam
I will lay myself down
and cry to the inner sound
of my heart breaking.
  May 2020 Sam
the ethereal girl
dear you,

please remember that your voice has power.
power to raise an ocean of words,
please make them mean something.
power to create a storm,
please don’t destroy too much.
you have been given hands to create,
a mind to wonder,
a life that is worth living if you make it worth living
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