I am the thing with too many skins.
I am the perforated grocery bag penetrated by all the other grocery bags crumpled and consumed by each other each one trying to blend into uncontested space charybdis of the ouroboros.
I am daughter sister mother friend confidante betrayer confessor immigrant heiress international unwelcomed accepted adopted unmoored traveler hermit burrrower borrower belonging hunted hunter seeker seer seamstress student comforter counselor lover brown black colored cradle to grave odd one out I am everybody and nobody wrapped in the womb of my matryoshka the nutmeg inside the mace inside the shell inside the gauzy bleeding proliferations between.
I am cracked leaf skin the wrong shade of brown decaying under thermals and socks and camisoles and sweaters and tights and jeans and lingerie and leather and hats and scarves and gloves and if you wanted to peel me into pieces it would take you longer than it would to build an igloo outside the dormitory ice piled on ice piled on ice fingers losing all feeling and so disappearing –
I am shining skin sweat oiled in the heat of summer barefoot on the asphalt gravel sticking sandy elbows knees gnatty knotted hair skinned palms I am all skin everywhere all the time flashing from night to noon shimmering gleaming impossible to ignore but unthreatening exotic sacred fever dream the furthest fetish from something you would string up from a tree like a trophy –
I am blood of unknown type caressing bones of indeterminate age encased in skin of uncertain race, I am miss please step to the side we have a few more questions, I am eyes the color of expensive henna –
but no one is looking at my eyes.
To The Woman Of Color Who Offered Me A Post-Vaccine Lift
Did you know, I was armored from head to heel that morning,
leather jacket, opal earrings that my sister mailed at Christmas,
flat Converse for running, ribbed-sweater-blue-jeans
hiding all possible skin.
Could you tell, I didn’t have the poetry book
I always carried everywhere, left it instead on the windowsill
for my boyfriend to find when he broke in
to pack up my room after something happened to me.
Did you understand it was the first time I’d been vaccinated without my mother?
Could you see that my sweat smudged the ink on the form?
I couldn’t remember how to balance the clipboard on my knee,
because I couldn’t afford a doctor for the last three years.
Did you watch me nearly turn and flee the four kilometers home
when I saw the National Guard checking names at the door
because I’d never before seen American fatigues so close?
Could you feel it when I was next in line and trauma hit like napalm
because three white men in brown uniforms flanked me asking
each other yo, you grab lunch yet?
Did you witness the fourth man, curls cropped close above his collar,
asking me are you from around here,
and how my country’s name withered on my tongue
like fresh mangoes brutally wintered, as he said
don’t worry, I’m from Chicago.
Could you believe I knew every song
they played on the tannoy in those thirteen minutes –
Oasis and John Denver and Bob Dylan and the ghost
of my grandfather sipping arrack in his gardening clothes
listening to Gold FM, right before the soldier-nurse asked me
do you have a fear of needles.
Did you know, until then, it hadn’t occurred to me to be scared?
Then she pulled out.
She gave me a sticker but not a Band-Aid
and I rolled my sleeve over the fresh depression
above the BCG scar from my developing-nation, flashing back
to my boyfriend showing off the bruise
inside his elbow from where he sold his plasma
weekly for 150 dollars.
I shook towards a white plastic seat
to wait for symptoms and scavenge for Ubers.
And then you sat down beside me
because you’d noticed me putting one foot before the other
down the side of the highway as you drove past.
You’d already been vaccinated
by the time I made it into line, but you waited
because you’d recognized the same flimsy college-issued mask
that you’d fastened that morning like a visor,
and so you asked if I wanted a ride back to school.
I memorized the shade of your curls, wanted to howl or embrace you,
but American soldiers were watching, so I settled
for asking your name, thought alhamdulillah
at those familiar syllables.
On the drive home you told me
you wanted to be a lawyer for undocumented immigrants,
you’d forgotten to wear anything under your sweater that morning,
and two days ago, you skipped class and drove two hours west to see your mother.
“I can’t believe you walked all this way,” you said,
cruising the empty asphalt blaze I had trudged alone, passport burning
a hole in my pocket beside the credit card
that didn’t work at this country’s ATMs anyway.
“It’s no trouble,” you said, turning onto my street, as though
I hadn’t been swaying between the tractor plant and the railroad
just forty minutes ago, praying
please God don’t let the sidewalk run out.