PHOTOGRAPHY by KAT REYNOLDS
I am not your shadow. I am too vain for that. In the beginning Gawd reached down into the earth we call Afrika and scooped up some brown crumbly and mixed it with saltwater from the Atlantic and stretched the clay over bone, and called it me. Ze took all of the night sky and poured it into two holes and called them my eyes. And to wake me Ze kissed me. And for me to speak, Ze whispered in my ear, “I have made your tongue sharp." And I cut myself open and stained my lips red. My cries caused stars to fall. Ze picked them up and mixed them with Carolina rice cooked in Io’s milk. Ze promised me Horus’ heart, but I said, “I need Anansi’s and Olókun’s too." Anubis guarded me when I slept, and I slept in a field of corn somewhere by the Mississippi.
“I am a wonder; the first son."
“Maurice has a propensity for white people, which is more than preference—it’s policy. He dismisses potential Black friendships as quickly as he switches off rap music and discredits progressive movements. He consistently votes Republican. At night he dreams of razors cutting away thin slivers of his Black skin,” Joseph Beam, “Brother to Brother”
I hate Beam’s Maurice.
I remember my mother telling me about how my daddy was so phine that his ex-girlfriends showed up at their wedding and cried. My mother also told me about how when she was little, kids would tease her, call her dust, call her midnight, let her know her body was lacking, she spoke of how she always had to fight. She told me about people measuring her by her twin saying, “Why can’t you be like Brendie? She’s so sweet and cute.” I never saw her cry but I heard it in her throat. When I was a little boy everyone said I looked like my father. When I was still a boy but no longer little, everyone said, “You sure do look like your mother.”
When I was teenager, giggling girls would approach me and say, “my friend thinks you’re cute.” l never looked because it was never true. In college an Asian boy randomly informed me that Black men weren’t cute and fat people were gross and ugly; he said this right before we talked to a class about LGBT tolerance. Last week a boy said my mouth felt sweet and my hole felt tight and amazing. He said I was beautiful but he could never date me:
“My friends don’t know about my fetish.”
“Are you afraid of what they’d say?”
He left without another word.
My mother, who I look so much like, has had to clasp my face, more than once, and say: “Don’t you know what you are, what you’re worth? Gold, baby you are worth your weight in gold.” She has told me that I am a beautiful chocolate boy, a handsome boy, a beautiful boy. She should have told me that I am obsidian, a dark bright shining jewel. So black that it reflects back your image.
How much is asked of the the dark child to negotiate?
Very dark; absence of light; having dark skin; people originally from Africa; dirty or soiled; thoroughly sinister or evil.
Linda, Joseph, Winston, Alex: family; Joe, Chico, Jeremy, Bianca, Carl, Justin: friends; James, Marlon, Essex, Whitney: inspiration; descendants of survivors; the first ones.
Pink flesh; queer as folk; wedding chapel; Ryan Murphy; Neil Patrick Harris; Andy and Anderson, Express; Thug Hunter; Ellen shucking and jiving on screen. Not me.
Weird; strange; disrespectability; poppers and lube; leather; whips; anonymous; slam poetry; edging; books; divas; fat bodies in motion; fat body sucking a dick; swallowing; bottom, top, verse; bent fat body being pounded, hard; fat mouth saying harder; fucking; art.
male; having a penis; masculine; don’t cry.
Femme; in-between; high-pitched voice; sissy; first to be called a faggot; best with a read; smarter than boys.
Mags on Fridays
Brown boys with fitted caps and in billowy white or black tees, stood against walls, smoke obscuring their faces. Gurls with blown-out curls and too high heels, towered over the boys. Ladies with wet lips and short slips held onto cocky studs. Bodies, honey mixed with caramel mingled with brown kissed by the night sky, made an onyx space. I remember thinking: I am home.
Music pumped; beads of sweat formed on foreheads and trickled down noses, dangled off lips, and fell onto bent backs where they slid down and provided the first drops of the night’s lubrication. A rapper demanded pussy be handed to him and brown boys’ hands reached for black boys’ backs. A girl moaned that her pussy brought her pearls and a gurl dropped to the floor and fluttered her legs like butterfly wings and all the fellas on the wall noticed. Some girl wailed about how she needed some dick and a lady wrapped her legs around her stud and whispered in her ear. I rested against the wall sipping a vodka and cran. I wanted to dance, to feel breath on my neck while something hard pressed against my back, but I felt nothing.
I walked around to see if anyone would reach out to me and say, “Hey baby what’s your name?” He could say it like a lover, or a mother, or father, or a brother, or, better yet, a sister just as long as he asked. No one asked. I felt like Riggs did in San Francisco searching for his reflection in eyes of blue except I was looking for affection in mirrors of brown and black.
I was a ghost in this house “unseen and when seen unwanted,” and if wanted, only because of shame.
Linda and Joe have a son named Maurice.
Linda and Joe’s Maurice watches Marlon Riggs prance naked through the woods. He curls up on his sofa to read Danez Smith. He listens to Essex recite “American Wedding,” while sipping tea with sugar and cream. Linda and Joe’s Maurice’s lips have pressed softly against those of light-skinned trade.
Linda and Joe’s Maurice has had his legs spread wide and head bent down low while dark boys and light boys hovered above him and searched in him for something stolen from them long ago.
Linda and Joe’s Maurice is dedicated to his reflections. Even if they cannot see it, he knows they are each fragments of the other. He knows that home was stolen and that they can and must recreate it. This takes dedication. This takes love.
“Promise not to tell anyone, but, are these boxer briefs?”
Cam released the button, unzipped, and pushed down his pants, exposing the top of a calf, thighs, and blue cotton. I could see the head pressing against the cotton. and, for a moment, I forgot he was a friend.
I surveyed the body and found it pleasing; His thighs were thick with promise; his lips could handle mine. He was beautiful, and in my room, and I wanted, for a moment, this beauty to be mine.
I laughed and said, “Yes, but still, we should go shopping for you to get a jockstrap or trunks. Trust me, you’ll thank me for it; hell tops will want to thank me.”
Cam zipped back-up and suddenly I was Bruce and he Beauty and I knew that I “had never seen a more perfect being…his body was all symmetry and music,” and never would again.
And I watched my friend leave—beauty, not mine.
2. Wash U. A lot.
3. Everyone seems to be slightly attractive.
4. I do not fit.
5. All the gay folk know each other.
6. I know almost none of them.
7. These are gay folk I never see out and about.
8. There is a str8 boy here (A.) so many flock to (J.'s friend); he doesn't need to be good at sex—they'll flock to him anyway.
9. He (A.) probably is good at sex. I wish I was a girl so I could find out.
10. Cave Canem is deep. (Do you think you could have got in? Prolly not. You use "prolly.")
11. Don't slouch. It bunches up the fat.
12. Are they aware of their bodies like me?
13. They aren't. I hate them all.
14. Don't breathe. But, if you must, do it slowly and deliberately and rarely. Quiet the fat.
15. I need the poem about faggots.
16. “Apotheosis.” It was called “Apotheosis.”
Before I am a Black, queer, or a man, I am this body:
When I was a young lad in England I was fast and all the boys wanted my body. A white boy down the street begged to get into my shed where I kissed Black boys and bent over for them and told them to put it in deeper. I never let him in. He called me a bitch and said I was fat, but I didn’t care. I was too busy with other boys.
Once I kissed this white boy with dirty blonde hair; I kissed him really hard but not too wet after school and he flushed red. It was the best kiss of my life. In the sixth grade suddenly everyone’s bodies and voices changed but mine remained the same while boys found girls.
Then came summer of ‘94:
A white boy with dark hair saw my black body cut through blue pool water. He wanted my body and I was flattered. He grabbed my ankles underwater and pulled me close in the pool till I hovered above his crotch. Our faces were so close that our noses almost touched and then the whistle blew. We went to the private shower. My lips found his lips, neck, and stomach, and, eventually, my knees bent and I noticed that he was firm and red down there. I was startled, but I proceeded.
The preacher’s words boomed in my head, “Man shall not lie with man; it is an abomination,” but I continued, my head bobbed back and forth, my mouth full, my eyes closed. Tom Hank’s torso on the stand flashed in front of me; his pale skin marked, kissed already by death while his body still held air, the birthright of boys whose knees bent for other boys. I stood up and turned around, faced the wall to breathe and calm the blood racing in me. Then I felt him kissing my neck.
The water became too hot. “Stop.”
He wanted my body. “Please stop.”
He wanted… “We gotta stop.”
my body… “Stop. No. Stop please…”
He took… “I said stop!”
I pushed, hard; pushed until I could get him out, but he had already finished.
“If you ever come near me again, I will scream.”
I walked my body home. I took a shower and scrubbed till…
When I enter a room, the first thing people notice about me is my belly. It has stretched my ribs far to the left and to the right, and it sags in the middle. I have full tits that sag; if they were in a bra, they would be epic. Guys like my nipples. Corn-fed Midwestern straight boys have cornered me in hallways since I was fourteen and have asked,
“Do they feel like a girl’s?
‘Lemme touch it;
lemme see it;
lemme feel it;
lemme touch it;
lemme see it;
lemme feel it;
lemme touch it.’”
They touched anyway. Welcome to Mascoutah. Welcome to O’Fallon. Welcome to EIU. Welcome to America.
Eventually I gave up saying no. I gave up disliking the rough touches from sweaty hands attached to pimply faces. I embraced it as the only touch my body knew. I thought the touch kind. I hoped the grab would become a kiss. I hoped hallway touches that had morphed into nighttime grabs would become daytime thrusts. Eventually I gave up.
Robin let my body kill all the love he had for me: “Your face is handsome, your eyes beautiful, and when I’m with you I’m turned on, but your body, your body is just not the kind I like. I like guys who are smaller than me; I can pick them up and toss them around and that turns me on; that gets my dick hard. I can’t do that with you. I have never been with a bigger guy. Sometimes I’m with you and I forget, but then I remember and I tell myself I can’t do this. If I could take your mind, personality, and face and put it on your brother’s body… But, you know, I do love you; in my own fucked up way, I love you, Maurice.”
I step out of the shower on a cold St. Louis winter day; the heat has mixed with the cold air to steam up the mirror. I stare at my body’s reflection. Beads run down my chest, dangle off my nipples, and slide off my belly. I am no longer a child in a shed or a boy waiting on puberty locked in a pool shower room. I am no longer in school hallways. I am no longer begging a bird to love me. I rub Keri into my legs, thighs, and ass, and I look again at my reflection. Slowly, I reach up and with the tips of my index fingers I push my cheek-fat back while my thumbs press into my neck and push back the extra flesh. I stare and blink. Slowly, surely, and without effort, my fingers circle around my neck and squeeze. I think, I could crush this pipe and be done. And then I see… my nipples have become erect.
My skin. It is smooth. It is brown. And I desire it. My body responds to my touch. This body that others stare at, consume, and vomit back, this body moves to the rhythm of a right hand. When I cum I stretch beyond a few extra inches and suddenly become six foot six by eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. I see myself slide down the mirror. I lick the evidence and kiss my reflection. Reclaiming. I shall love this body because no one else does.
Before being selected to serve on the Michael Johnson trial, potential jurors were asked if they felt that gay sex was sinful; except for one person, all potential jurors rose their hands. The jury box in the St. Charles courtroom for the Michael Johnson case is two rows and filled with old men and women, all straight, all white save one black woman. Johnson has been accused of recklessly infecting two white men with HIV and exposing three other men (two white, one Black) to HIV. He sits at the defense table; dressed in only a white oxford shirt, tie, and slacks; there is a rushed bare-bones-budget feeling to his outfit, and he seems to pout. Unfortunately, these things matter. He’s a dark boy with a mouth that pouts—pouting mouths are only celebrated in pale faces with blonde hair; pouting blonde faces warrant protection.
The prosecutor focuses a lot on gay sex: oral, anal, hand jobs, lube, condoms, no lube, no condoms. He knows nothing about gay culture. Eventually, a white boy takes the stand. He is slender, with the complexion of milk fresh from the cow, his hair the color of almost molded straw. He speaks and his voice shakes; it is soft and slow. The old fat white man approaches him, leering like a demented Santa Claus and asks him predictable deliberate questions that receive deliberate predictable answers: “What would you say your role is in the bedroom?” The white boy answers, his voice sincere, stopping and starting, as he sputters out the right answer: “The traditional female role.” Who talks like this?
The state has just stated that queer sex is deviant.
The state has just stated that no one would ever possibly want to have sex with an HIV positive person.
The state has just stated that sex with HIV positive person will lead to infection.
The state has just stated that HIV in the gay community will lead to HIV in the straight community.
The state has just stated that HIV is a death sentence.
The state has just stated that the dark boy is a predator.
The dark boy is nice and polite, so
The state said that politeness in dark bodies is manipulation.
The jurists nod in agreement. These women have clung onto their purses in the presence of a Black man tighter than they have clung onto their children. These men have wrinkled their nose at the sight of Black man tighter than they have at the smell of dog shit. These folks think that HIV is AIDS and that Philadelphia is truth. These folks see this small scared moldy boy and think that this could be their son, even the black woman. These folks see the dark boy with a pouting mouth and know that he could never be.
You sit in a room and are confused.
You look at the dark boy and think:
You are going to die; they are going to find a way to kill you and it won’t be quick.
You look away before you cry.
You look around the room you have sat in for three days and see only two other Black faces, the same two you have seen each day, and you think:
This is so St. Louis.
Black men are on my mind all the time. I wonder, are we loving each other yet?
I think of my friend Joe and I think yes; he loves me, without reason and expectation or exception. When I came to his house, crying because my broken heart had been smashed further, he picked me up and let me in and gave me tea. He loves me.
Are we loving each other yet?
A black man came out today. The world rejoiced. He was a peacock with his tail feathers fanned for all to see, and the colors were glorious, vibrant yellow, gold, and deep liquid inky black. And as he did his cock of the walk, by his side a fluttering blinking snowflake, smiling, kissing, triumphant. The peacock held onto the snowflake like a lost Heisman. The snowflake was loved. I remembered Marlon and Joseph’s confessions and I wondered: Did the peacock choose vanilla deliberately; did he seek out vanilla; did he look for his reflection in eyes of blue. Has he tasted lips like his own?
Are we loving each other yet?
There is a man I once loved—the only man I have ever loved romantically—and his skin is brown. His skin is not soft like mine. I often rub his feet. I rub them even though we are no longer trying to be together. I rub his feet while I make him listen to jazz: Coltrane, Davis, Ella, and Billie. I rub his heels softly when I talk to him about Baldwin, Riggs, and Beam. I rub his heels deeply when he tells me about upcoming trips to see his mother in rehab. I rub them hardest when I think of the times he must have needed her, wanted her or the father of his imagination, but they were lost in glass clouds and dust. I kiss his feet when he mentions how sore they are from working ten-hour days. I rub his feet as he tells me that he really, really wants a white boy because they seem like freaks, and are just so pretty and clean. I rub until he moans and then snores. I rub even though I know it’ll never be returned.
Are we loving each other yet?
I hosted a dinner in my apartment in the Central West End; Daniel, Carl, and Justin gathered around my table for salad with Parmesan croutons, baked ziti with meatballs and Italian sausage in gravy on the side, and zabaione. Daniel, Carl, and Justin each brought wine. Daniel, Carl, and Justin smiled. Daniel, Carl, and Justin laughed about Beyoncé and Rihanna, debated the merits of Mariah but not Whitney—she was without need of a champion; one does not debate whether the wind moves; we know it does constantly—and confirmed that Lil’ Romeo had indeed become sexy. Daniel, Carl, and Justin took plates home. Daniel, Carl, and Justin hugged me tightly.
We were loving each other.
A moor; dark-skin
A moor; dark-skin
I sing for him; I sing for him; I sing for him; I sing, for him I sing; his name: Maurice; his name: Lucas; his name: Tracy; his name: I, I, I. I sing…