My brother lifted the white tarp and rushed me into the tent. Inside it was dark except for spotlight circles aimed at the stage as people noisily filed into the tiered seats. The fair’s volunteers monitored the lines and checked tickets with military precision, even stamping hands for a secondary check down the line. The two of us didn’t bother to go cut in line and climbed the steel supports under the seats instead and wriggled into the aisles unnoticed before calmly taking a seat on the edge, the seats nobody wanted. The seats around us filled up fast and soon the lights went down. The sound of mallets battering on drums rolled into the audience from the stage wings and for the next forty minutes, I forgot about our parents and all the doctors.
have we walked toward your promised land, toward the foothills of your mountainous grace and glory. For two hundred years, we have walked with locks snapped from between our feet, but still we feel the weight of iron as chains drag behind us like metal tails, pulling our heads under the dregs of life while white men swim in the clear water above us, looking as far off as the sun. We are drowning, Lord. You birthed us without buoyancy and though we fight with powerful arms to reach your heavens, we remain at the bottom of life’s pail like black smut suffocating in familial ashes. Give us something, Lord, we pray. We believe in your presence and your righteousness, Lord, that one day you will make us irradiant phoenixes, burning high among stars and our black skin will glow with your divine solace like night. But today, 40,000 families are dust and embers, Lord. And our buildings blaze like matches. They splinter under our feet. So I ask, in desperate repetition:
What do we do now, Lord?
Where do we go, Lord?
What do we do now?
Where on earth do we go?
I’m so happy!
The sun shines and the flowers bloom!
The Lord be praised for there’s nothing happier than
to-day’s happy day.
Press a gun to my temple and let petals
burst from the warm barrel and
with smiles and roasted marshmallows!
O, how I giggle at the men of the past:
Neanderthals, Victorians, Bohemians, and, too,
the muslims, buddhists, atheists, and
jews and blacks on this happiest of happy
My insides float in warm strawberry jam.
O, happy day! Is there no end to the good
that glides over the world like peach syrup?
Thailand is blooming!
Louisiana is singing!
Koreans are holding hands!
Ethiopia is laughing!
Who could tear through my impenetrable, faith-full
ballistic vest of happiness?
Who could wring the happy perspiration
from the bright underpants of life to-day?
Together, let’s walk unafraid
through the flowering minefields of happy.
Fine grooves split down the shells of refulgent embers, carving outlines of Halloween teeth into blackened wood, and spheres of tangerine held in your eyes like dry planets while water stole up the sand to make negatives of our toes. Lying back, the smell of marshmallows and ash filled our noses and stars clumped and circled overhead like a halo stretched over Earth. I said something about not being able to see the leaves changing color and we laughed at our seriousness. With an exhale, we closed our eyes as freckles of red danced over us like fireflies.
Sirens pounded in my head as I leapt up from the shattered glass table I didn’t see. Pops was carrying the heavier bags and ran ahead down the dark and empty street. “They ain’t gon’ come quick enough. Haha, we good. We good,” he whispered to himself while I limped behind. After an hour, we made it under the Jenson bridge and unpacked the goods in our bags to wheelbarrows. My leg was cut up and bleeding. It stung like someone was taking a cheese grater to my calves, but I kept packing and lay black tarp over the loot. “You ever think this’s wrong?” I asked as pops lifted the rubber handles. The rusted metal dug back into the mud and pops squeezed my jaw. His eyes were flat, like manhole covers, and he started talking like he was reading from a book. “Morality is optional,” he said. “And we opt out a long time ago.” He let me go and we got going down the moonlit trail. As the handles of my cart bounced in my hand over the gravel, I thought about what he said and couldn’t shake the feeling that what he really meant was that we’ve never had many choices and damnit this was the best one.
We sat between goalposts, picking grass until egg yolk broke across the sky and the whites clumped lazily together, sliding above us. Slowly, wooden castles, recycled tires, and rows of buttercups stepped out of hiding to see God’s flaxen hair swing gently over the soccer field. Our hands fit together like zippers with bits of green pressed in the heart of our palms like petals drying into memory between pages.
The slate sky strung itself with thick cords of ink-black, the color that scums ocean floors and stretches through gutters. Bells of light that once streamed and pooled like uncoiled trumpets now whispered through the smoke; the greasy haze had persisted long enough that no one in this corner of the world could recall the gleam of day without squinting. On my way home, I passed by Thorn Crown church, the only halfway house left for the confused and spiritual, the last, white scab on the island. Wind and sea salt stripped paint from the door and ran through vines like harrow’s teeth, warping the horseshoe trellis that bent around the frame. The long shadow that hung over the walkway led up to a “wings of desire” replica standing in silhouette. The angel’s metal wings spread to her sides and her hands rose into the dark heavens that seemed to sink over her skull like oil. Through the hallow rattling of the breeze, the black statue called, “My wings…” It wheezed with dragging repetition to remind passersby to be fearful. “My wings,” it echoed all through the night, breathing on the faces of men and women, lapping over the town like waves.