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Ma does tell me I just like my father.
These days, down to the exhaustion.
I wouldn’t know. My young memory only have
three saved dates of his face,

the desire to cling to someone’s hand
and having nothing worth grabbing.
I don’t know where he lived, or
where he was when he died,

only that when my ma vex, suddenly
my skin putrid like he own.
I didn’t go to the funeral.
I was too busy at the time—

by then I was growing spines
in the places where love used to touch me,
trying to pull them out slowly
before somebody tell me how ugly I look:

a monster, claws where comfort supposed to be,
hungry for the fruit of cracked bones,
a man like any other,
just like your fucking father, you hear me.

And she done curse me to match so many other ugly things.
Maybe he did curse all of we,
but I didn’t wait to watch the blight buried
to know whether or not I was ugly.

And let we be sure: I was so very ugly.
But I am trying so hard to be handsome,
to stop resembling the truly moldered men in my blood:
I does hunch my back, and carve words in the dark,

I does eat whatever cannot squirm, just to be more
grotesque than man. Rage does sharpen my back teeth
and when it happens I use the marrow to write poems.
I remember the face of the one who say no one will ever love me,

no one will ever love me like this save for she,
I remember the face she make when she come to my mother’s house
like a dragon’s lair and she knife start to shout for blood,
I remember wanting to be even harder to love

but I have no idea what my father’s face look like any more.
I had only so many chances to learn.
I wish I had less. I wish I saw no faces. Every smile is a blade.
I does laugh sometimes that

it only have one mirror in the house, and no pictures of him,
and yet my mother does know with a bitter dowsing
that when she cannot love me it is because I am him,
and so is every other man. How would I know?

I can’t look in the thing: sorrow can’t be so keenly seen.
A part of me would rather shift small than let me find the scabs
of the man I was before rage kept me warm. I wear
other things now, dog fur, stone eyes, and sweat. I rather be my own ugly:

a soft thing anybody could put pins in
and then call those pins the thorns of a rugged thing
that no love must hold. A worm-bit pile.
I have other parts of me to love:

the part that could take those pins and still live,
or the part that does still hold pause for the sun
I could barely stand to be seen by. I could choose myself
in all my shadow, call a lagahoo reflection beloved. After all,

that spoiled love did work so hard to put these scars here,
or come close, and in the spaces grow bile and peaks of anger,
so who am I not to cling? What else is mine in this world
but these maladies? But every so often,

my ma does tell me I just like my father.
And I could never stand it. Let me find a brand new miserable.
I find I don’t mind that. A man must make he own way to wretched.
I would be any kind of ugly rather than those kinds of loved.

Brandon O’Brien is a writer, performance poet, and teaching artist from Trinidad and Tobago. His work has been shortlisted for the 2014 Alice Yard Prize for Art Writing, the 2014 and 2015 Small Axe Literary Competitions, and the 2020 Ignyte Award for Best in Speculative Poetry, and is published in Uncanny Magazine, Fireside Magazine, Reckoning, and New Worlds, Old Ways: Speculative Tales from the Caribbean, among others. He is the former Poetry editor of the Hugo-Award-winning magazine FIYAH: A Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction. His debut poetry collection, Can You Sign My Tentacle?, available from Interstellar Flight Press, is the winner of the 2022 SFPA Elgin Award.
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