The Magician

In a hotel room in Singapore,
     you were fifteen. No adults.

You fell asleep in your blue tankini
     pink flowers on the edges,

the TV on. When you woke up
     your cousin was touching you. I know

what that is like: how small you get
     and don’t say anything, too small

to say anything, self a hard white
     stone the size of a fingernail

and the body not yours, useless,
     sending shudders through you

when you’re touched
     or not touched, for years afterward. It went on

for an hour while you pretended
     to sleep. You wished instead

someone you love had died
     because there could be light in that,

and redemption. When you came back
     your hair was dyed blue but I didn’t see you

until it was brittle, yellow-brown.
     After it happens, you expect everything

to be witness to that moment, everything
     that comes after. Surprisingly

it is not. Except the train passing
     relentless against the tracks,

a way out. Now autumn is over, the leaves brittle
     on the ground. I don’t see you much

these days. Every two weeks or so the train
     shuts down, tracks studded with white signs:

There is Help, 1-800-SUICIDE. There are pictures
     of you from Singapore, fashion shots

in blue silk and crimson, your stomach
     hollowed out from the hipbones.

Back then I thought you looked
     better that way. I have a tarot card

under my pillow, The Magician:
     infinity sign above his head

like two empty plates with the
     bottoms punched out. When I try to think

of you in Singapore
     I think about him instead, smiling like

beatification, behind him everything yellow
     like eyes in the dark. After that year

you and I didn’t talk for months.
     We found boyfriends

whose fathers beat them, we
     were drawn to their rough fingers,

to the resourceful boys hiding there
     ready to run. Comparing ourselves

to them, we were ashamed
     for each other.

When you try to think
     of yourself in Singapore

you remember this instead: when you were
     a kid, in the train station bathroom

were squares of toilet paper so small
     once your finger came out with a flake

of shit on it, delicate as
     a gold-plated leaf. In junior high

everyone hated you, told stories
     in which you jerked off

on the library table. The thing is,
     sometimes the thought occurs

that it all makes sense. Being touched,
     you thought: I had so much want

men could sense it across rooms
     and countries, so they brought me here

and this happened to me. Right now
     I am betraying you: having believed this

about myself before, I believed it
     about you then, and sometimes I still do.

— Shamala Gallagher

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Filed under Poetry, Vol 1 Issue 2

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