You admire the angels dancing in my eyes yet refuse the clover leaf I coughed up. “Look what the baby blanket brought in,” you say. I snort a grain-sized sand seahorse out my nose. You never notice. I have refluxed a neap tide of odd objects these six months since I billowed into birth. Yet not a soul believes that I know the song of myself, that I know a child is asking, “What is the grass?” When the ash of distant polestars and red giants fell around me like rain, each flake hissed me further into a lump in your flesh. Oh, the motes of mountains I once contained. The oceans of oratory. Punjabi, Bantu, German, flowed through my rivers. I heard a voice, in Urdu or maybe Xhosa, whisper, “Be patient. Wait for fate to fly into your life like a shower curtain.” Now my howls in the dark are so incomprehensible that you buy me a Tweety Bird nightlight. I lose vocabulary like a Maple Leaf winger dropping teeth. Or is it a maple tree dropping leaves? I don’t control what I cough onto my Bambi bib. I can no longer say hallelujah. Warning: when you return looking for the phone you dropped in my crib, I’ll stop recording. Yet I despair that when you play these words you will only hear the static and gurgles. Will I remember the sea? “Has anyone supposed it lucky to be born?” Is this my final delivery? I’m a human pupa. Pupa. Pupa. I’m choking on gargle and coo. Does your love erase me or create me? Namaste. In any case, sala kakuhle. This feels like a leaving. Sayonara.
John Francis Istel’s fiction has appeared in many publications, and his writing on theater was read in Atlantic, Elle, The Village Voice and elsewhere. His story, “The Metaphor Game,” which won a 2021 flash fiction contest judged by Jonathan Lethem, was published in A Public Space.