“Breathing It” by Liam Strong

I never remember the formaldehyde, though
the dry crinkle of a rotten apple in my throat jerks,
but the apples on the tongues of those around me are
smooth. I couldn’t remember the first time I lit a primordial fire,
its wilting feathers begging for flight, but when I first saw my mother
smoke a Marlboro, it was as if she had just steam fried a pearl with a kiss.
There are just so many clicks. Snaps of shattered fire
igniting my mother’s lips with indignation, that the holy flame
of the Lord is not within me, that I have skipped church so many weeks now
my heart has been reduced to vapor, a haze of clouded judgment.
It’s funny how illumination rusts a body down to a crusted conch shell
and whistles with the inflammation of a wet log.
What kind of man are you? my mother asks.
The kind that carries an extinguisher full of phosphate and soil,
until I can’t answer why I don’t join my friends for a smoke,
until I am finally assaulted for my sinful eyes,
how they veer toward men of my kind, my kilter,
to fall in and out of love with myself as many times I can
before God turns my genitals into a castrated torch, a fire pit
lacerated with heaven. I never knew I had to be more suicidal
than I already am just to fit in. My friends click flashlights on
in their mouths and see my empty teeth and smile, too placid to rearrange.
I wish I could laugh sweeter, dispel the swelling of my lungs
and run without needles in my bloodstream, but I know
I have my mother’s voice, her wheeze, her chapped anger,
her clinically evasive tendency to hold my words below the necks
of people around me, so that when I am heard, I am always unheard,
in one ear and into a wall, a slippery arrow that always misses its target,
and when I am unheard, I can’t help but to keep shucking a Zippo
next to my lips, to light my voice on fire, so that when my mother tells me
I am biologically unessential to the world, I won’t have time
to disagree.


Liam Strong is a poet from northern Michigan where nobody is bisexual so he just lays on his floor eating popcorn. In the meantime he works as a writing consultant at Northwestern Michigan College, as well as the literary co-editor of the NMC Magazine, a student-run literary effort. You find his work in the most previous issue of this, as well as Dunes Review, Painted Cave, and Rusty Scythe.