I wake up unable to remember what my hands felt like when they could fold into soft shells; they are crispy as autumn branches, dried into curls brown as molasses. My back gnarls into spirals of muscle, clenched against the server station fridge, opulent seasonal cakes and back stock of soy and almond milk suddenly looming, headstones for the weekend doubles and clopens I pulled without hesitation.
I spend the next morning in bed until I can't justify it to myself anymore, air conditioner humming, filling July humidity seeping in behind cheap cotton curtains.
I am really afraid of dying, which is why I spend so much time thinking about my body, how to carry it around, lined with regret and brittle muscle, edging bottom, wanting to just bruise and be done with it.
I keep trying to dissipate, but it is harder than it looks—dissolving. I don't remember what I used to do: driving the speed limit on an eastern NC highway, my front tire dipping into a ditch just enough to render my metal skeleton immobile, my brain unfogging anew.
Most of this body marked by edges, strong edges, something inside the strongest substance, firm but forgiving. I am filled by this, leaving room for almost nothing else, but I love the tiny, empty part, the echo hiding somewhere inside, pearl in the gnarled shell of my body, its camouflage distinct and almost invisible.
When I tell my therapist I am afraid of being weak, she asks what I am really afraid of and I cannot answer, except to say dependence, reliance, everyone thinking I'm a burden. I unfold my cane in the waiting room, knowing I don't want her to know—not yet, anyway.
JESSE RICE-EVANS is a queer Southern poet and rhetorician based in NYC. Read her work in Heavy Feather Review, Yes Poetry, tenderness yea, and in the chapbooks The Rotting Kind (Ghost City Press) and Soft Switch (Damaged Goods Press), among others. She's a PhD candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center and teaches writing at the City College of New York and the Cooper Union.