Before your chromosomes
talked on a tin can telephone
and decided to exchange genes,
before cancer seeded itself in your left arm
and made you carry pain in your bones,
you were Honeyed Dreamer
and everyone’s midday sweetheart.
Before I wanted to lose myself—
to for one moment be something
and the next, nothing at all—
I was Sheepish Theorizer,
always looking for reasons,
and we were in an imaginary band.
Sophomore year of high school,
we planned to ditch the first day of junior year
and drive out to Jaxson’s Ice Cream Parlor,
where we would get the Kitchen Sink
and eat the whole thing by ourselves.
My mother blessed the beach grass
and the walls of what was then just downtown,
but I denounced her praise
and would say to you,
these sacred things have lost their sanctity:
the smell of café con leche,
the trill of bells as the drawbridge unhooks,
the golden lights of the port of Miami
that wink like flashing stars.
we had wanted to go everywhere but home:
to the Swamp Shop, where there’d be more movies
than just the ones beneath our eyelids;
to Homestead, fields of pale grass
yellowed during daytime by washes of sunlight;
to the Keys, Atlantic Ocean,
deep blue swilling beach shores;
and to Central, where we’d run through the groves,
picking buttermilk white orange blossoms
from where they hug citrus peels.
We would climb into the forks
of hot live oaks just so we could say
God held us in his hands, and
we would pick Spanish moss
as if they were cotton fibers on a sweater.
We’d skim the Space Coast,
trying to imagine those shuttles in lunar orbit,
and at the end of the day, your pointer finger—
a compass needle— would always twitch us
in the cardinal direction home.
But those things never happened.
Instead, your eyes dulled. You stopped
going to school. We went to a prom
across the street from the beach
and even though the night was hot
and evening dew clung to our skin,
you wore a hat the whole time
because you were embarrassed
and missed your strawberry blond hair
like the hay bails
at Umatilla in October. Your smile
lost its sugar-rich,
and that whole year while you were away
taking care of yourself,
I would stand in the mirror—
every atom in my body wanting to flee—
What are you running away from?
What are you always running away from?
Chasity Hale has had work published in journals and anthologies such as the American Poetry Review and Susquehanna University’s The Apprentice Writer, and has read at various locations in the country, including the White House, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, and Miami International Book Fair. During high school, she received four national medals from Scholastic Art & Writing: silver in creative non-fiction; gold in creative non-fiction; gold in poetry; and gold in portfolio. In 2015, she served an ambassadorial year as a Southeastern National Student Poet under the Obama administration. She is currently a first-year student at Stanford University.