D. M. Richardson

A Mirror in the Dark

My friend asks me if I am genderfluid when I tell him about a dream: I was a married woman who was trying to convince some Tinder himbo to join her and her husband in bed. I have to wonder if that was all it took to be non-binary then my gender must include much more—  includes monsters which pray muddy words under lagoons as they glide around shafts of light that pierce waters to singe their scales and remind them of worlds above—  includes broken-winged birds waiting by the roadside to meet that infinite end in a scene countless times overlooked but enfolded in their small coughs the whole universe and another tale as heart-wrenching in a whistle as it could be in English—  includes the frayed edges of an exhausted color wheel tired after my mind has, for a whole night, tried explaining to my sleeping ego the prismatic skins of angels wandering through my room—  includes sunlight tripping edgewise through the leaves of an occluding canopy to spill green hope through their rude hands into my tired eyes—  includes hardened pirates and nappy-headed boys and people who bend the world with Final Fantasy magics to let bloom ice and lightning in wondrous arcs at the surge of demons soon to be sorry for coming at me as if so many years being spoon-fed countless video games and anime series hasn’t prepared my imagination for a fantasia of kickassery and nonsense. I look in my bedroom mirror some nights, leave the lamp off to see only the inky outline of me, and draw in the black space all the faces I only know how to wear when my eyes are closed; I am not so much genderfluid as much as I am anomalous, amorphous, this shadow figure that has always been more used to having some other pair of eyes draw the borders of what it must be, so it is no wonder in my dreams I become all these symbols, these broken keys of a jazz still strumming from Harlem trying to tell the world and myself what I could be if I knew how to sing this darkness I’m used to hiding in around a rhythm, some Motown bop you’d never forget or something that can bleed the same kind of yearning for freedom Black feet bled into the cross of rivers christening their new lives north, the same tap of those feet when they remembered the hop and jig they would have stamped into the earth above their mothers like they were trying to wake them from sleep in the speakeasy and the dancehall where green eyes could envy at how these niggas they had flung over a dizzying sea could still dance what miseries they fed them into bangers their children would mimic a thousand times on TikTok. I look good in a t-shirt and jeans, like the way my mustache looks when I let it grow, might try wearing makeup or skirts if I had the money for a wardrobe change, but I don’t know who I am away from what I have been told I am, and playing with that empty space in the center of me probably isn’t enough for me to cash in on the very real pains and experiences of a whole group of people, but how much care do you need when addressing the cloudiness of humanity, what it means to be anything and a person when you too are just trying to define the outline of yourself?

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Voicemail

Hi, you don’t know me, but I saw this number scratched on the wall of a bathroom stall in a Subway off I-75, said to call it for a good time. I was just wondering how someone does that, puts their number out there in the middle of nowhere, probably getting calls from old sex-starved truckers and skeletons rattling in the closet of Trump’s America, all the types of guys who want to see their hepatitis spread far and wide across the states, and I just had to hear what stories you have to share, if you got all the fun you wanted, if it was scary at all, the thought that you would be attracting God knows what kind of man because I think people can track you just by your phone number nowadays. Did you think about if you might be bringing to your home or whatever shady hole you’d take a man who came looking for that good time some maniac who’d only want to fuck your face after he peeled it from your skull or might only get hard at the sound of whatever anguish he’d make you suffer, or does that get you off? Are you one of those guys who likes to imagine what it’s like to be raped—  are you that hemmed in by your own privilege that you treat the thought of having that sense of safety broken to be like some kind of delight, some fantasy you can play with from a distance while so many who come from that dreamland must struggle keeping their feet in reality and not in the event which shattered them, wakes them from nightmares into days they can’t sense the difference between what just was and what is now—  I’m sorry to kink-shame but I think it really says something that men will spend time thinking about rape like it’s something that doesn’t ruin people. Maybe that’s not even what you’re into and you don’t need to hear all this from me, maybe you’re just one of those guys that likes phone sex or something like that, or maybe this is your ex’s number whom you want to catch all the death threats and stalkers—  maybe you are just that petty or you were driven to a point of seeking revenge through some series of abuses and I can’t blame you for it because God knows I too hissed in spiteful breathes curses on the names of guys who drove me tearfully from their arms. I’m sorry to bother you with all this. I hear people say that sometimes they get the best advice they’d ever heard from strangers, so I thought maybe this guy who’s out here looking for dick from America’s wayward might have some folksy wisdom to pass on gathered from so many strange penises. I don’t know what you’d have to say to me or what the hell I would even ask, but I guess I just wanna say to someone who must believe something about chance encounters and how much might be gained from people you’d only hear from once that you’re not the only one who might be so lonely as to cast a spider’s web over the interstate, looking for danger and desire or whatever might be caught in your web, that I too know something of what it’s like to live in a cobweb, or to feel like an unfortunate fly who hasn’t even the fangs of a tarantula to look forward to, shivers and writhes until it starves in a forgotten trap, what little time it had wasted in the corner of some old house. I know what it’s like to look over electric webs for any poison to remind you that you are alive, what it’s like to run on asphalt threads which weave endless nets over a country that, even after so many years of seeking a destiny some might hold in their hands while others fell under the stamp of their boots, spreads empty acres before its migrants and demands that we invent words to describe the beauty in all that space even if all we know how to do is be diffused to a nothingness, to a culture that can say nothing of itself except the fact it is born of so many other people’s bones, so many other dead and injured ways of life that it would convince the rest of the world that its mouth, still talking full of blood, can form any godly noise, what it’s like to survive those lush wastes in what might be their final days as one of those stolen ribs, jutting out knobby from pallid skin, insinuating the malnutrition that will be that body’s undoing, and I too hunger, ache for anything more than the fable that was fed to me never intending to satiate my needs at all, drowning my parched roots in rum, and leaving me to stalk these roads in a stupor looking for a home that would probably never open to me, but I keep going like any good starving artist, writing words I can’t expect to glow as brightly before whoever would find their papyri as they do when they spill sunlit from my fingers, keep meeting dim mornings with a pen name that’d sound better in a posthumous ledger along with the other people who didn’t have anything better to give this land than what a Bic could bleed for them, what centuries of bloodletting sacrifice to thirsty gods just outside our power to thwart, just beyond the tips of our fingers and always convincing us the answer to our joy lies exsanguinated on the pavement would drink up in a long gulp before they belch an order for more, till there is nothing left. How can I pretend what you might be doing is so antipodal to anything I could understand or see myself do when my own life is a testament to what someone is capable of when they are being eaten alive by that kind of ennui you can only find in America? How can anyone crawl these rambling miles without wondering who else might be out there driving in that dark, burning for what coruscation could come from finally finding some fun in a little friction…? I bet you didn’t expect to hear a message like this on your voicemail… You’re probably not interested in hearing the twenty-woes of some stranger, or maybe you are. Maybe that was the whole point after all, to get lonesome guys like me to come pouring their hearts out to you, wise spider you are, and you’re really laughing some safe distance away. If that’s the case, then… I hope it was a good time listening.

D. M. Richardson (he/they) is an emerging queer, probably neurodivergent, Black writer with too much time on his hands and not enough money. He is from Cincinnati, Ohio, working toward an undergraduate degree in Creative & Professional Writing at Maharishi International University, and has an Instagram account (@david.liketheking) where he sometimes posts selfies and books he’s read.

A Song for D.M.

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