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for mother #4, who dug me from an ocean floor with bare hands photo

to Mrs. Burrell

When Ms. Griffin was fired, my mother said 
it was because she was too gay, too flamboyant 
for our small charter school. I mourned her 
ombre dreadlocks and her laugh that swept me up 

like broken glass. Years later, it was me that was 
too much. When I walked past doors, they slammed. 
I clutched Cori’s hand even tighter, kissed her blue 
in stairwells and bathroom stalls, memorized the moons 

embedded in her cheek. You saw me bare, like Ms. Griffin 
did: tiny, quiet and filled with oceans, with waves 
I was always crashing underneath. When I snuck 
to your office to escape my blood mother’s voice 

in my ear, you sent me home with a bowl of light 
disguised as a basketball—an orb in which
the words no one would love me if I was gay didn’t belong
to my mouth. Even when I was more boy than girl. 

Even when I was the dirty child with freckled 
hands curled up on the bathroom floor. You pulled 
me back from the bridge and into the garden, made 
the sun cast its eyes over the flowers 
budding behind my teeth.

image: Kristin Chen