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Tropic of Cancer

for Lawrence Stewen

On this shore, the insects scheme, sing
the hair along my body. I say I dream about

strolling where the moonlight hits the water
and disturbs it, grasping stones in my hands.

A resting coast here, mine, and yours on fire
two oceans away. We both sleep

under mosquito nets, struggle to entertain
the midnight humidity, write emails

shedding our skin into concept and vessel.
Your false age allows honesty—you glimpse

a harder gait in my photos, my shadow
too close to the sea, too longing. Once, in heat,

you wrote you wanted to marry under
a great dying tree, wipe sweet rot on your chest,

shackle your hands to any real life. I told you there are
more convenient magic systems. You and I

have the same palms that sway in the between,
the same catastrophic winds, the same grey arcs

in our eyes. All this talk, the sky whispers, yet we
wait for a blessing, a pistol shooting blanks.

Twenty-seven years from now, after your wife
births power, the world will spin us into a crackling

bay, named something quaint, like crescent, or patience
overlooking a skirted trench, bitten arms and lips:

the slow burn swallowed,
a writhing fish released.



The longer I wait, the deeper the roots
intertwining my organs. From my breath,

your last connotation, early search light
projecting broken on my bedroom wall.

I have never taken orders from anyone
else before, my legs built a sugar shell

from the strapping heat, field of silence
against ancestral thunder; but with you

I am always at the top of a tree
about to jump, about to catch myself.

To forge an almost-voice, I need verve,
a black and green renewed. I never

tell you why I don’t want to
take your trips to the ocean—

it reminds me of my uncle heaving
my young body over the side

of the boat, and when I later told him
I almost died, he asked who had stolen

my skin, who was walking around
a Black with dead eyes.

In the best kind of tale, I am not
so brazen gazing up your thighs;

here, the saltwater is just the shore
you can’t empty our third of the world

into; your hands aren’t rough,
you did this on purpose to match

the bottom of my feet, my cheek;
your hips at mine aren’t godly

cajoling, no long rope,
no seeing the next stair, no fear of my

own face in the night. Hanging on
your words burns my fingers,

everything you give me I keep,
especially the rubbish. You step

on my toes so I know my place,
you walk on my roof at night to

remind me I’m still capable of
being wrapped and pulled taut


The fall when the hurricane hits
is slow, the trees keep families

together, the sky drapes the cages
so the birds can sleep; so I am

surprised to see your wry and
unencumbered aura. You tell me

your mother has fallen ill with the muddy
water, but before I could offer the last

I had, I felt my body open and ask
about what it means when a tree is felled,

how to see sweat rising from skin,
the sun going out forever.


There is a you space contorted
around my wrists and ankles now,

the specter of brown and burning
cane fields in every strike of my

pen, in the independence
flag, the lilting ask, the next


image: Aaron Burch