I closed my eyes fifteen years ago, when I was seven. I sat beneath my mother’s piano we never played, hid under my grandmother’s quilt, and started counting. “Your grandma loved the wrong kind,” my mother had told me that morning when I snatched the quilt from a box marked Goodwill. “She was a good person, but she loved the wrong kind.”
When I counted to three, I decided I was sick of playing this game and wanted to find that stray cat who would stop by sometimes, looking through our window. My head was still underneath the quilt. It was so dark, I couldn’t tell if my eyes were still closed or if I had opened them to a space without light.
But the quilt slipped from my body, and a light flew, swarming on my tongue, down my throat. This light was as thin and sharp as a woman, a young woman, just before she would ripen. This woman, her heart is a lantern in my mouth, only I have not met her yet. Five years have passed. I am twelve, walking downtown by the middle school I will attend in a few weeks. My mornings will be orchestra practices she encouraged and my nights will be poetry assignments she gave, only I do not know it yet.
I stare through a window that I will soon be staring through from the inside. The young woman is there, sitting in the classroom with two other, older teachers. All I can see is brown hair sweeping her mid-back, but her frame is small. When she leans over the table, her back curls like a cat’s. I want to run my fingers down her spine, press each bone, understand her vertebrae—alone, each one hard like ivory, yet together, they’re as supple as a feather, as malleable as pure gold.
I still think of this touch when I am twenty-two and in a shower that was once hot and is now stale. The air on the other side of the curtain will be even worse. I shut my eyes and turn the shower off, grab a towel, wrap it around my body. “You chose to love the wrong kind.” My mother likes saying this to me now. I halfway-dry and put on a long shirt. In the corner, there is a cased violin that has not been touched in years. On my bed, there is a journal smothered in a quilt of words. I lie on the floor. From inside of the next apartment, my neighbor plays the organ, a lullaby that digs and digs inside of my stomach, digs and digs.
Out of the rips fly birds with piano keys for wings.