Marilee Goad

Braided Anchors

The summer I met you, so humid I drowned
my prayers in sweat, knotted my hands into
fists I plunged into pockets empty of artifacts
save for the lone pottery shard lost from its
cousins, my hair so long and undone, I finally
learned to bend it into braids I hung from my
heavy head, the weight of hair anchoring me
to an earth I kept trying to leave though you
told me not to –

eight years later, I shaved my head clean,
stubble sprouting from raw skin red from
relentless scratching, my restless hands unable
to contain their worries between pockets I no
longer possessed, my slim pants too small, too
tight for anything beyond my thin limbs, you
called me gaunt and I pretended not to hear,
tried to eat away flesh out of existence but
you stayed my hand

fed me books when I forgot to read, the pages
so worn on my tongue, so rich the words melted
my tears into unspeakable memories I sealed back
in a mind made rusty by grazes I inflicted out of
desperation; you said it’d be okay, and I kept
believing you, my hair almost long again, and
braided, tethering me to the ground where you
held me steady though I longed to touch the clouds
and evaporate

where nothing but rain could touch me, where
lightning would set my corpse aflame and atoms
combust into something more meaningful than my
name, fuel for creatures I’d rather existed, organisms
we’ve tried to make extinct, a poem the earth
concocted  before we ever fell on mud floors,
accidents of evolution so joyous, so painful –
I sometimes can’t handle it.

What Does Homosexual Mean?

I ask my mother as we watch a NOVA special,
a documentary trawling an epidemic wreaking havoc
on a community boiled down to a word I couldn’t
pronounce at age six: what’s a homosexual?
She stares at me, keen and even, eyes betraying
the shame contained between syllables I don’t
understand, pauses on the threshold of definition,
arriving at the love between persons of the same
gender, explains the blood-borne illness cutting
down their lives, shriveling ambitions to the size
of scorned identity, my heart aching for something
I can’t yet name, knowing and not knowing why.

In high school, my best friend titters about the boys
she finds cute, glues her eyes to mine and asks what
about me — I want to say you, I love you, so I blush
and mumble some boy’s name and everyone laughs
and she kisses my cheek and blood rushes where it
shouldn’t: I watch her slow-dance at prom with her
boyfriend and imagine my hand capturing the small
of her back, our cheeks pressed close, her scent rosy
and real. I stand flat against the wall, swaying to a
fantasy I can’t shake: what’s a homosexual?

The label glues itself to my twenties, pins stabbing
my backpack to announce community in a parade
we shout freedom in streets in which we dare not
hold hands the other eleven months, not in this town:
at night, friends detail sexual conquests, dates gained
through the swipe of digits skittering emojis instead
of words, and I bury my eyes in my hands, pretend
familiarity with a vocabulary I still haven’t learned:
what is a homosexual? when you’ve never even tasted
the forbidden fruit for which you long, apples untouched
and hands so clean but dirty with intention and craving
the affection of another woman kissing you good night.

Marilee Goad is a queer writer residing in South Korea who attended the University of Chicago and has work published or forthcoming in Ghost City Review, ELJ, Barrelhouse, Peculiars Magazine, OUT/CAST, Bone and Ink Press, rose quartz journal, and Vessel Press. You can follow her on twitter @_gracilis and find her website at

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