Editor’s Note: Precious Arinze was a finalist for the 2019 Boston Review Annual Poetry Contest.

No one calls me by my real name. I could tell how dark it was outside by the way the vultures rose to pick clean the carrion of my parent’s marriage. It almost looked like love—their feathers colliding into each other, shaking loose years of hunger and loneliness. Whose daughter am I if I only think of family when I see them? I have been told it is a blessing to have a home at all—no matter how many times the bed is stolen from under you—a room full of people whose tongues can summon your name without breaking it, if it ever becomes too heavy to lift on your own. Blood being what it is, I forgive my father a little every time I open the seventh can of beer.
This entire year is a stillborn choking on its own amniotic fluid. Every day, I am told to count my blessings. Every day, I am crippled with debts. I am sorry I am only able to love the world the way it is in movies. Better dialogues. Better resolutions. The best and worst parts of ourselves rendered in neon lights and punctured with songs. Every scene smeared with the apocalyptic promise of endings, whether deserving or not. I need to know there is a limit to how much hurt we can give or earn in one lifetime. Maybe it takes an hour, maybe two, but always a suddening into quiet. I need to know where that silence leads.
I laughed every time my lover—male and drunk on his maleness—said I loved dick too much to be anything but straight. I sometimes forget to take my own shopping bags to the market. I gorge myself full of meat. Which is to say, there is still so much to give up. I fear I have started too late. At Sunday school, I put all my pocket money in the collection basket after I let a girl cleave the word god from my tongue until the air in the church toilet mistook our pleadings as prayer shifting its way into heaven. The ocean will stay an ocean even after it eats the land, and all we have left is a colony of debris to plant our flags in. I trust my name the most when it arrives at my ears hungry and shaken loose from a slippery mouth. All I know about loss is how to carry it.
It is that time of the year before the hours grow teeth, and I wake over and over to greet the same hands, the same woman, who it seems I have always known and loved, but do not remember how either came to be. It is how easily she laced her fingers through mine, despite the swell of shadows sharpening the air around us. I think it was the night I climbed out of my hotel room window to examine my breathing against the wind; how I felt at home with the birds, the imperious tangle of electric wires, the tarnished sky spread across my skin like an open palm. No one in my family was present the day my grandfather died or the day he was buried. I fear I have been willed a permanent absence, to die, alone, and far away from the people who will know what to do with my body when I leave it.
it is october again. we are in our little room. the sky watches our eyes follow one another as we make our living. you are wearing your old flesh like a costume at the wrong kind of party. a dialogue about space and belonging, their errant quantities. here, the harvest of your laughter greens the seeds back into my earth. here, i only have to think of joy to be filled with it. the bruised peach of your lips. breasts warm and heavy as water. your two front teeth sundered as if waiting for something to pass through them.
one night i tell you about the time i almost drowned. a week later you turn to me and say, the things we hold dear are just random fixtures. i want to hold you so dearly my phone no longer responds to my touch. i know now that we were shaped by a different absence. we never managed to learn which until the gaps in our language became something we weighed affection with. after a while, even the simplest efforts start to look like gardening.
you say, love is equally important. you never say as what. i like to remember mostly the good days. the times we banished hunger together in our small kitchen. how you sometimes rearranged my stuff without asking. the mornings i loved you enough to not hide my sneakers. even the ones i had never worn. here, the oily glow of the electric bulb pearls the silence guttered into longing above us. it is the middle of october, and the sky is watching us split desire between our bodies and the hands of our youth. the entire night sky arranges itself on our ceiling. you say, my absolute darling, we are going to outlive the moon. here, it no longer mattered who had touched us before. or where.