a draft of creative writing
Here's a draft of a piece I started writing in my head while reading the end of Brian Broome's memoir Punch Me Up to the Gods. It's also inspired by an essay by Ocean Vuong I read over a year ago.
A reminder (mostly for people close to me) that this is creative writing and not memoir; the "I" of this is not me, and these experiences are loosely based on people I've encountered; the rest is left to imagination.
What would a fire escape sound like if it was imbedded into my daily language—and if I didn’t have to apologize for it? Could this be one reason we create art—one reason we make poems? To say the unsayable?
~ Ocean Vuong, from "The Weight of Our Living: On Hope, Fire Escapes, and Visible Desperation"
He was anxious. He was lonely. And he was insecure. There is no thing on earth more dangerous than a man who refuses to accept that he is carrying all of these loads, because it then becomes up to everyone else to carry them for him in one way or another.
~ Brian Broome, from Punch Me Up to the Gods
The scent of fire
by theresa seguritan abalos
The red scarf my mother gave me still smells like fire. She wore it often to church. The last party I wore it to, there was a fire lit in the backyard. A stream of sparks rose endlessly into night, while flames flooded my ears with blurred voices. Warmth washed over my skin.
The poet Ocean Vuong calls art a fire escape — space that holds us, our bodies and our memory, as we flee worlds falling apart. Fire is an escape, too. It corporealizes the breaking point, the rupture from a past life and the desperation — despair, fierce hope — it takes to break the walls of a prison. Only some of these walls are visible.
The first time I shaved my head was a fire escape — a rush from ideals of femininity that poisoned the sight of my body since childhood. The first time I shaved my head was fire. It burned away the hold of imagined standards, my acquiescence to “beauty,” the willingness to exist between its walls.
That morning at 6am, I cradled the black flames of my old hair and felt reborn. I’d stepped onto the precipice of a rare, painful art — reconstructing a self — and didn’t know it.
One day, an image floods screens around the world: women holding pieces of cloth over fire. Women burning hijabs, in their ears ringing the name of Mahsa Amini who lost her life to the “morality police” of Iran — her crime, showing too much hair.
As heat threatens their fingers, dangling scarves bathed in red light, I smell the burning of not tradition, but silence when violence writes tradition onto the bodies of women. The fires in our bodies roar to the sky when fed with injustice — with unbearable pain — with longing for a better life.
At night I exchange bitter words with someone who could turn my skin to flames — a mistake, we never spoke the same language. To him words are sparks rising endlessly and vanishing into night. To me they are heavy like hot coals, they sink deep and burn even when nothing is left to burn.
Shame is my prison of choice. “I deserve this,” I sob to my sister over the phone. Like Icarus enamored with reconstructing a self, I rose too high and believed in too little. So God let me burn. Desperate to break from shame and a place — seemingly a self — in ruins, I know well that a fire escape cannot be another body. So mine will be language: the words heavy in my throat like hot coals, the light in my voice extinguished for a moment.
Days later my voice catches in my throat, haunted by a story in the news: a man sets his body on fire. “Hope for a better Iran.” He dies later in a hospital.
Fire is a kind of escape. Fire corporealizes the breaking point, the rupture from a past life; the desperation — despair, fierce hope — it takes to break the walls of a prison.
His flesh joins a stream of sparks rising, vanishing into night. We are left watching, left in the scent of burning. We hold our breath in shock, in horror. In silence before his brand of hope.
Tears unmask the rupture from a past life. They make tangible the truth of our breaking, our desperate escape. They water the earth of new worlds.
Refusing to cry for weeks, I sob into the phone that holds my sister’s pained silence. “I deserve this.” If the person I lost shed tears for me, I hope they brought healing from a charade that stepped on me again and again. Its rhythm's unforgiving — the terms of toxic masculinity, heavy as a dead sea. Against its weight a body gives way, makes of success a promised land, seeks refuge inside the most readily available woman. Bodies like mine, a fire escape.
My mother shed tears for me. For her I keep the sins of my past a secret. For her I haunt church pews and confessionals, waiting for my faith to grow back like the femininity I shaved off in search of a self.
Like her, I will wear the red scarf to church often. I wore it the last time I saw him. It carries, still, the scent of fire.