by Troy Cabida
The light from the TV spills all over your back,
and the liniment I’m spreading glows
into a cold hue of blue.
A long ripple of skin rolls upwards,
running against my six fingers,
from the base of your spine
all the way to your nape, out through
instructed exhales. My bottom lip hangs,
After five rounds, you force yourself awake
to show me it’s really done, me as your canvas
to show how the knuckles should search the perimeter
and stop at the nearest bubble of air,
how your thumb should pulse
using controlled and circular motions
until the muscle melts back into my body,
softening down the swell as if to say
we don’t have to be so tough anymore,
we don’t have to enjoy our callouses, instead
let the cracks breathe deeper
into a slight numbness even for just a second.
“The poem is your personal definition of incompatibility. Include a reference to a season.” — Oscar James Boal
We huddled over the screen
small enough to fit the hand but loud enough
to dominate the room, the comparison
distorting its diminutiveness.
The winter morning threw sunlight
at the most awkward of times,
at times we caught our faces on the screen,
currently a hundred per cent zoomed in,
respecting their rhythm,
the flow of bodies as one, clean
and free. There was no difficulty.
They were all they needed.
Morning routine, he called it.
Wake up, coffee boil,
grab the phone and turn on.
I said I did the same, minus the caffeine.
His eyes widen. He asks to repeat myself.
I answer, well, I’m human, too, believe it or not.
This, this whatever we’re doing,
is too delicate that to tack a word onto it,
to name it with our voice currently tucked in our throats
will ruin the moment. You’ll realise what’s going on
and then withdraw, call me out
and put a joke on it as a full stop
to finish the silence that grew from the knowledge,
not always mine but more so yours. He’ll say
Man, we were watching two different videos,
and that’s exactly why we’re different, why
we won’t lose to one another.
Why no falling will occur. There’s no one
to catch you on the other side.
There will be talks
of an inuman, probably a reunion
or someone’s cold Friday night despedida.
There will then be regret, a sting that’ll come
as an aftertaste but knowing how we were raised,
in the face of what will be solidified by then,
this won’t last too long. Overshadowed by congratulations,
a sigh of relief. At least someone stayed in the lane, they’ll say.
At least someone will bear children.
Only those who broke bread with my demons,
dissected and threw them away like bones
won’t leave the conversation that quickly,
wondering where I could be that very second, missing out
on the laughter that felt like years ago,
his hands finding a home around her waist. Dodging a bullet,
no more gay jokes, no more bitter, no more third wheeling
because finally he found a woman to care for him
after working in Stratford during winter.
No one will say anything, though, about how I found peace.
How I learnt to preserve a cracked crystal
while it was still somehow beautiful,
how I put it inside a box to be returned to
when all the bullets have been shot,
when things aren’t so pressured anymore.
And when that day comes,
maybe when the whiskey steer the conversation
you’ll ask more about whatever did happen to me, to Troy,
to the man who spoke to love and lost sleep over it.
Maybe the answers you get won’t be enough,
maybe you’ll swallow one last shot, grab your car keys,
dump everyone in your car, maybe you’ll drive on your own,
drown her voice over yours, then find me
onstage somewhere, say in a downstairs bar in Old Street
or in the chapel where you first saw me read,
see me be held by a different spine,
a smile surviving: your boy no longer,
one you no longer recognise underneath that spotlight
so you just end up taking a seat,
catch a breath and listen.
Troy Cabida is a Filipino poet, editor and producer from south west London. His poems have appeared on Bukambibig, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, and Voice & Verse, and he is a Barbican Young Poet alum (2016-2018). He is currently senior editor for Siblíní Journal. His producing credits include open mic night Poetry and Shaah, his debut show Overture: An Evening with Troy Cabida and Poems for Boys, a night dedicated to male-identifying poets talking about their relationship with masculinity.