Evan Nave

(Before the choke-song I ask
my elders for permission to speak
our dry-tongue family slang
for the non-believers.)

My mother pressed her
voice against my ear
and whispered “baby there
was a time I tried to get outside
my breath and when I couldn’t I

(Gasp from the depths of corporeal prison skin
colored white as in shriek as in die).”

A stairway to
over-clouds stitched with
concrete and foot sweat two
steps at a time. A
hurry kind of way to go
about living and not.
There’s a pulse
in the neck at the top stair
step that thumps a no-god and
a no-hope into the fingers.
A pulse that goes

(Gasp from the never-hell fantasy
depicted in Greek mythology and made-
-for-TV movies).

An old white woman
(as in matronly bourgeois wonder
worker or catch and release
crystal ball hotline operator)
named not-family was
hired to mercenary soothe
via audio cassette tape.
Side A contains muscle clench
exercises designed to decompress
the nerves around the tear
ducts and clamped jaw bone.
Side B contains
(Gasp in stereophonic fidelity crackled
from three generations of wear).

There are people who give
each other discounted sentiments
from grocery store check out lanes.
A three dollars and ninety-nine cents
swap of mutual I was thinking
about you were you thinking
about me? There is no price
check on

(Gasp to hexagonal red laser
beeps and static store manager calls)

when we buy it
for ourselves when we gift
ourselves in seasonal dread
and lonely shades of gasp.

(The elders shake their heads
a kind of lazy disappointed.)

Evan Nave is Normal, Illinois' native son. He represented Illinois State University's English department as its 2010-2012 Sutherland Fellow in Creative Writing and is currently a Phd student at ISU, where he studies creative writing and African-American literature. His work has appeared in Seven Corners and Similar:Peaks:: and will appear in a forthcoming issue of Moria.