1. my mother’s father died of his heart. my mother was sixteen. she mourned. she mourns still. she did not sleep for a year. she lay on her bed, listening to simon & garfunkel records. she considered failing gym. my mother’s father died from rheumatic fever. he survived it as a child but it left a notice of debt to be collected: it permanently damaged his heart. there wasn’t a fix, only an experimental stall. my mother’s father was one of the first patients to receive open heart surgery. the surgery was a success, for a time. and then the sound of silence as
2. my father’s father died of cancer. your explanation: he smoked. my explanation: there is no explanation. he got sick. he died. we mourned. we mourn still. the day he died we gathered at my grandmother’s house. i sat in the bright front room, looking at the empty i.v. pole, looking at the sterilized vomit bowl. i was seven or not yet seven. i was eight. i don’t remember how old i was. my parents took me to the funeral so i went, standing in the front row, standing in the row of immediate family, watching my grandmother bury the last man she’d ever share a bed with. i couldn’t imagine what it was like i don’t know how it goes
3. my mother’s mother died of cancer. it went into remission but then it came back. that summer, that weird summer, the unsettled fall of half-sick shadow. i was eleven, i mean, i was not yet eleven. i went to day camp. i went to the church summer program. i got out of the house while my mother tended to her mother’s death. i walked around outside the church with my friend ginny who i’d never see again. i walked around outside the church because i’d been fine, i’d been fine, it wasn’t hitting me that hard, then halfway into the eucharist, halfway into the apostle’s creed i started to hyperventilate. everything went black and sparking in the corners. everything went dark. i broke a sweat. i sat down suddenly in my chair. "i’m fine,” i told ginny, who held my hand tightly as she walked me around the church. “i’m fine,” i told ginny and ginny cried. i did not. my mother’s mother lived with us for a week, two weeks before she died. i didn’t close my bedroom door once. i thought: if she needs me and my door is closed, how will she get my attention? her bed was in the front room, just inside the front door. you could walk to the upstairs balcony and look down on my grandmother dying. all you had to do to hear her dying was: listen. i was fine. i wouldn’t look over the upstairs balcony. i wouldn’t look over it for a year. you might guess that i was afraid, afraid i might catch the eye of that unsatisfied death, unable to collect my mother’s mother during her dying week at my house, but it wasn’t that. not entirely. it was that i wasn’t worthy. my mother’s mother died. we mourned. we mourn still.
4. my father’s mother died of cancer. cancer closed in on her all at once. she’d survived hodgkins. she didn’t die from hodgkins, but ten years into remission she suddenly had this strange rash. she went to the hospital. she stayed at the hospital. she hated the hospital. she called my father and told him the hospital was killing her. we didn’t know what to do. she was angry. she was angry at the hospital. one night she became so angry at the hospital that she got out of bed and fell in her room. she broke her foot she broke her leg i don’t remember the exact progression but it trapped her in that hospital for three months instead of two days. and she was dying, and she was going to die, and maybe only days, maybe even a week. we moved her back to her house to die. i sat with her. i sat with her in the bright front room. i rubbed her swollen belly and talked about john kerry because her caregiver said it would help us both if i just talked. and she was dying, and she was going to die: but then she lived. for a year and a half, she lived. for just over a year, we got her back. in our last picture together she is in a wheelchair at the table at my parent’s house. we are smiling, we have been joking, someone held up a camera and told us to smile. so i am smiling, but i am also clutching the arm of my father’s mother’s wheelchair, trying to keep my last grandparent this side of mortality. my knuckles went white with it. my knuckles went more white. i did not succeed. she died. i wobbled to the podium, my hair held back with sticks. i set down my paper and tried to steady my shaking hands. i looked at my grandmother’s casket. i looked at my father, in the immediate family row. i read: love is patient, love is kind. it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. it does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. it always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. my voice broke. my voice crumbled. i barely made it through. love is the law, i thought. and so we mourned. and so we mourn still.
we mourned. of course we did. of course we do. we mourn and mourn and mourn and mourn.
the point of this exercise, if there can be a point. the point i am starting to make: everyone i’ve loved who has died who has been, at the time of death: straight and white, above the poverty line, able-bodied, cis gendered, able to color within the lines of whatever the hell it is we are supposed to be able to color within the line of: has died of cancer. also heart disease, also car accidents, stroke or some other variety of shocking system failure. it’s terrible. it’s painful. it’s so fucking sad. i cannot bear it. the point i am making, here, what i’m getting at is: system failure within their own system, their bodies giving up the ghost, the sadness, the suffering: but death, human death. this is not intended to minimize the horror of horrible, inevitable, human death. this is, long way around, intended to contrast horrible, inevitable human death with imported death, inflicted death, the murderous glare of
but we are not there yet. we are getting there. love is love is love is love. i had cancer. i didn’t mean to get it. that’s just what happened. we all have our bad days. so far so good, right? any day above ground, my support groups say, any day above ground is a good day. knock wood. knock wood. knock a little harder, please. knock. knock.
here’s another bad day and here’s another. here’s another bad day and another one yet. here’s a death toll, a death toll, ding dong ding, hear them sing: who does it toll for, now? who, who, who, did that owl speak my name? because here we go:
richard. raymond. mary louise. lorraine.
the strange evolution of sound that moves through my grandparent’s names, almost an echo, almost a kind of call. calling each other, calling us. the names of the dead. i found a string with three small plastic skulls in an end table drawer when i wasn’t looking over the balcony, that summer my maternal grandmother died. always a child who thought things into meanings, i thought a lot of meanings into those three plastic skulls. it became the inspiration of several juvenile fear rituals. one of the skulls had gone gray, it was dirty, it looked like an old skull, like a skull that had been stripped of quirk and distinction for decades, let’s say, two. another was speckled, a little more rough than not, something still almost alive about it, but not: a few years gone, perhaps. the third was white and bright and looked newer than it should’ve looked, compared to the other two: there were only three. my grandparent’s skulls. i loathed that plastic skull thing. nightmares and that internal explosion of fear you get, late at night, all along, reading for much too long: terror of the dark hallway, panic of the laundry room. that internal explosion of fear is where i keep the idea of the three skull string to this day. i know where the idea of the three skull string came from. i know what causes the fear.
the actuality of it? i have no idea what it was or where it came from. it was an object of great power, however; i couldn’t let it fall into the wrong hands, so i carefully abandoned it in that same end table drawer. it might still be there. maybe it is. god, don’t touch it. don’t take it out. leave it be. don’t wake that
meanwhile, everyone i’ve loved who has died: queer, of color, trans, with disability, with chronic illness, poor, neurodivergent. anyone i’ve loved who has died who lived outside the lines:
it’s a myriad it’s unimaginable it cannot be imagined there are so many ways. a horrific spectrum of poverty, assault, crushed by the system, abandoned by the system, killed with malice and forethought by the goddamn system. bootstrap theory forced upon those who were deprived of boots. diseases that could have been cured. diseases that could have at least been better managed. unobtainable medicine. unobtainable treatment. abortions, same. hungry, so hungry. victim blamed. malnourished and sustained with industrial filler materials. and driven to suicide. and lost out in the cold, and gunned down for the sake of:
i mean hatred.
hatred is what i mean.
what i mean is hatred is what has killed everyone i love who couldn’t stay inside the lines. hatred, neglect, and intolerance. father, son, and holy
it’s been eleven days and some hours and i still cannot complete a sentence. i cannot complete a sentence because too many sentences have been completed without justice. hungry death’s mouth waters at that dinner bell. hungry death knows “without justice” means a coming feast: each and every day, where you least expect it, where you aren’t thinking about it at all, walking down the street, at birthday parties and first dates spent dancing: watching dancers, holding hands, just a moment, a beautiful moment, how could this moment be more beautiful than, and then
we mourn. of course we mourn. we better fucking mourn because if we do not
police tape, candle lit vigils, unclaimed bodies, what can i say, who can i be, i love you i love you it isn’t enough i know it isn’t enough there needs to be more. more, but: i mourn. i mourn and mourn and mourn. i give myself up to mourning. i surrender myself to grief. if it will help. if it can help. if it might help. but even then: if i must spend the rest of my appropriately prorated poor and neurodivergent outside the lines life mourning, i will. because this should not have happened. and that should not have happened. and it keeps happening, but it should not
i mourn because you matter. you matter. you matter to me and i will mourn you. i mourn you, i mourn for you, i mourn with you. i love you. i am sorry. i do not understand why this keeps happening. i do not understand why it keeps getting worse. i know that isn’t
stanley almodovar III, i love you.
amanda alvear, i love you.
oscar a aracena-montero, i love you.
rodolfo ayala-ayala, i love you.
antonio davon brown, i love you.
darryl roman burt II, i love you.
angel l. candelario-padro, i love you.
juan chevez-martinez, i love you.
luis daniel conde, i love you.
cory james connell, i love you.
tevin eugene crosby, i love you.
deonka deidra drayton, i love you.
simon adrian carrillo fernandez, i love you.
leroy valentin fernandez, i love you.
mercedez marisol flores, i love you.
peter o. gonzalez-cruz, i love you.
juan ramon guerrero, i love you.
paul terrel henry, i love you.
frank hernandez, i love you.
miguel angel honorato, i love you.
javier jorge-reyes, i love you.
jason benjamin josaphat, i love you.
eddie jamoldroy justice, i love you.
anthony luis laureanodisla, i love you.
christopher andrew leinonen, i love you.
alejandro barrios martinez, i love you.
brenda lee marquez mccool, i love you.
gilberto ramon silva menendez, i love you.
kimberly morris, i love you.
akyra monet murray, i love you.
luis omar ocasio-capo, i love you.
geraldo a. ortiz-jimenez, i love you.
eric ivan ortiz-rivera, i love you.
joel rayon paniagua, i love you.
jean carlos mendez perez, i love you.
enrique l. rios, jr., i love you.
jean c. nives rodriguez, i love you.
xavier emmanual serrano rosado, i love you.
christopher joseph sanfeliz, i love you.
yilmary rodriguez solivan, i love you.
edward sotomayor jr., i love you.
shane evan tomlinson, i love you.
martin benitez torres, i love you.
jonathan antonio camuy vega, i love you.
juan p. rivera velazquez, i love you.
luis s. vielma, i love you.
franky jimmy dejesus velazquez, i love you.
luis daniel wilson-leon, i love you.
jerald arthur wright, i love you.
love is patient, love is kind. it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. it does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. it always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
i love you and i am ashamed by how death was brought upon you, in terror, in misery, in a system that failed you catastrophically, time and time again and then. i am ashamed that in this place where you had gathered to shelter one another from the hate, the hate broke in and took you: in motion, in life, in beauty. the hate broke in and ended you, and it ended you in a way that could not have been more ugly. you were taken by insatiable death not as grandparents in hospice, not as the body cannot go on forever: but as lovers, as dancers, as blue god’s embodiment, thriving in that holy moment, until: and why? and
was that my name? did i just hear my name? or was it yours? did i just hear