Spirits float the cosmos. They search for bodies to enter. You sought and found yours: flickers of a couple based in Paterson, New Jersey. They were a young wife with a pretty nose and a husband with an appetite for beef curry. You watched and waited. You stumbled, missed your star to her womb. Waiting for the next shoot to their home, you watched as she birthed an empty baby boy. This was supposed to be your body. He had no cry. She didn’t look at his face, but decided he would have been spirited had she held him in longer. You did reach her, eleven months later, the skeleton of a girl forming.
Your mother begged the doctors to let you stay in. You could stay with her, beat with her, share her breaths and joys. She would eat well, provide you with the right nutrients. The doctors gave her sedatives, slit her, cradled you out. This was the missed chance to have your heart echo hers. You gave a fierce shriek, but she didn’t hear. She’d already turned away. For forty days she stayed away. For forty days someone else held you, spoke into your ears Bangla, sent your navel stump to Bangladesh, planted a root to pull you somewhere. Your skin was shriveled and buried, while you learned just to breathe.
When the Arabic tutor asked, “What is this?” when he slid his thumb over that smooth skin, you wondered how it became wet with all your clothes on. You wondered if his thumb would smell like body. All parts of the body could be made to smell like soap or the food cooking on the stove. But behind the ears, under the arms, in the crook of the elbows, behind the knees, between the toes…in this space without a name, only the scent of body ever stayed. He seemed starved, sifting through you, but only finding liquid.
You sold all your books, even the dinosaur dictionary, the illustrated encyclopedia of famous people, and all your books on queens. You’d sold even the one with Cleopatra. It revealed she wanted so much to be smooth that a servant girl plucked out all her underarm hair each day. She bathed in perfumed water and used her scent and skin to control all the Nile. There she drowned, there she must have left all her other secrets. Sold at a quarter each, the books brought in less than ten dollars. Your palms, dry from bidding each one farewell, now lay empty.
You watched as your father held the kitchen knife. His anger erupted, “Try to call your sister! I’ll hack you to pieces today.” Your mother stood by the door. She didn’t look to you, her mouth agape, her hands pillowy. How could muscle be so tender? You watched. Was this how movies were made? Wouldn’t the actors be given a script before shooting? Wouldn’t the knife be blunt? Else, wouldn’t skin be slit?
You sat in Chemistry class, knew full well the answer was carbon. None of the boys were correct. Your hand slid from your lap to the tabletop. You began to sweat, breathing quickly. You practiced in your mind what to say. Your skin reddened. You looked at the door out. The class rabbit was forever shivering in his cage. The thought of sweat washing away the smell of soap still clinging to you: your hand slid back down to your lap.
You kissed your first boy in college, German and blond, pulled back, looked into his eyes, waited for his horns to appear, a smirk to surface. The floor didn’t gape open, no flames at the window. Instead, you regretted the stale cigarette feel he left on your tongue, his dirty socks leaving their smell on your bedsheets. You kept your bra and shirt on, his hand still skimmed your stomach skin.
You wrote a story. There was a woman, a man, a friend, an affair, drinks, arguments, reconciliation. You wrote it with fervor and intention. You read it aloud to an older writer—man—felt him lean towards the words as you turned from one page to the next. When you came across a cherished word, one that couldn’t be edited out, you said it softly. This could have been your chance to get published; you wanted the story to remain yours. When you finished, you inhaled, looked at the patterning of the table you sat at, looked up. You wondered if there was any hope for these words. In turn, he remarked your skin smelled so much like his long lost wife.
You noted all the criticism. If you could rub away the texture of your face, chisel the nose just a bit (slim it just a tinge), pull up the droopy cheeks, massage away the lines running rings around your neck, soften the glare of your pupils, carve away some of the unflattering chunks, stretch the spine just for an extra inch (two at most), you could be pretty. You were so bright. So, you sat in the doctor’s office, requested your face be corrected. The doctor obliged. But accidentally, he lit your skin on fire, burned it to scab, leaving you curious for what new fate you would find. The hope was after the fire, your skin would lighten. You had so much collagen; when the scabs fell away, your skin reappeared, dark and unmarked. You healed so fully. You began to only look into your eyes in every mirror. In the periphery, blurred, you saw the flare of your nostrils, the dip between your collar bones, the glow on the gold of your arms.
There is no escape from my reflection. I look hard to find my pupils; my eyes are so dark. In the periphery I see the flare of my nostrils, the dip between my collar bones, the glow on the gold of my arms. My skin has held my body first, my mind next. This skin has soaked in the touch and asks of men I have known and will come to know. This skin has pulled my lips into a closed smile, helped me to be kind and loving, compassionate. It has endured my inability to speak up. This skin has listened as I have tried to formulate sentences and protests to how it has been handled, and then has accepted that I have done nothing to save it from being touched. I have remained paralyzed. This skin has loved me as I have learned first I have a voice and learned next the words that suit it best, and now waits as I learn to use language. This skin does not harbor the fingerprints of shame. It is not to be peeled off and hung in the back of some abandoned closet. Rather, I cherish it, embrace it, revel in all its strengths and integrity. For all the disparagement, it has remained tightly wound around me, cradling the aftermath of each incident. And, it is this skin that searches out for the close of day, regenerates each morning. It remains so hopeful.