Taylor Byas is a Black Chicago native currently living in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is the 1st place winner of the 2020 Poetry Super Highway, the 2020 Frontier Poetry Award for New Poets Contests, and the 2021 Adrienne Rich Poetry Prize. She is the author of the chapbook Bloodwarm from Variant Lit, Shutter, forthcoming from Madhouse Press, and her debut full-length, I Done Clicked My Heels Three Times, forthcoming from Soft Skull Press in Spring of 2023. She is represented by Rena Rossner of the Deborah Harris Agency.
I slow traffic with my worry, kneeling and checking my car for damage. My palm on its feverish hood like a mother checking a child’s temperature, and the heat of the sun doubling its sickness. In the black paint’s warped reflection, I could be mistaken for my father—this froggish position, squatting on my toes. My forehead becoming his in its rumpled state, even our concern biological, shared, right down to the way we squint at an injured thing. The way we have only temporary fixes for what is broken. I list the damages out loud, to no one, to the metronome of my hazard lights. To convince myself I’ve done it—this too is hereditary, struggling with admissions of guilt. On the phone with the insurance company, I begin to unbraid a legacy of blamelessness. Yes, I was operating my vehicle alone. The car was parked and empty when I hit it. This is just another version of the tree falling in the forest question; if no one saw me hit the car, did I do it? If my father never apologized on our old phone calls, did he truly wound me? The insurance agent on the phone is asking questions, following the printed script taped next to her computer screen. Is the car drivable? Are you hurt? I don’t know which question I’m answering anymore. It doesn’t matter. Yes. It comes pouring out of me like smoke from a car’s underbelly, the hiss of air finding the path of least resistance. Yes. Yes. Yes.
Yet again, a woman hears the whistling of shame at the bedroom window. Past noon and the curtains still drawn. Everything unwashed and stink-sweet with an unruly night’s sweat. It’s not what you think. Outside, the day simply goes on. A car alarm startles a sleeping newborn, a Walmart bag splits from the sharp edge of a notebook cover and school supplies scatter into grass. A mother nears her breaking point, talking her daughter through a tantrum—it’s okay honey, I love you, it wasn’t your fault [over the small cemetery of color]. The sun takes on that particular intensity, where it works into the contours of love and lessens its patience. Inside, in the bedroom, a false dark. The woman thinking of the night before, when she asked a man [desperate] how did you mean it when you said you loved me? Just then, the world a heavy coat rended by an old hook. An open trauma, nylon yawning apart under the weight. In the false dark, the woman is finally true to her heartbreak. This is not a poem about suicide, but she slits herself wide with feeling. There are ghosts and then there is grief, both asking permission to be cast out. The sun is setting, turning the particular orange that makes dull things glitter. The curtains warm to the touch when she opens them. Her tears, little found diamonds as she lets the shame in.