Kay Ulanday Barrett


More than organs

A person is more than organs, more than skin cell flecks
on bedsheets when your whole Monday is fading
away, out of breath.

The average person breathes seven hundred million breaths in a lifetime, but what happens when each one might taste of blades, of pills. Between havoc and delirium, an inhale can carve you out when you are all alone. I sometimes think I am beyond statistics and that life is the trapdoor.

I think I collect knotted rust from bridges in my feet.
I bet warped twine is on a search party somewhere
just waiting to keep me together. 

What do you say to limbs when they are good friends with scalpels? When you feel your insides grate through chemicals like a marathon with no winner? When the only metal comes from you, hours of bleeding creatures you have no names for, how do you answer those texts messages that ask                                                                                                  How are you doing?

It’s the salt, the stained smell of iron, the sea of your body is
a wave that makes it impossible to stand. The body is a letter
folded backwards, all strange angles and confessions
bleeding through the surface, making no sense. Like this, I am something
that feels like it’ll always be there but
manages to get lost somehow.

If I told you that my life is basically cloud cover, between shade and safe haven,
between starling and storm, you’d get why each cough is the split broken back
of a palm tree, why my own palms

hold out to the air and
say  hello,
say I missed you,
say please stay with me here


To be underwater & holy

every survivor is splendor.
every spoon is sacred.
every cough is an altar on the bend of ribcage.
every cane is a drum calling into the earth.

you will be told that you are not worthy of a party.
you will be told you are not a celebration.
why exist at all?

because breath is an exhausted ship lapping the wind.
because your muscles are the fatigue of a sunset.

when your bodies are carnal waves collapsing,
remember: together we can find the shore.
together we can rock and wave and rest and float, together.
we need to move together.
together we can rupture veins into storms and
together we can be the grit as promising as the sound of shells.
our lineage tells us
there will always be land and ocean
in our bones.

after every shift of tide,
no matter the catastrophe,
please hold on if you can.

here's a promise:
dare to press an ear against my chest
and on this love,

we’ll grow scales for every current
we'll part every sea like scripture.

read kay's biography

return to issue 3: january 2017