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Fall 2023

The Moss of His Skin

A haunting and beautiful fantasy poem by Andrew Liu

after Anne Sexton

There is a gnarled oak in the backwoods.
We don’t go there.

People wield their words like knives
in this town,
in this forest,
bordered by oaks in the dark and wintertime.

The taller I get
the less daddy uses his fists against me
resorting to words instead.
I will grow some ten inches in the next five years, one less knuckle
for every inch I splinter up like a birch starved for sun.

I am almost over the fence line of seventeen.
The woods are still haunted.
My birthday’s tomorrow.
They’ll be haunted then too.
And every birthday after.
And all the ones that don’t come too.
The woods. Are consistent that way.

A visiting numerologist says my life will change.
I threw his scratched-up dice and now he thinks
he knows everything about me, inside
and out. I hate
the way I hope
he’s right.

“Why are you so different from everyone else?”

You know why, but
you just can’t bring yourself
to say it.

My heart is a world
I carry within me.

Every day I carry
the immense pull of gravity.

Deep within me
a nebula, a galaxy.
Deep within a place you can’t see
a universe is beginning.

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Every shred of loneliness shall transform
into the miles and miles
of clear blue sky
lining my heart now.

Bathed in the light of the dream-wrought trees,
I wish you could see
the world as I see it.

Somewhere in the dark
I wake up in the forest.
Somewhere in the vastness of time’s unauthorable history
I wake up in the dark.

And I see him.
The moss of his skin.
The wet of the leaves
trodden underfoot.
Smell of bark and muscle.
Beard of lichen and leafless tassels.

When he approaches, I startle.
I try to run. My legs give out from under me.
His eyes, like two red currants shining in the underbrush,
blink slowly.

I don’t think
he’s trying to hurt me.

When he offers his hand,
I take it.
When he offers to help me stand,
I stand.
Only when we walk together
to the edge of the forest
and I see the light of the search party torches,
do I refuse to yield an inch.

“No,” I say to him. “I won’t go back.”
I know what’s waiting for me there.
You know it too. With the pain in your heart,
you recall your sagging days lifelessly passing
through cities of fog and streets full of blurred faces.
You pull at your heart when every protagonist
chooses to return from the world they
belong to, come back here
to hell
of all places.

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I saw the stories. I heard their fates.
I knew the boys who turned to seawater.
I knew the girls who ate poison to turn into stars.
I know the ones who stare into wells.
Who can’t stop dreaming even when the night is over.

I look at the town, swallowing itself in its own furious light,
its search for a boy who had long gone missing.
I look into the eyes of a man who I know has been watching me
all my life.
I know what they say about runaways.
I’m not looking for a quick fix.
I’m not looking for mere escapism.
I refuse to lie down in the arms of his meadow
and wake up in my bed the next morning.
I’m not eating some immortal berry
that’ll turn me into some otherworldly being.

If I’m going, I’m staying true too.
“I’m going to stay” I say to him, already my mouth
on his. “I’m going to stay,” my hands
already around the back of his neck.

May my whisper turn to prayer
trailing from his neck
and from prayer to wish
and wish to pure yearning.
Into the stars now, I cast my choice.
They can turn me into a song for all I care.
They can make me some idiot child’s cautionary tale.
They can forget all about me. I don’t

care. I’d rather pass
into the arms of the one I love
than pass through a life I never wanted.
I’d rather live in this dream I chose

than die in the nightmare I was forced to exist in.
I’ll live like a person. I won’t turn at the last second.
I won’t eat the food of the dead, the fruits of the fey kingdom.
Whatever the rules are, I’ll obey or bend.
I’ll get by whatever gets me
the fact I’m striving to create:
I’ll be the one who gets away.
I’ll be the one who genuinely escapes.

Andrew Liu is a 2020 MFA graduate of CSU Long Beach’s Creative Writing - Poetry program. He has published in two student magazines: East Los Angeles City College’s Milestone and CSU Long Beach’s Riprap. You can read his MFA thesis, California Metaphysics, which collects some of his best poems, on CSULB’s thesis database here. You can also view a recording of a virtual reading of selected poems organized by Andrew Liu and his friend Jesse Tovar on Youtube here.

Copyright © 2023 by Andrew Liu
Published by Orion's Beau
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