on a name

I was supposed to be named Rochelle. “Little rock.” Instead, Shantai. The sounds don’t come out right for most people. I learned early on to answer to shh. I answer to accidents and false starts.

I got a name of indecision, one with two paths: Chanter and Shanti, to sing and peace,

to sing in peace

and it’s spelt wrong for both. Makes sense; it wasn’t planned. Shantai was a lyrical suggestion from the lips of a stranger on the day before the night I left the womb.


My name is lonely. No keychains or mugs or fake license plates at roadside gift shops. Nothing that smiles back and says, “You’re not the only one. There are others like you.” She’s not a Susan, or an Anthony, or even an Angela. She’s a, “I don’t know how to spell that.” Or a, “Enchantée Shantai, c’est rigolo!”


Once, I met my name’s homonym. It was on Halloween when everyone pretends to be what they aren’t or shows who they truly are. I was seven, maybe eight, and it was the early evening. The moon’s light and the gold of streetlamps must’ve made everything a blue green over grey because that’s the color of this memory.

I was drowning in my mother’s sky blue nursing scrubs with her stethoscope hooked around my neck, bandaged up in other people’s expectations and fallen ambitions.

At the trick-or-treating spot off White Plains Road, I opened the front passenger door of the minivan and watched my brothers tumble out onto the sidewalk, checkered smiles of growing teeth glowing in the night with high-pitched squeals escaping through the gaps. Somewhere during their loud tumble towards a night of sweets and future gum disease, I heard my name. The voice was new to me.

I turned and looked anyway because like any dog—I mean, child—I had been trained to look when spoken to, to answer when called. And for the first time, my name wasn’t mine. Shantai was another girl, with hair pressed and curled into a sea of Shirley Temples. She and her friends had no chaperone. She was too big for that. She was a blue princess.

ch. 1

I didn’t take his money. I’m still good. I wanted to, but I shook my head no when he asked. My eyes travelled along the rough terrain of his hairy knuckles and his burnt blini back of hand to his gold-plated cufflinks and dark blue sleeves. Sometimes, I ponder selling myself. It was so humid that night. Was he sweating? I can’t remember. His eyes were glutted with a lust that scared me and made me look down to his belly because my sight is controlled like that and I saw a fleshy graveyard haunted by ghosts of palinka and salted meats. The automaton was his wife, an aged piţipoanca: lumpy bleach blonde plastic bottle tan with nipples pointed south. Her blue eyes saw through me. It’s too hot for a sweater.

dimmed on names

I called him Dimitri. His name was Dmytro. His father called him Misha. “I love the name Misha!” The left side of his lips pursed together and peaked upward in a forced side smile and incisors peeked out to a grimace. “I don’t like that name.” He tried to be polite and looked into my eyes. “My father used to call me that.” Dimitri’s father used to beat Misha with his fists whenever he didn’t have enough drink to lull him to sleep. Two weeks after deciding that Dimitri was too much to be with, I forgot his name. Almost half a year later his name resurrected itself in my consciousness. I thought I pulled him from the roots.

Dmytro, I forgot that I could remember you.

dee…dee…deemeetri, dimitri. yes, that was his name. i forgot it entirely. when again did we break up? i probably shouldn’t use the term ‘break up’. that implies some type of discussion took place. not. i just stopped texting him. i don’t know how he felt. i didn’t care. i just remember how exhausting it was to be around him. the thought of seeing his face, of being in his presence, of hearing his voice overwhelmed me. the air around him always felt thick. it would’ve been too hard to breathe.

Heat brews in my chest. It burns a smoke that grates against my inside. My hand hurts. I’ve been holding the pen too tight, like a fist. It aches to open and let go.

Dimitri,

I break you in parts and serve you upon blank sheets of paper to faceless readers I hope will chew, digest, spit.

I remember our first time alone together. You took me in your arms and rocked me like a mother does her newborn, with a type of shaky anxiety. You thought I was younger than I was and I made you laugh, and you said to me, “Doesn’t it feel good to be held.” I didn’t answer because I didn’t think you were talking to me.

we had moments

where his eyes fed me

and they were wet

and expanded.

I threw you away, and you came back rotted, holes, pieces falling apart and dangling from thinning tendons. Too choppy, these memories.

I don’t know what to do with this.

6

Here is a portrait
Incomplete
Of a man, I see
Flat, 2d
Of a man, I know
Just barely
Through memories
That are not from me.

He was born in the year of the Earth Monkey,
A Gemini, like my mother. His mother,
A washer; his father,
A master miller.
Both are now dead.

He loves dogs.
“No.
He loves any animal
That obeys him.”
       Once
He trained a pig to act like a dog.
Imagine that.
Kept the porker on a leash
Took it for walks
-Bit people too but

“Only at his command,
Of course.” Of course.

He likes his beer blonde
Like his hair, and The Thief King is
His f  a  v  o  r  ite book, and
It’s like Game of Thrones
‘Cept no one knows it
Except him.
(Accept him) playonwords

I want you to know
That

He is somewhere

Breathing,

Pink masses stretching and releasing
Beneath
A cage of his bones.

Maybe coughing
Or rubbing
The cold from his eye with a knuckle
Or feeling
His palms grow cool against metal.

He is somewhere and
These are just words
That you read. A portrait
Incomplete
Of a man, you see
Flat, 2d
Of a man, you know
Just barely
Through memories
That are not from thee.

3

A thumbnail
warm and smooth
–is it my own?–
presses a dent into
the flesh
of my lower lip. Cold fingertips stroke
the flat of my shoulder blade.
Heat radiates as though
the bones
were fresh off the coals.

It’s a binary dance of the senses;
this heat and
this cold.

O Consciousness,
where do I place thee?
In these fingertips that look up at me,
pushing forward, coaxing me
like anxious dogs in need
or
in this blood-rushed flat disk that shifts
with grace in tandem
with….

I look up.
The ceiling above me once leaked. Brown stains flush
and look to spread like mushrooms, but
I know they don’t grow.
I push my back into the wood chair
and feel the soft shag
of my coat’s inner lining brush
my neck as my head
leans back.
The narrow pressure of the chair’s top rail provides
a point of focus
for my overstimulated mind.
I feel soothed.
Pressure always releases.
The rounded aluminum aglet of my hoodie’s
drawstring, I twist it like a nipple.
I look down to the round table and see
that my pen has
–count them–
six sides. “Hex,” I smile.

Moments pass and
this cappuccino has cooled and
I don’t want it anymore.

A smooth muffled gasp of air escapes the closing door, and
I’m reminded that it’s cold outside.
I button up. But,
these buttons won’t stay closed. The cloth is soft.
Excessively.
A consequence of fearing the roughness of life,
the way in which she skins us.

Out the window
webbed trees travel
and unravel light
and shadow,
their broken ends remind me
of something I can’t
quite recall and I feel
the edges of my palms ache
from the anger of yesterday.
Can doors ache as well?
I hit one pretty hard. I wonder if
this body of mine
will always
carry the weight
of my mind. Does it matter?
Another question with no answer
and I close my eyes.

Hair makes noise if you caress it.
Sounds like
rolling in dry grass,
leaves, on a fall day. I listen
to the sound
of sugar shower
from a paper torn
down into
his warm ceramic cup. It’s night, so
life is found
on the inside. Inside
this old coffee shop,
I sit
with life.