By Joanna Acevedo
Pouring sugar on a cut will make it heal faster, the sugar granules soaking up the moisture that the bacteria would have fed on. I learned from a young age that a man wants nothing more than a woman to listen to him speak, like an empty receptacle he can fill. It is the job of women to be this receptacle, to quietly listen as the men give us their ideas. Theoretically.
In a bar, a man tells me about being a writer. I have a graduate degree in creative writing. Have, at that time, published two books. You can’t force the creative process, he says. You have to let your inspiration flow. In cases of extreme starvation, the brain will begin to eat itself.
Your skin contributes about 15% of your body weight. Mine is stretch-marked and tattooed, and subject to criticism from strangers when I walk down crowded streets. A man points at my legs and says: “Why?” Another man, on the subway, says: “You have such beautiful legs, why would you ruin them by getting all those tattoos?”
Writing the body: how do we explain in words a lived experience which is so wholly physical—the unsticking of your tongue from the roof of your mouth, the shiver that goes down the back of your neck, the prick of the needle as it pierces your skin. All of writing is translation. We are merely explaining what we already know, what we have always known, what has been written into[,] and coaxed out of our DNA.
Your brain can survive for five minutes without oxygen, but I couldn’t survive for the five minutes when B— was in the shower, trying to cool off in the Nashville heat. My whole body was on fire. Sitting in front of the computer, trying to write a few lines, my fingers hovered over the keys. Later, he would drunkenly declare that I was his and he was mine. He bought a pack of cigarettes from the bartender, went outside to smoke half of one, drop it, light another. Repeat. I followed him around Broadway like he was water and I was thirsty.
I can never remember my dreams, except when I can: I’m with B— in a theme water park, and my phone has started emitting a kind of viscous liquid. Now I’ve been diagnosed with the Black Plague, and I’m being loaded into buses headed for the hospital; my phone is sticky, I can’t call my mother, I have to tell her I have the Black Plague. Where is B—? Does he have the Black Plague too? It’s a Covid-19 anxiety dream for sure, and when I wake up under my weighted blanket I still can feel the heaviness of the restraints from the hospital bus on me.
Once, in graduate school, I watched two men I knew somewhat well argue about James Joyce, and the one I was not interested in sleeping with slammed his glass down with such force that the girlfriend of the one I was interested in sleeping motioned me to the bar. We did tequila shots, with a lime chaser. The boyfriend joined us, spilled his beer on my jeans, grabbed my thigh, and made an inappropriate joke. Later, he challenged me to arm wrestle his girlfriend. Balanced on a shaky bar table, I gripped her hand with mine, alcohol making the whole scene murky [and unrealistic. I quickly realized I needed to leave, or else get sucked into their madness. I made my exit, stepping into the sudden darkness of the West Village night.
On New Year’s Day in 2018, a man groped me in a bed I did not want to sleep in. I slipped from in between the covers in the first light, but I will never have the words to describe what his breath felt like, wolf-hot on my neck; his hands on my thin ankles, wrists. I called an Uber and told my mother over grilled cheeses at a diner on the Upper East Side. She had her own story. There are always more stories.
A woman’s heart beats slightly faster than a man’s. I knew my heart was beating faster when the man I was seeing told me, I can’t see you tonight, I have to go and see my wife. We had been seeing each other for three months. He left Magnum condom wrappers on the dirty clothes on the ground in his room, and lit Marlboro cigarettes with matches, lying on his back from his mattress on the floor. Later, he would be arrested for a Drunk and Disorderly. He worked as a butcher. I would never see him again.
Editing for work, I read people’s poems about sex in their 70s. Good for them, I think to myself as I comment on their line breaks, word choices, enjambment. When a human blushes, they feel it in the lining of the stomach, too, which also turns red. Just like fingerprints, humans also possess a unique tongue print.
In a way, everything I write is a love poem. An assemblage of body parts. A constellation of symptoms. Look, I say, pointing to the many pieces. See? I’m right here.
A man I was dating once told me: I just don’t like you as much as I thought I did. It was Halloween. I had just thrown up an entire bottle of Rosé [BRAND? (honestly it was probably Chateau Diana)] into the back of an Uber. I was charged a $140 cleaning fee, and he broke up with me. Later, he denied ever saying it, and held my cold hands in the backyard of a bar as he rolled on molly and I tried to convince everyone the man I had come to this bar with wasn’t insane. I left with the man I had come with, and never saw the first man again.
What if it’s not about the body so much as it is about the body in proximity to others? You need to get laid, my boyfriend says to me as a taxi takes me home from the bar. He is on speakerphone. Shut up, I say, embarrassed for the taxi driver. My phone’s internal speakers don’t work; this is the only way I can hear his voice. I don’t want to sleep with anyone but you. He snorts. You need to stop with that, he says. Conversation over.
Once, a man told me we couldn’t go back to his apartment because there were pigeons in the walls, or ceiling. I believed him, although now I think he had an intimate partner we were avoiding. Even now, I have dreams about waking up to a shower of feathers.
When listening to music, the human heart will begin to sync to the rhythm. It’s just another way that humans are fallible creatures, easily influenced. When asked what I write about, I take a moment before I answer. “Well,” I say, considering the question. “I suppose you could say I write about violence.” One in every 2,000 babies is born with teeth.
So maybe I’ll try pouring sugar on the cut. We pretend we’re quite civilized, but in the end, aren’t we all trying to translate a rather mystifying set of sensations into concepts that our minds can understand? Humans can glow in the dark, too, but we’re too dim for our eyes to detect. We all glow, but we’ll never get bright enough to see each other. We’ll never get close enough.
Joanna Acevedo is a writer, editor, and educator from New York City. She is the author of two books and two chapbooks, and her writing has been seen across the web and in print, including in the Jelly Bucket, Hobart, and The Adroit Journal, among others. She received her MFA in Fiction from New York University in 2021, and also holds degrees from Bard College and The New School.