Her, just across the river—a house her father bought, a square key she keeps in a watering can when she goes running by a high school she always rolled her eyes at; a steep climb to the octagonal water tower, each side made of Kasota stone and brick. It’s a different place in the summer, I hear—there are different tires to be put on the car when the chunks of ice in the river shrink to the size of mangoes; they are kept in a clumsy pile on the front porch until it is warm enough to get wherever it is we are going.
I was here once, without you: in the way that you can be without someone who you always knew—of something of bridges, of how I walked across the river before I drove across it—finding myself going the wrong way in a car we will later take to the shore’s end; how I exist in a world where I do not belong just yet; that I have arrived before my time.
Him, a monolith of a body, human in the same way we categorize things we do not know but wish to get close to: a chest pink, a nose broken. There is a tattoo that stretches from the navel to the throat of a sword, and you and I know that all things here are metaphor; some bombastic gesture toward a world we have never seen; something magical and hierarchical; something more royal than the blue of your dress, the blue of my eyes.
You do not watch these battles with me and I understand: you, underneath a barrier of blankets, me, wasting my time to see what the end result is of a thing that does not carry any weight beyond the realm in which it exists. We live in a world where none of this matters: we drive across rivers to buy groceries—a carton of eggs, bananas in bunches.
This whole thing is an illusion and this is what I struggle with—that I live in a world where the lie is larger than any flexed bicep, than any shoulder rounded toward the camera to show just how serious this threat might be. The world in which I love you is shared with the suspension of belief: how grown men can jump into the arms of others, how when we flip head over heels we somehow manage to graze a shoulder before tumbling toward the earth.
There are rivers here, too, where we have made our home: where the world splits into something we regard as duality even though it is just a space where the water has rushed enough to erode the stones to slickness—a divide that gives us pause; a world unmarked as if we believe there are beasts there; dragons, maybe—all bubbling up, wingless and tongue scorched as if they are from a world we have not yet imagined.
In the world where all of this is real, the X is dropped: we do not pronounce anything more than what we are expected, how the letter whistles through our teeth as we leave our tongue dormant. Instead, we shape the words in ways foreign to these mouths—how I find myself saying words the way you have always said them: in homes with square keys: bag, man, asparagus.
Him, he exists in a world in which we are unfamiliar—the one of narratives and advocates, of throwing his fists toward the ground as fireworks shoot toward the sky. He lives, though, in our space: of thousands of lakes, of a sharp knee to the gut that causes men larger than me to double over—of cauliflower ear, of other words I shape in new ways since our whirs find their way to the same frequency.
This is fiction: one of the first lessons that we learn is that the punches are never real—they are as open-fisted as a magnolia; the fingers disappearing into something that looks like air. And yet here is something that is true: the man we call the beast incarnate, the one, the alpha, the conqueror of worlds we are unfamiliar with—he is as real as we imagine him to be. He makes sandwiches for his sons. He takes them hunting in the woods behind the woods. In the world where the blood does not turn black and white, he fights out of elsewhere—a rural town where he has moved his family; a quiet place we mispronounce, a place not found on a map unless you know where to look. A house with three sets of doors. A window that faces the sun.
You are from a city that could have been named after a pig’s eye, but instead was named after a saint I learned about in a church in a town named after bridges—how the water snaked in such a way that one bridge was never enough to keep us floating. Where we are from is who we are and where we will return.
Everywhere he is, a new city. A new courthouse, a new water tower, built on the ability to take another man and lift him off the ground, up and over his head—to send others into an onyx oblivion—a smoothed stone, a catch and release. Every town has the same name. Every city a heart. Every street sign a way out.
Enough about where we are from. Let me tell you about the place where we are fighting out of. Let me tell you of its rivers—of how our porch swarms with black cats and tree leaves; of how divided it all must seem to anyone; of how it was broken by straight-line winds and tornadoes, of how we somehow managed to stir our wings before we were left for dead. This is our home and we will fight until the death of it. This is where we lock doors, where we cut bell peppers. This is a place where we can catch an elbow and shake it off like it was a short-haired shout from a rooftop. Break the arms of the other cities. Hold their face to their grass. This is where we build our argument—where we make our stand, where we build the concept of forever even though it seems so infinite; how it spreads further than a knife blade, how we ask ourselves what it means to be crowned. Let me tell you about where we are from. Let all of this happen before the bell rings. Let us fill this space with our elbows. Watch how we fight out of. This is a city I will never know without you.