after James Baldwin

A breeze in the curtains—
August lingered in the linens
and lethargy, Earth’s refuse
still heavy in the air, the summer dust—
like lifted particles of God’s residue—
circled and circled above.
And two girls—one was so frail
you could see her angles and edges
through her paper skin. Each sigh
moved her chest, rolled into the next.
The other girl watched her,
one ear in tune to the murmurations
of the body, one ear alert for the
intrusions of the real world.
That was me. I looked at the body on
top of mine—how pliant and pale it was,
how small it looked resting on my chest—
and thought of how easily my brute hands
could have broken those beautiful fingers.
You sinner, you. I wanted the sun rays
cutting across my skin. I wanted a rainbow
slicing the sky in perfect halves,
a flock of stone doves soaring to the next
frontier. But a breeze in the curtains
and in slipped morning—
morning, a mouth full of ashes.

About the Author

Lela Ni is a freshman at University of Southern California studying creative writing. She is a 2018 YoungArts finalist in poetry, and her writing has been recognized by Penguin Random House, the Brooklyn Public Library, and the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. She is originally from New York, New York.