I sang a lot as a child.

I had a throaty voice. My lungs caught bronchitis often and the coughing scratched my throat. Adults found it beautiful.

The older I grew, the less sick I got and the cleaner my voice became.

It wasn’t the same with my mouth.

The older I grew, the filthier it got, as though the phlegm that had chaffed my chords didn’t disappear, but instead, became curses that moved closer to my lips. Closer to the outside world.

This dirtiness sat, behind my teeth, under my tongue, for years.

It festered, and as an adolescent, I had many ulcers. I never let it out. I had pristine school reports, and my teeth were pearly white. But something in my stomach was pushing at my mouth, and the skin broke open and my mouth bled but my words stayed inside.

Then they slowly trickled out. They leaked through my teeth, between my parted lips, first in breaths, then whispers, then words and finally hacking coughs. My chest came full circle.

I think, sometimes, that my body formed around my mouth.

With every cough, a secret tried to escape. The belt of three stars, sea-salt drying on the shore, the taste of waves lapping against stones. My secrets, saffron kisses, like warm winter tea, and words whispered, like thin summer clouds.

But they were inside, pressed together, calcifying, not clouds anymore, but slow rock. Odorless in their immobility, in their imprisonment, tasteless.

Around them, my tongue morphed. My teeth, the teeth I ground to keep the clouds in, bled then broke then, around their debris, regrew anew. My lips flayed, then regenerated, and now they sit, my words’ sore and swollen gates to the world.

I think bodies form around their negative spaces.

Looking for someone else’s secrets, I found fossils in my ears. I took them out and they looked like words, but ones I’d never heard before. They had been sitting there for years. Hardening. Settling. The brackets that held the inside of my head together, and kept my thoughts from tumbling out, kept them from the summer clouds.

I put the words back in, but my ears hadn’t stopped forming, deforming, reforming. The brackets had become loose, the secrets ill-fitting. This is when the headaches started.

I think the words inside my body are the hammer to the anvil of the world outside.

I ignored my headaches. I was sure the problem was the back of my neck. My skin crawled at the smell of saffron, the taste of sea salt. Every morning, I’d wake to summer clouds and my hackles would rise – every night I’d sleep beneath three stars.

It had to be my dreams. They drained out like septic water, clotting my hair, soiling my pillows. They could never fit around my neck, until I redrew my head, re-stretched my spine, replaced my skin.

I slept better then, but I still ached. The sea salt was in my lungs, the sun’s fire in my gullet. I thought of bronchitis like an old friend, and of words like rock and lungfuls of stones, of solidified smoke.

I didn’t smoke, but so many men around me did. I inhaled their tobacco breath and never breathed it out. It stayed inside me and slowly coalesced into a dense cloud of ever-changing unattainabilities.

I think the spaces around my body work in tandem to stop it from being.

Then one day, I decided to start singing again.“Watch your chin, your shoulders,” my instructor would say.

I sang in front of a mirror, and watched the smog leave my body.
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