CW: suicidal ideation
I felt you once in a dream, while I steadied myself
against the hips of a man I didn’t love
but was willing to use, like the cancer at the back
of my grandfather’s throat that took him.
The year my parents married, my grandfather flew
to America and met my mother. And at a stranger’s wedding,
wept to see a bride with blonde hair like hers,
while my grandmother held his head in her lap
petting his hair. The bud of cancer,
already beginning to blossom.
When I first felt you, Lump, I thought
I was dying, searching with my fingers outstretched
for a trigger that might make me sick and expel
something I ate, peanut butter banana bread
—my allergy. Like, I was ten at the hospital again.
Two months, I couldn’t swallow.
The muscle was too weak to hold
the acid in our stomach. Those bitter juices
leavings marks like fingers around our neck.
I expect I’m dying young, but I learned this much,
the scars that ring our throat spell a secret:
love more tenderly than you should.
So, Lump, what do you think?
If You Could Cast a Spell, Which Spell Would You Cast?
The first time I wanted to die,
I shouted it in the middle school gym.
One week’s suspension for terroristic threats.
Eleven-year-old suicide bomber risk outside
an Applebee’s with my white mother, who voted
for Bush in ‘04, who straining I carried
up the stairs when she fell drunk on the floor.
Reincarnate. Druid, fifth level. Transmutation.
You touch the corpse of the spell’s subject
or a piece of the corpse. (a heart?)
Provided that the subject has been dead
no longer than ten days, the spell forms
a new body for them, and calls the soul
to enter that body. Casting time, one hour.
My mother and I have always wanted to die.
At least some of the time. She’s tried, and I
haven’t. In a hospital outside of Paris
they pumped the drugs from her stomach.
When we left Dad, I fell asleep on the plane,
and woke terrified, like a strange boy
in a strange body, in a strange country.
Clone. Wizard, eighth level. Necromancy.
Inside a sealed vessel, this spell grows
An inanimate clone of a living person.
If the person dies, their soul transfers
to the clone, provided that (and this is key)
the soul is free and willing to return.
Casting time, one hundred and twenty days.
I still get dizzy anyplace too high,
see my body splayed across the ground,
like deer along the highway. Think: jump.
A friend called our bodies haunted meat.
Somethings stay in the blood forever. The call
of the void & how do you forgive your mother?
and say, you’ve wanted to die too?
Speak with Dead. Cleric, third level. Necromancy.
You grant the semblance of life
to a corpse of your choice, within range.
Until the spell ends you can ask the corpse
up to five questions. The corpse only knows
what it knew in life. Answers may be cryptic.
Casting time, one minute.
—spells from fifth edition dungeons & dragons
I don’t remember who said it first,
me or the British boy from Catholic school
just five or six-years-old in the basement
but one of us said let’s play mother
and we both understood, stripped naked,
felt the chill air against our skin,
our bodies cold on the terracotta,
and I pressed a toy Batman against my spine,
felt his fist against the small of my back,
and pulled him through my legs, his cape
brushing against my thighs, and held him
to my chest like Batman’s mother in delivery,
and cradled him there for hours
before our parents found us,
naked with another boy,
playing mother with Batman.
Vahid Arefi is an Iranian American writer from Michigan working in sustainability. Their writing has appeared in Poetry Online and Midwestern Gothic.
Photography by: Aron Visuals