Mama Knows Best

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September 23, 2021 by The Citron Review

by J. Isaiah Holbrook


Today I am fifteen again, which means / I’m growing familiar with cradling my sexuality in the dark. / The pungent smell of his dead uncle’s cologne / touches me before he does. / I only know my rehearsed response to the directions his body gives me, which is to say / I only know of silence. / I am not true to this, I am new to it / because we’ve been here dozens of times, Trevor and I, / and each one feels like the first time / he leaned me onto his bed, / his knees against my sides, / his lips in the corners of my neck. We’re careful / not to make any noises that will attract his dad’s attention, the one who’s always resting / in his grief-ridden love seat while we tuck ourselves away in Trevor’s cramped bedroom / and kiss quietness instead of each other. By now/ I’ve fallen in the habit of clenching my mouth shut / when his lips crawl down my neck; / his dampen hands cup my face and inevitably we fall down the pattern of saying / I love you and mistake passion for secrecy, but when he says it this time, / it’s like a gift he’s been saving for awhile. He waits anxiously / to see my response, as if my reaction is what excites him / more than his confession. I give those words right back to him. I convince myself that maybe / this is the only way we can love, so I kiss him harder / and dig my nails into his back / like I’m afraid he’ll float away. Our bodies / are a language we only speak, until / his dad gets up from his chair. / We are reminded of the third party in the room and play / the role of just friends. Once his dad’s footsteps fade away we rest / in each other’s arms and complain about how this moment will eventually come to an end. He promises me / one day it will never end, that there will be a time /where we can curl our bodies into each other and decide / on our own when to let go. / Because I am fifteen again, I hold him to that promise, which means / I hear my mom’s lecture circling in my head. / Don’t be no fool/when a boy says he loves you, she said to me, / They’ll want you to say it back so they can pull it out from under you/when it’s convenient for them. / She says this because I reflect my father’s consequences for leaving us behind. I am stuck / in the cage of her brokenness, / though she has yet to realize it, to see how much she says his name without ever saying it. / I convince myself this is different and that I will prove her wrong, not thinking / that she could possibly be right / until she is. I don’t ask for an explanation / when Trevor leaves, because I now know / a boy’s explanation is always in the gut of his silence, / in his body language, / everything that communicates what words can’t do. I run to my mom’s arms / like they’re home / and tell her she’s right, she is always / right.


J. Isaiah Holbrook holds a BA in English from Saint Francis University, an MFA in Creative Writing from Oregon State University, and is a 2021 Lambda Literary Fellow. He’s been published in The Rumpus, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Harvard Review, Stellium Magazine, and The Voyage Journal, where he received third place in their short story writing contest. He’s a reality TV enthusiast and can be seen buying too many books at his favorite local bookstore.


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