seeing and other holy tricks

A cluster of barrel cacti dominated by their spiky spines. The image is split with a black V shape and the center of the V is in full color with the sides remaining in black and white.

(after Jamaica Kincaid)

this is how you cast a spell, child: pray your hands together, weave your grimy, fruit-stained fingers into a basket tight enough to hold the serpent hissing at its seams. this is how you pull your eyelids tight to your skin. this is how you resist the temptation of sight, resist defiant pupils that wander where they shouldn’t and talk out of turn and ask too many questions and echo a heartbeat that catches in your throat like a prayer half-digested. this is how you swallow bad Scripture: mouth the words down and keep your gaze on the ground until the Father in heaven and the father at home are one and the same. this is how you fold yourself thin like Sunday School sheets: pastor’s kid, lightweight, not down to cause any trouble. this is how you smile and nod when Pa and Ma rant about the liberal gay menace (but what if the menace is living under your roof?) this is how you sneak onto Yahoo Answers when Pa and Ma are asleep to find out whether you’re gay in ten simple questions (is it okay to look without touching?) this is how you close the window and shut down the computer before they catch their son in the sinful act. this is how you dodge questions about what girls from youth group you’re crushing on. this is how you hold the shame in your lungs, then your stomach, then your entire body. this is how to curve your back into the shape of an apology that will never be enough. this is how you live with your eyes closed—no boys to tempt you into ruin, no pastors to root out your sins. this is how you cast yourself out of the church before they can: drift downstream, tread water, clasp your chafed hands into a straw vessel sinking faster than you can bail, rock them together like a rowboat in a never-ending storm, pray for the miracle worker to come and change you like they say he will. father, don’t you know you raised me right out of your home? where do i go but away?

this is how Father answers your exile: with a wave of good Samaritans washing over you. this is how, in the first week of college, you meet PJ, then Claudia, then Reverend Jordan (and if a loving creator did not make people like this, who did?) this is how you find God in a family of outcasts; find yourself back on your knees on a chapel floor for the first time in four years. this is how the ocean swallows a prodigal son and spits them back out, salt water welling at stubborn eyelids, flooding them open. this is what tough love tastes like: a rush of light in your mouth, sharp enough to blind at first, too brackish to digest in one gulp. this is how to throw somebody into the deep, baptize them in grief and heartbreak, pull them back out gasping alive. this is the story of Moses and the burning bush, Jonah and the whale, Paul on the road to Damascus, Jesus speaking in tongues. this is the riddle you have left us breathless to untangle. 
this is how you cast the spell anew. this is how to sing the song in your own voice: i was blind, but now i see. this is how you believe in magic, how you still find light in this world when it is cracking apart. this is how you untangle your hands, feel your grief flood out until all that is left are the fingers, ready to weave together something new. this is how you learn to touch, to embrace, to cast the words out and pray they kindle a path forward. (but Father, what if i never find my way to you?) child, you mean to tell me you have not yet seen me in the searching?


m.o. (or Mo) is a high-school educator and writer in the East Bay. In college, he self-published his first book, speech therapy, in order to fundraise for the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence. They have also published work in the Hypocrite Reader, Gnashing Teeth Publishing, Porcupine Reader, and Lake County Bloom. When not teaching or writing, Mo loves hanging out at the local rock climbing gym, scream-singing to the latest K-pop hits in the car, and curating a sick collection of discount frozen dinners. You can find them on Twitter @mokngpoetry and online at

Header photography and artwork by Jordan Keller-Wilson

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