you are (not) jeff, abridged

after richard siken

there’s a girl on the other side of the computer
screen and she’s looking at you like she knows the shape of
all the words trapped behind the hollow of your throat. you
are looking away from the curve of her collarbone, the smudged
lip balm at the corner of her mouth. you are thinking that if
only you could cut the computer open and peel
the pixels back and crawl inside, through the window, through
the room, reaching her in a house so far away. what then?
what will you want then? already you are divided, split by the impartial
light of the screen. there is static clogging up your cords,
choking down all that confession rotting in eternal repose.
hello, is this thing on? testing, testing. can you hear this?
can you hear yourself?

you’re in the hallway again, coming back from
the bathroom. your hands are cold with water and the absence
of another’s. all the lights are off, except for one, at the end,
the blue glow of a laptop and a faint singing, crackling with static,
edging out from under the bedroom door. is she singing to you?
for you? a smile turned up bright, the sunrise painting cheekbones in
honey, daydreams shining out from behind lowered eyes – you cannot
make out all the words, but you’re sure she knows you’re there, soon to
arrive, and she’s singing to you. and maybe if you’re ready you’ll open
the door and see her, finally, except that one part of your mind
decides that no, not tonight, not now, not ever. and you’re right
where you’ve been, and you listen to the faint blue singing
and you don’t know, you don’t know, what else have you chosen
not to know? it’s a puzzle, you see. the same piece,
the same room, each time you put your hand to the handle,
your mouth to the hand, your ear to the same voice you heard in a dream.
you’re in the hallway again. someone is singing your favourite song.
you’re in the hallway. open the door again. open the door.

let’s say that god is the distance between two people
and the devil is the distance between the u and i keys and
also these two distances are the same, kind of, let’s say that
they’re the same. it takes a single mistake to change
the subject of a sentence, so what does it take to change a whole
person? here is your name and here is what you call yourself
and here, underneath it all, is your shaking hand signing off.
is this enough for what you don’t know you want? the door
is closed. we’re waiting, love. we’re all waiting.

you want a choice, something you can agonise over again
and again until the time to make it is long past gone,
because what scares you most is the euphoria and how it ends.
but that’s not what you get. instead, you have this:
a girl is on the other side of the computer screen and she looks at you
because she knows the shape of every longing thought you’ve
swallowed down. someone’s hand is hovering over the end call
button. someone is reaching out, afraid to touch, afraid of
the unspun thread that hangs between the two of you. it shivers
in the blue light and stuttering speakers. someone is biting their tongue,
so hurry up. say it. just open your mouth. the rest comes now.

Tang Sumi (Class of 2022) is a Film student and misses her four years of Literary Arts. Her greatest discovery was learning how to arrange words in a way that lets you sink into a single suspended moment in everyday life.