by Sway Benns

Terra Firma

Your father fastened the straps of fresh Velcro on your knee and elbow pads—trying to keep you safe. You did not cry when a wad of the thin skin across your neck gathered itself into the buckle of your helmet before it snapped shut. Your eyes watered. You gasped. But it was just a pinch, and you knew by then that these were necessary elements for freedom.

You pedaled gently—and sometimes not at all—because your father’s hands propelled you forward. Don’t let go you told him and he said I will not. I’m right here. Until suddenly you broke free and his voice receded behind you. I’m right here, he told you—still. Eventually you fell. You cried briefly. You and your father searched your small body for injury. Neither of you could find a single scratch. You were okay.

You are okay.

The jacaranda tree bloomed in November the year you learned how to ride a bicycle. It will bloom every year in November for the rest of its life. It will bloom every year in November for the rest of yours.

On the last day of your life, they’ll handcuff your dead body underneath that jacaranda tree, in the backyard of your father’s house, after they puncture twenty neat holes in it.

They’ll say We did this because we were afraid. They’ll say There is so much to be afraid of in this world.

You’ll know that they are afraid of your body. The truth is, your body was never your own. Just as your grandfather’s body was never his own, and your great grandfather’s body was never his. And your son’s body won’t be his either. Not alive. Not dead. Not in the spaces in between that your body traversed each day before they placed twenty shining bullets into it during a moment that could have been prevented if they had not spent their lives ignorant and hapless—breaking mirrors because they were so afraid they might look into one and see a monster. They broke your body, a body they have owned for the last 400 years. A body in the backyard of his father’s house. A place where its father fastened the Velcro straps on its knee pads. A place where it dug deep into the earth looking for life, or laid down in the grass—supine—and looked up at those incessant, unbroken pinpricks of shining light in the dark and wished for a change that would not, that could not, that did not come.

They’ll place twenty neat holes in your body underneath the jacaranda tree. It has inexplicably bloomed in November since the year you learned to ride a bicycle and found freedom in that moment of suspension before impact.

They’ll emerge with not a single scratch. These are the necessary elements for power.


When I was a child, the anxiety of breathing caused my hands and feet to seize so violently they turned to stone. I hobbled barefoot across a hot driveway to my father’s car. I wondered if we had locked the front door. When we arrived at the emergency room, they recited an empty incantation I’d hear again and again from authorities of my body in the years that followed: You are okay.

I was okay.

At the end of my own life, my eyes will become green. S will discover this, peering down at me in bed. It is the last thing I will allow her to learn about me first.

She’ll say Today your eyes are green.

Or perhaps, I don’t know who you are anymore. [Our most painful betrayals are the most mundane.]

An ophthalmologist will be unfazed by this discovery.

He will dilate my pupils.

He will say Did you know you have a hole in your retina.

And I will say Is that why my iris has changed color?

And he will say What color were your eyes before.

And I will say I think they were brown.

And he will say Perhaps you had forgotten your eyes are green.

And while I sit across from him in a dark room—darker still from the imprint of the light

 he’d shone deep into my eyes, searching—he will dictate into an oversized tape recorder Patient believes her iris recently changed color: from brown to green. Patient admits to some anxiety.

Outside of that small examination room, in a larger room for waiting, a television will air the inauguration of a dictator. Outside of that larger room, in the streets, it will rain.

I will join S in the hallway. I will be crying.

She will be certain, unyielding, Yesterday your eyes were brown.

In 2004, the Voyager I spacecraft crossed the termination shock—a space where solar wind pushes back against interstellar wind. In 2004, on the day the Voyager found this meeting of light and dark, we were not scheduled to listen.

I will drive us home slowly in the rain. I am the Voyager exiting our solar system. I have passed beyond the heliopause. It is dark and unfamiliar. I will say nothing because no one is scheduled to listen…

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