Back to Issue Forty-Two

Our Resemblance Was Once Where the Similarities Ceased


“We all have our pleasures we’re guilty about not feeling guilty about.”
—Nate Marshall
Momma say all men got dog
in they bones. Pops certainly did and I
wear his face now.
Bruh was a confusion of a man—
a moss-gathering stone, rolling
his way from one woman’s bed
to the next—masquerading
as a catch.
As a shorty, I couldn’t fathom
what could drive a man to
become beast, until pleasure
taught me to yearn for release
more than self-control.
I’m him, sans the pyres of broken
homes burning in my rear-view.
What I mean is, the stories
he told must ain’t have no music
in them like mine do, granting me
a peace Pops never knew.
A poison for some, is a lesson
for others. I learned from his failures
to bird above the radar. To spin my yarn
til it makes a blankets that will smother
any doubt.
On my best days, I am as many
lies to myself as he was to
his loves, and as much a
man a dog can hope to be,
which, in itself, looks more like
Pops than even my borrowed face.
It suits me to be okay
with this. I am, & I am not.


Old Country Buffet, Warren MI, 199?


—After “Reza’s Restaurant, Chicago, 1997” by Kaveh Akbar

Momma liked to ponder the lives of strangers,
tell me their stories. She could study a man’s
gait & know his occupation, whether or not he
flushes every time, the likelihood of him slapping
his wife in an argument. To a boy, nothing his
mother says is conjecture. It is Sunday & so
momma & I are at one of our haunts, swathed
in that good after church afterglow. She, a fury
of oxblood cotton-blend & Chanel no. 5. Me,
lil Black boy with a big salad drenched in ranch
slightly purpled from beets.
On days like these I learned how to people watch.
A family at the cashier stand pays to enter.
I notice one of the jersey clad sons whose hair
resembles a mace. & I am immediately convinced
of his beauty—how it surpasses my own.
I must’ve said a wide-eyed WOOOW cuz momma
asks what I see. To which I say, His hair.
I want mine like that. A jaded smile smears itself
across the continent of momma’s face, she bites
her tongue as a dark chuckle crashes into her
clenched teeth. Finding a softer rebuttal better
for me at the time, she swallows the blood pooling
in her mouth. As we watch spike boy walk by
with his family, their cornflower tresses, she whispers
well, Chile… & the rest is a blur. But was somehow
enough to chisel into my bones the kinghood
of my nappy crown. We drive home. I grew up.
It took years to understand the sparse etchings
my mother left that day. My mother, who I’d watch
spritz her hair into a stiff wave every morning,
who would brush my hair & call it good. My mother,
who would say, Jesus had nappy hair, too, whose knees
would ache from praying. My mother, who sang
the first notes I’d ever hear—offering her aria upward
in exchange for a blood covering on her unborn.
To a boy, nothing his mother says is conjecture, & so
I didn’t need to know our whole horrific history,
I needed only to treasure my rebellious mop,
because she did. I rubbed my hands through
the fuzzy field of my fade, felt for the first time
like a flower in bloom.


Raphael prefers to go by Ralph, as he feels it suits him better and he’s heard every Ninja Turtle joke ever uttered. He’s a native of Detroit, Michigan currently residing in Kentucky with his Boo-thang and their five-year-old boy. He’s a chef by day and an essayist, poet, screenwriter in his dreams. He, like Issa Rae, is rooting for everybody Black. He is 2022 Periplus Fellow whose work is forthcoming or has been featured on his mama’s fridge, his close friends’ inboxes, Narrative Magazine, Frontier Poetry, Rust + Moth and elsewhere. You can find all of his work here:

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