Back to Issue Twenty-Five.

exit hex



for Rogan Hardy

Twice I’ve turned my head to see a cop

inside me find himself in love. His thumb

heavy in the novel of my body kept my spine

from snapping shut. I fucked and found myself

while following the bullet to its logical conclusion.

Girl, I guess there’s glamour in it. Night slid

the streetlamp’s haloed cantaloupe behind me

behind him while I fondled my keys. One hole

in my skull pulled through the plum sky Mars’s light.



to every faggot who pulverized me for being a faggot



You were right to tell yourself
you’d never live this. You wouldn’t
have survived. Each time my carpal flex
flashed open and stained whatever
clean appliance—rim of tub, my own
teeth where I sucked the wound quiet—
with its rouge run-off, I watched you
run off. I’ve told that story. I’ve taken a look
at the slow sea monster of my vomit
luminous in the toilet bowl, two digits
of my fingers still slick, nearly
erotic with gag slime: there was
my cocktail of daily medicine, half
digested. There was a line of folk
ready to tell me Black men don’t do this
to themselves. They don’t, you said,
take dick either, but here I am. There
you are. Some night I was so hungry and tired
and high on my prescription, I let
a man I didn’t know feed me vodka
and orange juice until I would remember
neither my dreams nor his hands.
In three of the five psych wards I nested in
like a nomad bird—because where else
could I rest—I fell in love easily. I once stepped
entirely into a bottle of pills and tried to screw
my body finally underground. My father
lifted me seizing into a hospital and out
of his house shortly thereafter. Dear fellow
gay-ass nigga, who loves you these days?
I hope it’s Black people. I hope no one
stole the certainty of that away from you.
To believe that white men had my back
was a facile act: who else so long
prepared to help me hate me?
I’ve told this story. I barely graduated.
I stunted my own growth. I don’t know how
to go home. What you don’t know is
I  needed someone like you but braver. Now
I just have issues with needing anyone at all.
Your wife is shrugging out of a nightgown
and sinking under sheets. There are
drippings of me still between
your teeth. You’ve since taken
men in your mouth and said a silent
word to God. You could lie
there beside her wholly without conflict
or bitterness. She could be he. They
could be happy and the world
in which I’ve learned I live no less itself.
From its stubborn clay I’ve shaped
a creature, hollowed into its guts
a pair of lungs, attached appendages
that make it capable of walking
out of every room it enters at will
and willed it to love. What have you done.


Justin Phillip Reed was born and raised in South Carolina. His work has appeared in Best American Essays, Boston Review, Callaloo, the Kenyon Review, Obsidian, and elsewhere. Coffee House Press will release his first full-length poetry collection, Indecency, in May 2018. Justin lives in St. Louis. Come see about him at

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