These three poems by Maya Cheav sit with grief, guilt, and forgiving yourself for other people’s cruelty…
by: Maya Cheav
time’s arrow if I had been, one inch less stubborn, perhaps I would have said sorry in time. and yet the words fettered in my throat, found themselves trapped in the microbiome of my mouth, collecting bacteria while they traveled down my tongue. when I unhinged my maw, the fangs followed suit, and hence, it all came out a bit bloodier than expected. and now the blackberry grove in the forest behind where we used to live has since grown back, the luna moth population is in its revival, and a pack of gray wolves were spotted in plumas, but the night is nimble and no fan of waiting. the larkspur on your grave has at long last wilted. and so the moon wavers– it waxes, it wanes.
on oyster pearls who died young coarse hands know her well, as if the bottom of a ravine is her happy place, buried under the murk and mud, giving way to the peat of a marshland. she walks through the bulrush reeds and past the cattails, out of the mantle and beyond the fringe. she glistens, she shines. I admire the tenacity of the earthworm, turning over topsoil to give forth clean, always on the edge of exhaustion. she tires of turning over. I extend my hand, yearning, pleading,but her limbs ache. the warbler croons and the king rail yawps as she sinks under the brackish waterand into the bog.
the wound that only ever opens he’s supposed to be graduating in the spring and sure, the job market’s rough, but he managed to land himself an internship with a start-up working with AI. he’s supposed to be thinking about grad school, down the line, but not till after he goes on that south american backpacking trip to rock climb in colombia. but instead, he lives in that cesspool he calls a bedroom, accumulating bacteria and thrush. he’s skipping therapy again for the third time this month because he doesn’t think he deserves to be happy. he doesn’t act his age, and he’s not inclined to help himself. he wants someone to save himand he thinks seventeen is easier than twenty-one. she’s supposed to be at prom wearing that sequined pink dress she saved her birthday money up for, her face covered in heavy contour that doesn’t suit her yet. she’s supposed to be holed up in the library, listening to top 40s while studying for her literature test, writing an essay on that nabokov book with the girl in heart-shaped sunglasses on the cover. but she hasn’t read it yet.because she’s been busy with him. he plays her vinyl records and shows her how to use a bong on the grimy carpet of his living room floor. they watch tarantino movies, holding hands under the red haze of LED lights, and when she leans in to kiss him, he hesitates but doesn’t pull away. he tells her that he likes when she lets her hair downand that she looks perfect in his t-shirts. he’s gentler and softer than all the high school boys and she thinks it might perhaps be love. it’s legal in the state of new mexico. or so he says to himself to try and soften the blow. she’s eighteen in a month or so, and he’s only twenty-two. or so she tries to reason with her parents. and when he’s bawling on his couch, melting into the seams, while her mother peels into him, wailing in gamma frequency, she doesn’t know yet that because of him every man will look like a black hole, every bottle of beer will taste like the elysian fields. she doesn’t know yet that she’ll need a service dogso she doesn’t have panic attacks, so she doesn’t drink herself into the abyss. she doesn’t know yet that he will leave her with a wound that only ever opens, and even though she hates him, she’ll fault herself. she’ll pity him, defend him, like she ever had a choice in the matter, like he wasn’t her personal grim reaper. but one day it’ll reach her, the realization that just because he’s sick, doesn’t mean he didn’t know what he was doing, and it’s hardly much, and it isn’t medicine but she’ll know the blame was never hers to hold.
Maya Cheav is described as “vaguely off-putting” by loved ones and “well-liked” by mosquitoes. Her writing has been featured or is forthcoming in Ouroboros, Free Flash Fiction, Stone of Madness, Bizarrchitecture, ALOCASIA, Scapegoat Review, and Midnight Chem. She is the author of LYKAIA (Bottlecap Press, 2023). Read more at mayacheav.myportfolio.com/home or @sweetwaterfairy on Instagram.