Birds bend around wind to hoist their bodies in the air—she does something similar. She unfurls, all red lip and ease, says, Here I am. This woman before me knows what it is to claim skies. I am not yet there. The church I grew up in taught me to fear God and then to fear myself, as if they are not one and the same. They pray for me, as if queer bodies are a thing to be reset: their cries for my spirit a mourning I am alive to bear witness to. I bear witness.

Father, don’t forgive them for they know what they do.

Spiderweb sketches sweep through the margins of my childhood Bible, remnants of a past self trying to reach me. I am a thing to be consumed, I’d written years ago next to John 4:15. I cannot remember who I was longing for at the time: the blond or the brunette, both waiting to break my high school heart in his own special ways, ways that would redefine how I let myself love for years to follow. To reach back in time, connect with a younger me, I draw a black dot of a spider descending a single silken string from the D in consumed. It dangles in the white space next to the verse, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst…”

Each person I kiss slides a piece of me out of my throat. They snatch me between their teeth and smile with hooded eyes. Give that back, I try to say but it comes out as, Take more. Take anything you want. I keep a list of those who have tried to bridge the expanse of me: their fingertips to my temples, their hands to my waist, their mouths to my sternum whispering, Open. They try to build their bridges, but there are gaps and then there are oceans.

Sometimes I sink to the bottom of a breath and stay there in the low hold of the chest where air turns in on itself. Nothing grows there, but nothing dies, either. No one leaves, and no one arrives. I could spend a lifetime in a hole like that.

A girl I once loved pushed her way into me, all elbow and lamplight. Two empty wine bottles between us: her head lowered between my legs, all purple hair and period blood. I am a thing to be consumed. The church I grew up in warned me this would happen, but they do not pray for me on matters like this. A girl I once loved pushed her way into me. From the still space of my own chest, I come to terms with the fact I still love her.

Father, don’t forgive her, even if I do.

In the list I keep, there are boys who say I am too much and girls who say I am not enough. There is a God who seems uncertain and a church that claims I am both at once. I sit slumped in inhales, seeking new definitions for love and fear and worship. This woman before me now plays pool in plaid skirts, leans low over the green table. She spreads her wings like a slender waterbird, an anhinga perched on a log to dry—all show, a claiming of space. I am not yet there. I feel more fish than bird, slipping through rivers waiting to be devoured. I am caught in bird beak, in silk margins, in mourning, crying, Take anything you want. There are gaps and then there are oceans, but what if I could gather the exhale of an Amen and follow it upward? Father, give me hollow bones. Give me working wings. Give me body light enough to float away. If nothing else, don’t you owe me this?

Father, I want to forgive you, too.


Tyler Anne Whichard is a queer Southern writer from North Carolina. She received her MFA from UNC Wilmington where she interned for Lookout Books and read for Ecotone. Her writing appears in The Rumpus, Hobart, and Blue Earth Review, among others. You can find her on all social media @tylerawhichard.

Photo by Laura Oliverio