the exchange.


“so what’s the exchange?”

“how about a story for each part. for each section or part of you that i massage- you tell me a story.”

“fair enough.”

and that’s how we always would begin with him smiling. he liked touching skin and having small ceremonies. we’d always make them ceremonies. cause that’s all we had. the world was what it was and had been. And we came to a place in ourselves where we knew that two punks like us had nothing but our skin, and our tongues and our stories.

tonight i wanted to tell around five of them and i wanted to feel him on me in around five places. m lips turned upward in anticipation i saw his eyes, as grateful as mine. he spoke.

“where do you want me to start?”

“you can start on my back.”

then. “sorry i didn’t mean that to sound like a command. i meant to say- can you start with my back?”

“of course. you want me to use the cocoanut oil?”

“please . . .” i said as i laid on my stomach. for a while he watched me undress and before i had been nervous. i had held notions about being ugly- didn’t lie what sagged and where – didn’t like what peaked, what valleyed and i was afraid that no one would. But his eyes brought comfort. They changed that. I had begun the process peace with my fleshy self. at first i believed it was their validation. and it was, in part. but it was also the questions that they posed. i asked myself why i had been so scared of holding me. and how it was so easy for him to look on my marks, scars and curves and smile while i ran across mirrors. i started to speak.

“i remember the first time we met. you had on that fuzzy shirt and those flower pants. and i saw you. i was so scared to say anything.”

“and you didn’t.”

“i know i didn’t want you to think of me as some lame punk who was thirsty and fumbling around at parties.”

“never that.”

this time he held both bits of sarcasm and love in his smile. it nearly rounded his whole face.

touch began. my story paused and i moaned low to myself. i moved myself to see him better. “thank you.” then. “i wanted to step to you with some superior game. something that would have you all about me. and so i said. . .”

“excuse me, pa, did you see a grey phone over here?” he laughed. “i remember. real smooth like.”

he laughed and moved more deeply into his touch. i felt each movement. each finger. each subtle and new sensation. the pressure on my back grew. he spoke.

“. . . funny thing always is how the nerves travel and how mutual they are. when you smiled i became full of them. there was a stampede in me” his hands shook a bit as he moved – one strong back push from lower back to shoulders. the voice, however, remained steady. “you wanted to make a grand impression. i wanted to be remembered. we both wanted to see each other. . . sorry, im messing up your story. please keep going.”

“its all good. i just remember the way you stood there and the power in it. you was like a man all over, if that makes sense. i wanted to come correct. and i was lost. it felt like a long time coming out of your smile. i didn’t even notice you passing the phone or when you asked what my name was?”

“i didn’t think you had one.”


“i was glad i asked you to dance. i don’t think it would’ve happened otherwise.”

“probably not. my shy ass.”

vibrations shifted. he begun massaging my arms, so i shifted too.

“one time, on the way to the clinic, i saw a woman, who i thought was an islander or something and she asked me what i put on my skin to make it shine. i told her that i used cocoanut oil and she smiled. i knew, too, that she liked to smile. and that she was going to talk for a minute.”

“did she?”

“she did. she told me that she was from the island and what they used it for. told me they used it to clean teeth, cook with, moisture, in their hair, everything. they use it because it’s good. she said it gave life. and i smiled cause i felt all special and wise for using cocoanut oil on a whim one day and feeling it right. then she asked me if i ever saw an ugly islander. i was stuck, half laughing half thinking and she said ‘exactly!’ then we both near fell out.”

small stirrings. then.

“then i was smilin’ cause of the magic she gave off. then she got on to story telling. she spoke- growing more powerful with each breath- i could tell that she was grounded in what she was saying. ‘we story tellers, my people. thats where our power began with. we got on with each other beautifully. we spoke about our histories, our victories and sadness, we spoke to one another to show love or resolve what needed that. we told stories. thats why when our land was taken it, it was our stories and our tongues that was cut out. they came for our power because they knew that, in our unity there was a love stronger than what their weapons could do. they made more lines. attached price to our land and it real with their guns, but it can’t be helped, thats how history wrote it. it can however, be held and changed. we still got our tongues and our power to share with one another. and thats my way of excusing myself cause im a mouthy woman and i speak alot.’ and then she laughed again. i told her how i like to talk and we sat there for a minute trading small bits of our histories.”

“you found yourself another soulmate.”

“i knew i had options”

” shut up.” more laughter. “she had a heavy laugh too. like she was always pausing to get it out.”

“did it shake her?”

“she shook. she moved all over with her laughter. the way your sister do when she shading somebody. i was standin’ still after her speakin’ and she near fell over. said i looked more lost than listening and laughed. came back only to say that it happens on account of how she is and laughed some more.”

he had begun to pull and stretch my arm. i felt his eyes looking down at me. i kept my closed- allowed him touching me to move my spirit somewhere more into story.

“were you ever lost?”

“nah, i felt kinda saved.”

“so what’s next?”

“my other arm?”

“i meant, what story was next. i know where im going. this is the exchange. i massage and you tell me tales. i got your back and arm, you tell me where to go next with another story.”

“im gettin’ tired.”

“so am i and . . . no you’re not.” he smiled. “you’re mouthy too” i rocked and wiggled my lower and he bounced. smiled wider and tickled me. moved all over- he rode every jump- managin’ to get me each time. words couldn’t form- i was a sensation. laughin’.

for a small while after, he laid beside me. his stomach facing up. and i heard breath. just breath. slow and deliberate. he was catching up with himself.

he rolled on his side- pulling me to cradle. then low and into my ear he said “im tired now too. but i want another story. one more at least.”

“i got another one. what you gonna trade me? what’s the exchange?”

i felt him grow against my behind. i shooks. he blew on my neck.

“not enough. my stories are worth more than a little play.” i could feel a smile form on the back of my neck. Then his toes on mine. and i was giddy. moved over inside. i was waitin’ to see how he would come back. i, halfway, wanted him to continue his advances.

“how about you ask me a question- anything- and i will tell you a story.”

i liked that idea. “deal.”

“we should make pie tomorrow” i continued.

“sweet potato?” he whispered behind me.

“sweet potato. im trying to be like my mama one day and have the bomb sweet potato pie. its all sweet and crisp. it’s nice and has cream on top.”

“i remember when i first got lost in some. . .”

“like heaven.”

“like an orgasm?”


“we gotta go to the store tomorrow. she used ta sell em’ at card games at my grandpa’s house. as the card games in between Ms. Regina’s swearin’ and Mr. Albert hoppin’ all over spoutin’ that jesus speak. she’d wiggle, smile and move between them. lettin’ all the big words and personalities in the room live- would sometimes sound like a great commotion was goin’ on and id think folk were fightin’ but wasn’t never anythin’ but Black folk playin’ cards. you know how we loud bout everything just about. my mama- she’d sing. i remember her hummin’ a lot of Aretha from when she was in the 70’s. when her afro was on point.”

i stopped and caught my breath- i smiled. i was being mouthy, i could barely keep up with myself. “that was one of the ways we got coins cause we were at my grandpa’s house to take care of him in his sickness and that meant that my mama had to give up her job. i was too little to have one of my own and so she had three then- three jobs- my grandpa, myself, and the rent.”

“no coins.”

“no coins. she’d fry something, bake something. it was on.”

I bet she was tired.”

i bet. thats a weekly un-paid gig. she giving care and tryin’ to scheme on coins. sounds like something mighty tirin’.”

in my head, i saw my mama smilin’. she was listening to her favorite music and cooking something. she had her feet up- relaxing. she was smilin and singin something for me. i hadn’t spoken to her in a while and i felt bad for it. i just didn’t know when would be the right time in both of our days. after making a promise to call in the morning i asked my question.

“anything special happen to you today?”

“eh . . . lemme think . . . i drew a picture.”


“yeah. went down by the park over by Eastern General Hospital.”

“ain’t it a mess over there sometimes?”

“sometimes. the heads be out but usually they just moving along on their trips. they ain’t stunting or messing with folk too much. it’s kinda nice to be out with our folk- in all states. they always there, smokin’, talkin’ shit, doing cartwheels. . .”

i smiled imagining him out there, laughin’ and smokin’ a joint to himself. sketchin’.


“brothas like to come up to you while you sketchin’ and start on about this and that. speakin’ to and at you. kinda botherin’ and helpin’ you. niggas like to challenge you. tell you about how they was Basquiat in high school and fell off.”

“they might’ve been.”

“i know. it’s easy to lose it. especially when it’s only for sport. thats why when i hear stuff like that, i offer them a page of my sketch book- so they can get that magic back.”

“they take em’ ever?”

“not today. i think it’s cause i was drawing vulgarities.” i pretended to gasp and asked what he had been drawing.

“a figure.” he started. “a naked man. penis out and erect of course. he was in a forest. they might’ve been redwoods. some of them was chopped. and out of his head it was a record player. can you picture that?”

“no i’d need to see it.”

“it’s good. i don’t want to move. you feel good. i’ll show you in the morning.” he kissed me again on the back of my neck.

“how’d you feel when you were done?”

“full. kinda complete. i drew that in place of a gratitude list. it was things i needed and liked havin’ in my life.”

“music and wood?”

“ha! you got me”

he laughed and i rolled over- my face rested across from his. i traced his side with my right hand and kissed him. he pulled em in and as we parted lips i asked.

“in between us- there are two hearts, four lips, four hands, 40 digits, two erections, 5 stories and four eyes. what do you want to do now?

he smiled- a kinda breathy one

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