Daniel Boyko is a 17-year-old writer from New Jersey (USA). His work appears
in Teen Ink, Blue Marble Review, The Daphne Review, and Navigating the Maze,
among others. He serves as Co-Editor-in-Chief of Polyphony Lit. Wherever his
dog is, he can't be far behind.
Dark Trenches, 1917
Your letter arrived today. I carry it with me
to the flat rock in the middle of our front lawn
and sit. Lay the letter across my lap like a small
picnic blanket. The stooping aspen branches read
it, too. Their bark faintly smirks. Your cursive
is messy, crooked like bits of glued china,
but I can still see you. You're in the trenches
—ash-faced, jaded, crack-lipped, blistered. A mask
heavy on your face. Bruises line your skin
like river streams. When the Germans come close,
you duck down, pray, cling onto the elephant
trinket I gave you. You promised that you'd be back
before Christmas. That the elephant would be back
stuffed beneath my pillow like a war medal. Up above,
I glimpse the graying November sky. I don't need
to finish reading the letter to know your promise
will be broken. The aspen branches droop
down, comfort me like your buried palms.
Free Slurpee Day
For miles, the highway overflows with summer traffic. Cars headed to the Jersey Shore, Atlantic City, back home after a week in the Hamptons. It's July 11th, and I don't know if my sister and I are going to make it to the 7-Eleven in time. To receive a free small slurpee, like all the ads promise. But they stop the offer at 7:00 pm. It's 6:15, and with this traffic, we're easily an hour away from the nearest one. I don't know if I'm going to get that slurpee. Once we park the car, it's 7:18. I race through the glass doors. Asking if the offer is still good. The cashier shakes his head. Sorry, just missed it. I start to cry. Telling him about you between sobs. How I've been at hospice all day, all week, and walked through the halls of death, because in that place, all the workers know what's coming. The nurse there handed me a stack of pamphlets about grief for the young. About how to pretend it doesn't hurt. The cashier tries calming me down, but it's no use. I'm panicking, crying, telling him things I haven't told any of my friends. My boss will hate me, he says. But go grab the slurpee. I'm still crying, but he guides me to the back corner, where they have a row of all the flavors. It helps that I'm in fifth grade and still small. He asks what flavors. Blue raspberry, coke. He pours them into the small cup, layers the flavors into blue and brown stripes. Slides in a straw. I take a sip. It tastes so sweet. I try to thank him, but he's already walking me out the door. I take another sip. Decide whether I should tell you this story tomorrow. The sugar shivers into tar on my tongue.
The Office Window on Floor Number Thirty-Two
is so clear and perfect for bird-crashing at full force. The bluest blue jays, flame-kissed cardinals, orange-breasted robins. They all smack into the glass one after the other. Broken wings sliding down. Muddying our view of the lower east side. Trying to enter our cubicles. Watch us update Excel spreadsheets. Gossip about who's four-months pregnant and who only looks four-months pregnant. We've started taking bets now on how many will smack the window. How many will fall and die in the crowded street. Twenty bucks on fifteen and ten. Margaret from Sales bets fifty bucks on twenty-one and thirteen. I immediately want to change my bet because Margaret is never wrong. I spend the whole day by the windowsill. Counting each tragic bird on my hands. Was that one a stepfather? About to make a leap forward with his moody stepdaughter? I never even open up my laptop. I've had this job for two years now, and I'm still entry-level, underpaid, overworked. The spreadsheets can wait. When my parents ask what exactly I do here, I make something up. I don't know anymore. Another cardinal crashes. Twenty-one. Margaret's always right. I'll ask her if I should keep this job.
After the Casket Lowers
At night everything in darkness takes
a shape. Sculpts itself into memories.
A tree is your body. Waiting underneath
the hazy gleam of a streetlight. Glowing
fireflies are the baseball mitt you used
to teach me how to play. How to catch
the arcing ball and toss it right back
to first base. Your house is a black
hole. Fall into it and everything returns
to where it should be. The mitt fisted
back onto your palm. The body strung
to your soul. I still pretend that it's you
underneath that streetlight. Letting
the night be your mouth.
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