Memory In Which You Do Not Speak

My old roommate took too many bath salts & then didn’t speak for eighteen months. Something, his mother said, about the receptors in the brain, how they’d try to light up only to find a plug had been torn out, a wire frayed beyond repair. The first time I visited—halfway through his self-imposed exile in his stepfather’s doublewide—we sat in the living room & watched half an episode of Jeopardy. I wondered about the way the answers were phrased as questions—if it meant something deeper. Before the episode ended, he stood up, walked toward the front door. Then I was on the back of a four wheeler. Then I was trusting myself to his silence. We sped so fast through the ditch that we became, temporarily, airborne. Became frozen—the gravel road, the horse tied to a fence in the next yard. I didn’t know if I would make it back to the ground until we landed back on the ground, until he turned back toward me & smiled. Afterwards he showed me a piece of dirt in a garden where I could tell something was trying to grow, a thin green worming itself up from the earth. What is it, I asked, and for just that brief moment there, the two of us alone, I expected something to eke out of his mouth—a laugh, a quiet explanation. Instead, he brought two fingers to his lips, pretended to inhale.

Justin Carter's poems and prose appear in The Collagist, Day One, Passages North, Prairie Schooner, and Sonora Review. He co-edits Banango Street and lives in Texas.