love in the borderlands

you’re sleeping.
hips a mountain range; spine a wall.
I am a border city and you are ‘construction  imminent’ and we
are decimating
too gradually
to call it loss.

the desert wind stirs my bones.
were it not for the anchors – I’d run,
but they’re buried so deep in this inhospitable terrain
concrete columns reaching
always
for bedrock.

don’t shake loose…
the whole thing could come crashing down,
setting everyone free
making children of the waiting world –

what then?
well, then:
the borders will no longer be our names.

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the morning after – on the power of names and next steps.

Last night, I let my heart break, and I drowned in it. I asked my ceiling why. I snuck into my daughter’s room as she slept and wondered what the world could see to hate in her, enough that they would let this happen. At midnight, my husband and I toasted to the end of the world, because that’s truly what it felt like. The end.

Today, against all odds, the sun rose. And now we have to figure out how to live another day. Another week. Another four years. Another lifetime, with the knowledge that – when pressed – this country values their systemic, toxic prejudice over the lives and rights of women. People of color. Immigrants and refugees. The LGBTQIA+ community. Muslims. Countless others. Countless other human beings, that by virtue of their identities, will not have even the illusion of safety today, or tomorrow, or probably for a long time after.

I am a writer. I got into this business because I wanted to use the tools that best fit my hands to create change. Despite the horror I’m feeling today, the sadness, the shame, that conviction has only grown stronger. I have been unbelievably lucky to find a community and a home through my work, friends, colleagues, supporters that make it worth it to fight this fight every day. In my grief, and my anger, I want to renew the commitment I made when I started down this path: To write our stories. To buy them. To shout about them from the rooftops, and to read them like there’s no tomorrow.

Since the first whisper that my work might be published, I’ve been considering a pen name. I’m a very private person when it comes to personal matters, and my legal last name has never been a part of my online presence, but when it came to my work? I wanted something that was truly mine, something I chose like I chose the work I want to dedicate my life to. Nothing stuck. Nothing felt right. But I woke up this morning with an answer.

From now on, my published work and my online accounts will bear a name I’m deeply proud to be connected to. The name of a woman who sacrificed for our family, who made choices to keep her kids safe that I’m only now beginning to understand. My grandmother was born a Mejia, and with her support and yours that’s the way I’d like to be known to this community from now on.

I anticipate questions, and possibly some misunderstandings, so I’d like to be as clear as possible: This will not be a legal name change, it will be a pen name. A tribute. My grandmother has always been a force in my life, a reminder to be strong, and a reminder of what’s beautiful about the things that make me different. I’m in no way ashamed of the other parts of me, and I don’t wish to take anything that’s not mine or diminish the privilege I was born with as a biracial woman. My parents chose my first name, and they’re present in everything I do and write. The middle name Kay will stand as a nod to my husband and daughter, who share the last name Kinney. But I would like to stand with my grandmother too, and with my family – blood and chosen – that are hurting now.

I hope you’ll think of this choice as a testament to all my families, their strength, the things they’ve given to me as a writer and a mother and a human. And, of course, to the Latinx community I’ve been overwhelmingly blessed to be accepted by as we work together against old obstacles and new ones.

As always, I welcome your questions and your feedback. The way I see it, our country’s decision last night made brothers and sisters in arms of us. I will keep fighting in all the ways I fought before, I will find new ways to fight. I will be proud to stand with you, and work beside you.

Thank you,
Tehlor Kay Mejia

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wrapped up tight

there’s a haze at your edges tonight.
I want to crawl inside it until the world is blurry and nothing has the same name,
until the relentless force of weightless things has changed the shape of what I know.

what I know is only this:
you stayed still while I wound around you like a ribbon
and
now I can’t tell beginning from end.

you’re waiting me out with a lie’s bitter taste on your lips, learning –
I can keep this up all night.

words move faster toward the horizon.
we always spoke easier when the thoughts had to go somewhere else, first.
the key to the dark places got buried beneath the weight of loving things you say I shouldn’t.

what I love is only this:
sometimes I pull my hand from yours while you’re sleeping
and
you don’t just let go.

we’re playing chicken in a ghost town like the winner won’t still lose, forgetting –
we have to leave together, or not at all.

and:

I’m turning over everything that glimmers in this dump.
I still haven’t found what you’re looking for.

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reflections on rainy streets

I’m singing,
like a lost child’s tune,
the sweetness it carries,
the good it can’t do.

and I say: please, not yet.
and I say: we’re not through.

and I love you, yes – 
but the vultures are scouting this room.

you’re dreaming,
like a fog’s lazy gray,
the brilliance beneath it,
the past’s shady haze.

and you say: the good’s gone.
and you say: we can’t stay.

and you love me, yes – 
but it feels just like running away.

disappearing,
like a stone seeking sea,
the ripples that chase it,
the futility.

and we say: don’t forget.
and we say: guess we’ll see.

and we loved here, yes – 
but it’s not what they said it would be.

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red-mouth secrets

I caught the scent of leaving like red staining a hunting trail.
behind, screams that burned silent.
ahead, a sky not meant for me.
standing on a knifepoint – you say the name that stops the bleeding.

stinging palms hold their secrets, and love’s not a trusting game.
you stood guard, eyes closed.
I buried myself with the tracks.
don’t follow the shouting – an echo only knows the way down.

the rain makes its thunderous promises to dry mouths.
we believe when we can’t see the sky.
we forget when we can’t see the ground.
there’s no magic here – it’s just our fear making faces of the dust.

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don’t look down

a cliffside, a winter sun,
you call it dancing but it feels like a dare.
what does it mean, the edge in your eyes?

let’s just say:
we used to know we preferred solid ground.

the past is a movie where I fall and you reach,
but now?
I don’t want to be the first to slip, just in case.

I love you, we say.
but we mean: is this it?

creeping closer I close my eyes,
but yours are always wide open.
where is it, the thing you’re always waiting for?

let’s just say:
we’ve been rightfully wary of surprises.

the present is a gamble where we’re always all-in,
but now?
maybe I’ll take my all to a table with better odds.

forever, we say.
but we mean: how much more?

you slip, catch, and claim I pushed first,
but my hands are balled at my sides.
who are you, when you walk away alone?

let’s just say:
we lost the keys and this silence is a battering ram.

the future has always been a black hole,
and now?
the emptiness is a sister instead of a scar.

it’s nothing, we say.
but we mean: I’m sorry for…

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fuel like fire

there’s nothing left of what was.
just handfuls now, almost-dust and never-enough.

you hide them in boxes labeled “things I could love”
only to bury them when winter comes.

the steel-hard ground gives no comfort or thanks,
instead demanding tribute from the new-empty-handed.

you pay and more as your nails scrabble red at the surface,
blooms of becoming, forever interred.

back in the gathering place the blacktop’s barren,
and you all bruised knuckles and cheeks on fevered fire.

the burning’s nothing next to the beckoning.
I know, I’ve been there before.

fountain-bound pennies, fragments of long-dead star,
gifts for the unworthy wisher.

when you ask (and you will) ask for peace when you go.
everything else is just fuel.

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