Birth/mark, Poetry Front Page

Conceiving Basil

You are going through a workbook. Used to these. The finitude of a heavy hand and your mother’s equivalent joy on a double-checked page. You are careful to print clearly. Careful not to mark up the desk under your paper. The imprint of a mistake has the potential to ruin you. 

You are asked to give your birth father a name. Immediately aware that your imagination is insufficient. You are conscious that the adjectival names you give your stuffed animals will not do. And that he, your very father, only-father, had barely existed until this page accused you of forgetting him. Guilt slams. Later, you realize that this was probably scripted by a white psychotherapist who considered their specialty to be working with international adoptees. You are wondering who existed first for you: your ghostly father or the ghostly psychotherapist.

You are taking down the book of baby names to give your father form. A high shelf and jumping to your mother’s height. There are few ways to conceive that are more lifeless and absurd than looking in a book, but you are determined to follow in the tradition set in your birth certificate. Reading is the only way you know how to reach across the oceans, seven. And if elementary school has taught you anything, you are aware that the only way to find something out is to read about it, because experiments are often unsafe and the main character is always willing to do something loud-stupid for your entertainment. Threat-emptying, you pass page over page. The irony of naming your father is lost on your small frame. 

You are young and yet wildly aware that your father probably doesn’t even speak English. Years of pinyin. And still unprepared. Your father probably doesn’t even speak Mandarin, for heavens’ sake. No book can help you, you realize suddenly, but you try your hand at it anyway.

You are satisfied with your handwriting on the line: B. A. S. I. L. Supposedly an herb. The spelling is right even if the feeling isn’t. You are a child being asked to write a name for someone who is already dead, for all your intents and purposes. The pseudo-eulogy must have crossed t’s and dotted i’s or your mother will correct you. Then you will undoubtedly cry.

You are turning the page on your father’s name. Carelessly and with wreck-less adult precision.

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Filed under: Birth/mark, Poetry Front Page


Andie Sheridan (he/they) is a genderqueer Chinese American poet currently living in Boston. He is a MFA candidate at the University of Massachusetts Boston, where he explores a poetic practice interested in creating new forms as a way of creating new queer worlds. Andie’s work has been featured in Hobart Pulp, Mass Poetry, and The Ekphrastic Review, among others.