A Purge List



1. The fearlessness is difficult to retrace, as if lost or buried deep beneath obligation to other lives. To say I love you is to be mindful of one’s words—they cannot be used freely, without fear of consequence or retribution. The spaces in between I love you swallows the real words whole; my throat is lodged, and I cannot write what I need to write. I cannot write carelessly. I’m afraid of writing badly.

2. The transgender woman across the street transitioned before my eyes—he became she and since then, I’ve felt a type of jealousy. It is the identity switch I’ve always wanted, the shedding of a skin, the transformation into something new, more authentic. I change names, change cities, change lovers, but nothing changes.

3. There’s nothing left to say about depression. When it comes, the stage lights lower, the curtain rises, the audience waits in silence while I sit silently underneath the lone spotlight, desperate to hide. There are no other images I can use to sketch the outlines of gray clouds, nor is there any escape from the malady through revelation. I feel special, a unicorn of sorts—a depressed black man who knows he’s screwed up, with the privilege of therapy and money and, sometimes, medication to ease the pain—but this is not literary fodder. I don’t want to be the star of my stories anymore.

4. I regret breaking your heart. I’m sorry for leaving you shipwrecked in Ohio while I departed for New York, the bright lights and glittery skyscrapers of a new life. At one point, I’m sure I told you I’d never hurt you like that. At one point, I’m sure we both believed me.

5. In the absence of my self as protagonist, my writing output has ended. How did this happen?

6. I always feel ridiculous when I describe myself as a black man. Am I not so much more?

7. You’re too close to me. There isn’t enough emotional space for me. I feel crowded. Dominated. I’ve always felt that way about you. You’re not clingy, needy; you are you: endless, infinite. I wish you would leave me alone sometimes. I love you.

8. I have no intentions of ever returning to New Jersey. I have no intentions of ever leaving New York. I have no idea how I ended up here.

9. The greatest sin I’ve thus committed must be—obviously—the discarding of 200 books.

10. I paid for your body twice. The first time was on a lark, motivated by boredom. The second time, I wanted the answer to a question which, since then, I’ve realized is It was always No.

11. I made a wrong turn.

12. The easiest way for me to avoid pressing problems is to dive into a woman. When it happens, occasionally love is born, and years are collected into a collage of moments already framed in past tense, but it all comes from an impure place. It’s not about being alone. (It’s always about being alone.) It is, in fact, about the newness of a thing, the latest fashion in intimacy, the bleeding edge of, and the newest techniques in, telling someone I am broken, but charming all the same.

13. This will never be published. This is to purge. This is to cough. This is to dislodge two years’ worth of words.

14. Musicianship was once described to me as a form of violence; the musician bangs and blows and strikes the instrument—and from this violence, something new, and perhaps beautiful, is born. My computer is an instrument.

15. I have four manuscripts, and none of them will ever be submitted for consideration.

16. I am familiar with the taste of a dead novel’s ghost.

17. Sometimes, I’m inspired by anger to write. I’ve lost all form of discipline.

18. Rare for me to miss her, but I miss Chicago often; I miss her body, and the way it felt on top of mine, but I miss Chicago’s architecture more. My time there inspired the move to New York. (See no. 8.) It started with the elevated train upon my arrival. There were other moments: walking around the city with headphones and a backpack; avoiding contact with other pedestrians; the sounds of cars and police sirens; the radiator in her apartment. We attempted a relationship, but I left her behind.

19. Thus far, I’ve started new lives as solo ventures.

20. I’ve been published alongside Nick Flynn and Sherman Alexie—who the fuck am I to feel sorry for myself?

21. She left Chicago for her home in North Dakota. I’m afraid she’ll be stranded there. In the few times I do think about her, it is within this specific context, to say nothing of the sex we once had.

22. In Brooklyn, I get to hide. I feel safe. The idea is to emerge from the borough, transformed.


— Mensah Demary

Specter Magazine 

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