July, July!

by Eve Ewing

one summer in Chicago the people baked to death in brick,
mouths open for water or to say my lord
or to say I love you mama or to sing
or their eyes closed and they died in their sleep,

sweat spelling the shape of an angel against floral patterns
spilling into the quilted stitching a new map:
not just one river but many, tracing an X and an X and another
full of salt water like the coasts we never met.

that summer or maybe it was
the summer before or
another summer or
every summer,

we lay on our backs,
the one good comforter protecting us
from the nails and staples in the floorboards
that would have etched their little brands
into our still-baby skin, metal pressing through
my thin cotton undershirt like a toothache

in my pillowcase I hid books and used Kleenex.
each night I listened to my brother wheeze.
I prayed for rain to come.
I said I love you
I didn’t say it’s too hot to breathe right
I said goodnight
I didn’t say whether I would give up or not
I said this is still home
I said my lord