Portrait of a Friend, Noah Bavonese

believing my mother’s language sane, I raise my hand. perch bluebird-shy on the edge of a desk too nice to ever feel like mine. ain’t no word mr. whatshisname can flash that I can’t spell. sixth grade know alchemy this way. each new language a precious metal mined from my throat. all year, I pan my body for something worth holding to the light. but on spelling bee day, i demand this shine. mr. whatshisname say jump, i say use it in a sentence. he do. i pause. he say “the word is toothbrush,” and i chuckle gold onto my teeth. i know how to accomplish luster. silly instructor, so caught up in semantics he don’t know what my people know best: a good gleam upside the head. mr. whatshisname say “toothbrush” and i see my big cousin cleaning his jordans with thanksgiving. say “toothbrush” and i’m already clean. i strut to whiteboard to pen this simple blessing. all that’s left to consider is handwriting. the letters leave my hand easy as a sigh: T – O – O – F – B – R – U – S – H in neat blue letters. when i’m finished, the room doubles its teeth. opens a river of laugher wide enough to carry my grandma back to Georgia. how desperate a want it is to float to surface. to at least catch enough breath to say your own name the way your mama does. once, i came home from school and asked my mama how to say my own name. enough white kids had been asking to make me forget what to answer to. in this version of the story, I answer only to ________.

About the Author

Imani Davis · University of Pennsylvania

Imani Davis is a queer Black writer from Brooklyn. A Pushcart Prize-nominated poet, they earned fellowships from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Lambda Literary Foundation, and the Stadler Center. Their work has appeared in PBS NewsHour, The Offing, Best of the Net, The Adroit Journal, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. They graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2020 with a BA in English and Africana studies. “Toof” previously appeared in Penn Review.

About the Artist

Noah Bavonese · Oakland University

Noah Bavonese studied graphic design at Oakland University, graduating in 2019. Originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, he is currently an animator and illustrator in Vancouver, BC. “Portrait of a Friend” first appeared in Oakland Arts Review. 

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