Elizabeth Estochen: Fry Day

Elizabeth is a queer/non-binary writer and editor based in Charleston, South Carolina. Their work has been published in Emerge Literary Journal and Barren Magazine, and they are a first reader for Ploughshares. Their debut chapbook, For Love, and for Cruelty was published in January 2020 by WordTech Editions.

You may also listen to Elizabeth read their poem here.

Fry Day

The graffiti on the bathroom wall

begins to glitter—

something cosmic

about drugs and bathrooms.

The DJ plays trance

and not to be snobs

but it isn’t our scene, so we smoke

and slip away, exiting the bus

thirty blocks early to stroll

and the cars shine chromatic

jewel beetle green violet

the grass spot lit by streetlamps

and the talk noise I always

think is so prophetic

rolls right out of us.

The through line—

the drugs, the anatomy of the drugs

the nose, the tongue,

the lungs, the heroic throat

that swallows each

poison down with such

precision, the gut,

I am sorriest to the gut.

Anyway, we’re black holes dressed

as planets and the weather

stays the same, never changes

doesn’t help the brain, the other

part I forgot to mention, the brain

so overworked and retains

so little as hard workers

seem to do.

My brain fries

(remember when I said

I’d print a shirt of fries

that read Fry Day?)

when we gather

for pride and lounge around Civic Center

it’s bad vibes, I can tell

when I leave and even

during pride men catcall me the same

because safe spaces aren’t real

and I guess I should take the hint

but I take a hit of acid and a million

other things instead and try

to pretend at the after party that

“Blurred Lines” isn’t playing

in a “safe space”

and I try to unhear

the girl retching on the bathroom floor—

the gut, the throat, the choke—

the bouncer busts down the door

(it doesn’t shimmer this time)

and dumps her on the street

like a greased sack of fast food

a Hefty slime slick bag of trash

and we are flipping, we

are smashed but we know

the hospital has a second chance

and the throat gags

in the backseat of the Lyft—

I am sorriest to the driver.

The funny thing about Fry Days is

that pain doesn’t just

disappear with fear

it shifts with the walls that breathe

the branches of trees

that all sway in the pleasance

the graffiti looping in self indulgence

so yes, I admit, I go home

and take stock of my anatomy—

the nose, the tongue,

the lungs, the gut doesn’t want

to be a hero anymore and

when the brain loops

she could be me, I retch

and expel the cosmic grief.

More from Elizabeth on the context of Fry Day

This piece was important to me for a number of reasons. I'm now sober, but this took place during a time in my life when I was in my early twenties, was scraping by in San Francisco, and was an alcoholic partying to avoid dealing with trauma, social anxiety, etc. There was a lot I learned being an intoxicated queer femme who often went out alone--that there was nowhere to escape cis men because the whole world is theirs, that people like me were often seen as disposable, that the LGTBQ+ community was still not as much of a community as I wished. I was trying to make sense of it all when my brain had the least sense to operate off of. The particular story detailed in this poem was a turning point for me. It was the final push I needed to start moving toward sobriety and be better, for myself, and for others.

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