Taylor Byas


My first instinct was always to sink the ship, my earliest bubble baths strewn with
foam glaciers. The blue rubber yacht nameless in the water dark with my own dirt.
Even young, I was gravity, a soft mass pulling tides from the tub-floor—I wanted
there to be odds. That little boat rode the choppy waters for a while, smooth as a
trainer breaking in the newest horse. I only knew of my own joy, my own version of
events: the ship captainless and unmanned, no skin-toned ovals painted in its
porthole windows. The thing still whole when it hit the bottom. My mother towed it
from the water, wet-sleeved, nearly trading her wedding ring to the half-suds snaking
the surface. She flipped it upside down and emptied it, held it back out to me. Again,
as I splashed water onto her neck, a smattering of clear freckles across her glasses. I
pushed the boat back under the water like the head of someone I loved but did not
like. Again, I screamed.

Now, the ship changes shape and color every time I remember it—first a red and
white steamer, then a neon yellow speedboat, and finally a blue yacht once more. The
water in the tub clear as the vanity mirror, freshly Windexed. Sometimes the boat
comes with a small cast of characters, coin-sized dolls and their accessories to lose in
the wreckage. Sometimes the boat can come apart in my hands. My mother is close
then far—cross-legged on the toilet or toweling her face clean of the day’s grease at
the sink. Most times, she is on her knees, the top half of her body cast over the tub’s
edge as she plays pretend with me. This one can be me, and this one can be daddy, as she
places two figures on the small deck. And in this version of my memory she sinks the
boat, a giant gulp where it disappears. Her arms wet to the elbows. This time, I hear
the muted clink of her wedding ring hitting the floor, and when I reach for it she
stops me. Leave it there. The tiny suitcases spill their contents. The plastic couple loses
their shoes in the debris. She doesn’t sift through what’s left behind.

Taylor Byas is a Black Chicago native currently living in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she is now a PhD candidate and Yates scholar at the University of Cincinnati, and an Assistant Features Editor for The Rumpus. She is the 1st place winner of the 2020 Poetry Super Highway, the 2020 Frontier Poetry Award for New Poets Contests, the 2021 Adrienne Rich Poetry Prize, and a finalist for the 2020 Frontier OPEN Prize. She is the author of the chapbook Bloodwarm from Variant Lit, a second chapbook, Shutter, from Madhouse Press, and her debut full-length, I Done Clicked My Heels Three Times, forthcoming from Soft Skull Press in Spring of 2023. She is represented by Rena Rossner of the Deborah Harris Agency.