SPOTLIGHT ON TOPAZ WINTERS
We are pleased to showcase Topaz Winters. Below is a bio and four selections of their work.
Follow Topaz @wildings and comment on their work!
Topaz Winters is a writer in a raining city. Her poetry, essays, and fiction have been published in Wildness, Hypertrophic Literary and The Best Teen Writing of 2015 anthology, profiled in The Huffington Post and Cicada Magazine, and commended by The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and The National YoungArts Foundation, among others. She is the author of Heaven or This (2016) and Monsoon Dream (Platypus Press, 2016). At 17, she is the youngest Singaporean ever nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She was born in 1999 and resides at topazwinters.com. At this moment, she is learning of California poppies, the difference between warm milk and forgetting, and how magic behaves in times of desperate measure.
She is also the editor of the literary journal half mystic.
First writing selection
how great this is, to love a girl into burning.
that is to say, i’ve seen wildfires commit suicide
when she comes near. i can never find her hands
but still i know her fingertips are matchsticks.
i’m sorry, but my smoky lifespan doubles
every time she sighs in my direction. that is to say,
i’m not sorry at all.
look at her. tell me that girl is not a song of burning.
look at her and tell me her eyes are not a housefire
waiting to happen.
a candle will surrender its oxygen if only she stands
close enough. trust me, i would know.
that is to say, no matter how many tsunamis i swallow,
i will never forget her lips charred on skin.
in some other room, the smoke rising.
in some other life, a fire that knows to burn itself out.
that is to say, my body would dissolve in ashes
if only to meet hers in the future tense.
i love her in the way a frightened deer will lock its knees
and not move again. even if that means burning alive.
Second writing selection
ticket guy on the train asks if i’m on my period when i
don’t say thank you after he punches my ticket. voice like
just a joke. like god, you women take everything so damn
seriously. hey, ticket guy? for the record, i’m not on my
period. for the record, you being an asshole does not
require the cooperation of my hormones. ticket guy on
the train says period like curse word. says it like spit out
of mouth aftertaste, like unconditioning, like won’t
mention this when his wife asks him how work was
today. says period like something i should be ashamed
of. like i need an excuse for the woman brimming up
inside of me. the way it smells fear, rears in search of
blood. hey, ticket guy? for the record, i’m not on my
period, but fuck you anyway. hey, ticket guy? for the
record, people like you think strength means holding
on, but i’ll let you in on a secret that every woman
already knows: the real strength is in letting go. period,
like my uterus which is so fearless in turning itself inside
out. in bleeding heartache out of my body. period, like
that is not something to be ashamed of. period, like
battle scar. like the sentence is only over when i say
it’s over. period, like god, you women take everything
so damn seriously. like we women sharing tampons.
like we women in the shower & blood down the drain.
like we women & all of the ways we bleed for each
other, of each other, in time with each other. hey, ticket
guy, you want to know why you’ve never seen a woman
faint at blood except for in the movies? then watch me
grow a new skin every month. watch hunger leak from
my vagina. watch me become a new human with every
drop that spills out of me. hey, ticket guy, you want to
know why we complain about pms? last week my
friend texted me hey, my cramps are really bad, don’t
think i can make it to the party, & the next morning i
called her & found out her appendix had ruptured.
you want to look me in the eye & tell me how we take
everything so damn seriously? hey, ticket guy? watch
us bleed. our bodies are reincarnations of eve. our
blood is the song of wild things. hey, ticket guy? you
can shut the fuck up, thanks very much. hey, ticket
guy? ask any woman & she’ll tell you why eve bit
into that apple. why she chose the universe instead
of you. so hey, ticket guy? watch my uterus rewrite
its own story. hey, ticket guy? i refuse to apologise
for the way my body is an act of creation. for how
my blood eats you bare. for how i flourish in red.
for all of the ways i bleed myself into infinity.
Third writing selection
today i am trying to understand how to be more
than the hatred that surrounds me. how to fight
with love. how to be furious yet still remain tender.
what i’m trying to say is every part of me aches
& i don’t know how to turn that into something
beautiful. what i’m trying to say is every method
of survival is too sharp for me to grasp. so i ask
for something blooming through the storm. if
nothing else, i ask to grow roots in this place though
weeds may choke the air around me. plant me here,
in this world i am learning, despite everything, to
forgive. let the only burning here be the sun rising,
& let it be a reminder for us to rise again too. this
is the only way i know how to heal: be kind to each
other. pick up trash in the street. listen to battle
anthems, but also to songs with too much acoustic
guitar. text each other when you get home safe.
in this life, a girl i might be in love with sends me
photographs of her dogs & her lipstick. my best
friend says i love you even when i don’t need to
hear it, which is to say, i always need to hear it.
this is the kind of softness i am learning to trust.
let every form of hurting be another cat that we
feed & then shoo out of the house. they will not
stay in the rain forever, but at least we may scrub
the house to sparkling before they track the mud
back in. we cannot do much, but we can take
ourselves out to dinner on the weekends. we
can grow into people that our children are proud
of. we can break in the way of waves instead of
porcelain. we can do our best understand each
other’s realities & know that even when others
tell us the sky is orange, perhaps they have only
ever seen sunsets. i think it is time to let ourselves
be grateful for the horizon, even if it is not the
colour we first expected. so when the hate tries
its best to bury me, i am learning to be a seed.
even in winter, i am learning to grow towards
the sun. if nothing else, remember this: hope is
your birthright. joy is your lullaby. years older,
years sober, we can make a space out of the light
that remains. we can prove over & over again
that we can be bigger than this. here is a world
with hatred, but also with clean sheets &
compasses, with bubble wrap & bumblebees,
with hope & with homecoming. i must believe
it is enough.
Fourth writing selection
Like all good stories, she & I began with remembering.
We met in the third grade, her with glasses too big for her face, me buck-teethed & big-haired, all fumbling hands & fleeting heart. Slip-sliding into each other’s lives, fitting together like something true: we slept in the same bed at slumber parties, pushed each other on the swing set, shared crushes & the last slice of pie. Our souls getting to know each other. Understanding each other in this lifetime before either of us knew the music of shattering.
Fast-forward seven years & both of us were growing into our skins. Finding places for our hearts to fit, squeezed between shivering ribs & still singing out their steady rhythms, quiet in this landscape of uncertainty. Still beating in time with one another.
The first time she kissed me was on a bridge overlooking the river after what was not supposed to be a date. I heard violins.
Afterwards she pulled back & said, breathless: did I do that right? I’ve never kissed anyone before.
I said: that was okay, but you could use some more practise. Why don’t we start now?
This is where it all began.
This is where we pressed play.
How easy it is to be deafened by love. Even before now, she & I had been together always, hand in hand through every song—but here was a new kind of melody, one that both of us were eager to memorise. Knees brushing beneath lunch tables. Every phone call ending with I love you. Pictures in frames of kisses on cheeks, & all of the cheesy love songs in the world which suddenly bloomed with meaning.
Perhaps we both knew it was going too quickly, careening off the staff & into ledger lines far above realms either of us could reach. Then again—perhaps it was just me & my infinite, incorrigible tendency to seek out worst-case scenarios. Sitting on my bed in the middle of the night, touching the photographs, listening to our songs. Memorising the sound of this too-new too-fast thing, as if perhaps it could keep me from needing to remember in the aftermath.
Years before we fell in love we would listen to music together, but now it seemed every song was ours to hold. Always sharing earphones. Always listen to this, it reminds me of you. Our music tastes were—are still—miles apart, yet we somehow knew implicitly the songs the other would adore.
Once she called me from the school locker room, sobbing so hard she could barely speak. I ran to her &, before I could understand what I was doing, she had my earphones in her ears, was listening to a playlist I had shared with no one else before. The title in my iPod was For Hurting Days.
The next day she walked up to me & hugged me, tight & soft all at once.
What was that for? I said.
It was for nothing, she said, then paused. Shook her head. It was for everything.
I knew it was coming before it happened. Always alert. Always one ear attuned to the music of breaking.
I texted my best friend the night before, said: I think she’s angry with me.
The next day she came to my house. Sat on the floor of my bedroom as she had so many times before. We listened to Skrillex, & I have always hated Skrillex but I have always loved her, so I did not complain. As I had not so many times before.
When the song ended she turned to me & said, tender & gentle & crueller than anything I have ever heard: I think we should just be friends.
Do you ever think about how a child memorises the cadence of its mother’s voice long before it comes into the world? Do you ever think about how perhaps it has every right to cry upon being born? Like how the voices, the symphonies, are so much easier to grasp when you are not in the thick of all of the extra baggage they come with?
All I can remember of the rest of that day is the way my breath caught in my throat, how she said I’m so sorry like something in her was turning transparent, & how I replied, on autopilot: no, it’s fine, I’m okay. I could hear violins.
She asked if she should leave. I said: that would be good.
She walked out into the living room where my mother was working on her laptop. I am told she looked sadder than my mother had ever seen her before.
The rest of the summer is silent to me. I could not put in earphones without my hands beginning to tremble, drumbeats of sorrow pooling in my chest, too many songbirds in my throat screaming to be released. It is the longest I have ever gone without listening to music.
How easy it is to be deafened by hurting.
I still have the text messages from that summer. Over & over I asked my best friend how I could not have seen it coming, what I could have done to prevent it. And she told me, over & over, that I did see it coming. That I was no less whole for being left behind. That despite all of this sharpness, gathered to my chest & slicing into my ribcage, I could heal. I would heal. I still have the text messages where I argued, lashed out at her, tried so hard to escape my pain that I ended up becoming it.
To be sure, I had broken hearts & gone through heartbreak of my own before—but none as ringing or as clear as this one. Often I wished during that summer that I had never fallen at all. That the first kiss had never happened, that all of this might, perhaps, have been avoided. Sometimes the echoes are so much louder than the memory itself.
I started listening to music again the day before school started. The first song I played was Elvis Presley’s Are You Lonesome Tonight? I cried while I listened to it, & it felt like slipping into a familiar skin. Like meeting one’s old self on the street. Like coming home.
These days every song I write has her name woven into it. I can listen to love songs again, but still there is the twist in my gut that refuses to leave. Sometimes I cry, though I despise myself for it, though I have become a master of it’s just allergies or it’s just my contacts or there’s just something in my eye or I just have a cold. I can’t hear Skrillex without wincing, & not for the same reason I used to.
I do not know how to define healing without memory attached to it. I do not know how to define melody without one of my earphones in her ear. I do not know how to define longing without the bone-deep endless ache for one more listen to this, it reminds me of you.
These days my friends know to turn off the radio when one of our songs comes on. I don’t know how long this patience with my hurting will last, but I will keep taking advantage of it until it fades into silence. Too often, I hear violins.
A few weeks after school began, she texted me: I know I hurt you. I’m sorry. I don’t know how to have the conversation we need to have. I understand if you’re still angry with me, & if you wish this had never happened between us.
We had not spoken since I think we should just be friends.
There is a dream I have often, have had since the night I first received those heart-worn text messages. I recognise it well now, the moment it begins, the two of us on a bridge. And her, pulling back after kissing me for the first time. And me, teetering on the cusp of something beautiful. In the dream I already know what is to come. Some days I think the dream is truer than anything real life ever could compose.
So I think of memory. Think of melody. Think of breath in throat. It was for nothing. It was for everything. Think of shared earphones. Skrillex. Are You Lonesome Tonight? Think of listen to this, it reminds me of you. I think of first kiss on a bridge, not supposed to be a date, I’ve never kissed anyone before.
In the dream there are many things I could say now, as she pulls back after a first kiss, searching my face, yearning for something it would be so simple to deny her. I could brush this all off as a joke, as something neither of us needs to speak of again, something to tuck into the folds of time & learn to live without. I could escape the inevitable shattering I know without knowing is to come. There are many people in this wide world who do not enjoy music. There are many who will not listen.
God. This could be so easy.
Her face all bright & breathless, hands dancing into knowing. In the dream she smiles like something worth keeping. Like the memory of this moment is the only thing that has brought us so far already.
In the dream, like in real life, I don’t say anything for too long. I can see her about to withdraw, hurt shuttering the windows of her eyes. Somewhere in the distance I hear violins.
And the edges of my heart, still so soft despite so much. And her voice, composer & conductor & heckler in the audience, a mess of contradictions. And we don’t have to do this. And I could back away now. And it could be so easy. And it could be so easy. And it could be so easy.
In the dream there are two sentences, repeating over & over.
This is where it all begins.
This is where we press play.
I take a deep breath, hold it. The dream ends the same way every time.
You could use some more practise. Why don’t we start now? I say to her. And let myself drown.
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