about the author

John Manuel Arias is a gay Costa Rican/Uruguayan writer and poet from Washington, D.C., currently living in San José, Costa Rica. He studied Literature and Creative Writing at Pace University in NYC. “The Writing’s on the Wall” is excerpted from his debut collection of poetry, ‘¡I’D RATHER SINK—!’, forthcoming from Red Paint Hill Press in 2017. His work has appeared in Rogue Agent Journal, Rust + Moth, and the James Franco Review, with new poetry from his collection appearing in the forthcoming issues of the After Happy Hour Review, Tinderbox Journal, Polaris Magazine, After the Pause, Red Paint Hill, and Crack the Spine.


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The Writing’s on the Wall 

John Manuel Arias



I’m 8 / 20 in twelve years / and the showerhead

explodes / its sparks are tea leaves that tell my

future / coffee grounds at the opening of my

stomach where your name won’t escape / they

predict an earthquake / see the number 6 / grimace

at the sight of a feathered serpent / a boa around

your throat / Apophis in all his splendor / dancing to

some Destiny’s Child song that’s lost its rhythm

I catch fire as easily as my mother’s ex-husband / I

twirl / trying to get away / smash my tailbone again-

st the shower bar / my grandmother clings onto

when her blood pressure reaches 222 over 12

in between the tiles / there are sweet roaches / drain

flies / like feathered serpents / boas constricting / I

shed my skin / look up closely at the sparks / cry out

your name / purge it / lick it up like coffee grounds

because there’s none left in the kitchen cupboards

I’m 8 / waiting for the world to end / 20 / and

watching it end as gracefully as humanly possible

my future / it was definitely spelled backwards in

Spanish / maybe in Spanglish I can pronounce it

rightsideup / can pronounce you rightsideup too

I’m 8 / Apophis gives me much-needed fashion

advice / mint is totally in this year / always wear

lace panties for your clients (they prefer it over

jockstraps) / when you’re getting tests done / be-

come your grandmother (but / maybe not / because

she hates having her blood drawn / it looks red and

doodled and messy in those little tubes)


at night / he dresses us up / for our last sex party

then in the morning for an elementary school choir

performance / at my classmate’s first funeral

I’m 20 / hyperventilating your name / my ribs have

never felt so much like fingers / ready to swing

open my chest / like a music box playing that

Destiny’s Child song / ¿what were the lyrics?

I’m 8 / the whole entire church loves my solo of

Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho / 20 / and at a

sudden loss for words

I’m 8 / naked in a burning shower / 20 / and my

artery swallows a bone needle / pulled straight out

from my chest

I’m 8 / burning naked in a shower / 20 / and I can

almost guess what you’re going to say

I’m 8 / you’ll give it to me later / in 12 years / by

surprise / like a birthday present / 20 / and I swear I

met you once when I was 8 / there / inside the

emptied out belly of a thunderstorm

I’m 8 / I read the sparks all wrong / confuse

VIDA / with / SIDA / and / vice versa / 20 / and I

can finally read you rightsideup / in Spanglish I can

also be read rightsideup / that is / if you want to

I’m 8 / Apophis powders his face / slips on fireproof

pumps / short-circuits the showerhead / lip-syncs

my future until he can’t remember the lyrics

20 / and I don’t remember them either

I’m 8 / I won’t make it

20 / and I still won’t make it

I’m 8 again / 20 now / and Apophis keeps on

singing / ¿what’s the big deal / kid? / it’ll make no

difference if it’s today / or in 12 years /¿right?





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