JJ Peña

white waters

Absorbed in Neutral by Jeff Musser
Art by Jeff Musser

my friend’s mother is bipolar. sometimes she stays awake for days because the world corduroys into violent textures & colors. sometimes she’s committed to the mental ward down the road she swears smells of butterscotch & menthols, which reminds her of her mother—a jawbreaking woman, who didn’t even cry when she left for america at 16, without a clear plan, navigating only by heart & gut. sometimes she talks about trying to cross into america, how she was caught, how the male officers called her their manguito, how they couldn’t wait to have her. only once did she talk about how her family had her bathed in bleach & gasoline, a witchdoctor pouring cups of brown water over her head, chanting, illness can clean away. ever since i heard her story, whenever i hear my father yell—that snowflake faggot—at a cnn news anchor, like now, as the tv blares in front of us, i imagine how he would have prepared a tub of toxic white waters for me as a child, if that meant i’d crave peach rings between women’s thighs. he would have scrubbed my skin until i bled white & my body filled with liquid about to blaze.

JJ Peña is a queer, burrito-blooded writer, living & existing in El Paso, TX. His work appears in, or is forthcoming from, Passages North, Split Lip, Into the void, Hayden’s Ferry, & elsewhere. He has an MFA from the University of Texas at El Paso.