Sagnik Gayen

The Immortal

Nicole Shawan Junior

We Came

The Immortal

Sagnik Gayen

“…soon I shall be all man—I shall be dead”
—Jorge Luis Borges

Eternal autumn was faintly heard across the lands and even beyond. Its sound fell upon frail, dying ears. From the other side of the world, Youdo marched without hurry; he was alone and he looked ahead. At first the reds and golds were beautiful but the rains came and went, as did the floods, and through the fallow dirt bony mouths gaped at heaven, filled with dry, dead leaves.

Most texts write that Youdo was of warrior clan, trained for the elements. A river of blood and tears flowed behind him; his sword was lashed to his back in no particular fashion, none left to cut with it.

Some texts write that his march was his mission. In some places, “Youdo’s march” is used to denote the last throes of death.

Of those, some texts write that Youdo stopped his march for one night and built a fire. These texts reek of zealotry and I would recommend discarding them if not for their value as historical—nay, historiographical—artifacts. A counter: for Youdo, of warrior clan, sleep is no luxury. A gamble, sleep proffers his safety to forces he does not see or hear under swirling dream cloth; all to live another day. Youdo, marching alone through eternal autumn, had none to pose him danger. Eternal autumn, it stands to reason, was borne in a single day.

I cannot help myself. I must entertain the thought. Tonight Youdo stops and builds a fire. Tonight is the night he forgets. And dreams. For Youdo of warrior clan, dreams would prepare him… For the dead? For autumn eternal, then.

A foolish thought. My own fire burns before me, no doubt forcing my feeble hand toward this child’s game passing for scholarship. But I know little else. My palms cold and rough from running hands over pages. My eyes rotten from lamplight. My legs withered from the bench. But my mind stays sharp, though the tongue lags behind—I never had it in me to debate. Perhaps that is why I flee. Not cowardice but disinterest. I craft my objections alone and away, while the rains come down. For none to pose a question… I build a fire to dream and forget, to write another day…

I must clarify that I have no intent to disparage those who came before, though I inevitably do so with my blunt paraphrases. But to do so with intent entraps me in the first fallacy. (Since I write alone and away I must write not for my ilk but the rest. Those who question for clarity, not rebuttal.) At the first debates, the claim was presented that Youdo was found frozen in the ice. One text from this school writes that he was found with four fingers on either hand, four toes on either foot, callus-scales on his palms, feet, belly, chest, inner thighs, and forearms. Hair all over his body which we call Youdon, through his tunic, fastening it to him, stitching it to the Youdon. Ridicule ran unrelentingly until syllogistic induction revealed that to deny these texts validity had annihilatory results on the validity of every other known text. Conventional knowledge holds that no text is capable of refuting another.

So what of the thought I deemed foolish? A night of sleep, not an unpopular claim at the end of it all, is the fulcrum on one end of which teeters Youdo and on the other who Youdo once was. These texts say, in no subtlety that paraphrase can blunt, that that very night Youdo left behind the last dregs of himself that had persisted through eternal autumn and became what we call Youdo.

He crossed a barren land, forgetting love, forgetting language, forgetting hunger and sleep. In the end, his august march brought him to a snow-capped mountain. In the end, Youdo found fruit and died on his belly, his sword lashed to his back in no particular fashion.

Some texts say that cancer riddled the Youdon. It started in the bones and bubbled up to the skin on the sides of the neck and in mottled splotches on the arms.

Youdo caught sight of fruit high up near the peak, frozen in the clear blue sky. In the catacombs of his rotted mind glimmered a faint memory of a child. Try as he might, he could not remember who. For moments, he thought it was his, a vision preserved like fruit frozen through eternity, but upon further searching, fumbling through the dark, he found no sign of a home, a neighbor, even a meal. No sign of an argument or a sadness, or a loss. He wondered if perhaps the child was he.

Youdo, having no eyes to see with and no tongue to taste with picked the fruit, kneeling in the spot that would be indissolubly linked to his name by a force capable of transcending, resisting, ignoring, defeating, undermining, eliding the swathes of immeasurable reality between this—here, now—and that: invention.

Fear. Not in the Youdon, never in Youdo of warrior clan. Fear in me. Fear in my bones, bubbling up to my skin. I wear my heresy in sweaty splotches on my face and my clothes. But I cannot refute it. I have tried. And failing to do so, I flee. But what I cannot refute, I must record.

Youdo, alone, stood before oblivion, and since we cannot point at oblivion, we sit around and talk about Youdo. Referring to him by this name—Youdo—is like pointing at an atom with the flesh of your fingers and your bulging naked eye. The name itself—Youdo—persists as pure (I dare say it) confection. At the base of Youdo’s sword are inscribed some characters. Little is knowable and littler known of their nature, their content, their meaning. Not even how many there are. The question has been raised, though seldom, whether they are characters or something else entirely for which we have not yet a good word. With nothing for reference, nothing is plausible; nor is it impossible. Yet, no school has denied they are characters. It seems the only refutable arguments are ones not put forth by texts.

Youdo found fruit on the snow-capped peak and died on his belly, his sword lashed to his back in no particular fashion.

The name persists as a symbol. From nowhere, neither index nor icon. A result of coincidence—that the characters at the blade’s base resemble vaguely what in our script would be rendered: Youdo. Your guess at pronunciation is worth no less than another’s. Perhaps needless to say, in other scripts, the word writes in other ways. Youdo is all our infinities, indefinite times over. Indexing that which is vanished and that which vanishes, Youdo encompasses all, an omninym.

In some places, you are said to have dreamt Youdo’s dream when your dream has affected you monumentally, felt utterly important, earth-shattering, informative, critical, crucial, but when you woke up it was gone. All you can say at first about a dream of Youdo is that you had it, and the longer you think about it, the less likely that fact seems to you.

Youdo’s march stops with fruit. Having no head to see with, to taste with, he picks it and kneels. The seeds lie on the ground, and the land, in its protracted dying, keeps him, its only life, for ages. There, now, is only the sword, unsheathed with characters glinting at the sky, lying on the ground, in no particular fashion.

We Came

Nicole Shawan Junior

We came from all five boroughs.

Your Timbs smacked the concrete curb. A silver world at your back. Forty off to your side. The Bridge miles away. You headed past the matchbox frame forest and creased lawns sprouting patchy like beards. On Sutphin, you waited for the Q6. Planes hummed high until you dipped low into the subway. You packed a pocket seat.

Legs spread wide as your scowl.

The E train shuttled you forward.

Like a bullet through water.

A 20-year-old woman was hospitalized

and suffered a broken spine after being

attacked by a man using anti-gay slurs,

according to the New York City Police Department.

The man fled the subway system at a Forest Hills, Queens stop.

NBC News

We came from all five boroughs.

You walked a neck of weather-worn road. Between cast iron hedges and towering brick. Beyond ash black rubber squares waxing ground chandeliered by squeaky swing sets. You followed the mossy river that dandled your nose. And headed down the hill to catch a dollar van. On the ferry, you rode the lowest level. Sitting outdoors, you sucked smoke from the blunt pinched where your index met thumb.

Your durag’s tail wind-slapped like a cape.

The City before you beckoned.

The Uptown 1, half a harbor away.

23-year-old Taylor De Souza had to get stitches

after her Uber driver assaulted her.

“You fucking lesbian, get out my car,” he raged.

The driver struck her in the head.

“He told me he’ll chop me up and throw me in the river,” De Souza said.

WPIX 11 New York

We came from all five boroughs.

One park away from where Black boys opened high rise doors and white girls slept in Amsterdam Ave apartments, you danced along 115th Street. Your Air Force Ones pounded like palms against panderetas. Morningside Park, jampacked with barbeque grills, bumped bass at your back. The trees gave dap as you swayed along. On Eighth, you descended into the damp summer subway. Box braids pa-pap’d at your waist. You jumped the turnstile, hopped the D and, whipping your hair behind a shoulder, faced its closing doors.

You unpacked the peach gloss from your back pocket. Pursed your lips before the reflection. Blew a kiss at your face.

Dorceant said Aquino punched her in the face

and strangled her, spouting anti-gay slurs.

She had no way of knowing Aquino was an NYPD cop

wearing plain clothes.

So when officers came running,

“Instead of helping me and my girlfriend

and arresting our attacker,

more officers

piled on top of me,

slamming me onto the pavement

and putting their knees

in my neck, shoulders,

and back.”

The Advocate

We came from all five boroughs.

The Bruckner a boombox of honking trucks and whizzing cars. You ambled along, past the squat grocerias and dingy dollar stores. Beyond the graffiti-etched stone slabs and the rubble playgrounds of your youth. You crossed Westchester’s bustle before bounding up the rusted, red-roofed stairs. On the platform you waited for the Brooklyn-bound 6. Stiff and staring out the stainless glass windows. Beyond the tarred rooftops and brick apartment buildings.

The stretch of concrete crests and clefts, a foreshadowing.

The dusty streets, an abandonment.

The silence, a prayer.

On the Brooklyn bound train, Thomas screamed, “Dyke!”

He launched at them and beat one of the women

until she fell to the ground unconscious.

The 24-year-old was taken to a hospital

where she was treated for a concussion

and a broken eye socket.


We came from all five boroughs.

I hurried along the Ave. A prism wrapped around my weave. Legs stretched lean by strappy heels. Each step swallowed cement. I cli-clacked past the boys who balled and baked on Breevort’s red clay court. Once underground at the Ralph Avenue station, I clamored onto the C and parked myself next to a window. My eyes cast into its underground deep. Utica. Kingston-Throop. Nostrand. The subway a somber stereoscope.

The older strap-hanger’s fists clasped.

One around a hovering metal bar. The other around a pocket-bible.

“In Genesis,” she snared before jutting her chin at my bonneted flag.

“There were Sodom! And Gomorrah!”

In 1994, Jane Doe—27 years old, Black and lesbian—

was raped in broad daylight.

Despite Doe’s immediate police report regarding the assault,

The Daily News called her a liar.

The headline read, “Rape Hoax the Real Crime.”

The Daily News

charged she made up the rape.

The NYPD threatened to arrest her.

The case was dropped and her assailant went free.

Twenty-four years later,

Doe’s rapist was identified through DNA evidence.

At that time, he was already serving a 75-year prison sentence

pursuant to several other rape convictions that predated

his identification as Doe’s assailant.

The Daily Beast

We came from all five boroughs.

Pushed up from rails, our hands shoved turnstiles. On Christopher Street, we saw ourselves among the rainbows draped on storefronts. At our promised land’s gates, we angled past the parked police cars, smoked through Seventh Avenue’s swell and hustled towards the Pier.

Each of us yearning that small slither of terrain.

Isis came from Southside Jamaica. Isis whose fresh navy Yankee brimmed above her hazel eyes. Isis whose seashell bronze skin seemed too smooth to have weathered many storms. Isis whose voice seemed too soft to have said many no’s.

Fire came from Stapleton projects. Fire who walked heavy limp hard. Fire whose skin was cognac brown. Fire whose left eye was busted black. Fire whose belly jiggled above denim shorts that lingered beneath her knees. A wet cigar twisted and saddling her lips. “Fammmm,” Fire sang. “You tryna get up on this blunt?”

Vicky came from Uptown. Vicky whose fingernail scratched face was brown as a wet oar. Vicky who danced to music blaring from the radio resting in an old bicycle basket beneath the red awning with white script, Village Cigars. “Where was you last night, bitch? We was out here!” Vicky called.

Yessenia came from Castle Hill. Yessenia whose skin was pale as Puerto Rico’s sand. Yessenia whose curls whisked from the sides of cornrows. Yessenia whose crooked loosie dangled from her mouth’s edge. Yessenia who spat, “Ay yo, Nik! Where you been?”

I came from Bed Stuy. I came looking for the woman’s touch I did not yet know. I came for her cologne in my nose. I came for the taste of her thighs on my lips. My fingers at her neck’s nape.

A pint of Bacardi rum in my purse.

I found you while walking along Christopher’s long corridor.

Our hands lanyard laced as we strolled the stretch.

Purple haze spritzed the air.

In August 2006,

Chenese Loyal,

Lania Daniels,

Khamysha Coates,

Patreese Johnson,

Renata Hill,

Terrain Dandridge,

and Venice Brown

went to the Greenwich Village for a night out.

Dwayne Buckle catcalled nineteen-year-old Johnson

as she and her six friends walked down the West Village’s Sixth Avenue.

“Mister, I’m gay,” Patrice responded.

Buckle threatened to rape her “straight”

and threw a punch.

As Buckle ripped hair out from one of their heads

and choked another,

the young women threw fists of their own

and one of them even stabbed Buckle in return.

All seven of the young women were

charged with felonies

and regarded by the media as a “wolf pack” of “killer lesbians.”

Three pled guilty.

Four were found guilty at trial

and were sentenced to between 3 1/2 and 11 years.

Buckle did not face any criminal charges.

NPR Code Switch

We came from all five boroughs.

Us, a ragtag parade.

Once we reached the West Side Highway, elbows locked into a chorus line, we sang Missy at the top of our lungs, “Oooh, I don’t want, I don’t need, I can’t stand no minute man. I don’t want no minute man!” Just open air and the spectacle of Jersey’s skyline before us. Seagulls lapping at the river. The orange sun slicing into the Hudson’s waves.

We danced and shimmied across the stretch of highway.

Too caught up in the familiar of us to race the time.

15-year-old Sakia Gunn was returning to her Newark home

from a night out in NYC’s Greenwich Village.

While waiting for the bus,

two men propositioned Gunn and her friends.

The girls rejected their advances ,

declaring themselves lesbians.

The men attacked.

One stabbed Gunn

in the chest.

Gunn was taken to nearby hospital,

where she was pronounced dead.


We came from all five boroughs.

Horns blared and motors rumbled, Out of the way!

But the crosswalk was our stage.

The car beams, our spotlights.

The cussing drivers, our fans.

“Move, you dykes!” someone yelled.

“Fuh’k you!” we screamed.

We’d fought foes much more our match before.

Wearing cloaks of fortitude, we dropped down into eagles.

And twirled our fingers into resilient frames.

We came from all five boroughs.


We came.

Sagnik Gayen (he/him) needs help when not writing in the first person. Not because he can’t do it or anything, but because first person is more fun. He is a writer, educator, and serial hobbyist based in Philadelphia with roots in Michigan and West Bengal. Send him compliments and generous offers of money and gifts at

Nicole Shawan Junior (they/them) is deputy director of Prison and Justice Writing at PEN America. They founded Roots. Wounds. Words.—an organization that provides BIPOC-led and -centered literary arts pedagogy, publication, and performance opportunities. Junior’s writing appears in The Sentences That Create Us, Guernica, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. They served as editor-in-chief of Black Femme Collective.

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