Sentry / n. a’yara stein

Our island was a town of thin alleys that became the undercover routes for me and my boyfriend as we slunk through shadow, jittery, and ready for the answers to the mysteries. Death, what would it be like? Was there really a heaven or a hell? There was the question of sex, and then what happened afterward. Each question gave rise to another. Were our fates determined? Was it a sin to kill? Did eternity mean forever? As children, angelic protection was given. A sentry was assigned to each of us, and I pictured a host hovering above, diaphanous, intangible in their bright surveillance. When Auntie died, they told me she’d become my own special angel, watching me. I loved to see her, brilliant redeemer—nothing like she was when she was with us. One night my boyfriend and I planned to do more than just kiss or look at a sky with more stars than anywhere. We stole a boat to get away from the rats and crabs. When light broke I cried when she saw me in that old boat, swaying under a windswept pewter sky losing my virginity at sixteen, not knowing why. I knew she saw it all, and wondered why from floating Nirvana she never once told me what I should do. For all her resplendent wings full of wisdom, she still remained as dumb and blind as I. I understood why angels are endangered. Struck by the sudden calm, we watched the sky and couldn’t bear to touch one another. He cried, too, which scared me. So I left him, and slipped overboard into the ocean. He whispered my name across the waves but I wouldn’t answer; I don’t know why.

N. A’Yara Stein, born in Memphis in 1971, is a Romani-American poet and writer living on a chicory farm. She’s published in America, The New Orleans Review, The Birmingham Poetry Review, The Oxford American, California Quarterly, Chiron Review, and others. Ms. Stein lives near Chicago with her husband and sons.