The day you were born we joked
that as the first to be christened on American soil
you were the only one
in our family who could ever become President.
I got to pick your name.
In Sanskrit Aditya means sun,
and my name means earth
and they are both three syllables
and when I was nine years old
the math seemed perfect
and the orbit seemed perfect.
The first time I came home from college
and you lent me your room
I slept underneath the canopy of:
the US Constitution
the faces of the first 42 Presidents
your baseball trophies
the American flag
a diorama of Thomas Jefferson.
How do I know what all this means?
It’s been months since I’ve been to your home,
years since I’ve called your home mine,
a decade since we’ve had a real conversation.
A decade ago I remember
the wasp you caught in your hand
along the shoreline of a viscous Carolina summer,
the kind with shimmery rainbow heat.
You caught a wasp in your hand so tenderly
it didn’t even crumple or sting.
And you didn’t have words then
but I remember I talked to you about it.
Our mother tells me a few weeks ago your elementary school
dressed you up as Crispus Attucks
to shoot you dead in the Revolutionary War play.
Our mother tells me you want to go to a Christian school
major in economics and trade stocks
and join a fraternity.
Our mother tells me you bless your far-away sibling every night
and I wonder whether you are praying away my deviance
or just trying to remember my name.
I wonder if this is because I flew away too early.
I wonder if this is because I do not call.
I wonder if this is a bad American dream.
But I have this nightmare of you in blackface
And this other nightmare where you change
your name to Adam and run for President.
And this other future where you stop
praying for me at night.
When my friends ask me if I have a sibling
and I tell them I do
but I’m afraid he’s a Republican
and then I tell them you’re 12 years old,
they think this is a joke.
But I have this nightmare where I visit your fraternity.
And this other nightmare where I visit
your State Department office.
And this other future where we haven’t talked
in four decades.
Every month in tiny doses
I become the boy our parents never planned for
and you think you are losing your sister
and you pledge allegiance to your flags
and I think I am losing my brother
and I am entirely out of your orbit.
And I wonder if anyone will ever tell you
that America wants your labor
but not your skin
but not mine
and I’m afraid of the fireworks
and I’m afraid of calling you
and I’m afraid you’re celebrating today.
Janani Balasubramanian is a Tamilian literary and performance artist based in Brooklyn. Their work deals broadly with themes of empire, desire, microflora, ancestry, apocalypse, and the Future. They’re one-half of the spoken word duo DarkMatter, a writer at Black Girl Dangerous, and an organizer at the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project. Janani’s currently working on their first sci-fi novel, H. You can read more of their work at queerdarkenergy.com.