Two Years Later, The Map Has Been Updated

by Emily Townsend

“If you were to put a thermal map on all the places I’ve been touched,
I would show up blue in every region, the darkest black spreading
from the atriums and ventricles of my heart.”
—“Transwesternism” (2017)

The thing with thermal maps is that they only track
temperature on a surface, but not what’s beneath the crevices
and junctures of a human brain, particularly when one finds

an intruder inside their limbic system, tangling the wires
in what used to be a swollen, infected amygdala of fear
with strands of jagged silk that calm the anxieties during

loneliness. He coated my body red, grazed the brush
over my thighs, hips, flesh. Some spots I couldn’t feel,
couldn’t allow the heat to seep inside the veins that carry

up to a previously dark heart, barely pulsing as he swiped
the bristles over and over. He ran out of paint in forty-five minutes.
I wondered why I waited so long, refused, to allow solvents

and additives to decorate my untouched canvas, when it doesn’t feel
special at all. It’s just another activity, another hobby, to fiddle with
on a cold night, lit by a pink salt lamp and the sepia light outside

my bedroom window. It’s not like I’ve been envisioning this night
since isolated teenage years—the thought had never entered my mind once
that I’d find someone who wanted to shade my map brighter than its original

creation. So when it happened, when my body saturated cardinal
from indigo and onyx, I only felt the flares between the lines snaking
through hazeled bursts failing to reach a greater depth. I lay there

while he studied the result. Beautiful. What he doesn’t know
is that I’m still the same colors in the one place
he expected to cover.

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