Sensitivity Reader

Don’t ask handsome white boys to read your shit. They will always see themselves in the giraffes and the corners of things you thought were about you. Or maybe about your mom. You can say she made flan like nobody else you know, and this white boy who can’t stand flan will ask you with a straight face what you meant about the flan. Did this have something to do with the night he kissed you on a dare? He says you should get over it. His tongue just an NPC walking against the walls of your cheeks. His big hands around your neck, which isn’t very long, but his fingers are climbing up and down like you’re a goddamn giraffe. Everyone is laughing so you try to look like you hate it, you push him away and he lets go, “C’mon, I’m just joking.”

I don’t even know the white boy who tells me I need a sensitivity reader, “They did me a lot of good,” he tells me before telling me that I can’t use blindness as a metaphor, “Did you even think about what a real blind person would say?” He seemed so kind when I met him, all smiles, the way good looking white boys are, the ones who know they, too, can someday go bald like you, put on some weight, come home from work and smell a little sour from the day, but there will never be a day in their white boy lives when they can’t ring up an old flame or a fag who fell for them before they could stop themselves, and somebody somewhere will not leave them lonely. “You don’t seem like a nice person,” he writes to me. Who says that? “I hope that doesn’t offend you.”

My very first thought was, honest to god, I gotta show this white boy that I am bigger. I will do everything I can to show him how unoffended I can be. I will try to help him, show him some kindness. When you make the caramel for leche flan, you have to let the sugar get burnt so it’s a little bitter. You let it harden around your pan. You beat the eggs and the cream into a silky-smooth custard base, and you pour all of that goodness into the bitter, brown shell. My second thought was how could I hurt a white boy the way a white boy has always found a way to hurt me? Could I take something he said, maybe, and try to make it about me? Could I extend my neck far enough to meet him eye-to-eye and say, “I hope this doesn’t offend you.”

J.D. Isip’s full-length poetry collections include Kissing the Wound (Moon Tide Press, 2023) and Pocketing Feathers (Sadie Girl Press, 2015). His third collection, tentatively titled I Wasn’t Finished, will be released by Moon Tide Press early 2025. J.D. teaches at Collin College in Plano, Texas, where he lives with his dogs, Ivy and Bucky.