Steven Harvey
One Boy's Luminous Skin

It is butter. The sun’s pillow. The moon’s snow. His eyes with large brown irises are a woodsy invitation to a boy’s life. They glitter with a hint of mischief too, but I’m talking about skin.

One boy’s luminous skin.

His teeth are a little goofy with two adult front teeth and some baby teeth in the back, but I’m not talking about them. A cowlick sends his hair awry—and that matters because my grandson has a cowlick in the same spot—but I won’t be diverted here.

Consider one boy’s luminous skin,

smoothed by some divine sculptor, ready for a grandfather’s thumb to wipe off tears or stains or blood.

One boy’s skin,

the tough epidermis, the dermis webbed with nerves made for pain, and the subcutis gloppy with glands and arteries and veins and blood—so much blood.

One boy’s luminous skin

blooming where the bullet enters, turning to jelly, and closing back in on itself with a hiss, and the lung blooming with a hiss and the heart blooming with a hiss and the bullet blooming blood where the hot hiss exits

one boy’s luminous

filleted open, scalpel following hiss in the dark, retractor spreading ribs, glove messaging heart, and blood, so much blood, blood everywhere.

Luminous. Liminal. Lost.

If he does not look like your grandson, then maybe this girl with chestnut hair in a different photo is yours. Or this boy with red hair and—my God!—that gap for his two front teeth. Do any of you have a granddaughter with a smile as wide and dimpled as the one in this photo? What about this one or that one or—oh no, look at those bright eyes.

Luminous. Lusterless. Lost.

I’m leaving out names. I don’t want to add to the misery. I’m leaving out names for you to fill in one of your own,

One luminous

child with brown eyes or green eyes or hazel or cobalt or robin’s-egg blue eyes—can you find your color there? This child age six, that child age six, or this one, that one, or this one, age six. Hell, we were all age six once!

Consider one boy’s luminous skin

and blood, so much blood, blood on us all. 

Steven Harvey is the author of a memoir, The Book of Knowledge and Wonder, and three collections of personal essays: A Geometry of Lilies, Lost in Translation, and Bound for Shady Grove. Two of his essays have been selected for The Best American Essays: “The Book of Knowledge” in 2013 and “The Other Steve Harvey” in 2018. He is a Senior Editor of River Teeth and the creator of The Humble Essayist website.