Nonfiction

Mirages.

I crawled into you and set up camp. You were warm, steady as a strong-blooded pulse, and I was shivering. I came because I was sure I could survive. But you wanted me, remember? I did not invade; I was invited.

Soon enough, I learned you were a desert. Everything that grew easily had been gutted. You were no mirage; I touched you, beveled, pocked, and longing. Every space where you hurt hummed under my hands; I saw the blood. Sometimes, I walked away with a spot of it staining a dress. Old blood, crusted yet somehow fresh: oozing from regenerative wounds.

I saw enough — felt enough — when I leased this square inside you, already so overrun with other squatting things. I thought I understood. There were memories and guilts and sadnesses you must nurse and not evict. They are the true lay of your land. And though I did not set out to save you, I still cradled a garden in my palms: every seed I thought you’d need not to die. I still prayed that I’d grow the right balm to properly bandage your gashes.

It was easy to ignore how dry your tongue remained after giving you so many gourds of water. Your kind of thirst is difficult to quench; you wish for a well whose waters bend time. At my best and on the keenest-eyed of voyages, I will never scout you this. But we remained silent on the subject. It seemed enough that, even when your eyes were sallow, listing, they still lit when they locked on my face.

(Didn’t they?)

Sometimes I followed your gaze and saw them: a family, waiting, their laughter carrying across these empty arcs of dust and air. You would rather be with them. Our circle of seeds was inadequate.

You could see what I had yet to: the futility of tilling. But it brought you the briefest of hopes. You have always wanted a garden. Something must’ve appealed to you: the gentleness, perhaps, with which I lifted sand and primly patted it back, my cracking lips dropping promises: someday, we’ll dine. You could see it, once, couldn’t you? A feast of eggplant and lentils, of grapes so pregnant with juice that their skins pulled away from the stems?

I could be so strange, sometimes, so withholding. But I wrote you so many loving missives in the sand. (You read them? The winds will let you hold them?)

Yours is a house of sorrow but your porch was built of cedar. We sat there, somewhat happily, awaiting signs of life.

It has been months since winter. But yesterday was cold. The frost bit our first — our only — emerald tendril.

(Or did it?)

Deserts are impossible places for love, overrun as they are with so many duplicitous images.

But I know that the family is real. Some of them are waiting. I see them, even when it seems I don’t. They are waiting, but they are also watching. Do not rush to them; they want you alive. They need you to drink and revive, to grow green things again.

So did I.

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Nonfiction, Uncategorized

How Loss Yields Legacy.

Your old men shall dream dreams; your young men shall see visions.                                            — Joel 2: 28b

There is a dividing line in the lives of the young. On one side is an insular existence, where the elders live and govern, taking us into the folds of their ancient skirts, where they will knit us a history. There, we are fed and told who we are. They distill from their founts of wisdom a pablum we are capable of consuming. We do not understand what we have. We cannot quite fathom how fortunate we are, to hold them, to hear them, to trace their veins with our tiny fingers. But we are no so foolish that we entirely take them for granted. We understand their arms as the haven into which we can run when our parents’ discipline feels more alienating than effectual. We understand their stores as confections to relish, their thunderous or rasping voices a theatre around which we sit riveted.

On this side, they are hearty and hale. Even if their spines curve like parentheses or their fingers are gnarled as twine, we do not note these conditions as anything more than accents embellishing their character. We do not recognize them as lashes left by the cruelest of all overseers: Time.

Cross the line, and your elders are no more. Depending on what you believe, they hover above your life, acting as guardians, or they sit at the sidelines, watching with disappointment or wonderment. Perhaps they are praying. Perhaps their prayers are preventive, and you will never know what calamities you’ve sidestepped as the result of their intercession.

What is more certain is the impact of their absence. Gone are the raised and winding veins, gone the comforting feel of the blood coursing through them. Absent also are the courageous creases, deepened through decades spent awaiting abolition, petitioning for voters’ rights, sharecropping too-small parcels of land; losing homes and children and lovers; then yielding to the technological advances that stole their jobs and divided the attentions of their once-rapt grandchildren.

You miss their certainty, their Gilbraltar-like presence. Without them, your borders feel unprotected. They carried the world so artfully, you were never aware of its weight.

Now, there are days when you can barely square your shoulders. And you are finally beginning to understand.

There are a few years yet, before we return to the other side and become for our children’s children what our parents’ parents were for us. Our work must be thorough and quick. We are left to decipher the glyphs and mosaics stitched into the story quilts they left us. We must apply their epiphanies to the balance of our days, embellishing and righting and multiplying as we see fit.

Many days, we’ll fall short of their marks. We will not all find ourselves at the forefront of revolution. We may not wind up scholars of law or titans of art and of industry.

We may merely be the mint-givers, the switch-wielders, the pipe-smokers rocking under the moonlight on our back porches. It is possible that our most significant impartation will be the secret to baking a perfect pound cake.

We are just as significant. They will need us all.

This is the meaning of legacy.

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NaPoWriMo, Poetry

NaPoWriMo: poems 4-6.

poem 4: missions

And then I took you to dinner
because I was used to paying,
every meal an apology for
the way you were raised:

I’m sorry your father left you.
I’m sorry that when he returned,
you were already Ellison’s
man underground, mind half-
Hoovered into oblivion.

Love can be retaught.
You can be deprogrammed.

Like all the other nights, you dined,
relishing saffron rice, ripping
naan into swaths, staining
your ample lips with curry: no
worries.

and later—
when we kissed, I took in
the garlicky grin behind that
mouth so used to secreting away
your truths and I thought:

I should’ve been a missionary,
the way I invade these ancestral villages
and offer the men my salvation.

 

poem 5: untitled

these are not the mud plains
where we met, two mongrels still black enough
to belong to the fields, where we were freer
to court and forge cabals in cottages of straw.

i am sure we are different, though
i cannot speak for you, whose voice is
little more than a wasp’s hum
every seventh summer now.

once, not long after you left, i was hitched
to a plow and made the Molly mule
Zora meant only as metaphor.

i knew then why we never married.

these are not the mines where they found you
and i asked for you, opened and autopsied.
i still dream of your lungs, so
marbled with soot that their blood
hardened sleek as obsidian.

that time, you vowed a return
as a soldier of fortune, as the driver of
a westward-facing wagon:
and you will have bonnets
and petticoats a-plenty;
you will know the shuddering
cool of a parasol’s shade.

belief was impossible to conjure;
reincarnation is not an erasure.

poem 6: morgue

i do not know why
i was called to identify your body
after your overdose in the alley
behind Yummy’s with that girl in the
yellowed gingham dress.

but when i got there, i was told
that i was your emergency
contact and i suppose it made sense
that i would be. we were
so close once that i held
your DNA, stroked the strands
as they gathered themselves
into a hardy little core that
siphoned life, long after you left mine.

i should’ve felt more distress
than i did, looking down at the
milky crust scaling your irises
like acid caking corroded batteries
but Lord, it would be years
before i could fathom
that death would be more permanent
than my belief in you.

And then I took you to dinner

because I was used to paying,

every meal an apology for

the way you were raised:

I’m sorry your father left you.

I’m sorry that when he returned,

you were already Ellison’s

man underground, mind half-

Hoovered into oblivion.

Love can be retaught.

You can be deprogrammed.

Like all the other nights, you dined,

relishing saffron rice, ripping

naan into swaths, staining

your ample lips with curry: no

worries.

and later—

when we kissed, I took in

the garlicky grin behind that

mouth so used to secreting away

your truths and I thought:

I should’ve been a missionary,

the way I invade these ancestral villages

and offer the men my salvation.

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Nonfiction

36 Tweets About 9/11.

This morning, I found myself on Twitter, reading a lot of reflections on the collapse of the Twin Towers. Usually, I don’t write about 9/11 because I don’t feel like it impacted me as profoundly as it has many of my friends, friends who were there, friends who lost loved ones, friends who’ve since gone to war. In short: it’s never felt like my story. It’s never felt like something I’ve earned the right to write about. But today, it just happened.

These are my tweets.

here’s where i was: in an elevator, surrounded by suits & secretaries. “someone bombed the world trade center.” “again?” was the bland reply.

we were expecting to arrive in our respective offices to find news of a corridor or even a floor taken out by a small handmade explosive.

my own boss sent our office home. “go be with your families,” he said, clearly speaking to himself, having forgotten he wasn’t alone.

we scattered, with words rapping woodenly against our intellect. “one of the towers collapsed!” “oh God, the other one, too?”

we couldn’t fathom it–and without footage, with only words to paint the picture, it hardly seemed real.

at the time, i was living in a foreclosed house with my mother, every day fearing the arrival of a sheriff and eviction minions.

when i called my mother to tell her i needed to be picked up, she was wholly annoyed b/c she’d just dropped me off.

“they sent us home b/c of the world trade center bombings?” i said, words like “collapse” receding under my vision of a small-scale attack.

“somebody bombed that place *again?*” mom said. she huffed, “fine; i’ll pick you up at the train station.”

the streets of baltimore were all but empty at 9:30 am. the deserted thorofares were what first struck fear in us.

9/11 wouldn’t be real for me until 10 am, when i got home, sat in front of a TV and didn’t move until 10 pm.

i was afraid to pee. afraid to eat. afraid to leave the foot of my mother’s mattress.

we sat there, watching peter jennings report himself parched & haggard, with rolled sleeves & red rimmed eyes, w/tears caught in his throat.

“the people who jumped, ” mom whispered, “some of them were flapping their arms.” determined to fly.

mom swore she heard bin laden say, “i did not do this thing. but praise allah.” i’ve still never heard this. i wonder if it was imagined.

i wonder if our hearts heighten villainy when our eyes and ears disbelieve it.

years later, i lived in yonkers. @feministtexican & i could see twin shafts of light shuttling into the firmament, from lamps in manhattan.

@feministtexican and i were determined to get to ground zero that year. “let’s go see the lights!” we got stuck in traffic.

we detoured first, for cupcakes.

we didn’t make it till midnight. no longer 9/11.

but there were still lingerers, poring over the pictures and withering petaled bouquets. the lights still coursed toward some spot above sky.

i remembered a weeping CEO who blamed himself for being out of the office the day he lost all his employees.

i remembered a 20/20 profile on all the immigrant workers who lost their lives that morning, working their shifts at Windows on the World.

i remembered.

i never write abt 9/11. so i don’t know what made me do it just now.

there are things i’m leaving out, like how i called a frenemy to make sure she was okay. she answered, agitated and spooked.

said she was walking from manhattan to brooklyn b/c the trains were closed and the roads were gridlocked.

she described the sediment, rolling like clouds.

that day, as always, i envied her.

it was a child’s envy: there she was, centered amid the mythos, while i was at the foot of a mattress, unable even to imagine her experience.

(i hate writing honestly.)

and i’m not even being *as* honest as i should be. i haven’t talked abt how my mother and i laughed that day.

laughed the way family laughs at repasts.

i haven’t confessed my wry commentary while @feministtexican and i were bumper to bumper with mourners.

i didn’t mention how my own drama diminished my ability to absorb the full impact of the images i watched that day.

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