I Will NOT Expect Others to Understand
In my family albums, some of the pictures of my papa
are blurred, in soft light, otherwise indistinct. Others
are sharp, the eyebrows, dark, thin, & arching.
His lips are full, like pomegranates, his chin firm.
In one photo, his eyes are dangerous. He is hard angles,
his body could cut you, if you didn’t know
the way to move around him.
Sometimes, a man, a father, will look at you in
ways that make you want to die.
Sometimes, in ways that make your heart
open like a moonflower. You’ll see how afraid he is
that you might fracture into the dots
of a pointillist painting. You’ll see how he is certain
he is to blame. You’ll see desperation
you missed in his eyes before.
My papa once bought me a bouquet
of red & pink azaleas from a farmers’ market
in the mountains of Port-au-Prince, & the flowers
filled the air with their musky smell; the chapel’s bells
rang four o’clock, & the cowbells on
mini-ice cream trucks clanged down the dusty road.
The azaleas curled before I remembered to vase them,
& I cried for so long that my papa replaced them
with begonias & snapdragons,
small but already blooming,
their fuzzy pink tongues
sticking out like a taunt.
They didn’t thrive either,
but before they died,
I brought them to my face
to inhale their sweetness.
People don’t always understand
when I tell them:
where there’s roughness,
there’s often tenderness too.
My muscles ache with pangs
of longing for a father I know
existed alongside the one
who moved through stark murkiness,
the one who lost God & clan
because they couldn’t share his secret grief.
The one whose fists became bludgeons
when he didn’t know what else to do.
It’s physical, a deep longing,
as much for that other father
as for the second me,
who also resides alongside the first me in photos,
a second girl trying to push out from my torso,
to struggle free from my bones.
My papa sits in his rocking
chair, & I’m in the background of the photo,
holding the azaleas that must have been nodding
in the first evening breezes.
I’m oddly positioned within the space,
my arm cut off by the frame of the camera.
& all I want right now is for my papa
to gather me up in the circle of his arms
& carry me to comfort.
I remember that my throat hurt that night,
dry in a place my tongue couldn’t reach, an ache
outside myself, on the soft of my palate.
If you stare at a photograph long enough,
& the eyes inside nearly wink.
I let booze warm my cheeks
as I listen to the quiet in the room
& imagine myself as someone else.
Someone I could admire.
I have friends I know as intimately as
the moles on my skin, & they don’t see
the me behind the forced smiles.
I spend hours with them, laughing woodenly
at their silly jokes,
the crushes of boys they’ll forget,
the same way I want to forget those hours filled with
of what I am inside this skin.
The few times I let myself slip out,
like a python, crawling out of the brush,
they look at me & laugh & say,
“Girl, you got everything going for you:
Handsome novio, top of our class,
scholarship to University of Miami,
parents who love you. Damn, we adore you.
We all want to be you.”
&, “Get a grip.”
As if I can grip the tsunami
stealing my breath.
Then I sleep
away the gushes of pain in my lungs.
I dream that I strangle another curly-haired
woman, who turns out to be myself.
Look at all these people around us.
Each with a set destination, a place
where people are waiting for their arrival:
families, jobs, brunch dates, appointments.
Where am I going?
To college classrooms, to sit for hours,
& listen to a professor drone on
& on & on, on subjects
that should delight me.
For a degree that will bring me a career,
Enough money to buy a house,
a life, filled with things
that should make me happy.
But then, it’s just a lifetime
of coming & going,
coming & going,
to work, to home,
to one obligation after another.
All futile motions,
all a march towards the end.
I don’t have to match
or follow the direction
they are headed.
My feet forge their own trail,
I’m happy, okay?
(Cover art for this poem by Frank Morrison)
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