vietnam | 21 october

two.

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death is the thwacking of a metal shovel
kissing wet red clay⠀
mud and still black birds and⠀
the stinging cold of october. five'o'clock. ⠀

sweet squash on my fingertips⠀
slipping down ⠀
rough handles. I remember the splinter⠀
but not her eyes. this is the sweet⠀
cruelty of memory.⠀

tricks: mothers work in secret, veiled⠀
obeyingly. known only by folding suns⠀
and dead sisters and wilting trees and a small girl
tucked beneath the folds of my skirt. those buttons never held back much, and these hips⠀
have grown wide with irreverent sorrow. ⠀
dinners for one taste best⠀
standing, half-lit, yellowing. ⠀
tug, young one. elope, fluttering⠀
amongst shadows, the moments⠀
gilded with bittersweet crooning. ⠀

Esther

school began, and stacked its days neatly like grocery produce. we took up a love affair with spaghetti squash, twirling tendrils of the farm's majesty about forks, our plates slick with butter. swimming lessons occupied Saturday morning chatter as rolled suits tumbled from discarded towels, forgotten in the week's activities. all in all, a bustling normal, complete with later-than-intended dinners with friends and grandma to the rescue and half-started books and the endless search for front room curtains.

in September, the solstice meant earlier sunsets, and also you died.

I spent my sixteenth summer on a university campus, tickled pink to have been invited to the picky program. a month of fanciful imagining that I was quite grown, attending classes and performances, conjuring visions of the life ahead. I missed a hundred parties and terrible decisions, and when my mother called to tell me of the crash, my heart felt caught. I knew much of Stanislavski and coin laundry machines and finding my neutral, but what I recall most of that summer is the way the tears streaming across my cheeks made a suction at my ear, trapping the phone against my face, shlurping as it pulled away. 

maybe death is like that - a collection of small things like the cold porch, or the distance between the moon and Vietnam, or the exact shade of pink which spread, blotchy, across my weepy round face. because that's all I remember, though I beg the stars to let me hear the melodic mmmmm of your nodding friendship. in the space between my ears, I can perfectly recreate the pitch of your 'yEHs' but it slips through my fingers when I open my eyes. there was a look you gave, a resettling of your body - perpendicular to what irked you - and they did not witness the shift, for they did not hear your heart sighing, and I think it's those silent pieces I cannot shake. the ephemeral essence of you.

speaking of, on Wednesday, a black bird lay lifeless on the porch. still, eyes closed, tucked into itself. I wept on the toilet after baby girl fell asleep, though I imagine three is as good a time as any to know mothers are made of mostly prayers and crumbling rock. it was kind of you to ask God to let me bury a creature, though it took me a full day to get up the courage, and it's soft wings sweeping across the boards as I feebly struggled to scoop it up must've been quite a sight. I think that spot will flower nicely, and maybe I'm braver that I knew, so there's that.

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still. now it is October, and you are still dead, and I suppose I thought it would be different by now.

outside my classroom window, the tall grass blows like cornstalks, all dry yellow and rippled on the stalk. and the world seems much colder and finally honest. as if I know God and the universe and nothing at once, which I suppose has always been true, at least since I birthed a creature from the space beneath my ribs and listened as fairies blew breath into her lungs and fed her with my body and calibrated her heart to my rhythm. funny, how divinity lives in firsts and lasts - breaths, I mean.

and so, anyway, not much else to report, I guess. thinking of getting another cat, or giving away the one we have, or perhaps finally deciding on curtains. perhaps I'll plant our own squash next year, and wait for love in the garden, and listen for your voice on the wind.

highwire

motherhood is a tightrope of immediacy and inevitability, perilously strung above understanding, with me inching along breathing into wobbly steps.

I thought we'd get away, chase down art and beauty in a museum or find a booth and delicious treats to tuck into. maybe you wouldn't see vile hate cutting at the net beneath us. we awoke, and you knew better, so we stayed in bed holding hands, whispering secrets, stitching wings of love to catch our hearts and keep us weightless in the coming days.

the immediate: beyond this home, one mile past our love and joy and split wide open searching hearts, is the raucous, maniacal, wicked wicked wicked hatred of men who grow more obsolete and minuscule with each passing day. their rage is stoked and their passions lit and while we hunkered into one another, they exploded outward sending sonic gusts which whip my tightrope and left me turned upside down, clinging with bleeding fingers to the sharp wire. I spent the day hanging there, stunned, silent, summoning the strength to pull myself up to begin to walk again. I often wonder how ancestors stayed living, chiding myself for wanting to protect my child above all else, believing I ought to be 'out there.'

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today, I called upon centuries of mothers, knowing the thin wire separating me from falling is one walked by millions of brown women across time, each with some terror biting at their toes. each cautiously continuing to step ever forward. each loving their babies in the face of utter madness. in the face of constant, aching, outlandish uncertainty and threats and vitriol and heartache. and they made art, built families, took risks, ushered in eras of beauty, cultivated peace, shook the world with their spirits, invented and just woke up each day. yes, this high wire has me terrified, but tomorrow, as generations of good folk have done, I shall wake to walk the wire again, breathing shakily, but breathing nonetheless and being seen doing so. when you inevitably ask what I did to fight hate, I'll say I loved you into existence and listened for the sunrise calling me on behalf of those who cannot because that is the work of my motherhood.

dénouement

you have not heard me when I shouted of the many self-incarnations which I've slunked off like proper clothes on a wild frame at day's end or something quite the opposite, but as it happens, I was entirely sincere. I have been quite a few women in my time, and not one of them has grown into much of her own being individually, although the whole of me has become mother.

they have become the photographic negative of my existence, some dark x-ray atmosphere which absorbs light, their hypnotic liquidity slowing time like the choreography of summer-stricken New Orleans movement, all languid and loose as if suspended. and I dance with them from afar, keeping time in a morbid pas de deux. I pirouette with a girl who yells bleary-eyed in a courtyard screaming for the neighborhood to hear, and scared they may respond. I lean into a girl flat on her back, pushing with might and grace and fear. in a corner keeping time is the sweet little one beneath covers, counting stars as her anticipation raced beneath the sky. like dancing, the sweaty floundering in the dark existence which has encapsulated these years of motherhood is breath-taking work requiring a reckless abandon coupled with precise footing. 

and I suppose it would be fair to say, indeed quite fair and altogether correct, that I unwittingly, unknowingly, wholly romanticize solitude. and by extension (my) womanhood. and (my) motherhood. and all (my) whole existence, for it hugs my expanded curves and seeking heart as if fitted in some small back room that only women know and can find. 

so it is, in this thick closing act of summer, before the earth heaves at last and coolness consumes the land, that I have found myself. whomever that may be. quite lost in the steps and off-beat. so it is that I come to ask you, what becomes of me? no course remains to follow back to a woman I've never been or have yet to become, and journeying becomes a quite blind act, some highwire trick. these rhythmless, groping times, perilous and yet thrilling, no? 

I did what I do: leaned into words which furnish my soul, clutching sounds in place of reason as potent persuasion twists my curls, an ill-assigned chaperone indeed. I wandered with melodies of daydreams, away from this limbo of my own creation, and into a more pleasant reverie, for the questions are the same: just where does this road lead?

rewetting my lips, I silently catalog my humble French,

gleaned exclusively in films my then-unloved guts felt like ricochets, snuck furiously

into the margins of journals, hieroglyphics

outside the dark theatre.

a volatile spirit in odd years, I learned Nina’s Non Me Quitte Pas

in a single train ride. her voice a blueprint for unrequited love.

I wore less color then, afraid orange would lie about me.

he’d assumed I spoke it well. I have the lips for it,

like anyone. 7’o’clock Paris time, the first of July. his eyes brazenly peeking

beyond my speckled shoulders, tender and hot,

with yesterday’s sun-drenched tonguing

snuck against walls and beneath overhanging flowers.

the girls nine paces ahead (they counted), mimicking a hopping bird nearby,

all blue and yellow spots out the corners of my eyes.

he smelled then of cedarwood and my coffee breath, both gifts –

now soap.

time never crept as slow to earth as that morning in the deli,

bag splayed open on linoleum, desperate for handling,

like me. his brow-beaten wrinkles dreamy with sweat,

paint-covered hands rolling a jar of pasta sauce across tiles –

it was not tomato season and we were running late, I told mother later.

foggy-eyed, parting lips, sweet pea, escaping my throat. my girl’s pigtails whipping

around the corner, her eyes wild lilac wine and secret tales. we raced out

hand in hand and dinner-less, two mad eels buzzing.

we hid behind the popsicle cart attendant

when he passed by us at the market the following weekend.

we met many merchants and farmers this way, 

our bags later heaped with embarrassment bouquets.

his left-hand’s fingers wrapped between a bespectacled girl-person’s, hiding

a possible gold band, and it would be an entire summer of markets

before I was truly his own, wily as any broken-souled thing.

do not leave me, I mouth into the pillow, musky with his sweaty sleep,

the sun’s whisper rays teasing new kissing alleys to be found.

chapter eleven

the moon's orb steadily rises, and from this spot beneath the warmth of you, I let tears silently fall. it's the sort of crying which resonates in my bones, called forth from some ancestral place - it's the crying women do in the dark, and have done in ditches, and pits, and mud holes, and caves. the still, unmoving weeping which we inherit at birth from a thousand generations of women who relinquish themselves to the day and to souls which beg for their attention. and so now, in the night, in this room, beneath the actual weight of my life, I lie and let the pillow beneath me swim in the steady drop of my impenetrable confusion.

this bed is a loaded land, a ticking clock of waiting, and a desperate calling for more. how one inanimate place can become a fully realized existence, I don't know, but here I lie, entirely and heart-breakingly, soul-wreckingly aware of the longing which lives just right here. 

night breaks upon my back, and I toss between worlds, buried and shaking and unnoticed, choking back and coughing up the sour burn of anticipation. and so the orb arcs across the sky, dipping beneath trees, folding into the horizon, and burrowing itself along with its burdens, and I am left with the quickening brightness of dawn. I have denied its return, but faced with day, I welcome the excuse to pad into the kitchen and begin the routines morning. coffee brewing, staring through glass at the weeds which are creeping into the flowerbed, and the stirring of a girl. oh, I have dreamt of your bigness and the burgeoning near-womanhood, but there is remarkably sweet and painfully necessary comfort in the certainty that your smallness remains for at least a while, as if the breath of time keeps pace despite my rushing heart or paralyzed mind, finding a balance I might never create independently. and so my guys shift with the turning of your breath, and I feel your return to this realm in the pits of me, and I lose sight of the weeds as I return to the present moment.

creeping closer, you grab at the folds of my skirt - this tattered thing I've owned since a girlhood not long ago, but distant in familiarity and so long forgotten. you do not say words, but inch fingers closer to my hips until your arms are finally raised, and I know my duty. I lift you toward me, resting your weight upon my hip, and I nuzzle your nose against mine. these are the hours of limited words, and so I point to the flowers which brush against the window, and reach for a mug. 

I can spin a tale, but I cannot shake the constancy of wishing, which claws at my throat and stings my eyes. I simply cannot will our next chapter to begin, and yet today chugs ever forward, despite my resistance.

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a bath. I draw a bath, warm and cloudy. dropping clothing quietly, I heave my sadness across the tub's lip, lifting you along and resting you against the rolls of my belly. and it just falls: the crest of my chest, and the sturdy straightness of my shoulders, and the hurt of waiting for love, and the bubbles, and the hopefulness in your eyes as you cup my face so sweetly, and say not a word as I squeeze out the last drops. for today. 

and then I find your eyes. I lock into our breath, a rhythm we find and recreate and have held since your birth, and I catch your gaze and tell you of the whole truth:

child, I say. your heart is my heart, and when your blood pumps, keeping you upright and alert, know that it rebuilds my very soul. and please know that my sadness is the stuff of womanhood, built and pent up, and pouring from me some mornings, but never yours to own. you have saved my soul, and I am eternally grateful, though I may remain forever longing. girl, I whisper. all I am is yours from the very pit of my hopeful soul to the floating wishes which escape my mind. 

I watch as you pile bubbles across my fallen chest and pull me in for a kiss, and I let all the ever-remaining aching weight of this life find space on the passing breaths we share. and I whisper one last truth.

daughter, I say with confidence, I love you. you have made this world a beautiful dream worth living. I am sad, and I have wants, and it is hard to be me, but you are everything. I love your nose. and I love your heart. and this morning is so much more than I feel I can manage, but this life is so much more than I deserve. thank you.

and you splash big, and the day goes on, because that is the way of things.


diffusing cedarwood + bergamot for clarity and grace. listening to Édith Piaf for strength and courage. 

forming

today the wild warmth of July entwined itself around my thighs, pulling me close to earth, and I wandered with an earned slowness befitting a woman in summer. a storm sat on the heat's back, a heavy burden for such a thick creature, and it took its sweet time brewing. 

I like this word. I rejoice in the anticipation of a thing, and I revel in the relief its final arrival brings, and yet I've never spoken of my own steeping beyond the roar of a whisper. I settled upon the word as I sat languishing in a bath, soaking away the sweat of standing still, and holding back the tears of truth: I am not brave. I do not jump in. I bounce between, yes, and rerouting always, and an arrow perennially fixed on my next mark, but I am not brave. this goes unnoticed. 

the storm has broken now, and it brings a steam to the pavement that reminds me of my youth. it brings a breeze so welcome as to bring entire conversations to a halt. and it brings me face to face with the words I long to say. 

I have journeyed across the country on my own, with my cat and all my possessions strategically packed in no less than five cars and traversed the land. I have tucked into countless corners and closed my eyes, letting the band's music wash over me with no one to talk with after. I left the man I called husband in my heart and have mothered a wild girl for all the days after entirely on my own. I have danced and sung and wept across stages, and poured my heart onto a thousand pages, but I am not brave. 

if I was brave I would tell you that I am desperate for love to hold me again and wrap calm around my heart, a mending I simply cannot give myself. if I was brave, I would shout out loud on my most fraught days and tell you of the wicked words I whisper to myself about the many cracks which exist within me. if I was brave, I would tell you that I find myself crying over boiling water sometimes, my insides similarly bubbling and bursting and at a breaking point. or that I cry sometimes without noticing, my throat full from choking back heartache, the tears with nowhere else to go. see, if I was brave, I would tell you that the consuming, paralyzing love I have for my daughter is only rivaled by the complete and total panic I feel every other second. who is this woman I have become and when can she have peace? when might she look at her body - her strong, capable body - and kindly call it home? that would be brave. when might I take the risk to be heard without biting on my tongue for fear of the voices of others? that would be brave. 

as I watch the rain wash across the earth, replenishing the flowers and buds on the porch, and wiping clean the stifling world, I envy the ease. no one remarks on the bravery of a brewing storm. can you imagine? the ladies whispering behind cupped hands of the audacity the clouds have to burst at this moment. the flowers gossiping that it wasn't enough?

I want to be a mother like nature, content to take my time and unbothered by the desires of others. today I will be brave as the earth, and I will brew steadily, and I will pour at will, and I will burn a hot heat and gust strong, welcome breezes, and I will not apologize for the record highs which came before nor the lows that occasionally pass. I'm just brewing. you brew, too.