The State of Things

We stand around her bed—like weeds—rooted and swaying in place to the motions of her breaths.

“You have her hands,” I say to my mom quietly, as she’s stroking grandma’s gracefully long fingers. Somehow this seems to be the most important detail as we drown in the yellow light of the hospital room. It’s a pointless sentiment, already dissipated and forgotten, but my words are worth more when I’m alone, so I grow quiet.

I sit and remember stories, like how grandma beat a soldier with a brick after being attacked on her walk home from work, or how she climbed trees as a child, a tomboy in a sea of frilled dresses and straight postures.

I think about her hands wrapped around her rolling pin, flattening the phyllo against our granite counter tops; imprinting those movements in the stone as if to say: I was here—remember me.

*

Near our first shabby apartment in Cicero, my mom crossed a busy street while carrying groceries. A bag suddenly burst and food went flying, oranges rolling down the dirty road as she chased after them. Feeling exposed and embarrassed, she began to cry as the light turned green, and thought to herself: This is not who I am, while undoubtedly thinking about her mother in Albania—her anchor so far away.

*

I watch her chest rise up and down. I know—before she’s even gone—I’m going to miss the taste of her byrek, and perhaps this is what my mom feared on that dirty street: to never know comfort again, or familiarity. I work hard to draw her consciousness closer to the surface of her skin, sounding out the syllables of her name in each language so I don’t forget. But even then, my efforts bring nothing.

we sit on the edge of fortune

5.

                                              the roof deck gets us close to the clouds.

                                              we lie back and circle our big toes in the air;

                                               i outline a star; you make half a heart.

                                               i reach up higher, poking my toes deeper towards the sky,

                                               but the clouds don’t break.

4.

                                               we learn words exist to scratch an itch

                                               in the backs of our throats. sometimes i have to dig deeper;

                                               but only silence.

                                               you say you know, don’t worry about it. so we both mouth

                                               the syllables together. i smile because you’re an echo

                                               from somewhere deep within me.

3.

                                               vacuums are for outer space, or gathering the remnants

                                               of yesterday’s argument. we exist in one;

                                               sealed tightly, spoiling slowly.

                                                i do best at night–i’m most honest in the dark.

                                                your hand finds mine and undoes the last six years;

                                                i’m perfectly still next to you and think about clouds.

2.

                                                we sit on the edge of fortune,

                                                the ledge as thin as playing cards, inside a glass house

                                                stones and opinions in clear view all around.

                                                orchids thrive in low sunlight, little water.

                                                we outgrow our humble pot.

1.

                                                 listen here, i say.

                                                 the sun doesn’t rise with me. i was born

                                                 beneath the moon’s rays, so excuse my moods,

                                                 falling and rising with the tides.

                                                 we learn love can fill a room, a house;

                                                 it ascends, high and warm. we hold tight, eyes closed.

Myths

I’m the girl who whispers Fuck you like a curse,

immobilized by indecision,

trepidation

c        a        l        c        i         f       y        i        n        g

The doctor said my bones are brittle

so I drank kerosene and ran all the way home,

hoping the friction of joints twisting and bending

would cause a spark–

I was always fascinated by the phoenix

but scoffed at reincarnation;

religion buried me

mythology set me free.

I cried when I made it home, breathless,

and still in one piece.

I had never been so disappointed to be alive;

I had never felt the world tilt within me,

as if I was spinning slowly on an axis.

There’s A Burning

I feel a rise in my chest that speeds up

and                                        slows                                     down

like a bird trapped inside my rib cage,

wings shrinking, but not their power.

I’m afraid I’m going to throw up;

eyes blur, and for a moment I think I’m fainting,

but it’s only the hot sun

and I didn’t know I had been staring,

until my head feels like a berry on a tree,

maturing—growing heavy, weary—dying.

I push on my temples to stop the noise

of disappointment—static reception of a shitty

radio station with signals neither              here

nor                         there—

I have no boundaries so I hear the noise,

I hear the clatter,

I hear you catching your sobs                     in                           your                       throat

and it’s in perfect rhythm with the bird inside by chest.

I never promised eternal happiness or peace,

as the sun never promised the simple comfort of warmth;

sometimes we burn until there’s nothing left,

only hearsay of what happened that one time long ago.

The Shoe Ritual

When I was a child and learned to dress myself, I’d run around with one shoe on,

the other foot trailing with a sock slipping around the ankles. I’d walk with an uneven limp,

and growl “yeeesss, maaassster,” like I had seen an Igor-type do on T.V.,

one foot elevated inside a shoe, the other dragging behind in mock disability.

When my mother caught me with one shoe on my foot and the other in my hand, she said:

“Put that back on. It’s bad luck.”

“But why?”

“Because it is.”

And so I did.

 

When I was older, I’d often wander around the mall with my mother. Between racks of fabrics

and makeup counters, and hanging purses, and silver jewelry,

we’d always end up in the shoe section last. I’d slip off my shoe and scrunch my face;

it looked old—traveled—next to the ones in the box; tissue paper balled up inside,

the soles crisp with no traces of the world’s smudge. I put on one new shoe and strutted

towards the mirror, my other socked foot on tiptoes to balance my walk.

“Come back here and put the other shoe on. It’s bad luck,” she said.

“But why?”

“Because it is.”

And so I did, before she added:

“It means you’ll be widowed young. So just put it on.”

No eye contact, no smirk, no I got you, didn’t I? She looked down the whole time, focused on my laces.

 

When I was teetering on adulthood—on madness—and still waking from recent dreams

that treaded the line between fiction and reality, I’d sit on the edge of my bed,

silently urging myself to get dressed. To move. To do anything that marked the start of the day.

It was ritualistic, numbingly simplistic. Not so much the sitting as the thought process that followed it.

The putting on of the pants. The socks. And finally, the shoes. Squeezing both feet in quickly,

not one step to be made with one un-shoed foot.

The empty routine mocked my rationality, and I hated the exposure to the nonsensical,

at such a young age. This is the stupidest thing, my mind would tell me. And I’d nod solemnly.

 

When I was well into adulthood, silently navigating the gales, I tempted fate.

Little by little, I’d take a half step. Then a full step. Each morning after getting dressed.

Which shoe looks best, I’d ask myself as I whirled in front of the mirror; one foot in a heel,

the other tipped on the big toe just to level out. I’d take a half step forward, before going back again,

hoping the universe worked with rewinds.

Maybe just this one time, I’d rationalize. It’ll be okay to walk.

Like someone lacking common sense or education—lacking the means to reason—worry

would crowd my mind with what-ifs, becoming the personification of “one step forward,

two steps back.”

His face would come to mind and I’d play out our whole happy life in the moment it took me to do the shoe’s strap.

I’d tear up at the thought of his untimely death, all because of my obstinate nature rejecting folklore; superstition.

Because I never learned to put on both of the damn shoes.

 

I struggle with obeying, but also with disobeying. But the shoe ritual.

I’m good at the shoe ritual. I’m good at replaying moments in my head, until words break down

to hollow echoes and leave me with nothing more than a feeling that it must’ve meant something, sometime.

 

I get dressed for work. In goes one leg, then the other, before I sit back down again

on the edge of my bed, waiting for a collision or an upheaval to mark the start of the day.

My shoes are sloppily toppled over each other, waiting for action. I pull one over with my big toe

and slip my foot in, before standing up to examine the outfit.

Put that other shoe on, my eyes say.

But why?

Don’t play with fire, I answer myself. You’ve already lost him.

Flatlines

There is poetry in ugliness;

a melody in arguments that we play in our heads,

over and over; like a song whose words

we forget but still mumble through the chorus;

the climax on loop until I’m angry all over again,

only to be outdone by sadness.

I read articles where the tone makes a sharp turn

into last year; five years ago; yesterday.

And I shredded the map to this part of my mind long ago,

unaware that one day–yet again–I’d be backtracking, methodically,

to make less sense of phrases hurled long ago.

And this hurts; these blips in our relationship,

like flatlines on a heart monitor where we both go numb and limp

around each other: this didn’t happen. We don’t exist.

 

What are we really,

if not atoms crashing into each other, hoping for a mate?

If not columns built from elaborate truths and visions

of how we see things unfolding ten years down the line,

only to learn late in life that the future is a cloud of smoke

and we are fading echoes of our pasts.

Forget-Me-Not

Tell me you love me just as much on the days I wish for emptiness,

as on the days when I surprise you with boundless love.

Like when I bring you flowers each April and you ask why I always pick the bunch that’s

closed off to the world, not yet awake to the awaiting judgement.

And I tell you they’ll last longer this way,

but really, I secretly measure your love for me by how long you keep those flowers alive,

as if my title of daughter relies on the delicacy of a plant not made for longevity,

and on the worst of days, I don’t believe I am made for it either.

Each day I ask if you’ve trimmed the stems and changed the water

as I eyeball the vibrancy of the bruise colored petals,

and I wonder how nature can know  what my insides look like.

But you do your part and I too, feel myself blossom, beaming

at the attention you thrust upon them, even though the bright purple

eventually – inevitably – darkens at first, as if giving forth one final burst of life

before settling on a rusty brown that makes my own heart ache dully

to count another April behind us, and another year ahead of us

to flit around the corners of our coexistence, trusting each other’s intentions

but instead measuring our own worth by the other’s actions.