prose poems


“Quartz countertops

Smart web-capable apartments

Designer hardwood flooring”

gushes the ad on the side of a recently renovated condo building.  This neighborhood was born rich, the grand landscapes of the park considered a suitable sight for upper class eyes, and it stayed rich.  The carriage houses where residents’ steeds used to stand now hold those of the Lexus and Mercedes breeds.  The soft, gold-tinted glow of track lighting spills from windows onto the sidewalk, and I can’t see anybody living inside.

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The man who’s teaching me conversational Spanish wears a black ankle bracelet that tracks his movements and sets off an alarm, I guess, if he strays outside city or state lines, like those invisible dog fences.  He didn’t kill anyone or steal cars or sell drugs; the worst he did was show up to work one day, the day state police and la Migra decided to show up, too.  My teacher used to be a janitor, earned maybe six American dollars an hour for cleaning up after others in courthouses.  The ironic thing is, now he gets to see the inside of a courtroom without a mop in hand, has traded his work uniform for an ankle bracelet.

At our first lesson he teaches me how to conjugate verbs in the past, present, future (hablé, hablo, hablaré).  Pasado pretérito: He moved here years ago, long enough to raise kids, watch American TV, buy a mini-van.   Futuro: He doesn’t know where he’ll be in two months, so it’s hard to make lesson plans.  Presente: In the meantime, his daughter says, he sits at home and drives her and her two siblings crazy, while his wife looks for a second full-time job.  The oldest girl, who helps translate for her parents and reads a high-school textbook on law, is a few years younger than me (más joven que yo).  Her dad might not see her graduate from the best public high school in the city, if he’s deported.

He asks me whether I’ve ever been there, to Guatemala, and I say no. (It’s the same word in both languages, short and final.)  No, I’ve never visited his home country, but he has been living in mine for years; the tripledecker house he lives in looks like the one I’m sharing now, and I don’t understand, no comprendo, why there isn’t enough room for both of us here.

turquoise. starfish. yesterday. howl. maybe.

good words, but not proper endings. or is there any proper way to end things? I hate awkward goodbyes, would like to go out in style. something along the lines of remember or indeed.

the best finales are quiet ones, after the last drumbeat or note has faded from hearing, with something to cap it, definitively. a last click of an old-fashioned camera rewinding or the period at the end of a sentence. farewell, adieu, those elegant phrasings we’ve traded for “ttyl” and “bye”.

I don’t want to be a ghost, forever whispering the words and comebacks that never managed to birth from my throat while living. the real reason behind my constant writing and telling now: I fear running out of time before running out of stories. death itself, or what may lie on the other side, isn’t nearly as scary as missing out on something grand.

away. beauty. keening. tiger. why.

good thing was, she was driving and therefore couldn’t react with the knee-jerking, eye-popping “what??!” I was half-expecting. didn’t even swerve on the road–I credit years of exercising those tough maternal nerves–but instead, let the silence grow within that closed interior until I wasn’t sure she’d even heard me, what with the chronic tinnitus and all. at least she didn’t start crying, or yelling, or something equally heartbreaking. so I thought I had done a good job breaking the news that her youngest daughter was, in fact, not straight.

(bad timing has always been my bane. born three days late, I snuck into kindergarten several months early, and felt perpetually older than my age. I missed out on my favorite concert once because I had just left town, and almost missed Thanksgiving once because of delayed planes. this time I was sure to wait until after Mother’s Day before I went and dropped the gay-bomb, but it didn’t seem to make a difference. she probably thought it was bad manners, and she raised me better than that.)

fears and worries raised their ugly head when she didn’t say anything at first. then, at long last, she spoke only to ask whether it was that men repulsed me. what? honestly, I would’ve thought she’d ask whether I was sure, how I came to realize it, who I was dating, but she skipped those questions and went straight (ha!) to the “why”. all my easy explanations had to take a backseat with her luggage, and I struggled to tell her that I didn’t dislike guys, it wasn’t that she’d wronged me somewhere since my birth, but words failed to serve as my messengers. how to explain that I found more beauty in any woman’s strength, than even in Brad Pitt’s stubble?

I am a good daughter. don’t feel bad, mom. times might be hard and I know this isn’t easy for you to digest, choke down with wine at big family dinners when you wonder whether I’m going to break open my cover. but I don’t want things to be ugly between us, and aren’t you the one who taught me how to be strong instead of just stubborn?