I walk into the palm reader’s storefront on 8th Avenue, hoping to find out if I will be rich, and if the woman I’m dating is the love of my life. She holds my hands open to narrate my creases.
She looks up then past me. My ear warms. I go where her eyes go. Outside the window there’s a pedestrian’s stroll, parked tires, and, across the street, men laugh with martinis in their hands. I turn back around and her lips are leveled with my throat: there is a boy no more than five who is with you.
My brow furrows into What? She sits back, her hands on her gut and tells me, this all I sees.
There were no dead pigeons on our wedding day
since we are not married. That is the black mamba’s mouth
my hair matches, men want to take to it their hands.
Nothing brings you into this night I wrap into a bun.
I’m something strange and unusual in the mornings.
There were horseshoes pressed in my chest from
the nightmares’ stampede. My eyes that are beneath
lids wake and place me in bushes of your battlefield.
Each flutter bleeds like a ruby’s edge. That is you who
lead me to my ledge where I search for what makes
Long Island Sound. Not one drink I’ve had last time
there was rain and trees shivered in my window.
When you moisten my breast, don’t you taste
a startling cry that beckons for another’s echo?
That is my throat’s muted canyon I stuff with beef
and bread, throw hot water on, so it runs from my yard.
This boy child that is in me grows like nothing in my garden;
my hands unable to make soil welcoming for a flower
or vegetable. There are my knees’ aches and pops when I rise
from dirt with not a color to show my bent back.
There is scraped sky I feel on my neck; planes pass east
or west, away or to JFK; sometimes I think they’ll collapse
because whatever sphere it glides will miscarry and broken
heaven will heave living bodies and a blackbox.
That is me who will carry it from the street and let sit
on the dining table until it dissolves and appears notes:
the pilots’ panic phrases, epileptic lines that is my hair’s
cursive on my lips, the language it slips into my mouth.
From breath I blow fog. I write on four panes,
windowed in my chest. There are phrases tinted red.
You are not so daring to mine this mouth of mine.
That is my body I’m willing to barter for your deep stare.
I want more than change we can part with in belief
it will fix this need. You do not come from outside glass.
My heart frames you: wiping spoons until your face
is held there like silver does a president.
The tongue has a mind of its own.
It drives me left on Christie until I come
to the circle in the road, past the building
with heaps of steel and debris at its doorsteps.
When will it come from that lot and stop gridding sunlight?
Right on Fulton, at the stop sign, near the penny store.
The women with little candies in big jars
Don’t like little kids with pennies.
When the baby comes its all these left turns.
Past Bee’s restaurant where we craved the fried chicken;
the taste for it clawed my mouth,
and I thought it was him taking first grabs.
They tell me to breathe with each contraction.
I want to keep it in my lungs, suffocated.
Instead, I breathe deep and long
until the snake in my belly is cooled.
When the doctor says he's coming tail first,
I decide to breathe for myself.
He weighs as much as a watermelon.
Heavy, sweet, black seeds and his eyes as glistening.
If I take each part of him,
plant them in the yard, what would be the fruit on his trees?
He is beautiful. His face a remix of all those dead faces I know.
I put flowers on his pillow and spend the night in prayer.
His peculiar sounds name things
in words I don’t know; I write them down.
Blebah is for that mole on my neck.
Geega is my eyes distant and without.
Sometimes translations are difficult—
he’s given word to a mood I have not met.
I set him in the center of the streetlight.
No one notices the baby for the yellow.
The concern is can I go faster?
Can I make it before causing a collision?
Can I? Can I? Can I?
I cannot offer him my presence.
Why should I give to him first what I do not have?
No handshake to his small hand.
I cannot confirm I’m here, solid and alive.
The journey to alive is through barb
and thorns and manicured walls.
He wants me present. Each cry is roll call,
regardless of the hour. I place him deeper
and deeper away, give him to a minotaur’s care.
I love him like why I don’t weep in public.
Like dumbwaiters. Like a chore that attests
to my ability to do well.
I love him unlike my shortcomings bureau.
There is no map to stress where I’ve gone.
I’m here or there.
Turn, keep turning,
disorient tracks so song plays sideways.
He reminds me to function.
My breast: milk.
My heart: pump.
My body warms. It’s blue
and moans under secret covers.
Wakes, goes, does verbs. Yes, I am
his mother but what is my location?
He comes for sure. In a clean suit, a tie sucking sky
into its seams, and tells me in a guttural bird song,
as if his tongue is cobbled, he wants to meet his grandson.
His words float the foot-long distance from mouth
to my ears. He smiles gums to match the tomato in my hand.
I haven’t seen him since I was eight. The surprise of my father
keeps him at the welcome mat. I didn’t expect him to come
with brown of his face, smooth and dirt free, his hair black
and petroleum slick. My heart beats half his own, hiccups
and not a spoonful of sugar or glass of water can remedy
gasps and spasms in the hull of my breast.
When he takes me by pulse, his hand is an ocean’s
pull; the tug of what holds me up, slips each time I step back.
It reaches like a lover who does not want the absence of me.
I return to being a child: It is the first time I’ve seen the Atlantic,
afraid to step in, he lifts me. My belly to his spine
tight as barnacle to stone. Now water comes between us.
He is gone again. The way summer goes and I wonder
when was it the lawn lost its green, and who invited
snow that refuses to let go the feet of whomever’s passing?
I’ve been dreaming giggles. The sound of small feet. I wake in the middle of night because I feel someone crawling into my bed. There is weeping;sometimes me singing songs about birds or numbers or saying chuleta to a curly-head boy with a big blue ball. Dreams and reality have blurred and my sleep is restless.
My priest friend tells me, if it’s true a little boy is with you, leave him things a boy his age would want. I buy candy, action figures, and offer sweet breads and water where my photos of friends and family sit with books.
Each morning the water is gone, and the action figure moved to another part of the room.
The waterfall doesn’t welcome me before
it takes off my clothes. I reached pebbled land.
When I step from my office, I will have to give reason
for why I won’t eat, why I won’t drink, why I speak the loud call
of a red-billed toucan. Lately, a storm has mistaken
my spine for the horizon—
my hair, a disheveled nimbus. I figured it’s best to sit
at my desk with no clothes to sip the deluge.
I have a taste and thirst for things that leave and never arrive.
Since closed doors don’t keep my friends and son out
they will want an introduction to the women, once black,
now marooned on a border with Suriname,
whose people don’t match me in language, but when I split
my skin someone claims me as cousin, demands to know
where I’ve been. They say my father talks so much about me,
they take me into their hands and tell me it is here
they escaped when sugarcane was too much to cut.
There have been many visits. I was trying to work
when they first came. One called me by first name.
We adored the aquarium of each other’s stare.
She told me to come. Wherever I stand, I desire the place I left.
When I open the door, I will have to explain my swimming.
My breath is out because their stories needed room—
both they and I wonder, how it is the sun lives in two?
I had to arrive back at dry pages to write:
its living is burning less…
beneath our skin is the flash of an alarm….
Tonight the moon is hunter.
I’ve been on the rag for three days
and someone’s moving the things in the house:
in the bathroom, retired cutlery constellates,
waits for me to run bathwater. Family photos
next to Uncle Bens and the plunger in the pantry.
Same day the bananas and milk I bought are gone.
Twice this week I woke, my hair strummed
across my face, my feet slipped into kitchen knives.
If you listen to my ear, the window
holds a voice, I hear call, let me out.
Tall, misty figure in my yard gazes at the moon.
At his feet, in a bottle that can hold gallons of vodka,
is my son. The man turns to look at me when I shout,
Let him alone. I arrive to the yard with not a breath
in my chest, still in my night gown. The tall man is gone
when I kneel into his footprints with room to spare,
face to face with a panic letter and tears, my son’s
screams exhausted from the thick travel through glass.
My fist makes not one crack; I dig a brick from the garden’s
ground until my nails are dirt and worms scratched.
The lawn dulls each strike’s clamor. My hands,
I can feel without breaking skin, bleed.
I’m thankful neighbors come from no houses,
turn on no windows to watch from. They will suspect
I put him here until he jams and sweetens.
This is what happens when he runs into the street.
He has not learned he cannot play when it’s dark—
his ears recall what I say, nothing.
Now I have to labor him out of his suffocation.
He will understand my efforts are to protect.
You cannot undo me with a knot. You cannot clear the world of whetstones and steal the
blacksmith’s tools. You are not planarian or starfish. This is not the game where backsies
are allowed. Where you trick the sleep with sheet bend. Your paper dolls do poorly in
sunless forecasts. Not redwood or turtle. The strung cranes will fall to the bathmat. Cells
will spill bitter colors. It must be done if a bouquet is to be made. You are cancelled from
speech. An expletive to fill mother, son. You cannot make edges meet in its original
sin. You cannot Flemish eight the fault. Wash your hands of overhands, you cannot
have another minute. It is how I draw the line.
Then I called my friends.
Met by “you have reached…,”
their unavailable presence
begged “please leave
Beep: chords chirp, exhale
a dense river’s mouth, lips
that part and gesture to word,
the threshold that swallows
without no bones remains,
breast that grows firm in your
touch, the pacing
that polished the floor, dark wood refuses
reflection, the collapse
of the shadow beneath the spine,
the yellow can speed my go
or brake stop
I am having an emergency.
I let her in.
A woman without her life and the child she wanted to birth.
She came through the front door.
Passes by me.
She’s a no-relation ghost.
Takes herself into my son’s room.
Out of his sleep, she guides him into the dining room
crossing a busy street.
His left hand in her right, warm still from the blanket.
Tells him she’s going to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches….
From where this blade come….?
An eye waking.
It bleeds two years
of two hands
pinching pomegranate seeds.
Lacerates as long
as her polite smiles.
He will walk without
the skin’s caul.
His wail is the first time I saw him alive:
Isa, for a boy.
To my breast
my arms bring his face,
his lids lift back this sleep.
He is gone.
She invites the knife into my hold.
She goes and leaves
us beneath a chandelier blind.
I name him Apple. His skin,
red-bruise. For play between
dirt and water and sun
to become sweet. For red
that dangles from limbs. For he
who has been weaned from sap.
He holds his neck, and hides the
blossom for Eve’s hunger.
Arisa White received her MFA from UMass, Amherst. She's a Cave Canem fellow, and the author of Post Pardon, Hurrah’s Nest, and A Penny Saved. Her debut collection, Hurrah's Nest, won the 2012 San Francisco Book Festival Award for poetry and was nominated for a 44th NAACP Image Award, the 82nd California Book Awards, and the 2013 Wheatley Book Awards. A 2013-14 recipient of an Investing in Artist Grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation and a regional representative for Nepantla: A Journal Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color, Arisa is a faculty advisor in creative writing at Goddard College. She lives in Oakland, CA, with her wife. arisawhite.com