* Who are you and whom do you love? When I find out the truth about my birth, I already have two children of my own. * What do you remember about the earth? I am six and the terrible grandmother has come to live with us. She smells of tobacco and the green eucalyptus- mint Valda pastilles she is always popping into her mouth from a tin hidden in her robe pocket. A game I like to play with some of the neighborhood kids involves taking turns putting Necco wafers in each other's mouths while intoning "The body of Christ." We are careful not to bite down so as not to cause the body of Christ to bleed. Then we walk around the grassy perimeter of the truck yard pretending we are floating, until the candy has melted and our tongues turn lime green, orange, or pink. * How will you begin? A book about mountains, and roads carved into them by hand. A book made of animal offerings suspended in the trees. A book about salt blocks left in the valley for deer. * Describe a morning you woke without fear. I am in third grade. I am standing in the bathroom in front of the mirror, swiveling the tiny little bit of bone that's been lodged for as long as I can remember in my upper gum, right above a front tooth, back and forth. When it finally comes loose, I hold it between my index finger and thumb. * Tell me what you know about dismemberment. When I first come across the word "debridement," I pronounce the middle vowel as a long ī. As in bride. Because one of my daughters is taking a Women's Studies course on sex and marriage, I try to recall what I learned at her age about such things. It was a time when feminine products were unwieldy things: a bulk of cotton wrapped with gauze, safety-pinned to the crotch of underwear. Mostly, my mother told me to behave while handing me a copy of On Becoming A Woman, a book written and published in 1951 by a male doctor. The cover depicted a brunette with what might have been described as a becoming flush on her cheeks, walking past two young men in suits. The one sitting on a bench has two-tone saddle shoes on his feet. The other, standing, sports a bow tie. Both of them are obviously looking her up and down. Checking her out. She is definitely aware. [Note: as a lead-in to the 12-year anniversary Sunday, 20 November 2022, of my writing at least a poem a day, I decided to use Bhanu Kapil's famous "12 Questions" as a prompt. There are the first six. My students in Advanced Poetry Workshop and I have been using it too, also because one of our course texts this semesteer was Chen Chen's Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency— he also uses "12 Questions" for a number of poems in his new book.]
You're wrong: evolution isn't something that stopped happening sometime in the past—If it helps, think more of those moving walkways you see at airport terminals, with people standing on the right who seem perfectly content to let themselves be borne along at a steady rate, while others who want to move faster than the conveyor belt stride through on the left so the plane doesn't leave without them. Then there are those who eye change with suspicion; or worse, insist on a story they might have pickled or slapped together along the way: for instance, the statewide mandate to teach schoolchildren that Native Americans were "the first immigrants" to this nation. That one is plainly a lie even Magellan or Columbus would see right through—after all, didn't they want to be the first? Maybe a better subject for study is the evolution of crabs, which excites scientists no end because apparently, they have evolved at least five times over the last 250 million years, sometimes losing crabby features, sometimes gaining newly interesting ones. Why some are small as a pea and others wear the face of doomed Samurai warriors on their backs is still a mystery. Some are true or carcinized crabs, which makes it sound like they might have served jail time. There are forward-moving crabs and crabs that only walk sideways; crabs that swim and others that live in the mud. Crabs with giant claws become shell-crushing predators in an ecological arms race. You can tell the false crabs by counting how many pairs of walking legs they have: three instead of four, with a miniature, sorely undeveloped-looking pair in the rear.
Today, a library and lounge in a building next to a pond and fountain were dedicated to the late father of a writer friend. His father was a Physics professor in the university where I teach. When he started teaching, I must have been five years old; at that age, the most urgent thing was either the itchy sweater I was always made to wear, or how my kindergarten teacher wouldn't let me go to the bathroom until recess. But in the new library, we stood in the space where students will work on formulae or equations, next to six mahogany bookcases. They're filled with books like The Theory of Everything, The Quest to Explain All Reality, Theoretical Mechanics of Particles and Continua, or The Geometry of Spacetime. Old colleagues and students stepped up with stories—one said she wanted so badly to drop the course; then was glad the professor wouldn't let her. And I thought, this is what it can mean for a life to connect. Right under the ceiling, hundreds of wires all different colors ran through the corridors, each with a different purpose. Circuits were laid for heat, mechanics, light, electricity, magnetism. And there must have been someone in your life who once pointed out the chalk-white stars, explained the shape and motion of bodies; the energy of wind, the mysteries of water. ~ for Michael Khandelwal
Can you imagine others who'll come after you (if it were possible, meaning, if the world you know wouldn't have ended yet), sorting through photos on thumb drives or in the Cloud, piecing together parts of stories they heard second- or third-hand? Perhaps the one you took outside your first apartment, standing in front of your first car (a blue compact sedan) with the key in one hand and the loan agreement in the other, wondering if you should've smiled when the agent at the dealership boomed Congratulations! doesn't this make you feel more American now? and wondering if you should have told him your naturalization ceremony was two months down the road? Perhaps, that first Christmas when you and your husband went back and forth about going out for a real tree, and then when you finally decided, it was too late and there was no more to be had from any of the lots nearby? Will they notice that in some of the pictures taken in more recent summers, your hair has gotten visibly thinner at the top? The panoramic view makes the living room wider and the kitchen somehow more cozy. There's the hand-me-down piano that took five people to carry across the threshold. There's the counter perennially piled with books out of place next to a bowl of fruit, where on holidays or celebrations you'd lay out a food offering for the ancestors.
According to recent reports, it's nine years before climate crises reach their tipping point. Apocalypse is on everyone's minds, everyone's lips, everyone's playlist. Grate the cheese coarse or fine, you know it comes from cows. In stores across the UK, activists take milk from shelves, kick bottles across the floor after pouring out the contents— melodrama of protest to turn meat-eaters and -producers off their predisposition as carnivores. Couldn't that have quenched the thirst of children in refugee camps, served a purpose other than such lofty waste? What are we under obligation to do, what could we even do? Today, #World- WarIII was trending (again) after missiles blew up grain facilities. You can make up stories if you want, but everyone's tired. Tired of Zooming, tired of the virtual, of arguments over what it means to use -x in Filipinx or Latinx or other gendered words for people. Vintage clothing stores have popped up everywhere— thrifting's become not only trendy but a way to cut waste, reduce emissions and water consumption. Just look up the rate of pollution caused by fast fashion. Upstate last summer, I nabbed a Marimekko dress for $2 and was as happy as a legit fashionista might be... I'm not digressing. All this is just to say I've been wavering on a more daily basis between heartache and fear of the inevitable: looming mortality, fuse boxes shorting in the night while we sleep, the will I drafted ten years ago, mostly listing my emotional assets— but then, suddenly, I want a fedora and a faux fur jacket.
When my oldest child was nearly two and still breastfeeding, the women in my family tried to convince me it was time to wean; to put a stop to breasts filling up and engorging, then as if on cue leaking at her slightest whimper. Fig-shaped and tapered, these bowls flooded ducts with their milky sap—oh how this liquid laminated the lips, the throat that bore it through the body's silo like waterfalls of grain. I was offered what they called a remedy: stroke the juice of red chilies on the dark ring around each nipple like a wound, introduce the sour burn of a first repulsion— but how could I bear it? It's said a parent's duty goes beyond feeding and rearing, beyond lining the nest so an otherwise unnatural world might somehow feel warm as that womb of first remembrance. When we say nature takes its course, we mean what happens will take its place among the sign- posts of a life with no need for any intervention. Faster than seasons fruit and shatter, time takes the horns again and steers them. In the end, I am the one straining to hear a word, aching for the clutch of need once fastened to my breast as if it could never bear such cleaving.
everything— the child says. Meaning, every story from the past, that drafty old mansion whose damp corridors she never walked but whose general outline she glimpses like a shape tissued in fog. Now it is a ruin, of course. Sometimes, at dinner or driving somewhere in the car, parts surface— The alcove where I lay on a high bed, sheets up to my neck; the sewing room where the mothers sat with pins in their mouths and thimbles on their fingers. Rooms filled with cigar smoke and trays of highball glasses, amber-colored liquid that burned my curious throat when I crept out of my room to see what grownups did after I'd gone to bed. I know what she wants, because I want it too— every keyhole through which I might squint, every shade shielding the bulbs that flickered a certain way in the corners; every broom closet a hiding place, every tiled bathroom wall against which a girl could be thrust and made to press her outline. Every pull cord to flood these spaces with indelible light.
"One must dare to be happy." ~ Gertrude Stein Night = enchantment = migration of folded-wing shadows? Night = space between rain and tornado watch = mudslicked forecast? A bird repeats its long syllables somewhere out of sight. It says it is tired of being heartsick for days and just wants to slip inside the moon's eclipsing. Can you understand how even a moment of suspension softens some of the boundedness of time? Night = the breathing mechanism of waves = the bolus of dead tissue lifted clean from my mother's thigh. Night = the ceiling above her = the pink light she washes in on waking. Sometimes I dream that night = a road cloaked in fog = me turning around to see I am the one pushing to move beyond. Night = I am sorry for such thoughts = small maps of moss. I touch my fingers to their insistences, their coiled flags of green rebuke.
"...& take everyone through the wound of it." ~ Chen Chen My body is the sudden drop into darkness at the end of daylight saving time; is the summer of power-washing mold from the walls, and the unsettling pain of posterior deltoids; is the night it heard the green mourning cries of crickets in the field, and a chorus of frogs answering; is the city that comes into view as a bus rounds a curve, but only as a faded outline of lights. My heart is the terror that entered one side; and how it left, bereft, on the other. My love is only as round as a new potato pulled up from soil, only as glamorous as a seahorse's skull—I know nothing about how they came to be what they are, only the mystery of their presence in the world.
A wave of starlings sweeps across rooftops. Are we all at first so unsuspecting of our true nature?