A Partial List of Things You’ll Miss When You Leave Alayna Greene

The Britney Spears socks she gave you, holes in the big toes, the ones that made her legs look long long long, and how you’d kiss her forehead when she wore them; the hairs she’d shed that always seemed to make their way into your mouth no matter what, even when she was gone; the DS game with the Japanese synchronized singing monkeys, you and Alayna singing along with them, laughing over their song; the caricatured photos you got done in a mall somewhere, Alayna thinking her lips were too pouty, you easing her self consciousness for the rest of the night; the stop sign you dismantled from its pole, octagonal abs under your shirt when you stuffed it and made your escape; the heart shaped stone you saved from being skipped across the pond and the way she called you a dork when you gave it to her, and then it was forever known as the dork stone; the watercolor trees she painted for you, delicate linework, sprouting from the clouds and reaching for the ground; the medal you earned from the Spartan race, Alayna puking in a plastic bag when it was over and you contracting a three week rash, taking vinegar baths for the duration, smelling like Easter; the piece of toast preserved in sandwich baggy, her insisting it bore the image of Jesus, you saying it looked more like a bearded Christopher Walken, putting off the inevitable call you’d make to the local news station, until it was too late; the shard of mirror you kept after she shattered it with a steaming tea kettle, scalding water burning into hardwood; the telescope you and Alayna used to scope out UFOs, only ever catching the scarred face of the moon, a couple satellites, the windows of a nighttime 747, passengers unaware, some asleep, others staring back out into the night; the handwritten tabs to an old Death Cab song, Alayna’s middle school boy lyrics interposed onto them so that she will follow you into the fart; the button from the boxers you tore when she threatened to leave for the first time, cloth burn from tearing at it, ripping your finger open, smearing blood on the tatters of your underwear as she told you to stop, just stop; a loose plank you stole from the House on the Rock, standing at the edge of the infinity room and wondering if this really is forever; the happy Buddha statue she got from a yard sale and gave to you, then threw into Lake Michigan because she “saw where your eyes were going,” fireworks overhead signalling a reminder of our independence, and sparklers, and a look daddy it’s so bright; a fortune from a cookie from the place with the name that made no sense, Three Happiness, this one reading, “The well you’re drawing from has already run dry.”; the Mario Kart game you always let her win at till you couldn’t let her win anymore and every race became vicious, just like that, making the last turn, heading into the final lap; the Buddha she carved from wood, reclining under the Bodhi Tree, and the poem you gave her in return, not measuring up, drawing tears but for the wrong reason, ending up torn and in the trash, the statue placed over the fireplace; the paint stirrer stained a cerulean blue from the first coat she put on in the new place, and deep dish pizza eaten on hardwood floor, no furniture yet, laughing with mouths full, cross-legged, boxes everywhere; the notes you crumpled and then un-crumpled, hid away in a drawer somewhere, things like, “Working late tonight. Leftovers in fridge. Don’t stay up for me.”; the pillowcase you stained with your sweat, her pillowcase, stained because you’d spoon it on the nights when she’d come home at like 2:30, crash on the couch and be gone in the morning before you even woke up so it was like she wasn’t ever there at all; the ticket stubs you found in the recycling, the collection she’d once made of all the movies you’d seen together, some so old you couldn’t even read the ink anymore, Alayna insisting she was just cleaning house; the zafu you’d bring out when she still wasn’t home and you needed to breathe, your cat nuzzling against your arm as you meditated, bugging you until you practically had to pet him, him meowing till you’d say something back, then resting his head on the cushion and going to sleep; the bike you took out on your day off, on a whim, riding forty miles north, just needing to go up up up, going twenty miles without water in the heat, vision becoming a black tunnel leading only away, popping a tire on the way back and riding that way for miles, till the rubber was shredded beneath the rim and the metal scraped sparks against gravel; the weight vest you loaded all the way up without prior practice, running eighteen miles, something happening in your chest like a glass being broken on pavement, and stopping at the banks of Lake Michigan in the shimmering quiet, peering into all that dark, one foot out and ready to step in, and taking off the vest instead, tossing it in and watching as it disappeared into nothing; the shirt you wore when you came back home from work that night, fog rolling over the park on your walk back, and how you needed to stay there, to sleep on the grass, and when you woke up in the morning the shirt was plastered to your body and you had a cough for a week but were otherwise fine; the key you gave back when it was time to go, and the cry you shared, a tired one, with love still coloring the edges of it, leaning on each other so you wouldn’t fall down down down, and the very last kiss you planted on her forehead.

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From the Outside

When you get back in and close the patio door to the lightning bugs trying to Morse code their way inside, your mother’s hand on the bathroom floor will limp-grab the door, try to open it, fail, then open, palm-upwards, like it’s Sunday Mass and she’s waiting for communion, and there will be a wine cooler pool beneath her head, empty pill bottle next to it, eyes arcing an orbit from right to left, then disappearing behind lids, and you’ll sit her up the way you did last time, scoot her over to the tub and run the water and the way she’ll fight you as you touch your finger to the back of her throat, but the pills will have taken away much of her strength and the pills will come back up, half-formed, like the sickle of a moon you’d point your telescope at on nights when the light pollution cleared and you could see more than just a couple stars, while your mother moves in delirious ways now, swaying into the tub where the water’s already swirling the pills into a whirlpool, reaching for the ones she can grab hold of and trying to bring them back to her mouth like a toddler with a clump of dirt, pulling now at the shower curtain, bringing the rod down onto her, curtain in the water, splashed at and making warbled sounds, the water getting into your eyes, and when you try to clear the water from your eyes she’ll catch your ear with her palm and you’ll tumble into the tub and onto the curtain, water still running, pills still circling the drain but not able to find it for the plug that’s covering it, and her arms will become a flurry behind you, bringing you to your back so your eyes are just underwater and everything is a foggy bubble world of ever shifting things, and your mother’s hands will seem limp even as they clutch your throat, the warble of the water hitting plastic even louder here, under the water, where the bathroom’s light warps and bends like a faulty sun in a patchy sky, your feet kicking like two limp fish beached on a pier, hooks in mouths or maybe already down their throats, tugging at vital insides, and you’ll come up just long enough to hear the way your mother’s slurring her words, voicing them ceaselessly, not meaning anything but saying them anyway, her eyes two pale rocks you’d skip across a quiet lake, etched in, looking at you as you hear the way your breath sounds like it’s coming from somewhere outside of you, when you can take it, for just the second you’re out of the water, before going back down again, some of the water going in your mouth and down your throat, icing your stomach, your clothes plastered to the frame of your child’s body, socks slipping halfway down your feet and already soggy, her nails sliding around your neck like ice skates on fresh ice, falling into grooves and slipping out of them again, the pills orbiting like planets above your eyes, water rising higher so you can’t reach the surface, shower rod clanging onto the floor and sounding here underwater like a bell being tolled in a town far away from here, your mother slipping on the water that’s spilled onto tile and so sliding forward, forcing head’s back against tub’s porcelain, your eyes pulling open to let in more light, bubbles from your mouth popping at the surface, everything edged in black now, hazy and indistinct like the world in a fog on a summer’s night, and when you call out it’s a sound apart from you, a noise you’ve never heard before, and the rest of the water comes in, spilling, and the way the black looks when it comes in and wraps you up is like waking and sleeping at once, pulling yourself away from yourself so you can see, finally, what it all looks like from the outside.

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Togo, je t’aime

You meet the Togolese nurse in a small café on the piedmont slopes of North Carolina. She swirls stories out of her coffee and onto your hand, places and people long forgotten. Animists animated from memory, voodoo curses, and the way black magic can determine the fates of men and nations. She tells you of child merchants plying their trade, un-hagglable, fierce at what they do these children. Of women dipping their babies gently into whorling ocean, surf clinking their anklets and reflecting dazzling light. She speaks of pre-med days caring for the old, the light that appears in the eyes of those so close to death, the way it changes you to see that. You tell her stories of unincorporated life on the edge of Chicago, swinging across creeks on strung-up rope, sledding down hills on the lids of trashcans. Of food trucks and the vendors who sell elote en vaso. Of skaters skitching behind cars, faded white Adidas running black from the tar they kick up.

You walk with her down to the mural carved out of an old tobacco factory’s broad wall, brick chimneys reaching up to black clouds now bleached white, white brick lettering to spell out the old company’s name, all of it condemned. You sit on the grass beside these paintings and run your fingers over the roughness of the brick made smooth. Take her hand in yours and guide her to the mortar. She tells you she hasn’t felt a man’s touch in years, since she left her little land in the west of Africa. Had forgotten its simple roughness, the firmness of it. She colors her stories with dabs of French, and you keep pace with what you remember. She smiles at your pronunciation and you want to kiss her forever.

She tells you she wants to take you to Lomé, wants to live there with you. You consider this great going away, this leaving everything behind, the homes you’ve settled before left like anthills abandoned on the cracks of a sidewalk, the cultures you’ve collected, languages half-spoken, as if in a dream. You study the stitching of her dress, form fitting, red and green and yellow with black trimming each edge where the colors meet, like mortar on a brick wall.

She goes with you to your house. You collect your things into suitcases and bags and trunks, crickets calling out into nothing, to a sky that grabs the stars and pulls them down to where they can be seen. Dew sits on grass blades and red clay earth sinews down gravel road where the woods line the boundary of your land. You take her onto the suitcases, sliding onto the floor, dress rising over hips as you do this thing together.

You picture the way your family will react when they see pictures of her, after you post them to your feed, her royal cheekbones and skin the color of the coffee she swirled onto your palm. Of the confused smiles and words muttered just out of earshot. Of this body she’s been given, and the one you’ve been given, as shells housing soul, and the millennia of hurt done to bodies by other bodies, l’extase et l’agonie, all for remediation of generational hurt that’s unfounded, passed through the ages, a taxonomy. And now, alleles of hate giving way to love, all of it sliding past and out of view, to the Buddhist concept of Pure Land, the animists giving wind and shape to the same thing, hard Chicago Catholicism and its state of grace, none of it different. Of joining together as you’ve done now, on top of the suitcases, and getting your ticket out of here. Of leaving your land, red clay kicking up under the tires, gravel after it, her hand in yours. Of going. Of arriving, having never left.

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