all busy in the sunlight


Here’s what they don’t tell you─it doesn’t go away.
it eats and eats away: you bite your nails till they bleed.
you bang your head against the table. you shave your arm
in the bathtub. you steal a tub of cream cheese. you stay still,
like they ask you to.  

all the bad things are recalled. later you’d think back
to how it all started─the day you realized you couldn’t keep
a plant alive. the moment you noticed you had a reputation.  

your mother wasn’t the good one and your father bad, but still
you tested them. when you had a nightmare, your father
would give you a glass of water and shuffle back to bed.
as for your mother, you’d slip to her bedside and she’d rouse
without you asking. it was intuitive─the mothering.
the knees-to-chesting. the back-rubbing. the shushing.
but all busy in the sunlight, you were a simple child.
sometimes you’d creep down to the basement and study
the way the shelf sagged beneath the weight of records─
the ones he left behind. but this is the best way to go: honestly
and with force.

love thy mother fear thy father.

they tied your feet to still you, but you were reborn, recultured.
you wore your hair in gold and kept your chin high.
you craved nature, spending nights with your palms
above a fire, listening to the pending silence, humming
softly a song of mourning. you had a path and you sought it.

but it wasn’t about death, was it? the first time
you went to a graveyard, you traced your finger
across the dented names─ the sharpness of the A,
the curling sound of S. it wasn’t about death─
not the stopping of the heart or the putter of breath,
but the stillness that comes with being a ghost. floating
in and out of our old lovers’ rooms. seeing light
where there is only darkness. watching your own mother
hum lonely in the kitchen.

love thy mother

surely you’ll regret being passive. you’ve wasted time ─
months, even. time you could have been learning
new languages or studying synapses. before work,
you find the cleanest window in the city and sit beside it.
you avert your eyes when friends walk by and stare down
strangers. you notice all the types of shoes and tote bags.
you imagine it’d be hard to be kind for an entire day.
but this isn’t about the people.
this about being almost thirty and not owning a blazer.
it’s about cursing the cold, still, every morning as you walk
to the subway. but even the children are self-aware.
only if you’d grown up dashing across intersections
and spending sundays at the theater. your father
always pushed culture. in spring, you’d walk around
forest park while he talked about history and his grandparents.
he’d take you to their gravesites and you’d roll your eyes, thinking
who names their child abraham lincoln hess.

love thy father

pray you forget the darkness. the moments you hid
in your bedroom with your back to the door, your face
hidden beneath a pillow. you’d hear the shuffling of chairs
across the wood floor and think it was fighting.

you imagined furniture being thrown, fists balled
but not swung. you and your sisters kneeled
at the top of the staircase and listened
to your father’s stutter, your mother’s demands.
for dinner, you ate chicken tenders and dangled
your feet beneath the plastic tablecloth.

pray you remember

all the afternoons─the bike rides, the tennis lessons,
the movies. remember the summer light over the creek
where the geese flocked. how you counted them
as they waddled into the water: four birds wading west.

having returned from the tropics, you miss waking
with the sun. your first instinct is not to run towards the sea,
but board a crowded train with screaming school children.
all week you’ve considered telepathy─
the channeling of information from one human
to another. why then, must you fight time?
why must you fuck standing up so the bed doesn’t squeak?
how then, is it so hard to have a family?

having left the tropics, you miss the mangled dog─
the one whose owner ran him over with her car.
you heard stories about the lovers she used to take─
the dark-skinned fishermen, the preachers. now she lives
in a boarded up cottage with yellow walls. she cooks
over a wood stove and attends church for days at a time,
shaking her knuckles at the sky. when she prays,
her fragile body bends in two. she jogs on the beach,
stopping only to collect dried sea urchins for her art.

treasure beach, jamaica. founded by scottish settlers
in the 1700s. they docked their boats, buried their feet and mated
with the locals. today they call them reds─jamaicans whose skin
is auburn, whose ancestors made them lighter than their neighbors. on saturdays,

you watch pork burn on a stove behind the bodega. a man with a machete
chops bones for you to suck, the sweetness of the meat dripping down
your chin. you can’t understand what he’s saying, but he’s toothless
and grinning at you, happy you can handle the spice.

here is the story of the gold on your finger: on saturday, your father
emerges from the basement. he says my mother would have loved you.
she perished too soon-- her hair wrapped in a scarf with the wind blowing.
her sister turning the music up, the boulevard lined with palm trees. minutes
later, the car was totaled and three bodies were taken from the scene.
your father was the first one they called. he never told you if he sunk
to the floor and wept. if he stayed standing and let the phone drop
from his hands. if that’s when his stutter started. he didn’t say
what the next five minutes were like-- if his legs went out
or he yelped like an animal. he didn’t tell you about his breath
or his voice. or if he stayed silent while his eyes glazed over.

here’s her ring, he says, it’s yours.