I miss you the way I’d miss my toenails if they were pulled out by the mafia, or the way I’d miss my eyes if I stared into the sun until I went blind. I miss you the way a madman misses his mind, achingly, in starts and fits, almost forgetting I ever had you sometimes. I miss you the way Jesus missed his skin when they flailed it from his back. Call it blasphemy, but I won’t lie. I cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” on the daily, but what I mean by God is you, even though you’re not gone, just locked up in that matchbox with a newborn swan, a few hairpins, and a bag of rocks.
Whales un-blue themselves, flinging their great, heaving bodies on the beach, tails thrashing, reaching for your wonder. Pirate ships give up their plunder, renounce their lives of crime, go straight. Tectonic plates shift when you sneeze. When you pass, lampposts bend, hissing yellow breath into smog tainted breeze, to ask if you’re shamanic.
You drift to me like incense through the air conditioning vents of every rented room I find. You say my name in braille sometimes. You teach me to see in tongues. Once, I ran my hands over the rungs of the ladder of your rib cage, and I climbed a thousand miles. Your smile has become my anchor to this world. If not for you, I’d melt away, and I wouldn’t care. A reverse Rapunzel, I’d follow the rope of my hair down, down, down, to the ground, then under.
Just now, mist you hovers over that chair in the corner, invisibly missing me, whispering the secrets of God in the rasping language of rattlesnakes maraca-ing through the window. Reptiles always shake after the rain, the way trains always blow their whistles when Nina Simone plays.
Last night, as stars cast pulsing purple over low-hanging clouds, I plucked a dream from your head, saw me in a subway. You were there. You smiled, and shards of moonlight hung from your hair, slicing your skin ‘til it glowed. You took my hand and towed me to the other end of the world. I can’t dance, but I followed you, and it worked out fine. My spine tingled when you touched my back, turning me. You had feet enough for two. I wanted to tell you I loved you, but you already knew, and anyway, you didn’t have time for small talk.
You laid me on the rock of Gibraltar, made an altar of my lips. I laughed, took the miracle of you on my tongue, swallowed you whole the way a starving woman downs cool milk. The nighttime licked me alive, silk on my skin. You sang in the sinless language of Christ, and thrice, the train running past wept, so I knew Johnny Cash’s ghost was on board. Roosters crowed in reverse, so I knew St. Peter had un-denied. I tasted your salt, so I knew I’d died and gone to heaven.
“Capiche?” you asked.
“Capito,” I whispered.
Prufrock measured his life in coffee spoons. I measure mine in the bumps on your tongue.
I drove a million miles to find home today, newborn spring sizzling the skyline pink.
I found God, a muraled man, white braids, brown hat. He didn’t shine, but behind him, a blue sun burned like it meant business.
I told him, “I’ll be looking for love in all the wrong places every night, hanging out across the street, eating lemon cake, drinking coffee, watching you do your thing. It’s a shot in the dark, but what’s a girl supposed to do?”
“Spring forward, fall back,” he proclaimed. The words seemed to have a deeper meaning, cartwheeling from his tongue.
“I’m not dumb, but I don’t get it,” I whispered, wishing I spoke fluent God.
He smiled, or tried, but bits of bird wing and clotted paint kept him from moving his eyes. The grin didn’t even touch his teeth.
I asked him if he liked my heart. He said it smelled like rain. A train trundled by, or a trolley. It was hard to tell in the dark. He handed me a wad of cash, said, “Wait for your miracle. I’m trying.”
My heart banged against my ribs, a crazed rat in a cage. I wandered past a drunken frog. It didn’t want to talk.
(God told me that I should let you lead. Step slowly. I can’t even see your feet.)
Last night, I sat at a coffee shop and sipped wine while writing. The logical/editing half of my brain has been in overdrive for weeks, so I needed to engage the other half before I went nuts. To help my students get in touch with their subconscious minds, I often encourage them to write whatever comes into their heads without stopping or censoring themselves in any way, so I did what I ask them to do. This is what I wrote. It makes no sense, I know. (Well, Freud might have a field day with it.) But I thought it was kind of bizarrely pretty anyway. So I’m sharing it.
AFTER THE END OF THE WORLD: A LOVE SONG FOR A GOD ONCE BURIED
Beloved, I tried to ride to you. All my horses died. The apocalypse is upon us. Wells of holy water have dried, leaving me stranded in this desert, cold and alone. I wait on my father’s mountain, chant mantras on his grave, eating cactus fruit, doing my best to stave off Armageddon.
Last night, stars fell, and so what? As if the death of everything was any match for love. As if darkness ever once shoved light down so far it never came back up.
If I can’t ride, I’ll walk to you.
I’ll find you four days after the birth of spring, in the place where a newly painted sun Lazaruses, murals out over concrete, echoes of Diego Rivera casting blue Chilean glow. Ra blazes. The broad gaze of God burns the way clear. Already, six sentinels, mountains made of tin cans, stand near the street, rattling to let you know
your queen comes.
I’ll send you a message in a bottle, written in the language of doves. Our love is the strongest, longest song I have ever known, the only thing I sing. In my dreams, bees sting me, impregnating pores, changing skin to honeycomb. I’ve always known the secrets they buzz. I just forgot for a millennium.
I’ll graffiti the sunlit wall,
unwrap crumbling maps, untrap carrier pigeons, set them free. The missiles tied to their toes will read:
Deep in the heart of spring, I’ll wait by the ocean before Saint Peter’s song is done, 24 hours before his drums have dwindled to nothing, praying that you, sweat drenched and smoke soaked, having coached a team of demons, maybe a little drunk, escape the hazy House of Hades. Leave behind its grease laden tables stretching for miles.
As the nearby city sleeps and its angels fall, crashing into the sea, boiling it, soiling it with seeds of God, I’ll watch the horizon, dreaming of you, reading Louise Glück’s Firstborn, celebrating her birth, mourning our deaths. I’ll cry your ghost’s name, 92,629 times, until Ra hears me and resurrects you. At a crested park where graves made from the bones of long buried shipwrecks upend themselves, goddesses once sleeping will lift aloft at last their golden lanterns. Under her widow’s garb, Isis will be naked. The moon will bear witness. Divine Dana will point the way.
The playground that once rang with the shouts of children will be deserted, swings hanging slack. But I’ll sing, slipping down slides, making sand angels, listening to the tide roll in the distance. I’ll ring church bells at midnight and beyond.
Beautiful boy, if you are ever lonely, I’ll hurricane my way to your bed. The place where I live in your head will sizzle when I am close. Listen for cannon fire. Keep your eyes peeled for smoke.
Heaven broke, knowing unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it lies forever fallow. We were buried. We are risen. I’ll wade to you in shallow water, a full-fledged daughter of Poseidon, a sister of the sun.
I’ll serve myself up to you on the half-shell, Aphrodite-style.
Spring came early this year. Pomegranate blossoms erupted and shattered behind the clear glass of your eyes. You saw me coming. I watched you waiting in the waves. The graves of prophets gave up their dead. The Queen of Heaven crooned herself red.
I feel like since it’s St. Patty’s Day, I should totally drink some green beer. Or whiskey. And that’s one of the things I appreciate most about St. Patty’s Day. It’s the one holiday you celebrate exclusively by drinking copious quantities of alcohol and pinching people. There are so many people I want to pinch today. Some of them, right on their fat, smug faces. (One of the faces I want to pinch really, really hard, so hard it leaves a welt, is conspicuously orange.) I desperately want to pinch one person gently on his cute little tushy. But yeah. St. Patty’s Day legitimizes desires that would be antisocial any other day of the year. And for that, I love it.
Also, I love it because I can wear a “Kiss me, I’m Irish” pin and mean it. I am Irish. My dad’s father was named Hugh Hackett. You don’t get more Irish than that. My dad’s mother was named Carmen Sanchez. You don’t get more Hispanic than that. My mom was mostly French. LeBuff. Or LeBouff. Or something really Frenchy that starts with “Le”. I can’t tell you the exact spelling, but I can tell you it sounds like a meat dish I would get glared at for trying to order in Paris. (Parisians don’t like you when you order meat dishes with an American accent. In fact, if you have an American accent, they would prefer you shut the hell up altogether, or maybe dissolve, like a bad guy in a vat of acid, Breaking Bad style.) Anyway, that French word was my mom’s family name. (Fun fact: both of my mom’s grandfathers were French Canadian, which means she can become a Canadian citizen if she wants. I’m pressing her to do it so we can all move to Canada before Trump blows up America. In lieu of that, I’m emigrating to Mars.) To complicate things, we found out Grandma Carmen’s ancestors actually left Spain fleeing the Inquisition because they were Spanish Jews. So once upon a time, my family was Jewish.
When people ask me what my race is, I always say, “I’m Irish, French, and Hispanic.” They look confused by the Hispanic part because I’m the whitest white girl you will ever meet. So I always helpfully add, “The Irish won.” Mathematically speaking, I am Hispanic enough that I could get grants and other things reserved for people of Hispanic heritage, but I don’t try because those programs are in place to make some small attempt to compensate for the racism many Hispanic people have to endure on a day-to-day basis. I don’t have to deal with any of that. Anyone looking at me assumes I’m white, white, white.
But no one ever has trouble believing my brother is Hispanic. He’s this big, dark-haired, dark-skinned dude, and when he walks into a restaurant, people step aside because if you are into racism (and we all are, whether we mean to be or not, raised as we were in this racist cesspool of a culture), you subconsciously fear that he will drag you into a dark alley and shank you.
Which is funny because if you knew my brother, you would vote him “Least Likely to Shank Someone, Ever, In the History of the World.” Also, “Most Likely to Take a Serial Killer into His Home and Get Chopped Up While Trying to Rehabilitate Him.” (That last title used to belong to me, but then, I actually came too-close-for-comfort to getting chopped up by one of my charity cases and realized the whole Mother Theresa thing was overrated. Now I’m meaner than I probably need to be. If you look at me funny, I will deem you a potential serial killer and refuse to be in the same room with you. Can you say “over correction”? It’s a problem. I’m working on it.)
But I guess because I come from such a colorful family, I’ve gotten to see, at least a tiny bit, the difference a little melanin can make in a person’s day to day interactions. My gorgeous Grandma Carmen was acutely aware of this. She dyed her hair blond and didn’t teach any of her nine children Spanish. We had traditional Mexican foods at Christmas, but that was as far as the exploration of that part of our heritage went. A tamale here. An empanada there. A bowl of nice, hot posole. I remember watching people be afraid of my Hispanic-looking dad when I was little and wondering what it was all about. My dad was the nicest man I’ve ever known. But strangers would sometimes cross the street to avoid him.
I won’t lie to you. I appreciate the fact that people are scared of my brother. If I’m going somewhere dangerous, I take him along, and people step the hell aside. I think, “Yeah, that’s right, bitch. Walk away. Dude’ll shank you.” I just hope he won’t open his mouth because if he starts talking about quantum physics and God and pacifism, the whole jig is up. But if you think about it, it’s weird that I can count on people not messing with me when my big, Mexican brother is walking beside me. I have a 6’3”, 220 pound, very white son. He doesn’t get the same reactions, so it’s not just a guy thing. It’s a melanin thing.
Race is weird. The further we move through history, the harder it gets to pin down. But we can’t pretend it’s irrelevant until it really is irrelevant, until people don’t think my dark-skinned brother is going to shank them, until our prisons aren’t chocked full of brown people and our legislatures aren’t brimming with white people (mostly men, but that’s another essay for another day, maybe Women’s Day).
Race is hard to define, and yet, it defines everything about the way we exist in our current, screwed up world. I long for the day when we are all just mutts, when nobody remembers that skin color was ever a thing we worried about. (Another fun fact: the Romans didn’t give a damn about skin color. They persecuted all kinds of people, for all kinds of reasons, but none of it had to do with the color of their skin. We’ve just picked this criteria for our oppression because we needed our own special brand of asshole to set ourselves apart in history. And we’ve done a bang up job of it. Go us!)
But yeah. We need to stop. However, we can’t make it be over by pretending it’s over any more than we can make St. Patty’s Day over by pretending it’s Christmas. (Try pinching someone for not wearing green on Christmas, and see where that gets you.) Until we’ve actually got this shit figured out, we need to face the fact that we are all a little racist, and it’s probably not even our faults, raised as we were in this racist cesspool of a culture. We need to be actively aware that we have, on some level, been brainwashed into believing that brown is bad and white is good, and when we feel those things rising to the surface in us, we need to acknowledge them and say, “Slow down, Kujo. I’m not going to be a dick because of some deep-seeded racist bullshit going on in my subconscious.” (By the way, if autocorrect tries to change “bullshit” to “vulkshit” one more time, I’m going to throw my computer through a window. Vulkshit? Is that an oblique Star Trek reference?) And act accordingly. Because pretending racism isn’t there, and blaming people who say it is, isn’t really fixing anything.
Just ask my brother. Or don’t. Because if you talk to him, you’ll find out he’s not even close to bad ass. And I need you to believe he is. Because no one, and I mean no one, is afraid of a translucently white, female poet, no matter how mean she tries to be.