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mother

Illustration by Ryan Floyd Johnson

Stray Fragments

Think about losing things when you are a child, and how losing things thrusts you into a state of absolute despair, even if what you lost is relatively unimportant: toothbrush, sweater, homework folder.

Adults. We are like balloons inflated to their largest capacity and then thrown into the air, unknotted: darting, hissing, flying, farting through the room to the delight of children who will step on them when they finally fall—deflated, useless.

If time in our lives could be shuffled—if it were sectioned into discrete events and recombined—would the story add up? Or does there need to be some kind of order, even if it’s not chronological, for the pieces to form a narrative?

Nuestros hijos llevan todo el día rascándose tan fervorosamente la cabeza que uno de ellos se había sacado ya sangre y ahora daba alaridos de pavor al ver que en su dedo índice titilaba una gotita rosa.

Nos sentamos en una banca y me dispuse a espulgarle la cabellera. Me entretuve aniquilando colonias enteras de piojos y liendres.

 

The light of the desert, where we are headed—I imagine it very different from this one. I imagine it a brutal, empty, future light.

Where is the heart of the United States?

It’s somewhere in the border.

Illustration by Ryan Floyd Johnson

Hill of Hell

I had traveled up the Hudson Line at my friend’s invitation to deliver a lecture to his literature students at the college where he taught. There had been three people in attendance and one had fallen asleep halfway through. My friend had treated me to lunch before the talk and to a drink afterward, so that by the time we hit the train back into the city, where we both lived, we had sailed through the small talk and were ready for the blood and guts. 

After we opened the second bottle of wine, which he’d been keeping in his satchel, I told him about the worst thing that had happened to me in the last three years, as this was the period of time that had elapsed since we last saw each other. We sat at a table in the café car, the panoramic windows looking out on the vast sweep of the Hudson. At first, I was surprised that we could drink openly on the train, but my friend assured me that we could eat and drink whatever we wanted because the café car was closed on this route—and besides, he had been taking this train three days a week for a decade and he knew every conductor on it and could get away with anything. 

“It was around this time last year when everything came apart,” I said, turning my plastic cup on the table. 

Last September, I was pregnant. My husband had been the one wracked with longing for a child and I had allowed myself to be carried along by the tide of his enthusiasm, but once it was underway I felt like I had been conned into a heist for which, as the plans came into focus, I was woefully unprepared. You’re talking about robbing the Louvre and I’m just a common criminal! In those early weeks, I willed my body to show up with the getaway car and then four months later, after I had forgotten all about getaway cars, I was standing in Ikea, of all the undignified places, waving a spatula and lecturing my husband about how our dairy products were teeming with opiates, when my shorts filled with blood and I fainted. While I was unconscious, I had a dream that men in white coats were elbow-deep in me and then I awoke in a hospital bed to find a doctor elbow-deep in me, working on my body with the grave air of an executioner. The baby had ten fingers and ten toes, the only thing that many a stranger had told me I should care about. Eyelids as thin as organza. 


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<em>Tidying Up With Marie Kondo</em>. Directed by Jade Sandberg Wallis. Netflix, 2019. 40 minutes. </p>

On Death and Decluttering [private]

 

Two women share a hospital room, separated by a green-blue curtain, at the end of a brief, beige hallway. Their prospects foreclosed by illness, the women have agreed to enter this room, if not to share it, and to find what peace is possible. Separated always by the green-blue curtain, the women receive their respective family members, making few requests, their needs muted in a way that humbles and vexes their visitors. They are aware of each other’s presence, vaguely yet certainly, in the way of animals on opposite sides of an open field, at night.


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Ars Poetica

In the evenings, we watched Jeopardy
Wore surgical masks once she got sick.
Before that my mother sent me to the store
for cigarettes all the time. Pack of Salem Lights.

Seeing the Body

She died & I—
In the spring of her blood. I remember
my mother’s first injury. The surprise of unborn
petals curling light, red, around her wrist.

Illustration by Anna Schuleit Haber

The Pardner

It has been a year and five days since Mayowa lost her daughter—lost, because she cannot say the other word: suicide. 

Illustration by Lauren Nassef

Fat Swim

Alice spots the fat women through the second-story kitchen window. It’s Wednesday, so Dad is out at his feelings meeting. She has just turned eight and has been dragging her drumsticks over different household surfaces to see what sounds they make. The sink has been working well—a satisfying ting, ting, ting. Also the panes of window glass—higher, though, and more muffled. The kitten meows on the ledge. Shush shush, Alice tells him, then bops him lightly on the head with a stick. 

Trout

Two years after her mother’s death, Jane’s boyfriend asked her to marry him, and nine months later, they moved across the country to start their new life. Jane was twenty-nine, ready to step away from Phoenix after a hard few years. Ryan had taken a job at a recording studio in Tennessee, and he pointed out that the public schools there were as bad as the ones in Arizona, so she could easily fail teaching fourth graders in either place. Her father was a kind, if distant, ichthyologist, and he seemed to think the move was maybe not ideal, but maybe not a bad idea. Jane was excited to start over. She’d been adopted when she was six, and she thought of six as the beginning of her real childhood. As they drove out of town, she decided twenty-nine was the beginning of her real adult life.

The Week Before She Died

I dream us young, again,
mother and daughter back
on 69th Street inside
our old brownstone—across
from the church, patch of lawn— 

a house neglected, wrecked,
as if the family
had been forced at gunpoint
to move away. In corners
dirt stacked like miniscule