Learning to Floss
At almost forty,
I’m finally learning to adult.
They say it’s never too late
to unfuck yourself,
but they’re wrong.
Some damage is irreparable.
When I started to floss,
it took weeks before I stopped
spitting blood in the sink.
They say my generation
is dying faster
than the generation
that came before.
That I believe.
For them, forty
was the new thirty.
I missed that cut-off.
Looking down the barrel of years
that may already be half-over,
I think how I will never
run a marathon,
never have savings
or a retirement fund,
never have a house or a child,
never learn to change a tire
or the oil in my car,
never learn to eat the salad
or drink the wine.
But flossing, now—
flossing I’ve got down,
how to get evicted,
how to lose everything,
how to suffer
and witness suffering,
how to catalog my scars,
how to crawl
out of the wreckage.
They tell you that you
have the power,
but you don’t.
That’s why we’re all
riddled with anxiety.
Helplessness is trauma.
They never tell you
that if you want
to walk among the stars
you have to withstand
the vacuum of space.
That’s what this suffering
supposedly prepares you for,
passage through needle’s eyes
and treading holy eight-fold paths.
I don’t know if it’s a talent
particular to me,
or if it’s all just context,
like a generation selling out,
beating their peace signs
into stock symbols,
like riding camels to some
from the backs of stars.
After centuries of acid baths and basalt suppers,
of turning my wounds into mouths that suck up your salt,
I wouldn’t know what to do with ease.
Give me an environment, a mechanism to feed.
I will find a way to thrive.
Give me your pressure, your ice matrices,
give me your alkaline, your heat.
Give me your trenches, your fissures,
the places where light cannot penetrate.
Give me your copper, your ions.
Give me desiccation.
We eat methane and breathe sulfur.
We are the meek, we are legion,
we are the strength of martyrs.
Unfettered from the demands
of stomach and blood, of root and stem,
we are the overlooked, the discounted.
In the pit we lurk, in the miles-down,
sanctuary of sanctuary, holy of holies,
we are a parable of the insignificant,
a scatter of mustard seeds,
a burst of wishes shaken from dandelion heads,
an aspiration beyond the coming end.
I find myself at the zoo, desperate for the scent
of your musk, for salt and hay. I am drawn
to a leonine form, a flash of tusk, muscles and fur.
This is a place of captivity, of bars and glass,
of gazes, of panting. The same hands
that tend the inmates can be either gentle
or bearer of the rifle. Both are familiar to me.
Wolves pace, even the ones that were born here,
longing for something they can’t put a name to.
Peacocks wander, lapis and gold, free to fly away,
but having no reason to, they stay put. Non-native plants
struggle to approximate home. We are a nation
of displacement, at the mercy of a love
we didn’t choose, doomed to only be half-tamed.
Behind the petting zoo fence, I run my fingers
across coarse and woolly hides, stroke snouts,
let thick tongues lick feed from my palms.
Warm bodies lean hard against my legs.
I let myself be pounced and pecked,
clawed and butted. These bruises and bitemarks
are the memory of your arms, the push-pull
of desire that shouldn’t be. Your castle kept out
as much as it kept in. The Greek gods did it.
Couldn’t we be divine? I too, can scoop water
from a trough. I too, can eat meat raw
and howl at the moon. I go home covered
in hair and feathers, smelling of wildness.
In my bed tonight, I will dream of a pack
of chimera children.
Sisters in Mo(u)rning
I look forward to
riding the bus
in the morning
black woman driver
mostly black women
I'm a big believer
in black girl magic
trailing the scent
of cocoa butter
down the aisle
their warm greetings
both empty and full
admiring each other's outfits.
I know I am the outsider
and I envy this
instant sorority they have
wherever they go.
I hear the driver talking
about a family picnic
and her nephew’s funeral
both being held Saturday.
"They killed him," she says.
The passenger nods
says that she, too,
lost a nephew
this past week
that she too
has a funeral Saturday.
Then they go on
El Chingue Chingue
On the boulevard, I wrap myself
in the colors of the picado flags
against a winter sky,
the scents of the taqueria
bringing me home,
the faded Virgin of Guadalupe mural
in the alley, the blue wall where
San Martin Caballero rides with the angels,
the house where my grandparents
lived as newlyweds.
An abuela holds forth
on the nature of el chingue chingue,
brandishing her cane for emphasis
as her grandson runs around the tables.
Finally, when the barbacoa is eaten,
and all that is left are
a few stray leaves of cilantro,
discarded shards of onion,
there is nothing to say but
Bye, mijito. Hasta mañana.