Monday, December 28, 2015

Fiction Series: Free Verse, Part 8

“I helped the movers pack the items when you wouldn’t come home.”

Damali and I stood in front of a storage space, in our neighborhood, my parent’s belongings packed tightly into a 10’X10’ space. I didn’t come home, again, after the funeral. Fort Greene reminded me of my mistakes. The evolution of its shops and people were a reminder of how much I’d evolved, along with it. Our evolution was one that wanted to be far removed from the memories, the sound of the subway rumbling underneath us, the skin we were in, the tapping of rubber soles on cracked pavement, the construction happening behind post-no-bills, the clash of two cars on the corner. 
I didn’t respond. I walked into the space and ran my fingers along the items. There was a marble lamp that my mother broke, while sweeping, the crack and mending glue still visible. The futon that I fell asleep in most nights, refusing to slumber until I’d written something, was tucked upside down in one corner. A faded version of a dollhouse that couldn’t compete with dollar store journals, sat in another. Damali followed me inside; knowing there wasn’t enough room for both of us. I was on the verge of tears, but having him so close held me together. Everything else had been packed away. My name was written on every box, in strong black marker, with care, except for one. 

This was the box Damali stood by. He wrapped his arms around it and put it on the ground. I waited for him to speak. I always waited for him to speak. He was the type of man that allowed you to tell him things when you were good and ready. He didn’t pry with a ton of questions and you didn’t feel like a chapter, when you were around him. He made me feel like literature, the kind that you could thumb through over and over again, finding new instances every time. 

He still did not speak. He pushed the box, with the front of his boot, to the opening of the storage space. I followed him out and finally accompanied the sound of the moving memory, ten-year-old cardboard against linoleum, with my voice,”What is this?”

“The only items that were given to me. Everything else was given to you. Your father’s wish was that I handed these to you. I was supposed to give the rest away, but I couldn’t. I figured it all might be significant to you, someday.”

I was suddenly furious. Damali stood lackadaisical, nonchalant, as if this was some simple interaction. 

“What took you so long? Why are you showing me all of this, all of a sudden?”
“No one could find you, Jai.”

“Bullshit. I haven’t received a call, a text, an email about any of this. I didn’t even know who you were until a few weeks ago.”

“I’m sure that’s how your parents felt when they passed.”

Damali looked guilty, the moment he said it. It looked as if the remark slipped from a place he’d meant to keep tightly shut. 

“Wow. The truth comes out.”

Damali stood closer, he put his arms around me, while I grabbed them, ready to push him away.
“ I didn’t mean it like that, but I loved your father. All he wanted was your forgiveness.”

The tears arrived, my eyes were bleeding the anger I’d harbored for years, “All I wanted was an apology.”

“He tried…”

I looked up at Damali, our sorrow seemed to match. How could someone that I’d never met, feel like I’d known them forever? 

“He didn’t try hard enough. We walked through the house, silent. He came home; he ate dinner with us, he worked. He was a different person.”

Damali nodded and pulled me in closer. He whispered, in the quiet, “He was…”


Dec. 7th, 1999

I do not know how to love my daughter through this. 
I love her, but I don’t know how to tell her that I can protect her from anything when I’ve failed. 
I am still failing. 

My stomach is swelling. 
We hide it well. 
I wear baggy clothes and pretend as if nothing is happening. 
When I am too large, when my growing body can no longer be considered just chubby, we will hide it further. 

I spend a few months homeschooled. 
I spend the rest back in my mother’s homeland, with relatives I don’t know.
I give birth. 
They say the baby is back in the states too. 
They won’t give me details. 
The only thing I know is his name. 
They only allowed me to give him a name: Kal-El. 

I give him Superman’s Krypton name. 

I give him this name because we’re clearly not of this world. We are forced to live a lie. I hope this name will convince him that he’s strong enough when he finally learns the truth. I hope his otherness will give him something to stand on top of. I listen to the rush of the ocean and the hum of my mother’s abuela's cousin, the one that refuses to speak English to me while she cooks dinner. My son left before me. He is swaddled in someone else’s arms, someone else’s home. My parents made the arrangements, just as they tidied my room for my impending arrival. Me, my womb, and my youth were considered a task to be done. 


My mother spoke in whispers, the night before, “Are you okay?”

“As okay as I can be.” 

“Jai, you’ll get to have the rest of your childhood.”

“Don’t you think it’s a little late for that?”

I felt like I’d aged like I was something never-ending. 

She sighed, into the phone, “We’re ready for you to come home. Your father and I are so excited to see you.”

“Is he?”

“Jai, he did what he thought was best for you. We wanted you to come back to something normal. We didn’t want anyone to treat you differently.”

“This is normal?”

“We’ll see you tomorrow, Jai. We love you.”


The box stares at me. 
The box, filled with something so important that it had to be delivered by hand post-mortem was staring at me. 

There was nothing a few trinkets could tell me about what I’d experienced. 
I’d been there.
I experienced it all. 

& Still…
With its frayed edges and contents, it bothered me. 

I slipped off of my bed and kicked it on my way out of the room, headed to my desk. I needed to write. 

Damali was right. I disappeared. I changed my number, my email, and refused to join social media. I deleted myself from the world because I had nothing to cling too. High school was a blur, a ton of scattered faces and pencils across the paper. I learned with the momentum of wanting to get out. I wanted out of the Brooklyn that raised me. I wanted to start from scratch, as my parents did. It was even easier to do when they were gone. There was nothing to ground me to what happened, nothing to remind me of yesterday. 
I remember the first rush of reinvention. I stood on the steps of an all girls dorm performing for people that didn’t know me, that didn’t know my truth and probably never would. I closed my eyes while I spit:

got this thing, 
where I bid brown boys the full name their mothers gave them
pushing them to be the men she intended

there is something about a real woman,
that makes a man want to unravel his eclipse
place his sun in your sky
or your womb

I sell dreams
purple mountain majesties
on late night phone calls and
inconsistent texts

bring the middle school euphoria,
from your lips, without sacrificing your masculinity

exchange memories like calling cards
tell you about my wings,
how they were/are clipped
by boys who looked just like you

dismissed me on the train tracks,
with his palms and a voice like thunder

believed that I wasn’t good enough
to wear his heart on my lapels

found a smile, brighter than my own
told me that she could run circles around my beauty

entered me with laughter,
said even goddesses weren’t society’s depiction of magnificence

left without a goodbye

is still here
a flickering flame
that begs to rekindle

we were pulled from you on the sixth day,
have proved that we’re more than rib and flesh,
but still outrun jezebels that you falsify your reflection in

and isn’t it funny?
that in a few days 
you became a figment,
a promise that might not be kept,
a secret that I’m afraid everyone will discover

I pray that you’re different,
clasp hands that my mother’s crowning lessons,
don’t fall on the wrong king,

I’ve been waiting to treat someone like royalty
been letting pawns play across my chessboard, for far too long

I’m tired of being ship wrecked
where friend’s advice
and blinded love
cannot save you from drowning

I’ve gargled my sin,
drank from a settled tide
when all I’ve ever wanted was a roaring ocean,

been told for too long,
that wanting better was a fairytale,
a fallacy in books and roman typography

and then I realized I could write you
pen you into existence,
like James and his testament

have worlds of women, bow down to your perfection
because even if this doesn’t work,
I will leave you a man
something will turn on inside of you
and fight its way out in the form of grit,
leave memories of my touch,
running down your spine

I am embedded,
and embroidered,
never forgotten


our princes are flawed,
our kings are bereft of thrones,
but they are not above building them

show me that you deserve a climax,
the meridian of my temple,
while at the pinnacle of your prime

and I promise I will leave my handprints on you like silk,
turn sweat into sticky

prove me wrong,
for regality is nothing

without someone who is as sovereign as you.

I opened my eyes to clapping. When I’d begun performing, there were a few folks who’d prompted me into a poem. However, when I was into the piece, when the words seemed to float around me, covering the venue I spoke in, I felt like I was alone. I felt like I was in my room, practicing for my mirror, for the thousandth time. There was no one around, but me. This was proven a falsehood, the minute I opened my eyes and witnessed tons of people applauding, more than who I’d started with. 
This is the moment I realized I could be someone else. I could start over, be someone other than Jai, broken and fragile, in this space. I could lie into another persona, shed my skin. 


You can find Erica's books, here.

No comments: