Tabula Rasa

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black and white hand raining

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The chipped blue door’s groan is louder, she noted. He’d meant to fix it, but never did, and now it hangs like a loose tooth in its frame. Its chipped paint, its creaks and groans, no longer her shame.

Thunder claps sharply when she opens her car door. A feral cat startles and leaps onto a wooden fence and disappears. The wind shudders and leaves spin and lift. What are the odds, she thinks, not a cloud above, but a sudden crackle, and we all move into action. She is sure it will rain tonight.

Quietly, one after the other, their children step into her waiting car.

She expects his remorse: the flying fist, the searing slap, the broken wrist, the cruelty of glass. Never again, he promised. She’d stayed because she believed.

Earlier she’d emptied the bookshelves, packed the kitchen, vacuumed the closets, returned the keys.  I feel nothing, she thinks as she drives away. He’d told her there was just one way in and one way out. This, he’d warned, was the hardest part. Still, she feels nothing.

The rain is relentless. It comes and goes, and its direction, undetectable. The cupboards, he notes, are empty. The rooms lay newly bare. He listens to the front porch door swing loudly, unhinged; he knows the damage is well beyond repair. There’s no pause in the rain and there’s only so much water their roof can take. Eventually, it too will buckle.

He lies alone in the darkness and the pain is blinding. The familiar vice grip tightens his heart and he is afraid. Tonight he is sure he will not last, cannot resist. And this night, just as the ones before, is interminably long, so he will curse it the whole way through, alone. Though he won’t remember it, he will succumb to spasmodic sleep.

They’ve left, she’s left. Later, he will remember it rained for days.

Behind a dusty walk-up door miles away, she is unshackled. Try prayer, she was told. Behind a closed bathroom door she kneels. Try supplication, she was told. She puts her head on the unclean floors.

God will fix this, she was told. But how? God is merciful, she was told. She quiets her mind and listens. Where is God? Not in this bathroom, not in this space –  and this much she knows: Not here, not between you and me, and certainly, not for me.

Last night’s white pigeon has returned. It alights anew on the slender window ledge. Its darting eyes speak my language, she thinks, and this space is our shared prayer mat. Through the window pane a thin light trembles against the clamorous rain. It’s waning particle light slices walls and her alike.

Outside the rain calls. Swiftly it falls on her skin, splitting open wounds with salves for benedictions. In the tender penumbra of a lamp post’s light, birds lift in unison, glide east and away.

In the room, soundly their children sleep, terse and curled each to each, like clenched fingers in a fist.

 

 

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At the feet of strangers

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Faith at the feet of strangers:

When we returned from my father’s burial, we drove five hours north to a remote rural town in Florida and bought a dog. Later that day, we drove those same five hours south, buttoned up our home, and hunkered down, awaiting Hurricane Maria to barrel through Miami. Everyone expected the storm to crack the state in two. It didn’t; instead, it skimmed along the coast, a hurricane on a tightrope.

A few days earlier, the hurricane chewed Puerto Rico like tobacco, and in its wake, spit the island out. The winds stripped the rain forests of their green vestments, and split every last bamboo tree in half – what remained was livid, homeless, raw, mangled. Somewhere beneath the fallen structures and the splintered trees, lay my father in his final resting place – an underground concrete vault so secure that Hurricane Maria and her thousand winds couldn’t budge.

Those early days my father slipped in and out of my dreams, much the same way I moved through my own restless days. I wondered aloud where my father might be: heaven, limbo, or simply gone. A friend told me that during difficult times her father makes his presence known through butterflies. Another described how the unexplained but distinct smell of cigar in her car or bathroom affirms he is with her.

Over the passing weeks and days, I was faithless: I didn’t feel him, I couldn’t feel him, I didn’t sense him. He was immutably gone, in all ways, like sand castles dissolving beneath waves, his was an extinguished wick. I no longer dreamed of him. He was simply gone, gone, gone.

My daughter and I came home a few days ago and found our shoes ripped and bitten. Our puppy had taken my daughter’s favorite sandals – a gift from a cousin in Puerto Rico – and ruined them. Instead of scolding him, she dissolved in tears. I spent the next hour and a half on the internet trying to find the obscure sandals, but I didn’t find them. I searched everywhere, but they were impossible to find. The next day, I gave up and threw the ripped sandals away.

When she came home she looked for her sandals, and I told her I had tossed them. In tears, she pulled the sandals from the garbage. Remorsefully I rinsed them and set them to dry. Through her sobs, she explained those sandals were important to her because she’d worn them to my father’s funeral. Those were the last shoes she’d worn when she walked through his apartment, been in his car, been on his beloved island. Those shoes were a physical connection to her grandfather. She wasn’t yet ready to part with them. Once they dried, she placed them on her wall, among her medals, her prized possessions. It seemed a fitting place: my father adored her and he loved watching her in gymnastics. The shoes and the medals belonged together.

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A few days later, while at a meet, she gestured toward a couple sitting a few rows away. They were wearing the same obscure sandals. In disbelief, I asked them where they bought the sandals, told them why it mattered, and they gave me the information. Turns out they are hand made shoes, from a small shop in Key West.

I can’t account for the sandals, the meet, the strangers and my father, but I can no longer say there is nothing left.

I can’t explain it, but I felt his affirmation, in a gymnastics meet, at the feet of two strangers.

 

 

 

 

Insidious Grief

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clothes on a line wind

The day of the harvest we were told you died. With bent backs and bare hands, brown men picked Arabica coffee beans and chewed its fruit. Young wives hung sheets like sails on thin lines of twine.

Our father has died.

That day the sunrise was no different from the one before it. Trees stood stock-still in the yellow morning and though the room had all I ever loved and most all I needed, it was depleted. I couldn’t breathe while my children soundly slept.

A loss is a painful ripping away. An endometrial lining pulled from an unyielding uterus. A light switch turned off, a door firmly closed, a drape sharply drawn. The loss sullies everyone’s hands.

When my father left, he left it all untied. I carried away what I could: a bouquet of words unfurled. My last conversation with my father was my last coherent conversation with my mother. One physical loss became two losses: a tangible one and an emotional one.

Dad, I’m doing the best I can. I see you in my dreams, looking for mom, looking for your things. Mom’s mind is somewhere safe, locked in a repeating loop of a past that excludes you, whom she loved most.

I’m sorry. I miss you. I miss you. I miss you.

The sun has settled behind the monte and the men you once knew, are bent over plates of steaming rice and red beans. The clothes are dry on lines of twine, and soon the women will retrieve them. Mom is far away, sitting among the evergreens, canning tomato sauce and looking forward to a red winter.

I think of you often. I think of you.

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Deeply deeply

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rainfall

First, processional clouds gather and near: silent funeral guests and inutile words. The unapologetic lights-off on the sun, the line where sky begins and clouds end, indistinguishable. All is profoundly, deeply deeply grey.

Second, the air becomes dense and its thickness weighs not everything, but all of it, down. Branches, clouds, lungs. Our fingers touch the moisture we can’t see.

Third, fracas. The rain falls fast, and it continues its stubborn fall for three days. The water gathers and swells the ground, its heaviness carving a path that runs like a river or a sprinter, bending grass and rock alike, splitting all in half.

On the first night of the deluge I took a sleep aid. My thoughts throughout the day made it so that I couldn’t shut off the running dialogue in my head. Despite the drug, I woke to a sound louder than clamorous thunder or pounding rain. The nature reserve outside my window, always quiet and watchful, is now teeming, vibrant, discordant, full of life. Animals can be louder than the rain. The rain has pushed, it has pulled, it has stirred and all but drowned every creature in the reserve.

So loud and persistent, the crowing of frogs, the desperate call of a thousand crows, the clapping crickets, the whining dog, the climbing lizards and their darting eyes, the million ants relentless in their martyred march, and so on. I heard them all.

I rose from my bed each night and I listened to them, each and all. Perhaps it’s as you say, a colossal mating call, a free for all in the reserve. Perhaps it’s a harbinger of what’s to come.  Perhaps they too are afraid of the storm that’s yet to come.

On the fourth day it stopped raining. Our neighborhood streets, despite the powerful sun, remain wet and flooded. Despite the restored sun, the water streams through the sogged mud and the putrid leaves, it still streams, it still drags, it still pulls. And there’s life there. There is life there. I can hear it.

I hear it deeply deeply 

 

Dress

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waves

Those days the dress didn’t cling. It hung loose across my breasts and thighs and fell into a clean straight line at my calves. Mother of pearl buttons held the dress together down the front and spaghetti straps held it in place on my shoulders. My summer dress, equal parts sand and Atlantic. In it, I was fluid and musical, a flagpole, and the dress, cotton and thread yielding to the wind. A Miami breeze could make it sway and that summer, my lover’s gentle touch could make it fall away.

Years later the straps wore down and the dress frayed. Its buttons peeled and the fabric stretched and pulled at its seams. Snug and dull,  it stretched across my breasts and pulled at my thighs. It no longer flattered me. Abandoned, it stayed in my closet.

The day I took the art off the walls and packed the music away, I threw away the dress. I cut my soul into perfect squares and placed its jagged tender pieces into small boxes and packed it away: the music, the rhymes and the art.

I’ve since owned several dresses. Scarlett gowns with plunging necklines and slits that graze my thighs, and later, austere gowns of navy blue and cinched waistlines. Those dresses, though, required industry: hair, mascara, perfume.

I watch my daughters preen before their bedroom mirror in their new summer dresses. I recall the ease and the fit, the sway and the unpreoccupied ways, and I recall.

I recall.

 

 

 

 

Catorce Abriles

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golden trumpet

For the April Girls:

Today I sat beneath a flowering golden tulip tree, and in the waning light I gathered the fallen blossoms, their soft petals, yellow footprints on my skin. It’s April again.

“How can you not remember the time of our birth?” you asked, annoyed at my imprecise memory. Fourteen Aprils ago you made a mother of me — one who’d never before held a baby in her arms, but now, for better or worse, a mother. I remember those moments, the haze following your births, was it hours or minutes, waiting to see you both, unaware of your delicate condition or my own.

I recall your irregular breaths, your inhalations puffing your small bodies and filling your chests, your mottled skin, thin and translucent, diffusing light and life. The machines, inhuman but complicit, watched as we held your twisting small bodies tight like fists, in our frightened arms. The rituals of the NICU: the knotted silence, sitting beside your transparent incubators, the long white corridors between elevator doors and other quiet corridors, the passing of minutes, hours and days, the incomprehensible unknowns, and so much more in that dreadful room — but outside your window, a vibrant tree and its free-falling yellow flowers, the sun and its slanted rays, the shadows and the particle light.

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Maya’s 10th birthday beneath the yellow tree

I am no closer today to grasping motherhood than I was that April, fourteen years ago. I am no less able to fight your fights as I was then, when we watched you sleep and wake, sleep and wake.

But here we are, me, a novice playing it like an old-hand, and you two, challenging me at every turn. You and I are each inextricably bound to that budding tree and her yellow spoken words. Her fallen flowers, tokens of that April morning when your births ushered in the daylight, this new chapter, our parenthood, and family.

Happy 14th birthday Maya & Sophie! ♥

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She burns

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That night, in the penumbra of contented sleep, he sprinted, left to right, through her dream corridors, opening and closing doors, dragging his knuckles like a doomed Andersen prince in an untold fairy tale. Everything he touched he set ablaze.

And in her sleep, she followed. She sensed her body lift heavenward, and everything that tethered her in place withered into ashes beneath her. Her skin warmed as she rose and rose further away from her burning bed, weightless, free, unafraid, and suddenly, very much awake.

She struggled to understand the riddle. He said something about the heart and the mind, and truth, and the catharsis. She warmed beside his flame, not understanding his words, and touched his fragmented skin. Fair, freckled, a webbed spatial constellation, spreading like flowering vines connecting them each to each, to earth and sky. Equally tethered, equally free. He, her spark; she, his tinder.

And she gathered his morphing shape onto her own. She smoothed his licking flames into a twisting containable shape, but failed, again and again. Together they rose, each mutually engulfed, and soon she gave of herself fully, even as she burned. And while his fire bespoke cacophony, collapse and complete engulfment; she sensed the rapture, not the prediction.

 

 

 

Blameless Hope

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What a fight we had. I turned away and you pulled. I pushed and you shoved back, twice as hard. Neither gave up.

Hope, so gallant and disingenuous, I thought the worst of you. Villainous enchantress, the spells you carelessly cast. I understood these: The tired breast and the child’s ceaseless hunger. The brook’s uninformed search for its current. The incoherent thought longing for coherence. The letters that scramble together, over and over again, into imperfect words.

I was afraid for so very long, and fighting you hurt like hell.

In the arms of others, ethereal and flimsy, false. But now, in my hands, blameless and guileless, fragile and beautiful, perfect, sharp and enticing.

Hope

 

 

Muir

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They agree to return to the redwood canyon of their youth. Beneath towering giants, they recall the searing songbird calls, the draping moss and the morning light as it filters thinly through heavy fog and drizzling rain. She remembers the promise, and he, the hope.

Many years have since passed. She notes he no longer wears his hair long, and he studies her manicured hands, the diamond and its spark, and how it catches the light. Together they find the familiar path off the trail, and while he beckons, she stalls, considers, and she follows.

The damp dark soil sinks beneath her feet, the wet air curls her hair, and the atmosphere, so deeply green, savory, acrid and sweet, is familiar in her mouth. And he thinks how this path, this bend in the distance, is theirs alone; and she questions, is this the beginning, the middle or the end?

They work their way through the songbird trill, the hanging moss, the softened branches, the damp air and the lifting fog. And she held her breath and he, his own.

She views his farewell a beckoning, a tide, a relentless retreat, and a repeated approach. Was it she who begged the question? Was it he who left it unanswered? It didn’t matter.

Alone in her car, the Muirs cling to her fingertips, and she is unwilling to let go. The impatient songbird, persistent in its call, audible still, as each retreat to the sealed silence of four-door cars. They each know well the Muir songbird’s song. Its gut wrenching plea, a beautiful exclamation, an indisputable truth.

 

 

 

Paper

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When the welling inside her finally spilled forth, it ripped everything from the inside out. It pulled the walls down, and the hairline crack in her foundation stretched and snarled until the ground gave way beneath her feet. Then her words finally failed her.

In the rubble, she gave it all away: the furnishings, the food, the clothes, the instruments that make up a life, those that build a home, those that speak of what was there, the symbols of a life.

In the midst of the collapse, she viewed the letting away as a necessary slash and burn, a throw back to the anthropogenic fires of ancient civilizations. The landscape of her space obliged her to make way, to pull its rotted root, and to haul it all away. This purge — its blazing fire, the noxious smoke, the dying embers — calmed her.

Days later she held in her splintered hands the remains of what was. She recalled the delicate Unryu rice paper she’d bought years before. In the light, its feathery fibers twined like cherry blossom branches and it was completely translucent. She remembered the care she took when she carefully parsed together charcoaled words upon that paper. When rubbed, charcoal coursed like blood through its porous fibers. She learned to blow away the charcoal, lest she stain the paper with her mistakes.

Mostly, she remembered Unryu rice paper is surprisingly difficult to tear.