i leave, late, lock up, and there is a man screaming outside.
at first i cannot see him but i hear the screams. even then, before seeing, i do not consider asking what is wrong.
he is leaned on the hood of a car, shaking and howling. i would like to ask what is wrong, as i would like a stranger to ask me if by midnight i was screaming into the empty road, but instead i glance and he glances back with animal indifference + i try to walk fast enough so i don’t have to think about stabbing him with my keys. behind me, he is screaming.
at the bus stop, i can still hear the song my bones are singing, those which are more fragile than i would like them to be. they will not allow me to turn back, though i have plenty of time + the bus is always late anyway. it only takes one mistake, they sing.
my father learned this song, i believe, when he held the baby that was to be me for the first time. ‘she will have boyfriends,’ he said, so scared. it has become somewhat of a family joke.
from the corner of my eye, at the bus stop, i see someone coming. i stare hard at the building across the street, like i am trying to memorize its bricks, and think of what i have with me that is like a weapon. my face is like a weapon tonight.
the man sees the hate in my eyes and recoils. i want to apologize for this but it is still midnight on an empty street and my bones will not shut up. the wind changes & brings me a howl, full-throated, bouncing off the buildings. i step nonchalantly towards the curb, holding my body straight up, like a sword, and look for the bus which is not there.
my father pulled this song to center stage before i left home & insisted i take self-defense classes. he defended himself for the better part of two hours while i raged coldly & refused.
"they spread fear.
"they spread the idea that women should be afraid. i do not want to be afraid. i do not want
"someone to be paid for teaching me the millions of ways in which i can become a victim."
"ok, ok, i get it, wow. they’ll need to defend themselves from you!" it has become somewhat of a family joke.
it is cold but i am a pillar of flame by the time the bus comes. i am trying in every moment to burn them down, burn these ideas, but my body—like all these women’s bodies—will go first.
i have been picking up old loves and letting them spill through my fingers. remembering, worrying with my fingers around the edge of the memory where I learned that “je t’aime bien” means less than “je t’aime.”
Nothing is spared, nothing.
This morning I waited for another man and only the smiles of people walking by kept my buoyed, still keep me above the water. if only these strangers knew how much their quarters matter.
-Hey, I got a kombucha-dude.
-Do you know kombucha? A kind of creepy mushroom tea?
-The one…where you grated it when you were sick?
-Uh, no, another creepy mushroom tea. This one’s fermented.
-This is the one you said tastes like semen!
-I said that? It does sound like me, but I don’t remember saying it.
-Yeah, you were really excited: ‘that’s what kombucha tastes like!’
-Oh right. Semen doesn’t…taste bad, necessarily. And kombucha doesn’t taste completely like semen. There’s just this…tang to it.
-Yeah, that was the word you used. Tangy.
New Orleans is a food desert.
It’s weird, I know, because we have a huge reputation for our food—but our soil can’t grow it, not after the storm. Everything comes through the port, down the river, on the highway. Other people bring food to New Orleans to sell. They build grocery stores in Metairie, downtown, Uptown, on Magazine.
But they don’t build in the Lower 9th Ward.
There’s no grocery store there. There hasn’t been one since Katrina in 2005. It’s an extreme low-income neighborhood that depends on a problematic inconvenient public transit systems to cross the city to get any fresh food.
They’re reaching out to local universities and institutions and offering fresh fruit and vegetables to the community—but they’re also offering hope.
OSBG serves as a school, a service institution, and a place of employment for teenagers and young adults from the Lower 9th who want to give back and get more for their community.
But that’s all going to go away without help.
The New Orleans City Council recently passed through new zoning ordinances, and this landmark of the Lower 9th (built by a married couple in 1955 by hand with cypress wood) has to be rebuilt to code. The renovations cost $100,000.
They can’t afford this. They’re a nonprofit barely scraping by. They put together an IndieGoGo campaign, but it’s stagnating at just under $3,000—$97,000 short of their goal.
If they don’t open their building before the summer, the community could lose this resource for good. No garden, no produce, no program, no building.
Please help them in any way you can. Donate a dollar, signal boost, share this post, their link, anything anywhere you can do it. This is important, and soon it could be gone.
because i held my heart, enormous and possible as a roasted beet. and carved and carved. because i slipped the last bite between my own red lips. because i catch my face tightening with the unsaid while your breathing slows next to mine. because i remember every one of them and wince with the breath coming between the empty space in my ribs.
“A woman like that is not a woman, quite.”
If I lock all the vicious tools in a chest—
If I Lexapro and Lamictal and celibate and sober—
If I roast root vegetables and eat them—
your weather will still wait. Here, take these veins
out for dinner. Try, like it’s enough.
This myth I can’t get over: the punishment
of dead leaves, cold pastorals.
I glut and glut the jeweled seeds,
belly filled more by the next world than life.
Dreaming a daughter sobbing
in christening frills, the uncertain
life I could give of this constant autumnal
body I’ve fed death and wept as it spat
those gray eyes back out like rotten greens,
I praise the thick ruby oozing of the never
conceived, the latex-guarded nothings.
I am afraid of the moving mouths
of doctors, what they’ll say has been done
to my liver and bowels by wee fistfuls
of quieting pills. With bruised inner elbows
of IV saviors, gimped life of a body
even paramedics wouldn’t hold,
dropped down the staircase like a limp fish,
I am my monster. Must be a sin in it,
to wish a child born to a half-poisoned mother.
I’d pilfer joy from first curls and coos,
damn the dimpled dear into dread clothes
and rioting the common ebb of seasons.
We all know what a dirge sounds like.
No need for another pitchy voice droning:
poor old me, burry me, marry me
to worms, let the pallbearers carry me.
O good gods of stasis and sugar,
I am asking you to make me a quiet thing.
water, gulped, sipped steady day in day out
arms wrapping, gripping, his hand searching, finding
tea, grated from a fruited body, a gnarled root, a spoon dripping honey
lemon, squeezed til the cuts on my hands scream
body alive and pulling, praying to the darkened ceiling calling oh god finding oh god fullness fruiting
pushing back, at angles, his sweet hand rubbing back soothing coughed in deep dressing hurriedly to make the bathroom walls shake with hoarse
the corners of his smile
palmed, two pills to make me
worry for my liver my brain my muscles but—
sweet warm sleep, tucked inside a dream, my voice coming slow but it is there it is a voice, honey-dripping and stilled
And the woman, huge and desperate, one child (the one who ran off, heedless of strangers and traffic and needed to be called and chased and coaxed back) shut safely in the minivan, the other (small, curious, scared perhaps, of the neighborhood, of the uncertainty of it all, of the child straining inside her mother like a promise or a threat) scuttled underneath it and hiding in the fluid drip and exposed metal of the undercarriage—the woman, straining and scared, now, for the shine of her skin, not white but pink, like something raw and terrified, cut-open, in this neighborhood, with the boys sitting on stoops, standing on corners, unnerved. Wondering if this is indeed her life. How this could be. The child inside the car playing with the locks, the child under the car—is she hissing?—the child still to come kicking savagely at her sacrum. This pitiless world, this unexpected indignity. She looks around her.
And the young man who comes down from the stoop and says Ma’am can I help you and he reaches under the car down where she can’t reach and scuttles me back (because it was me, and it was my mother, and it was the Bronx in 1993) and my mother, sweating, grateful, otherworldly with the size of her belly, bursts into tears for all the things she thought he was, and perhaps he was these things, but also a young man who decided to help a woman in trouble. For the way she can be the villain and the helpless princess both and he will be a cardboard cut-out, all the ways that this is wrong and all the ways that it is real.
And he tips his hand as she drives away and she still tells this story. And it can be pulled and teased in so many different directions, and maybe it’s better to focus on her beastly unbehaved children (it is still a wonder, to me, that I could have been so cruel, part of such a vicious pack) than the colors—the white, the black, the brown, the pink, the rainbow sheen of oil dripping on hot, cracked pavement. Or maybe the colors are the most important part, you know, what they impart. The effects they still have.
"You wouldn’t come to me,"—I kicked her, in fact—"but when this boy, maybe nineteen"—this black boy—“reached under the van you crawled right to him,” she says, and all of the things happening in her voice are enough to break my heart.