Getting the Domestics Out
(a workshop comment)
No birth or up bringing. No canned peppers
or skinned chilis. No ristras strung
from a doorway. Get the domestics out, but first
get the children to school. Only two
make the bus. One's in his room crying, little
shudders up and down his back. No, he doesn't
know why. Get the domestics out. I drive him
to school, tell jokes, hold his hand,
feel the pressure where our palms come together,
how our fingers know the open space of one
then the other. From the front steps
I watch boys toss footballs. One stands
absorbing all the sounds, clenching
his fists, trying to stop the fucking tears
that come—get the domestics out.
I jump through low impact and run through
cool down. No, my pulse rate is not off the chart,
I lie. Sometimes I need to sweat from the heart.
Stamina. Get the domestics out. A short cut
through the men's locker room to the weight room.
No, I don't apologize to the man getting dressed.
I pass the English class I taught for twelve dollars
an hour. A woman comes out wearing earphones
and munching cheese curls. No books, no pencils.
No, she doesn't recognize me from Mantelli's Bar
where she accused me of being white. I switched
to Spanish and she didn't want to fight anymore.
Get the domestics out. Twice she showed me
the slippers she wore because she gave her mother her shoes.
I drive home over the dam. No,
they're still not letting water out. Its only ten o'clock,
Monday morning, time enough
to crush chilis, string ristras, rework
that old poem, try to get the domestics out.
Just for the Sound of Things
I wait in the heat of an old sun, standing
the south shore as if it belongs to me.
My mother passes words through the thin
afternoon, her voice settling into this day
without wings: the war years in El Paso
with two babies, waiting through a heat
that soaked every cloth put to skin,
a tarantula crossing the sidewalk
where she meant to pass, how she laid
her youngest on the rough concrete
to free her hands for the brick. And later
along the baseboards she found insects
so large they became unfamiliar. These stories
wear well in the air between us, though
she complains of a shortness in breath.
We return to my kitchen, fold napkins,
baste turkey, laugh about failed gravy
from years before. Always preparing,
my mother sets spoons opposite forks, tells
how she was the daughter on those long drives
down Main Street, the one who answered
the same questions at each corner, "Who
lives here? What street are we on?"
"Repetition is natural," she says, moving
between cupboards and tablecloth. I savor
these cloves of telling against the memory
of my tongue. Together, we hold the "l" sound
so easily behind our upper teeth
as if we were born knowing
this is the way important words would begin,
with our tongues pressed to the roof of our mouth.
Your tears frighten me
because they are so rare.
Their surfacing opens this space
between us. Then you say how easy it was
to slip the eye shadows,
colors you never wear, beneath your jacket.
Now you hold them between us,
turning cards from piles of sevens,
the purples and blues, like flat stones
I wish we could skip over the water
as we did when you were five.
We spent hours digging
for the perfect ones. I move
to cover with a two. Later, the green
neon of "drugstore" blushes
against your cheek as we walk
through the parking lot. We listen,
standing in the wide aisle
between the cashiers and camera bar,
to empty words about bad habits.
The silence trails us home
like the hollow sound I discovered
after you recorded "bitch"
on my answering machine. The pain
you locked into a single word
rose from beneath my fingers.
I search my hand again, sorting cards
by number, trying to turn over
what is buried face down. Later,
I come into your room and hold
my palm to your lips
to make sure you are still breathing.
From the edge of the bed, I watch
your new breasts rise and fall
beneath the thin sheet,
and I think how you wear pain
like other women wear bracelets,
silver pressed to the fine,
blue veins of their wrists.