What’s Left

I want to be alone,
But not really,
I know that one day
Death will come for me,
And I don’t want
The last thing I see
To be the void created
By a broken heart.

I want to be with you,
Oh, but not actually,
I want the you
That I remember
In fever dreams,
Sipping out of flasks
On park benches
And the back of
Empty buildings,
I want your fingers,
I want you tongue,
I want everything
That still causes an ache
Between my legs,
But I don’t miss you,
I don’t miss the insecurity,
The wondering where you are,
The way you took up
Too much space in my bed,
The way took up
Too much space in my life,
I don’t miss asking myself
How pretty she is,
And if you slept in her bed
Every other night.

So what’s left?
For a heart that
Doesn’t want to be alone
But also doesn’t
Want to be bled dry.

There’s no Prince Charming
Knocking on my door,
And no dragons I can slay
To save my perfect princess,
Yet I love myself too much
To be with you again,
And I also love myself too much
To think I deserve to be alone.

So what’s left?

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Where I Came From (?)

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Joaquim Mir, La cala encantada, 1901, Museo Nacional D’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona

People say to remember
Where it is you came from,
Like it’s a guide to happiness,
A home you can go back to,
Cocoon yourself in the safety
Of the past to embrace your future.

I stood in front of La cala encantada,
And tried to find that homecoming
In the different shades of blue,
But I couldn’t actually tell you
If I’ve ever really seen it
With my own two eyes,
Can’t remember the colour of the sand,
Or the touch of the sun on my skin,
Wouldn’t even know it birthed me
If it weren’t on my birth certificate.

Then there’s fragmented memories
Of walking down winding streets
With my mom’s loose hand in mine
(She never held on tight
I never told her I wanted her to)
And my (imaginary) friend’s hand in the other,
Walking to school with my dad
On that wintry day when I arrived
At school and my lips were blue,
Feeding the fish in our aquarium,
My dad telling me he was leaving,
Riding a tricycle around our new flat,
I don’t know what happened to the fish,
Or who lives in the house or the flat,
Don’t know anything about Requena
Except that you pass it on the way to the beach.

I googled Tenerife after hearing
Ed Sheeran turn it into a love song,
Because I didn’t know where it was,
Even though I lived in its capital for months,
All I remember is being continually sick,
And my cousin teaching me to snap my fingers,
Bowing my head in prayer in the mornings,
Not knowing what it all meant,
I remember going to the beach in November,
And I remember being woken up at midnight,
Put on a plane without goodbyes or explanations,
Going to a new country and meeting a new family,
Feeling small and unimportant because
I spoke a language no one wanted to understand.

Your success in America depends on assimilation,
America makes it impossible to assimilate.

I went from watching Tom and Jerry
Because it was the only cartoon I could understand
To reading books until I could understand the words,
Tested out of ESL when I was nine years old,
Had my fourth grade teacher rave about a short story
I had written for a homework assignment,
And then had a sixth grade teacher
Criticise the rest of the class instead of praising me
For getting the highest grade on a grammar exam,
Because English was my second language.

Grew up with kids making fun of my accent
Until I learned to shape my tongue to theirs,
Grew up being underestimated for being ESL,
To consistently out scoring all my peers,
And then moving to a new school,
Where all the As were unseen under the glare of ESL,
And when I tested out of the ESL program,
My mother acted like I had shed my Spanish skin,
Maybe she was right.

I never learned how to write in Spanish,
I even forgot how to speak Spanish for years,
I began to hide my grandfather was Salvadorian,
So people wouldn’t search for olive undertones,
That’s the sacrifices I made when I was teenager,
Renounced half of my relatives and
Forgot where I came from all for the sake
Of belonging to a place that would never take me.

I spent thirteen years being told I didn’t belong,
Then moved back to a country where I supposedly do,
Even though I know none of its literature,
Have learned very little of its history,
Forget about holidays I’ve never celebrated,
And speak my first language in an accent I can’t break.

So if I don’t come from America,
If after thirteen years I’m not American,
And I don’t come from Spain
Even though it’s my home country,
Where the fuck do I belong?
Where did I come from?
Where can I find myself?

I know all I’ll ever be is an immigrant,
But I also know that is not my defining trait,
And I’m tired of being treated like it is.

The Statue

Note: tw: suicide

When I was a little girl, I went to church every single Sunday without exception. Through good times and bad, through richer and poorer, through sickness and health; my first real commitment was to God. Not out of personal choice, when you’re a child there’s no semblance of autonomy. My parents never lied to me about Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. I hesitate to call the first years of my life a childhood because my father never treated it as such. Pretty much as soon as I stopped breastfeeding I was supposed to get with the programme. Our house was the Lord’s house and everything I did was supposed to be in His honour. 

What a goddamn disappointment I must be to them.

For some reason, the memory of sweating in the pews of a church and counting the seconds toward the end of a sermon I had long-ago stopped trying to understand came back to me now under the sweltering heat of the Brazilian sun. It was the third month into what was supposed to be a year long trip and it seemed idiotic now to come to the Amazon during the summer. Being from Louisiana, I thought I was used to heat, but it was nothing, nothing compared to this. Even more idiotic was Kingston and I agreeing that we wanted to see the rural parts of Brazil and Peru. Talk to the natives, have them take us through hikes of the rainforest, impart to us their knowledge for the trade of money and/or food. I was nearly useless with languages but Kingston was bilingual and apparently Spanish was close enough to Portuguese that communication was possible if hard. 

The village we were staying in now was small but hospitable. We wouldn’t have stayed long at all except Kingston took a liking to a girl named Estela. She was 20 years old and lived with her mother and younger brother, her dad having passed a few years ago. They were very welcoming and Estela had a keen ear and almost as much willingness to communicate as Kingston did. She knew the forests better than anyone we’d met, going as far as to teach us about species of animals and plants you wouldn’t find anywhere else in the world. We should have left ages ago, but Kingston was so reluctant and Estela kept insisting that she still had plenty to show us if we were interested that we stayed. Due to the circumstances surrounding our trip, I was willing to allow Kingston to have whatever flings he wanted. 

It was under her mother’s directions that I was making my way through the rainforest toward what she’d described as an abandoned old church. Inside was a statue that was a wish granter. What you had to do, or so the legends told, was go to the church and stand before the statue of a young angel. Out loud you told the goddess of your worst sin, no lies, and your wish and she would grant it if you showed remorse and if she deemed your wish something worth granting. Some people said she required some other sort of sacrifice but those details were hazy. 

Estela had tried it, when her father was dying, but her wish didn’t come true. I believe she felt remorse for whatever she’d done, the girl was an Earth-walking saint, I just doubted she’d ever done anything horrible enough that admitting to it was pain inducing. Even though it hadn’t worked for her, I was willing to believe in this goddess like I had never believed in God. Perhaps anyone is able to believe in anything when desperation sets in and starts grinding away everything they’d once thought was true or false. When I heard the story I’d been filled with something that tasted too bitter to be hope, but rather a raw kind of yearning that coerced me into at least trying. That was a much better option than submitting to the helplessness of it all. 

It was better than watching somebody die

During the first day of our third week was when it happened. Estela had been the first one to start showing symptoms. Fever, chills, vomiting. At first we thought it was the flu since after tending to her for hours Kingston had started developing symptoms as well. He had a weaker immune system than me, I’d known that, it’s why I’d tried to pull him away from Estela when she got sick but he’d refused. According to Estela’s mother it wouldn’t have mattered anyways. The symptoms had abated for all of two days leading us to assume they were recuperating until Kingston started getting worse again. Out where we were it was a far shot away from a hospital and it had already taken us a long time to get to the village when we were both healthy. 

One of Estela’s neighbours said that they probably had malaria and made the trip to find a doctor from a nearby village to come to our village after telling us not to worry, the doctor had cured malaria before. Most likely, Estela and Kingston had been bitten by the same mosquito. However, Kingston started deteriorating quickly, more quickly than Estela. The doctor came and did a dipstick test which confirmed malaria. Estela started responding quickly to the treatment and surely the treatment should have helped Kingston, and perhaps it did in some small way, but only hours after the first treatment he started to have seizures. Even though it was rare, the doctor said the seizures meant the infection had spread to his brain and needed better medical treatment than the village had access to. They were getting ready to transport him to a hospital in the closest city which would be far better equipped to treat the complications. 

The plan was to follow later if this failed. Kingston was already so weak when they set off that I wasn’t confident he’d make it and the way Estela cried and hung onto his hand made me feel as if I had cause enough to visit the wish granter. However, I’d been walking so long that I wasn’t sure I was even walking in the right direction anymore. Estela’s brother had volunteered to accompany me but I knew this was a trip I had to take alone if only because I wouldn’t be able to do it if he came. The way we tell stories varies when another person is listening as opposed to when you’re alone, even if they can’t understand you, I’d be too worried about him picking up enough to understand the meaning. 

I couldn’t deny that walking through the rainforest was a lot more frightening alone, the sound of my own feet against the forest floor making my hairs stand up on end. The trees were getting thicker the farther away from the village I walked, the canopy blocking out sunlight but not the moist heat that stuck to my skin and clothing. This had to be what it felt like to be slowly cooked alive. A feeling of foreboding sank through me, starting in the back of my neck and spreading down my body, triggering adrenaline to flood my veins until my fight or flight instinct was begging me to turn around and run. I was close to listening, ready to turn back and go to the village because I’d travelled further than I had into the rainforest before and my aimlessness was taking time, too much time when Kingston no longer had the luxury to waste any. Then my eyes spotted it. 

Estela’s mother had called this worn down building a church, but it was barely the size of the plain, suburban two story house I’d grown up in. As I walked closer, I located the reason for my dread. The rainforest, always buzzing with life, had grown quiet around me, as if even the bugs didn’t dare to go any closer. Now yards away from the church the rainforest was absolutely silent and my lips parted with astonishment as I noticed that the trees surrounding the church had all grown leaning away from it, flooding the small clearing with sunlight. The few plants that had dared to grow close to the church looked like they were dying and even though the sun was relentlessly bearing down on the church, when I reached the steps leading to the big wooden doors the temperature had dropped. It was still warm, but was nowhere close to the stifling heat I’d felt since dawn, before the sun had even risen. 

Goosebumps erupted on my skin as I crossed the threshold and for a moment I was absurdly worried I’d burst into fire or be struck down by lightning for walking into a sacred building. My eyes scanned the inside of the church. Even though it looked worn down on the outside, it was pristine on the inside. There was no dust on the floors or the wooden pews, they even looked polished. At the front there was a statue, just like Estela’s mother had said there would be, but she hadn’t given me a detailed description. When she had said the wish granter was a statue of a young angel, I’d been expecting a statue of a woman about my age. The statue was just an infant, though, her hands clasped in front of her body, a smile like Mona Lisa’s on her delicate cherub face. Her stone eyes as I approached her seemed to stare right into my soul, but that was probably just because I knew what I was here to do. 

I fell onto my knees in front of her, not knowing if that’s what I was supposed to do or not. Perhaps I could have remained standing, or even sat on one of the pews. It felt like I should be in a prayer position for this, because that’s what this was, even if it was to an unorthodox goddess. For a few seconds, I stayed silent, trying to pull my thoughts together. All I’d done for the last three months was try to forget what happened, even though Kingston had tried to wheedle it out of me with alcohol and the promise that he wouldn’t judge me. After all, he knew I’d been having an affair with my professor, I’d practically bragged about it the first time I screwed him. If I were any good at art I would have probably painted a picture of the two of us together, that’s how pleased with myself I was. There were no words to adequately articulate how despicable I was but that was the point of this, to try, to save Kingston’s life. 

“I was…um, I was in my second year of grad school.” My voice was hoarse and trembling, like I was crying, although I wasn’t, not yet. “I had a professor, Dr. Sennett, although he insisted all of us call him Henry even if nobody ever did. He taught about ancient Indian civilizations. I wasn’t really interested in the subject, thought I’d take it and maybe get an easy A. But he talked with such…passion. Every day I went to class I just thought I wanted to love something,  anything, as much as he loved his subject. His eyes lit up every time someone asked a question, no matter how stupid and he always said that we could fail his class, as long as we all left with a higher appreciation of the civilizations that were here before the Spanish and the English colonised the New World.” I closed my eyes tightly, hating how my voice sounded when I talked about Sennett. There was still awe in my voice, I was still so, so infatuated with him, the man whose life I had single-handedly ruined. “Probably I was always screwed up; nobody ever loved me like that, not even my parents. I wanted to feel something because I didn’t feel anything, so I became kind of obsessed with him. Very obsessed with him. I wanted him to fuck that kind of passion into me. He couldn’t. I guess I knew that, deep down, but I was so sick of feeling nothing.” 

In the spring, five months after we’d started sleeping together, the affair started to go stale. He took a little longer to get hard in my mouth, he stopped looking at me like he’d die a hundred deaths to touch me. I was his siren, his Parthenope, and I was starting to understand why she cast herself off to sea. Anything I could have done to keep him, I would have. But there was nothing I could do, he loved his wife, not enough to be faithful to her but enough to not leave her. The night he said we couldn’t see each other anymore I went to Kingston’s dorm crying. I asked him to take a year long trip with me, starting in South America, and he agreed just to get me to stop crying. He shouldn’t have cared, shouldn’t have come with me, because everything I touched turned to ashes. Kingston told me numerous times that I wasn’t a horrible person for sleeping with my professor, that it was his fault too and his responsibility to say no as the person who was in a position of power. And he was probably right, but it wasn’t that simple. I was a horrible person because I couldn’t just leave it at that.

“He never said he’d leave his wife. He was good about that, not promising anything he was never going to give me. I still wanted it, though. In the end, I just knew I didn’t want his wife to get him. So I sent her pictures of myself, nude pictures, with a letter. Told her I was just another little college whore that had a piece of her husband. That there were other. Dozens upon dozens, I don’t even know if there actually were. Maybe, maybe not, but I wanted her to leave him. So I told her there were so many girls that there was probably no piece of him that belonged to her. I told her I didn’t even get an A in his class.” I was crying now, the sobs making it hard to talk, rocking back and forth my eyes still squeezed shut. I didn’t want to relive what I had spent months running away from. But the guilt had chased me and caught Kingston instead of me. He couldn’t die. I couldn’t take any more blood on my hands. I whispered the next part. “She killed herself a week later.” 

I heard it was her thirteen year old daughter that found her passed out in her bathroom with an empty bottle of pills on the sink. 

“She killed herself because of me.” 

My voice was barely audible now, but it didn’t matter. I could feel it, in this room that had grown steadily colder as I made my confession, that the goddess could see every thought in my head. Gossip about the affair between Sennett and I had spread like the plague around campus. Nobody knew about the letter or the pictures except Sennett and his daughter, and while plenty of people blamed me regardless, everyone had collectively decided it was his fault. Kingston knew that it was the suicide that had devastated me more than the affair, if only because I hadn’t felt guilt over the latter until the news of the suicide came out, but he insisted the suicide itself wasn’t my fault. 

Even Sennett didn’t blame me; I had met him once, a few days before the funeral, at his request. I’d wanted him to yell at me, to slap me, to do something. But he didn’t. Instead, he told me that he’d shredded the letter and the pictures and he and his daughter hadn’t mentioned a word of them to the authorities before telling me it was best if I didn’t go to the funeral. When I’d started crying and apologising, he’d shaken his head. “Obviously you shouldn’t have…done what you did. But it’s not your fault, I don’t want you blaming yourself. I knew she was depressed, I should have spent more time at home with her.” The instead of with you had echoed deafeningly in my head even though he hadn’t said it. 

He was wrong. Kingston was wrong. Even the people who already did blame me were wrong because they didn’t know the exact atrocity of what I’d done. Maybe the affair wasn’t all my fault and maybe she had been depressed. But nobody would have ever told her about the affair, even if everybody pretty much knew. Sennett certainly wouldn’t have. People might have thought of her as a fool and she might have never discovered what a sham her marriage was. But did that matter? She would have lived. 

But she didn’t. 

Not because of the affair in of itself, but because I had to go and tell her about it on the sliver of a chance that she’d leave her husband. I wasn’t even sure I’d wanted him in retrospect, I’d known even then that obsession wasn’t love. I’d killed her whilst hoping for nothing in return. There wasn’t a hell hot enough to be deserving of me. 

“But Kingston can’t die, not because of me. He had nothing to do with it, he just has the misfortune of being near me,” I said, once I’d composed myself enough to speak, hunching in on myself. “Please, please don’t let him die.” It didn’t quite feel like I’d given the goddess everything I had to give for her to consider my wish worth granting, not really, and I needed to try everything. I didn’t even hesitate to speak when the thought struck me. “If the disease has to kill someone, then it should kill me, not Kingston. That’s my wish. I wish for the virus to kill me instead of Kingston.” 

Everything remained as it had been in the jungle. Not a single leaf moved out of place and the insects kept buzzing while still keeping a careful distance from the church. The Earth kept spinning, the sun kept shining and the gods stayed silent. Nothing was affected by the last wish of a stupid, selfish girl. 

Nothing that is, but me. In a second, the air touching my skin felt so cold that I started shivering, even as I started sweating more profusely than I had during my trek through the rainforest. It was as if I could physically feel my temperature rising into a dangerously high fever, even more so because there was no one mopping my head or putting medicine into my body like they were Kingston. None of that compared to the pain that suddenly seized every muscle of my body as I clutched my stomach. It felt like my body knew it was dying, and was fighting like hell to keep it from happening. My head especially, which was fit to burst. I moaned, partly in pain, but mostly in relief because if the disease had hit me so instantaneously then is must have left Kingston just as quickly. His life was wide open again, ripe for the taking, and he was the one who really deserved it out of the two of us. The goddess had listened. The goddess had granted my wish. 

The goddess had righted this wrong.  

Words Will Fly

You must understand
That when I write
I have less time to think,
The words flow out
Not caring where they go,
If someone will hear them
If everyone will hate them,
If no one will even listen,
They do no fear the world.

I do not fear an empty page,
I can sing in front of a deaf audience,
I can dance in front of a blind one,
I’m the Oscar winning actress
Of a movie no one will ever see,
Because that is my stage,
An empty page in an empty room,
That I might one day let you see.

You must understand
That speaking isn’t so easy,
Not to say that I can’t,
I just don’t say anything
That I’m really thinking,
Because I listen and I watch,
And it sews my lips shut,
Until it’s time to say good-bye,
Because that’s at least is scripted,
And way too easy to follow through.

My heart beats desperately,
It is protected by ribs and skin,
Cradled deep inside my chest,
And I know that hearts ache,
I know that they break,
And that when they stop beating
Then the body dies
And the spirit goes with it
And I’m so sorry that
I am not willing to take that risk,
My heart might be desperate,
But I am not.

The words come from my heart,
My desperate, vulnerable heart,
It does not know how to fear,
So it is my job to protect it,
To act as the fight or flight instinct,
And if that makes me cold
Or seemingly unfeeling,
To people who have never
Shown me their heart either,
Then I suppose that’s
The price that I’ll pay.

Maybe somewhere
I will find someone
That has X-ray vision,
Or at least enough faith
To believe my heart can love
Even if I cannot speak those words.

Something

I leave a lit cigarette on the windowsill,
Watching the smoke float up toward the stars,
Like I’m summoning the spirit of a past love,
Because even if it was undesired and unrequited,
It was…something.

Something that fills the empty sound with music,
A cacophony of discordant sounds
Playing to a harmony that is a stranger
To the melody of my subtle heart.

Something that makes my skin feel tighter around me,
Makes me forget I’m sick every meal time,
And prepares food without asking if I’m hungry,
Acting like it’s normal even thought it’s not.

Something that makes the worries come back,
Midnight calls, slurred words and hangover amnesia,
Nightmares of childhood moments I don’t want repeated,
Wondering if I have a Freudian obsession with my trauma.

Something that makes the cracks in my own brain
Seem like a common affliction because compared to you,
Compared to all the fucked up trips and panic attack driven reunions
I’m normal enough to be the poster child for balanced living.

Yet as I sit with my knees up to my chest watching the smoke,
I know with absolute certainty that I don’t miss you,
I miss the fantasy of what we were that bright summer night,
When you made romance seem like it was something you loved,
And I got to find out you don’t even know what it looks like.

Dreams

I want to feel
Those butterfly wings,
Those first date tremors,

Taste
Those candy-flavoured kisses,
Sometimes tainted with cigarettes and beer

Touch
Every inch you keep hidden,
The coolness of silk sheets on my skin

See
Both the smile you show the world
And your eyes on me through the dark nights

Smell
The hint of your cologned mixed with our sin,
And the fresh brewed coffee later that morning

I want to feel you
Superficially and not,
Invade my senses,
Or at least my dreams
Until the sun stops rising

Walking Away

I walk on the tips of my toes
So I won’t hear the devastating sound
Of my shoes hitting the pavement
Farther and farther from where you stand

The silence envelops my ears
As I strain to hear the sound
Of your feet following me,
Yet all I hear is the ghost of my fantasies

The tree did not fall,
But I did,
Perfectly quiet,
Because no one was there
To hear me break

You don’t blame me
For walking away,
I could handle that,
You blame me
For your unwillingness to follow,
And how is that fair?

I’m not gonna beg
Just because that’s your idea
Of a happily ever after