I used to watch you dance with your family,
swaying with the sunflowers on bright, breezy days.
Some of you were yellow like sunshine, and others were white
like clouds. You looked like little fallen bits of sky
that seemed untouchable beyond the fence–
a line marking wild grass and rustling whispers,
a portal to your paradise.
You left your paradise.
You must have wanted a change of pace.
You must have wanted to bring some sky to me,
because in that fleeting moment my father opened the back door–
so slight, a little slice of time–
you flitted inside
and glided straight for the warmth of the open oven.
I could have carried you in my palms.
You were so small, so fragile, so beautiful–
pure white wings, withered into ash
and swallowed down a hot, black throat.
The path you flew left a lingering
trail that diffused throughout the kitchen.
The sunlight that poured inside
between the blinds illuminated the ghosts of your particles
with cold indifference,
particles that tasted bitter inside of my skull that was still
ringing and rattling with my father’s rancid laughter.
He called you stupid.
I remember we were baking ribs that day
and how my own ribs felt sore.
I remember how they felt like a pathetic shelter for my heart
that was rapidly wilting within them and settling,
in my queasy stomach among unshed stone tears.
Lunch tasted like grey ash that afternoon.
A childhood friend once told me
that white butterflies are the spirits of children.
I haven’t seen your family since.
I hope your wings were clipped,
your light snuffed,
before you even felt anything;
I hope your consciousness slid smoothly into sleep
with the ease of your waltzing entrance.
Dear child, that day your soul was set free.
I only hope that you are at peace
as a cloud or as mist,
ever missed, in the midst of the sky–
a small sign from the heavens.
I think we all were eager to leave
that soft blue house with its wind chimes swinging,
the oil-stained driveway,
the sugar tips that wept
pink every year as hummingbirds and ants played in their sweet petals.
When we left, I said goodbye
to the gentle blooming bush that stroked
my window every night.
In the backyard there were bluebonnets and mushrooms and a flat stone path leading
up to wide French doors that watched the dining room
like gaping eyes, watching
all of my worst memories,
pushed into the back of my mind like the putrid dishes we all ignored.
but all of my words are knotted up inside of me and I can’t untangle them.
My anger is a knot and my loss is a knot and my memories are knots, knots, knots.
I remember you and I remember how I felt
but I can’t tie that together.
I am blood, neurons, bones, and silence.
Words stop breathing
somewhere between my brain and my heart.
I am the life of this poem:
with a jutting
first line like
He soiled your self esteem
bit by bit,
plucked your petals with a broken belt
until you were stem and bone.
You, as you knew her, were lost.
In your place was an apathetic, anxious
husk of a child,
Sapped of life and livelihood.
It took you years to unlearn your apologies;
longer still to love your form.
You forgot how to speak, so you learned to create
and to cultivate gardens of pain.
He tried to teach you
to be silent, submissive, and something less than everything
you ever hoped to be–
an artist, a writer, a daughter.
Many words gather and drip, one by one,
from the acid-like tongue of the master.
His scorched daughter suffers, her smooth stomach rots,
Her slender hands burn as her boiled blood clots.
Young and distorted by deafening pain,
she is mute, resolute–she will not speak again.
Many words falter before being spoken,
defeated, unneeded, their syllables broken.
The ironlike fist of the master’s sick reign
smears its subject until she is only a stain.
The master is deadly, the master is blind,
and the masterful price of her staying alive.
He casts off his vices with two-faced devices
and coats his harsh words in a pretty, bright gloss.
He’ll rinse and repeat while the cycle continues,
and swear that true love cannot live without loss.
Young and distorted by deafening pain,
a girl dissolute with a reckless rage
finds a kinship quelled, with every word spoken–
the last of a bond, bent and bowed
and she learns
to unlock her own cage.
She severs the grip of the master’s sharp tongue
and she breaks his thick fingers, one by one,
and rebuilds her sweet life by the light of the sun.
A few weeks later, you will inhale it
and have your first flashback as you crumple against the cold tile.
Like the grainy, half-white bathtub,
it should have scrubbed your insides clean
and bleached your bones and body.
You have a friend
to thank for keeping you alive,
but now you don’t know how to survive;
your mother sees the mess of your dark body rotting
among cleaning supplies, amid a sharp lemon scent of anguish,
and tells you to keep cleaning.
One day I found a bucket
of something syrupy and clear
by the garage, and inside
was a cardinal,
face down, sticking out
oddly with none of a bird’s grace,
a pretty, slimy ruby glistening,
half-unearthed from its tomb;
yes, that white bucket was its oasis,
heaven beneath a hot Texas sun, a clear
choice for a sweet drink
before heading home,
and as it stopped to drink
it had to think,
while it delicately perched,
its head descended, its beak—
forced shut, was hushed,
tumbling after into afterlife,
found no way to sing, no strength to fly,
and I still wonder about those final moments,
its jeweled wings beat valiantly against death,
it accepted its fate
in silent contemplation,
it was even dead yet.
Your veins are especially prominent,
running along the length of your lean arms and your calloused hands
that culminate in your thick, pointed fingers.
How human you are–
how fragile you are–
with your veins so vulnerable beneath your skin.
But still they flow,
and still you beat,
beneath my moods, my fears, my doubts;
beneath my soft arms and my little hands,
keeping us both alive.