Epigenetics

“Have you ever thought about killing yourself?”
my mom asked nonchalantly.
“I used to,” she paused over the phone,
“but then I had you and Brandon,
and it just sort of stopped.”

My response was difficult to say out loud;
I am often not convinced I want to stay here.

“It’s just an impulse,” I said, trying to be honest,
letting her in a little bit.
“I know how to cut the leash that keeps me
quarantined
in the forsaken places
my body dumps me.
I am a sage,
a fighter,
a slippery trouble maker.”

I didn’t want to say that I wasn’t sure about the future,
that I hadn’t completely abandoned the idea.
I wanted her to think I was good at living,
getting better at it as an adult.
I didn’t want her to worry.

Brandon and I are in a hotel room
in another country
to bury our mother,
who took a bottle of pills
chased by a bottle of vodka
in a different hotel room,
but not before
she thoughtfully spread a plastic tarp
on the bed
so that the cleaning staff
would have an easier time
changing the sheets.

These are the ways in which my family are thoughtful.

“Have you ever thought about killing yourself?”
my brother asks pointedly.
“Sometimes I worry.”

He is making a late night sandwich
from the groceries we managed to acquire
on a shopping trip in which people kept smiling at us
and asking how we were doing.

I am pouring gin and biting my tongue.
I want to be so drunk that I don’t have to verbalize thought,
that my brother will intuit and accept
that I am deeply ambivalent about living,
but not because I don’t love him.

I suppose that’s what my mother would say.

As it stands I am sweating juniper
but I am still too sober.
I start to answer but I stop.
I start
and stop.
My hands are both cold and hot.

I find myself trying to wrestle with logic.
“Well, it’s likely I would have,
maybe,
but now things are different.
I couldn’t do that to you.
Not after this.”

I see the words leave my mouth
but I don’t believe them.

I don’t want anybody to worry.

That’s what my mom kept saying.

These are the ways in which my family are thoughtful.

The thing about silence is that
it’s never quiet,
just like to be mute
is not to be unintelligible.

Sometimes making sense is a fool’s journey,
and sometimes,
some of us,
the irresolute,
don’t want to make sense.
There is no good response to the question
how are you today?
There is no guaranteed outcome
of navigating this indecision.

Shear Strength (Soil)

Sometimes we learn to name hurt first
because we are tired of pretending
that everything is ok.

This doesn’t mean that joy is a stranger,
that the opposite of sorrow is bliss,
that the opposite of the opposite
of the intermediary
is sitting upright and making sense.

I don’t have enough flesh to bury
all of the memories
and contradictions
of my childhood.

I don’t have enough time to
watch all of the salty seeds
dispersed from a constant howl
germinate.

I want to build a shelter frame
with my mother’s bones
and the skin of my teeth.

Skeleton scaffoldings are not futile
but they can be bars
if we’re not careful.

I keep forgetting
that the earth itself moves
shatters
liquefies.

Feelings are oscillations
and preconditions,
a constant propagation of
confrontations,
rivers of silt and soil.

We Were Children Once

When I was 6
you taught me to check under cars
in back seats
to not wear my shorts too short
to not get caught alone
with my grandfather
and his relentless hands.

You taught me that men leave scars,
maps for other men to trace with their fingers
and carve back open
until the swollen tissue
becomes a wall
rising up and out.

You taught me to swallow stress that screams sandstorms,
leaves everything covered in dirt,
to sit in civility until the world changes
and is ready for me,
but maybe you.
I have decided
that the world changes too slowly
and I’m tired of hiding.

Sometimes I think you thought
that I didn’t have enough to complain about,
as my anguish looked different
from your traumatic progeny.
Legitimacy was extended through
a flattening of my world
to fit into yours
because mine might implicate you.

You asked me over and over
to hide my wounds,
to help heal yours.
I wonder if you thought it was
a shameful flag of failure,
a reflection of a woman as an injured child
trying to grow a garden with dry hands.

I wish I could’ve told you
that he didn’t ruin you.
You weren’t damaged.
You were a soft moss
moved to the desert
patiently waiting for rain.

I see you,
I hold you,
I’m yours,
but I have no more patience
nor infinite forgiveness
though my compassion
flows like a monsoon flooded falls
for the ways in which this world
and our families, too
shape us.

Mourning is an action
evoking ghosts
to bury them tidily.
But I am a mess,
and I am not
will never be
have never been
clean.

I am not
will never be
have never been
healed.

I love you
but my fist is a muscle
the size of my heart
and both beat strong
while neither can yield harm.

My stories are mine,
understated constellations
laced and woven into
your cosmology,

and I have enough tears now
to water your garden
indefinitely.

Dear Dad (A Letter in Rant Form)

Dear Dad,
Where have you been?
Brandon tells me that you’ve been dating again,
also that he gave up on you,
also that he’s embarrassed he ever defended your absence.

Dear Dad,
You sent Brandon an email
after mom’s suicide
saying that she was at peace.
You misquoted the Byrds as Bob Dylan
to seem poetic,
but your tenured silence is greater
than an embarrassing mistake in a condolences email.

I often think about why you ever had children.
Maybe you thought the world would open up for you
if you gave it what you thought it wanted.
That the drug dealing and jail time would
prove impervious fingerprints on fatherhood.
That the alcoholism would lapse
with the love of a wife.

But you kept waking up from that dream.

You sent us back to the desert,
thought your parents would help raise us,
and stopped paying child support because
mom would habitually remarry.
To her,
this mitigated the impact of the financial isolation
she bared the brunt of
after leaving her family of origin
across the Pacific.
To you,
it was an excuse
to let her new husbands subsidize
your bar habit.

You complained to us when she married
abusive men,
but you forgot about the time
Brandon found a baggie full to the brim
of your pills
on the toilet
when he was a toddler.
Mom flushed them all
and again became the reckless one
by responding to her child in peril.

When I found photos of myself in
a bonnet and a child carrier
on the bar
and you were in a beard on a stool
I could hardly contain my disappointment,
yet somehow she remained a constant target for you.
Her bad decisions.
Your smoke and mirrors.

You never redeemed the promise to let
her return home.
Instead, you planted a lie when she started making plans
to finish the circle
and go back;
I thought I had seen her collapse
sobbing for the last time.
Then you made up a miraculous story
about a fantastical kidnapping attempt
that never happened.
She was too stupid, you said,
to realize that you had tricked her
to come back to the States.

I’ve wanted to tell you that I’ve known about that lie
for 20 years
but can’t bring myself to bother confronting you
because it wouldn’t change a thing.
She’s still dead
and you are my father on paper only.

I hate that I’m 33
and writing angst-ridden poems
about the desire to have emotionally and physically present parents.
I hate that when I was 15
and called you for an interview
for a school project,
you told me I couldn’t handle the truth
about your history in Vietnam
but later gave it freely
to my cousin.
She has a bridge to you
that you burned to me.
My report read:
“Yes, I have a dad,”
and I somehow stretched that on for
two whole pages.

Dear Dad,
I remember when I finally made plans to move to Seattle
only to find out through a family telephone game
that you had just moved back to Phoenix.
I wondered when you were going to bother to tell me.
You were so secretive even then,
I didnt know for months that you were only two hours away.
I worry that this tendency is a seed residing inside me,
germinating sullen, solitary, stubborn roots.

Dear Dad,
I’ve been wanting to reach out to you
for the last 8 months
since mom died
but I already considered you long gone;
I honestly don’t know if I could mourn you again.

I do have a longing.
A longing to at least tell you that
she wasn’t stupid or crazy,
that she was a strong incest survivor,
clever enough to execute
a secret escape from someone
who showed her where he would hide her dead body,
and fed two kids after another divorce that left her financially ruined,
and still loved my brother and I enough to feed two suns.
She broke down often only to explode in light.
I can see where her spirit informs my mannerisms
making me a little softer, a little tougher,
and I want you to leave her name
out of your mouth.

Somatics

The heat in your chest,
is there heat in your chest?
What about your feet now?
And now your fingers?
Is there sensation?
Can you locate the feeling?
The future is wet feet
and the past is wet feet
and my knees sink
into my toes.

My body is recreating the past,
sewing its shedding skin
back onto itself;
shadowing a felt symmetry,
an inevitable eventuality,
a song I was born singing.

I gently pick at the stiff seams of yellowed leather,
the hardened sheets curling over skin more supple,
because determinism is dirt
and I want to wipe myself clean
but I can still feel and see it
caked in lines along
fingerprints
under layers of husk.

I utilize nervous habits:
biting nails,
splitting skin
to let the filth in.

What if the location is outside of the body?

I can locate the feeling.
I’m calm
and spacing out,
demonstrating death like a killdeer
to save the youngest part of myself.

Distracting you from the body.

I’m a sea cucumber
coughing up its guts,
a sleight of hand survival mechanism.

I’m considering the inky cap
who fruits and immediately starts to rot.

Can you locate the feeling in your body?

What I mean to say is that
Some bodies take advantage of disaster.

When the thunder strikes
and your heart calls out to the storm
where is the origin?
How old were you?
Who hurt you?

Then come back to yourself
to be unheld,
to be unholding
to make room
to fit your tiny body
in the palm
of your own hand.

Do you have enough food and water?
Have you had adequate sleep?

The universe does not care
and it is not sorry.

An indifferent planet
sounds like
the slow whisper of barnacles,
winter waves pounding the shore,
the hiss of seed pods splitting and spreading in the heat,
your anger as the underside of dignity
a dignified understory
in the wake of a fire.

My bones vibrate in anticipation,
sense a ghost,
and I get good grief.
We play in this space
ages apart
and constantly meet.