Face to face
Near the end, hugging her meant knowing her as tissue. Her skin was what can only be called Fragile. Same as the Hummel dolls she kept locked in the glass cabinet we weren’t allowed to touch: that’s a grandmother for you. Her skin was so loose it moved. I could feel my grandmother’s cheek change against my face when she hugged me.
I thought if I were her I would twist my wrinkles into doilies, spruce up a bit. She felt like the robin eggs my father and I would find in the yard, shattered and open.
And when she started giving us three birthdays a year, I held the blue money to the kitchen light and recognized: This, the exact color of her veins.
In Sunday school the teacher told us freckles were spots left over from God’s paintbrush. As if this was how he did it, and he couldn’t manage to keep his paintbrush still. Who knew what the rest of the body was. A sneeze, maybe. A godly blink: and it was very good.
Most of my childhood exists as elastic. Sometimes things just get blurry. Like watercolor on paper that breathes too much. Like a person, your teacher running your painting under the faucet until it goes full-wet and bleeds the color of everything. Like doing this and calling it “style.”
People I know now respond to the picture of me balancing a can of sparkling water on my head captioned “manifesting cigarette.” Someone wants to know if the cigarette is real. Someone else wants to let me know they are here if I need support. I manifest another cigarette.
I think of my grandmother’s blood going green when I think of submarines. Which is often. The way she peeled back the Band-Aid from her finger to show us cousins where it happened. The scene of the crime.
We were a unit. That was the first any of us kids heard about the way underwater makes blood go different. Because of the wavelengths, reflecting. We figured it out.
Grandma let us run our chubby kid fingers over her cut and feel where the green came out. She did this to brag about her trip. We all knew it. One of us had been invited, the rest could only feel the groove after and know that green was once there. Red now, less.
When I hug my aunt goodbye at the funeral, even after she wrote us out of the service and made us all watch while she did it. After my uncle in the second row was all Lost and gone, as if we were all here to rehash the further details of that.
When we’re all one blood entity in the parking lot and blonde with the windows rolled down says into speakerphone Look what rolled in from Texas! Backpedal. When his sister thanks me for flying in and it’s just spring break, just lucky, tickets charged to my credit card before it even happened. I let her thank me anyway.
When it’s days after and I can’t make myself cry. I watch the linoleum of my coolest cousin’s ugly kitchen floor while she cries instead, too afraid to look her in the red cheeks while she makes noises like that.
When I get text Call me when you get home. Cousin news. And I know it’s bad, it has to be really bad, but I say yes to drinks before catching the train anyway. Backpedal.
Exit through the gift shop
In the butterfly pavilion, you can watch your step, experience nature, rip the wings off a real-life butterfly, anything. It’s what you would call a living exhibit. No glass, just you and the natural habitat, soak some up.
Just real quick
Dad called to ask if I had secretly got top surgery. Did you cut your boobs off? That’s how he said it. And then of course to get a word in edgewise I had to wait for his mouth to stop and by then we are on brushing my hair, or why he thinks I would like a hamburger.
Transporting family garden
Flown from Japan in burlap sacks and warm soil, the trees can grow for eighty years and make knots with their bark that look like the tumors from my grandmother’s skin. They don’t move when you touch them, though. Bark is strong and can hold history, your foot when you decide to climb up, sit a spell. Watch the neighbors.
Yoshino cherry trees weep petals, too, like the fingernails my grandmother left behind on the dining table while we ate. If my fork was sharp enough, I could poke holes in the tablecloth and make her laugh while she molted. I could pull the cloth up to my face and look through the holes at her. Watch the way her lips looked like lips even through tiny holes. But enough about that. The trees will continue to grow.
I like a post of a famous woman sitting in an elegant chair. She compares having a vagina to being a landlord, and the choice of abortion to eviction.
First of all, someone says, landlords are some of the worst people to exist. My last landlord stole my blender and most of my bowls. She couldn’t keep track of who came in the house and took what. How could she not keep track? If I’m walking out the door with a blender, I know I’m walking out the door with a blender. Besides, my cousin got an abortion and it totally fucked up her life. We’re still not even allowed to address it happened.
Closely cropped, the full bodies of my parents share the weight of me between them on their chests. Their eyes are down, on me. I am born. We are all red, the light of the photo, maybe. All our faces our singing with it, burning. There is heat here. My father’s hand gentle and open on my mother’s head. He still wears his wedding ring, like the hospital bracelet around my fleshy newborn ankle. His moustache is long and thin. It pulls around his mouth in the way it gets when he has not been trimming. I imagine my mother on her way to the hospital, my father dropping his scissors at the sink. Maybe we ourselves are just red.
Summer with my dad: toes pushed up to the edge of the sink while we break apart the crab. My hands are tiny and work fast. They can wiggle into spindly legs and bring dinner out. That is why I am here. The way the meat sticks to the hairs of my father’s forearms while we work, it is clear he has done this before. This is his second skin.
He and I share the pick, the silver nut cracker we use to break walnuts at Christmas, the crab shell now. The cocktail fork for poking my baby sister in the mouth when she doesn’t open wide. Digging to the bottom slope of the claw, now. My shoulder against the sweet smell of dirt, which is my father.
From the sink where we dig, I can watch the sun bounce from the silver pot in the middle of the driveway, where we boiled the crabs and listened to them die.
Adjacent to self-care
What is it about heartbreak that makes you fall in love with every well-dressed person you see? Someone is wearing a trendy jacket, everywhere I look. I’m not even sure my jacket flatters my form. People are always saying it makes me look like a little boy.
Three brothers and their father gathered around a child, holding her there. Sometimes I admit to being the child. There are hands around ankles, palms pinned against stomach, stilling. There are screams, maybe, but here you would not know. In the photo, everything is still. One brother, the oldest, holds the candy blue flashlight close to the kid heel, to get a better look at the splinter. One of the brothers is my father.
The brothers are taking the splinter out like men. This is to say, with force and a long needle. Around them, you can see the bright floral of the couch, the light bouncing off my father’s shining black hair, the thin spine of the needle between my grandfather’s sunned hands as he digs out the sliver from my heel. And everything remains still.
And you were saying
The thing about my hair is it’s supposed to look like this. Once I dated someone from the app on my phone who referred to bad haircuts as “the gay experience”—as if, what does that have to do with me?
The number of flowers depends on the weather
The buds take longer to open if it goes below fifty. Like the groundhog, you can bury one of the buds in the ground and wait for something to happen. Weather helps. Flowers come from leaves in early spring, pink sweating out from green the color of a bruise on the thin skin of an eyelid, like when I fell asleep in the street and woke up to run away from the tallest boy I’d ever slept with, face swollen from who knows what, violence. And that night the weather could hit you in the bones and snap you like a twig. It was that cold. Months before we knew how many leaves would rip to flowers, when I still walked to work through a field of green, no pink except the skin I couldn’t stop ripping at.
And when blood comes, fine, that can be the flowers, too.
Someone I follow posts about their phone naming one of their recent pictures the third best they’ve ever taken. It’s a picture of them day drinking. I like it. I like a post about being the only family man in the world. I like a post about a mushroom that bleeds the color blue.
The flashlight is in my hands, in the memory. Its bulky body, the battery that moves inside when I shake it. Noise against my palm. Crabgrass on ankles. Blackberry bush, always once. I remember half of most things. Warm blood on ankles.
Warm who cares, just run through it on ankles. Running into my cousin’s yells. Maybe the yells were good-natured, maybe truly scared. Running anyway. Gulping pollened-sky. I have the flashlight. I can feel that this too is a part of me. Him being alive, and the feeling of this, of knowing it’s true.
Running in my legs. Pollen in throat. Running to smack faces, the pain singing. The rain from the grass on my back as I lie real still like that. Maybe it was only a moment. Shoelaces searing against the bone of my foot, like how it gets from tying too tight. Shoelaces against the pads of my fingers as I untie, loosen, retie. My shoes were always coming untied back then.
The strain in my back as I get up. This is immediate. I run into the night again with cousin. Just one now. The way our faces feel sharper, now. Pollen breathing. Coughing, maybe pollen, maybe I just can’t go anymore. The button of the flashlight into the meat of my thumb. The moment before dinner, before the smell of the grill burns the hair in my nose.
And then when it is really now and his sister finds the body, how she slams the door and bursts back into the night like if she just keeps running she may start moving backward, to when screaming ‘til your throat cracked felt like summer in our grandmother’s yard.
Asleep on my grandmother’s lap. My cheeks are sweating red, bangs stuck to one side of my face. Her hair is the way it was before the end, healthy. It has not yet started going back to her skull. Here she is happy, holding me. A blanket with stallions dancing across wool lays on her lap, on us. You can watch them run across us, two feet up as they run the empty white.
Stallions may sweat in their sleep too. I would not know.