Mexican in the Meadow

Friday, July 15, 2022

I watered a wilting succulent.
            The sun had begun
to disappear behind
            the apartments across the street.
Afternoon turning
            quickly into evening. Soon
night. In the oven, sweet potatoes
            roasted on one rack,
brussels sprouts on the other.
            By the window
palo santo burned. Books
            with red spines spiraled
like towers or arms, like bricks
            or blood cells, around me.
I practiced my sigh in the silence,
            honing it as one might
sharpen a knife, chest swelling
            and falling with the sound, rib cage
taut, then not, as my whistling breath
            left, returned. Over and over:

as if breathing required rehearsal,
            the vegetables crisping,
swelling the air with their earthly
            scent, sigh after sigh
hung in the room, until they turned,
            not into song,
like the voice might want,
            but into sight, breath a manner
of seeing, a matter of looking,
            an echolocation.
There I was. With the breathing. And with
            this mode of sight
by way of sound, I looked around
            the room and then
into the room beside it,
            the room of my boyhood,

where no one in my family sang.
            And yet we filled the house
with music: guitars twanged there,
            radio always on, and one
Christmas my mother gifted my father
            a harmonica. I stared
at the metal bar in my father’s hands,
            not knowing he would never
place his lips upon it, only rubbing
            with his thumbs as if he’d remove
a film of dust to reveal
            the actual owner’s name
so he could give it up without having
            to play, without having to offer
his own attempt
            at articulating gratitude,

before putting it back
            in the case, setting it down,
and walking into the cold
            for a smoke with his coffee.
I, then as now,
            didn’t look for what might
have been happening in my mother’s face,
            what particular combination
of sorrows might have dwelt there, behind
            her eyes which might have glistened
with the hoarfrost of sorrow, the blizzard
            of sorrow, its bite and inflammation,
though I would never know,
            having chosen to not look.

When my mother spoke,
            her tone lifted my gaze
off the floor, leveling it with hers
            as if it mattered not what her child
looked at—never mind my gaze—
            but rather the direction of my longing
which could pull me out of myself.
            Look me in the eyes
when I speak to you, she told me,
            voice wavering
like the legs of a deer
            with a twisted ankle.
I didn’t respond. I wondered instead
            what hurt worse, her body
after the surgeon’s knife, morphine-riddled
            (for it was a riddle, made a riddle of her
and her mind and her pain),
            or this the silence of boys

and a man who wagered
            and lost. Her own lost
and losing boys who escaped
            when lonely to the nearby
and long pasture where they tread
            the straw uncollected
by the neighbor’s farmhands. I placed,
            when lost like this,
stalks of this hay in my hands, twirled them
            like bunched pens, I picked
my nail’s cuticles with them until I bled,
            I chewed. This
not looking led me
            to this field where the horses
refused to come close to their fence.
            This not facing led me
there as it led me when I refused
            to look at her weeping
and moaning in bed, in the hospital,
            crying out for a relief
more final than the one it was possible
            to give her. Her cry
as if someone else’s, as if it could not
            be hers, my mother’s,
and I needed to place it
            away, somewhere,

tuck it under the mattress,
            in the janitor’s closet,
out the open window. The cool
            of her eyes surrounded
by cracks of red like the splayed veins
            of a falling leaf,
the shake of her head in pain
            the tree losing those leaves, a tree
on the edge of a meadow not here.
            Instead: a breeze carried
through the open window the scent
            of honeysuckle on its back,
and I was silent, breathing,
            hands picked open.

Friday, July 15, 2022