The Foreigners

I.
It could, I suppose, be any where in the world, any season:

a light rain
on red tiles
over which people skitter,
thrown like leaves on the warm-cool air.

In my mouth the ebb taste of a long held wish
giving in.

To be the inheritor of exile
is to be born in search
and doomed to continue.

Yet, rain and its awaking smell
alive and mineral;
Yet time drifting over me
once and again
like waves–
each brusque wash thief of sound;
Yet the click and release
of collision

and, love,
which grows less definite, but more sure:

my great great grandparents hover behind me
or sit
chewing wetly
a few Saltines they have snuck along
for the journey.

I hold their hands in mine
soft as paper folded and refolded.
I raise their hands
to kiss the palms, and the slow wrinkles,

firm and focused as I would the lips of a lover,
discovered beneath flotsam of distraction and nervous noise.

I know less now
perhaps,
but that wish goes hushing in spite or because of my own losing track,
its rigid fire goes dampening–rain, in any alphabet, spells home.

I murmur to the quiet watching of this circle of elderly ghosts,
“And if we call it by a new name? not lost or fleeing, not exiled any longer…?”

A great great grandmother bends toward me, Saltine extended,
in creaky voice replies,
“Have a cracker, bubeleh.”

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onions and ancestors

Tonight I made a small piece of chicken in a mound of golden sweet onion and garlic, gleaming with oil, bitten with salt.

I’m not sure how long it took me to learn how to caramelize onions. I learned by doing it over and over, once a month or once a week, throughout the course of what might have been five years. No one in my house growing up cooked; I ate frozen meals, macaroni and cheese and Ramen noodles every night for dinner until I was seventeen. During those years, I snacked constantly–on the hunt for flavors that weren’t there, textures, scents, corporal experience. A frozen dinner is a long ways from being the worst thing in the world, but as a corporal experience, I have to say, it lacks.

I don’t know why I needed to cook, but it was like being queer. Something lurking blankly around the edges until one day it caught a glimpse of its reflection (in the kitchen of my friend Jesa Rae), and then desire was born. A different kind of hunger.

I could chart my adulthood in meals and this would be perhaps a better marker than the ones I habitually use. It would look like a rich life, a centered life–colorful, done with intention, commitment, peace, balance.

There is fight battling against the sails but below deck, where I might begin the measure, all is steady. Life is celebrated.

And yet, I do not measure in food, not really, despite its central location. I measure in feelings and this is not wise; they are many and violent. They wrack the decks. They fill their fists with surf and beat the hewn and lovingly-planed sides until it seems they must give out. They spit brine and they cough and they whistle and then they throw down sun as if it were all the wealth in the world and they were set on spending it this minute. There are quiet seasons too, of course, when all the movement is in the deep down layers of the sea, held pressuredly, filmy with silt. On these days, the fish can be heard talking. I can’t describe their language; it is very strange, a sound you can only hear the moment you have ceased to listen. It squims and burbles and in order to respond you must invent another language to match it (because of course you can’t make the noises fish make), which you do and then afterwards doubt that it truly happened.

Storms are certainty, magic is doubt? plague of western thought.

I would like to divorce from this way of belief-ing. Imagine that tempests are in the language of fish something more like laughter, see a shattered sail as no more tragic than a break in clouds or sudden surge of music.

Yesterday–thinking about my lifelong envy of healthy families (biological or otherwise) and the small, safe enclosures they create–it occurred to me that I might need to find my home in the world before I can make it within a circle of known bodies. That family cannot be a place of hiding, not if it is to remain healthy…

The archetype of exile has ruled my own family on both sides for a very long time. There is something here that needs to be given its rest, a wanderer who must be told that they are home already–to sit, to accept the meal from the stranger, to begin to look around them and see what is here with more riveting clarity than the old world which has passed, which has completed its work and taught its lessons.

We cannot be fugitives anymore; my ancestors are tired. The question is: how do you teach ghosts to dance?

(At least they are laughing ghosts; this is a start.)