She stumbles on the split sidewalk,
Bends to adjust a red Camuto pump,
Pushes a lock of hair behind an ear,
Runs a shaky hand over disheveled strands,
Stands up, swiping one finger beneath an eye
In an effort to wipe off the mascara
Smeared on the slope of her cheek.
She hates herself for her addictions,
Loathes this ‘walk of shame’,
The stroll she takes some weekend mornings
When reality slices into bone,
Shoving prescription pills into her mouth,
Lifting the bottle of Jack to her lips
Even as it smears her Ruby Woo lipstick.
She twitches her navy dress into place,
One strap having fallen off a shoulder
From her unsteady gait down the street
As the city blinks windows at the dawn sky—
She didn’t mind this walk when she was younger,
Wasn’t an addict all those years ago,
Had relationships instead of one night stands.
Now, she looks her age the morning after,
Doesn’t bother asking the men their names,
Snares strangers into her event horizon,
Goes to their places so she can leave before they wake,
Calls her sponsor those bleak mornings,
Then detoxes in time for work Monday
Where she’s given up breaking glass ceilings.
Surviving has become her life,
Craving Vicodin and Adderall
Hiding her needs from scandal mongers—
She climbs the thirteen steps to the front door,
Punches in her security code, 1-7-7-6,
Takes the elevator instead of the fifty stairs,
(She’s counted them more than once).
Blank walls dampen prying gossips,
Coffee settles her buzzing belly,
Shower water sluices across her face,
Desperation crushes her ribcage,
Her sponsor doesn’t answer after the third attempt—
Every minute is a battle in her personal war,
And each loss carves out a pound of flesh.
I shake off the racket of my city,
An oily dust shot through
With silver iridescence—
A skin I wriggle out of,
Splaying my new toes,
Now a pearlescent green—
I grasp the silky shadows,
Wrestling them from the arms
Of trees boughs spread wide—
Angling down an empty trail,
I hear again the wild things
Humming to their feral child—
Flipping his blond hair to one side,
his blue eyes dismissed your resolve.
You learned about his sugar cravings
the same way everyone else does—
how he goes through relationships
never savoring the slick flavor
or swallowing the tartness slowly
like most do with a cherry Jolly Rancher.
Instead, his dexterous fingers
pry chocolate kisses from back seats.
He pops them between his full lips,
half-melted Hershey candy,
his tongue shoving it down his throat
while wiping his hands on his jeans.
You know now how he devours people,
how everyone learns the hard way with him.
But you still savor the fantasy
that one day he will slip up
and snatch a Gobstopper— jaw cracking,
teeth breaking, and impossible to swallow.
We work the second shift
at a job that is just a placeholder
until we begin the rest of our lives.
When we close the restaurant,
Atlanta’s nightlife beckons, instead
we hop into my red Dodge Daytona
following the scent of darkness.
It’s only a few miles
to the suburban parkland
were we play at hide and seek,
Sperry’s crunching on gravel paths,
white moonlight so bright
we never stumble, choosing
a bench behind the treeline
in case any cops swing by.
We refuse to join life’s battle,
carnal lust our only driver.
We don’t even fear the dead,
just a future where we grow old.
I wonder if we woke any ghosts,
rising from their green beds,
gray gazes darkening with indignation.
"You can tell she's his daughter,"
shaking iron curls like wet spaniels—
nosy great aunts discussing the man
who took a curve too fast and met
death through his windshield
just weeks before my first steps.
"The spitting image,"
they murmur— winking wickedly
over glasses of syrupy sweet tea,
easily capturing my tricks off the table
while wielding spades with shiny
words digging hollows in my chest.
"Just like her father,"
they say, smiles splitting faces open—
"The same wild hair and freckled skin,
tossing back too much whiskey,
walking off with that long-legged gait
long before the game's over."
I drink rainwater
as it falls from heaven,
dripping through concrete,
acrid with cement flavor.
I gulp it gladly—
a child of dust, dusky
Haitian dirt— left for dead
beneath the rubble.
I imagine an island
where juice flows freely
wetting the mouths of my people.
My throat clenches
at the clatter of footsteps,
voices echoing through stones
that press me into an earthy trough,
my whimpers lost to their ears.
My arms are blanketed in chalk,
chest a caged animal,
stomach a tiny, tight ball
until the rain falls again—
bitter waters dripping down my face.
For seven days I survive,
entombed in the rubble of my home
until I emerge, reborn,
because my dad refused to give up.
I beg my father for juice
as he shoves aside rocks,
yet, eight years hence,
I know I live on borrowed time,
my people still drinking dusty water.
We were all young once—
Hair the texture of corn silk,
Thighs as tight as melons,
Eyes that danced fire,
Hearts that hummed rock anthems
Until it melted away—
Diaphanous at first,
Mist spiralling from dry ice,
Then faster like wax melting
Beneath a blue flame, layer upon
Layers of carefully dipped wax
Shearing away until nothing
Is left but the fume of smoke,
Breathed in and held tightly
In the lungs of a generation newly lit—
Blowing out, the scent of sulphur
Limning our entire arc of existence
Death sidled by again today—
He slid his callused finger
Across my cheekbone and slurred,
"You're not done yet."
Instead he chose his victims
From the next town over,
Lined them up in his sights,
And goaded another white man
Into pulling the trigger.
Death smirked as gun sales surged
Slapped his hands together smartly,
Lighting up a joint while we wonder
At the strangeness of mourning strangers.
Death strolls through America,
Sends us stumbling
Into a violet, violent vortex—
Sliding our middle fingers up
Saying, "We are done here!"
Grandaddy was the coffee he drank,
Eyes crinkling in sun-stained skin,
He sipped it black, steam wreathing
His high forehead and white hair.
He made a show of blowing on his coffee,
Tossing his head back and making
A loud 'AHEM' after every swallow,
Winking at me when I giggled.
Decades later when I visit family,
I wake up at dawn to buy coffee
From the corner store just like he did,
A smile creasing my eyes as I sip it—
My Mother Still Frowning.