The most beautiful place in America #13
A mother once told us that our shadows looked like her children,
over on seventy-fourth street, where she cursed us out for coming
home late and the whole time your shadow was so much taller
than mine, which she said matched her children’s frames,
to which she gave names that I cannot remember now, since
we were both laughing when she passed our bodies that were not
the bodies of her babies, and I can only speak for myself, but I
laughed for a flickering worry, for how can you know the people
you love from the people you don’t when it is always so dark—
The most beautiful place in America #148
When someone ate a dead fish they found floating in the water
at Carolina Hemlocks Campground we did not tell them to stop.
They were a child, they had skin like exposed clay roads, and a wet grin
glistening full of scales. You were holding me; the sun was holding us
on river rocks while I worried that nothing would ever change,
that I would never change. I looked at you when the child started
to chew, I looked at you for guidance on how to respond to this world.
Once I got mad at my sister halfway through a movie because
she stared at my face after the jokes, the action sequences, the scary
parts. It felt bad, like I might forfeit myself on accident, like she
might learn an impression of me that was better than my own.
Now I am sprawled under tulip poplars, sassafras, so far away from her.
And this distance is no accident when I am looking for someone
to tell me who not to become, when I am looking for a witness
I can trust. Because my sister wasn’t watching a movie, wasn’t watching me
watch a movie: we were watching our lives spill out from the television,
like if you busted a secret until it was a sparkling,
downed telephone wire. Because the noise wasn’t
from speakers but from our father’s mouth. Because
only some of this is a metaphor, because when the neighbors
phoned the cops that one time it wasn’t enough, because
the screen was always too loud, too neon. Because when I punched
the tv—hard—it only hurt my teenage knuckles.
Because we were too busy trying to survive to do anything
as stupid as eating a dead fish at a campground in North Carolina.
The most beautiful place in America #24
Speeding down Ace Ventura Freeway in your passenger seat,
I wanted to be the opposite of whoever I was:
legs curled up, my chest holding both my knees together.
That’s how a girl in a blue flowered dress became a ghost
holding her dress out the window like a wave smuggled home
from the beach. By the time you glanced back at me,
my skin glowed in the dark—Shivering. See-through. Luminous.
When you asked me where my dress was I pointed
towards somewhere behind us without turning back.
It was as if I’d gone searching for long burnt-out gods
but found only my own eyes mirrored in the window; the opposite
of an answered prayer is a naked woman in a stranger’s car;
the opposite of heaven is a starless city full of lights.
The most beautiful place in America #67
Once you bought me mangoes
from a woman selling them on a busy street
under an overpass on the way out of Miami.
We were at one of those red lights
that was so long I wanted to kiss you,
except I’d told you that morning not to do the same
and so kissing you would have been a retraction.
Then mangoes, three of them.
In a yellow mesh bag on my lap
where I didn’t dare bite into one yet
since it would have made everything
sticky and I wouldn’t have known
how to keep juice from trickling
across my lips, onto my chin. Yes,
I was still thinking of kissing you.
Then the light changed.
And again, we were moving.
Loud music. Windows half-open.
Windows half-closed. You sang
all the words to all the songs you played
but I did not say anything for a long while.
For example, I did not say anything
about the weather. Or the moon.
I did not say anything about the mangoes,
how they stayed inside themselves
the whole way home. I did not say the mangoes
looked as though they were burning.