Friday, December 30, 2016

In Auspicious Times

Tonight is new year’s eve
And I’ve been counting down since I met you
Since you kissed me in the elevator
And breathed new life to me
And said you had a girlfriend that you would never leave

When they ask how I will live without you, I say “easily”
You were a gift from God
A mirage to get me through the desert
But my soul is no longer dry
My spirit no longer broken

Yesterday, when I awoke
My face was streaked with tears
I must have dreamed that you were real
That you could actually stay
But you chose not to

When you said you loved me
I did not say it back
I was too busy trying to memorize the weight of your arm around my waist
The rhythm of your heart against my ear
For the next time I need an amulet

I peeled myself from your embrace
Gently, but deliberately
The way you pull a bandaid from a child’s skinned knee
And I smiled
Because it happened
Because it’s over
Because I no longer have to bear the weight of your betrayal
Or the risk of your seed

My pendeja card expires
This new year’s eve.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Delinquo

I have loved you
With the promise of sunrise
And the patience of spring
And it has not been enough
It has not been enough

Monday, November 14, 2016

In spite of orders not to ask, and not to tell

Thank you for your service
And by service I mean Sacrifice
And by sacrifice I mean Innocence
Thank you for sacrificing your innocence
For believing in something more than yourself, more than your hopes, more than your dreams
Thank you for believing in something so blindly, so completely
That you were willing to give your own life should it be asked 
If only for a piece of blue cloth with a bunch of stars on it
Thank you for believing, for falling in love
For proving that you -a young black man- are capable of love
When the world insists you are only capable of violence and poverty and depravity
Thank you for falling.. in love

When you fell they tell me your eyes were open and your fists were clenched
Courageously grasping the cold metal of a trigger
That weapon you thought would sound and make you whole actually tore you apart
You died a hero among strangers but you died a hero
Never mind that you came back a ghost 
A ghost with a cardboard sign sitting on a street corner saying
"I gave you liberty, can you give me a dime"
"I spared your life, can you spare some change"
"I saved your country, can I have warm place to lay my head tonight"

You came back a ghost but you came back
And the gasp of a bottle freshly opened is the only memory you have of your comrades' laughter, 
The ones who faded forever into foreign dust
The dull flame of a cigarette butt is the only memory you have of the headlights on that rescue van 
That dragged you home, that brought you back, 
Those lights you now wish you could crush and extinguish on the cold concrete you sleep on
Thank you for forgetting the rest, for forfeiting your peace of mind, a piece of your mind, 
So that civilians might chase money freely, oblivious to the indiscriminate carnage that is war, 
As we avert our gaze and walk briskly, our heels spraying sewage on the painstakingly written message 
You put on cardboard

Monday, October 17, 2016

VERITY

I finally filed for child support, for the first time after 2.5 years. And it is already a decision that haunts me.

I do not know how the State will look upon you, upon us, and I am loathe to invite its gaze. Equal parenting is the exception rather than the norm; it’s quite possible that a court accustomed to imposing bare minimums will lock you into a habit of mediocrity and award you a rubber stamp of approval for the next sixteen years, while smiling quizzically upon my “standards.” Alternatively, when presented with your excuses lacking evidence, your participation devoid of commitment, your core conviction that you are a casualty victimized by a woman’s choice to NOT have an abortion, it’s also quite possible that the court will decide “you gon’ learn today.”

Whether you will regard the process with the same flippancy as you regard my demands remains to be seen.  Though I have proven to be optimistic, understanding, and yielding in light of your endless procrastination, and your insistence that your contribution be measured not according to our child’s needs, but according to how much you choose to earn (or report earning) in a month; a court has more effective tools than anger and indignation at its disposal.

I feel guilty. When I think of you losing your driver’s license, your passport, and your pride, because you refuse to assume responsibility, I feel compelled to protect you from yourself. I don’t want you to be saddled in debt; I’ve spent so much time and effort trying to clear you of it. I don’t want you to be exposed as a less than ideal dad or partner; I’ve deliberately tried to impress upon people the exact opposite. I don’t want to be reduced to a dreaded “single mom;” I’ve tried so hard to convince myself that although we’re not “traditional,” we are still a “family.” I’ve even held on to our periodic arguments about child support like they are relics of our past romantic relationship.

But then I remember. Not once have you had the same compassion towards me, or even towards our son. While I am anxious you are unaffected by the prospect of what he is going to eat today. You are unperturbed by the likelihood that the check made payable to his daycare will bounce. You are unconcerned that he may have to grow up in a community characterized by violence, poverty, and lack of opportunity because the cost of living increases every day, while my income remains stagnant. You insist on pursuing your dreams and working on your projects, as if fatherhood is not one of them. And you boldly admit that it is not.

I don’t want your money. Perhaps, if we lived in another time, another place, I could do it all myself. But this is the U$A. And over the past 2.5 years I have become all too intimately acquainted with the unreasonable cost of quality childcare, the constraints American employment places on parenting, and its magnified impact on single parent households, including my own. While I hope things will eventually change, I know that any change will come too late for us. So, this is the choice I am left with. It is a choice that brings more uncertainty than peace of mind, a choice that places all of us (including our son) on a hot seat of judgment and probably contempt. But it is a choice that has to be made because we are bound not by love, but by responsibility.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

GOOD AND BAD

There is something really beautiful about dating a single dad. Like the way he understood when I couldn’t find alone time to schedule our first date, and suggested a play date instead. We drove separately and met in the line outside of “Imagination Playground” with our kiddos, making sure to acknowledge them and to learn their names. We stole glances at each other’s bodies, as we watched them run and play. And he offered to carry my diaper bag as we left.


We stood beside the model trains with our children in our arms, pointing out the mini skyscrapers that decorated the mini landscape. When I said I had to leave because it was almost my son’s naptime, he didn’t complain or ask me to stay. He gave me a kiss on the cheek, my son a high five, and his daughter gave me a hug. It was the best first date. I did not have to hide the fact that I am a single mom, and I did not have to feel ashamed.


The next time we saw each other, he agreed to meet me in the short break between work and daycare pickup, at a bar that I chose not for its popularity, but for its location just a few blocks away from my loft. We only had time for a couple of beers before I had to run to pickup my son. Again, he did not lament the short time we had spent together and expressed only appreciation. Many days passed before we saw each other again, due to our work and parenting schedules, but we kept in touch.


Our third date, finally, was more traditional. We planned to have dinner then check out a street fest. I was surprised that the first thing he did when we got out of the car was take my hand in his. I could not remember the last time I had held hands with someone as I walked, and I was instantly afraid. But he was so comfortable and self assured that I eased into the moment and started to enjoy it. When we ran into his coworkers, I thought he would regret it, but he did not let go.


That night, my son was staying with my parents, his daughter was staying with her mom, and the minutes we spent together filled up and rounded out into hours. We ended up going to a cabaret, and he moved the table that separated us to sit next to me. I was more focused on the weight of his arm around my shoulder and his hand against my hip, than anything that happened on stage. Afterwards, he thanked me, and leaned in for our first kiss.


We were both exhausted when he drove me home. But I don’t have free nights very often, so I asked him to come up “for a few minutes” and he did. He made a home in my bed and redeemed my body, erasing stretch marks with every kiss, and exhaustion with every embrace. And I felt like I deserved it.


When we awoke, we reached for our phones intuitively, to check on our children, and we said goodbye. I felt vibrant and joyful, and as he left to pick up his daughter, I thought of her mom. How she knows every muscle, every curve, and every expression of his desire; how she probably shudders at the thought of his embrace after the drama of all their disputes; how she probably feels more sympathy than disgust for the women who have crossed his path since her; how she feels the way I feel about my ex. Like me, she’s made it through hell with her heart and soul barely intact. And I want to express my solidarity with her despite having found redemption in the embrace of the man who betrayed her. But I can’t.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

PRAYER

'"Boys And Doves" by Anne Geddes
I've always believed in Angels. Today I pray that they huddle around our black boys and men and protect them, their bodies and their spirits, from the onslaught of bullets and hate, as they risk their lives doing ordinary things like going to work, or spending time with their families. Keep your heads up and rest assured knowing that you do not walk alone. Angels, ancestors, and allies walk with you. Amen.


MORE

I did not quite surrender 
In your open hands
That rocked my body gently
And played with my hair in the sand

You repeated the promises
You made me years ago
And you told me stories 
That set my heart aglow

You beckoned me to follow you
With closed eyes
To ride without restraint
The rippled flesh of your turquoise thighs

My one faithful lover
As I walk away, you kiss my toes
Wishing I would stay
Knowing I'll be back


NINE SWORDS

The Ghetto Tarot by Alice Smeets
Some of us learn that the heart has an infinite capacity for breaking. The pulse pauses, sighs, is silent, and is assaulted again just when it gains the courage to beat.

There are people that cause seismic shifts that cut deeper and deeper and deeper the soul, you are my nightmare.

I try desperately to wake up from you, shaking my head, screaming my own name, but the nightmare persists. It has invisible hands that knot themselves around my neck. It's the kind of nightmare that no one else sees or hears. That no one else would believe. So I conceal the scars and force a smile.

You're the kind of nightmare that makes me want to. Stop. Breathing. Because the terror is real and beyond exhausting. My nightmare of love turned to hate. You promise to consume my life and deplete my faith until nothing else remains, but that beating heart drowning in front of me, that I just can't save.

ANSISTERS

I had a dream that you were already here, and I was pushing you in a stroller, as I walked through the airport.  I don’t know if we were coming or going, but we weren’t in a rush.  And the electric walkways buzzed on around us, transporting strangers we neither saw nor heard.  I was with my ancestors, my ansisters, the women who watched over me in life and continue to watch over me since their departure from this world: Titi Ina, Tata, and others I had never met. And we were surrounded by their love. It has been weeks, perhaps months, since I had this dream, but I can still feel the strength of their embrace as they circled around us, protecting us from your father’s impending wrath, whispering “it is meant to be, it is meant to be.”

One morning, we were getting ready to go our separate ways, when he said he’d reached a conclusion: “We simply cannot have this baby.”  “What if I’ve reached a different conclusion?,” I asked.  “That’s exactly what I’m afraid of,” he replied. Who knew the man could be such a coward, such a selfish coward, such an idiot. He really believed that he could decide for me. And I didn’t realize it then, but that was the beginning of the end.

In the days to follow, he would focus all his energy  on trying to convince me that he was right and I was wrong.  “You can have a baby later, this is not the time.” No matter what I said in response, it just escalated. He said he’d talked to his friends with children, and they said “sure, it’s cool to be a dad, but I definitely could have done without it.” I took him to therapy with me, thinking somehow that would help. It just made things worse, “it’s like you’ve given me this limitless credit card, and put me in the middle of a shopping mall, and I’m looking at all the stores, and I don’t want to shop at any of them.” Finally, I told him we didn’t need him, that he could just go, and his reply cut like a knife: “you didn’t care who the father was, you just wanted to get pregnant.”

He kept trying to get me to listen to him, to understand. I don’t know why I answered the phone, why I let him see me. We went back to that little restaurant, the same one we’d broken up at years prior, before we realized we weren’t ready to let each other go.  Back then he had compared me to a star that he wasn’t able to hold. Now he begged me to have an abortion, saying “I have dreams.” I heard him out then I said, “I understand that the timing isn’t good for you, but you need to understand that I’m not like you—when someone hands me a star, I don’t just give it back.” And that’s when it broke. He glared at me, and shook his head. He said he felt like he was walking toward this light, and he was finally about to reach it, when I grabbed him by his ankles and pulled him back, and he fell to the ground, and I continued to drag him back as streams of blood from his face stained the concrete, and the light went out.

MIRACLE

Photo by Sandro Corona
I’ll admit that sometimes this doesn’t feel like a miracle.  Because everyone doesn’t perceive it that way.  And when you’re like me, and you’re used to seeking validation for your own thoughts and feelings somewhere else, it’s easy to question what you believe. I have wanted to be a mom as long as I can remember.  I always knew I wanted my legacy to be more than the diplomas I’ve earned, and the laws I’ve written, and my legacy is you. I feel so blessed, so honored, to bring you to life.  And I’ve never doubted that I’m doing the right thing, though I am sometimes overwhelmed by the magnitude of the challenge I have assumed: to raise you alone, to raise you to be a man of honor and integrity, someone who walks with dignity because he’s earned it. I’ll be a woman raising the type of man she never knew existed.

It’s hard to savor the moment, to count the blessings. Because I am so worried about fucking up. Your father says that we have no control, no control over the person you become.  He says children grow into terrorists, even when they have good parents. I don’t believe that. I don’t believe you can be anything but good, and pure, a beacon of light in this dark, scary world. And I intend to help you. My gift is creating opportunity where there was none before, leaving things a little better than I found them. This is not the first time I’ve been told it can’t be done, or it’s not worth doing. And I intend to prove them wrong. But it would be nice to have a little encouragement.

Whenever I see black children, I always make it a point to greet them, at least with a smile, a nod. Why aren’t our children beautiful, why aren’t they treasured? Why are they yelled at and left behind to walk alone? Many people have said you’ll be so beautiful if you have my dark skin, and his light eyes. I secretly hope you’ll have mine. When you look at the world for the first time, with those big brown eyes, we will send them to hell with their racist prejudices and stereotypes.

1.19cm 7w3d

#20 MADISON

“Fuck him,” she said. Her voice was blank and colorless, for the first time. And she spoke in a tone that was not to be misunderstood. Fuck him. I immediately started making excuses—“but he’s in shock,” I said. “He’s always talked about wanting to go away, this was not part of his plan.” “Fuck his plans,” she repeated. "They're irrelevant."

I had called her to request a reading list, something to help me get my mind around the situation. She said, “Don’t do it. Don’t have a baby with a man who doesn’t love you.” It was more than I had anticipated, more than I had requested. It was an order from someone whom I respected, from the first person I had called.

My memory of her, speaking with a mixture of urgency and compassion to a group of strangers
replayed in my mind. I thought she was going to tell me what she told them that day, “I owe my life to the woman on the bus, who stopped my mom on the way to the abortion clinic and told her ‘you have a poet coming.’” Instead, she expressed in the simplest words, a truth that I would continue to deny, but not for long: “He’s not the one.”

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MILES


“I think I’d make a good father,” he said, as he looked up from his hands. He was sitting across from me in one of my postmodern chairs, the kind that you hesitate to sit on because they have no arms and no cushions. “If you decide to keep it… I don’t have any money, but I have a big heart.” I had a sudden urge to record the entire scene, to memorize it. I almost didn’t tell him. I almost couldn’t. I was so afraid of his reaction that I opted to send him a picture message instead. When he knocked on my door, I said “Did you get my message?” and he said yes, and he held me so close, he could feel my heart pounding through my chest.

I was so nervous. I couldn’t believe it. And he was so calm. More calm than I had ever seen him. He seemed solid, like he could withstand anything. I showed him the results of my pregnancy test. He read the small print on the instructions from front to back, and he looked on the internet. “It doesn’t look like there’s much room for error,” he said. But I took another test anyway. And as I was waiting for the result to appear, I knew what I wanted it to say. “Don’t worry,” I told him. “There’s three in a pack; it’s not official until I take the third test.”

He took a few steps, then turned to face me, saying “I’ll support you either way… I had plans to leave, but if you decide to keep it, I’ll stay. I know what it’s like to grow up without parents, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone… But if you decide that it would be better to give this one back to God, it’s ok.” “That’s a terrible way to put it,” I said. He had been through this twice before, albeit years ago, and with different women. They both decided to give theirs back. He sat down on the couch next to me.

This is where I should have told him, I was going to keep it. I should have told him I needed him to be there with me, the whole time. I should have told him that I loved him and that this baby was a gift that I would never give back. I should have said “you will, you will make a great father.” Instead, I asked him if there was anything he wanted to listen to. “Miles Davis,” he said. An artist we’d never listened to together, he wasn’t even on my playlist, but I found him on Pandora, and he leaned back on the couch, extending his arms, inviting me to curl up beside him, which I promptly did, my incongruent heartbeat drowned out by the sounds of that restless trumpet.