This One Is for My Mother
were you trying to fight god
the night you flailed your fists
in the air, silent screams scrambling
from your open mouth? when you said,
the best love never bruises,
i wanted so naively to believe you,
even while you lay concealer
over your own black and blues
like another one of your white flags.
everyone pleads with me to remember
only the best of you, instead of
unfinished 911 calls and swollen tongues
and my feet nailed to floorboards and
how i wished i had perished as a clump of cells
so you might have become everything you
now dream of so defeatedly.
can you remind me of a softer time?
of the cloudless befores and in-betweens?
these were the days
skimming the shorelines of peñasco,
collecting seashells shaped like hurricanes
and tornadoes, because you loved how their song
sounded like hope and home finally
catching up to one another. this is how
we weeped hours later when our pail
reeked of tiny, wretched corpses.
this is how your hand once stood,
still and brave as you iced your cakes
with buttercream, how my finger
always disrupted the rimy smooth
for its sweet taste. and these were
the desert nights my wailing joined
the snores of your once-husband, how fast
you ran to my bedside. and when i said,
i want to die, you stopped the me too
from crawling out of your throat,
squeezed my hand instead and said,
let’s listen to those seashells sing again.
and the bone-dry air wasn’t so suffocating
anymore. i think you might have even smiled.
do you remember, mom?
do you even want to remember?
were you trying to fight god all those nights?
i think i finally understand.
You say I look like an afternoon. like a Tuesday.
like a sad daydreamy flower girl when I want to look
like I can bite off fingers. I think my fatal flaw is
I never apologize for the things I say when my
aries moon takes over because I meant it, but everyone
knows I meant it- that’s why it does so much damage.
my metal whip mouth. my shrapnel mouth. have you ever
cried in public, silent and raw-faced and fenced in by
strangers, but everyone avoids your eyes and says nothing
because you wear the kind of grief that makes people
uncomfortable? I have, far too many times. I am an expert
at crying in public but that doesn’t make it any easier to
swallow that bitter peach pit of shame. it always knocks
into organs on its way down, like, I’m here, knock knock.
I live in you now, knock knock. the easiest way to describe
my current mental state is the time we visited wellton,
arizona when a dust storm came strolling in and there
was nowhere to run, so we crumpled down with arms
over heads and I never thought to be afraid of leaves but
they left white-hot scrape-kisses all over my skin. the truth
is there are ghosts with hands in my mouth. the truth is
they sound a lot like machine lovers squealing into my teeth.
this summer sucked the life out of me so slowly, so
unwillingly, like a car repossession. like it was almost sorry.
keep your doors open and your expectations abysmal and
you’ll never cry yourself to sleep again. there was a bird
with a broken neck in my driveway and it made me think
of you. there was a dead cat splayed on the 101 and it made
me think of you. I hope you take this as a compliment. I want
you to tell me how you’re feeling. I want you to mean it.
I care, Daniel. I promise.
I don’t go swimming at night anymore- not since I learned how much drowning hurts, since the image of gray, bloated bodies filled my dreams. but I still remember the silky weightlessness of late spring, closing my eyes with my belly facing the flower moon and imagining I was floating in the middle of the galaxy. but on bad nights, my body never seemed to float anywhere. the air would be so still and choking and eerily quiet, and I’d think of the kinds of creatures lurking below me, how I’d never be able to fight them off should they decide to come for me. it took just one night of feeling their tongues grip my ankles. now I only swim when the bruised sun stands guard. in exchange he takes my skin and sears it pink as grapefruit. he says I’ve never looked more beautiful.
I’ve kept every corsage I’ve ever been given, from all the high school dances I’ve run out of crying. I save them in a box with every other thing I can’t bare to look at: ticket stubs and paper windmills and necklaces covered in stars. I bury them in the space behind my lungs and only dig them out when I’ve run out of ways to hurt myself. I pick up each corsage with gentle fingers, one by one I touch each dusted ribbon, each yellowed flower. I cradle each one like a dying lover when a petal breaks loose and crumbles. when I breathe in deep, they still smell like string lights and watered-down punch and midnight breakfasts and winged eyeliner and the first time wearing heels. I put them away with dry eyes. one day I’ll eat them all.
I’m sorry, September. I’m so sorry I meet you every year with a panicky heartbeat and terrified shivers. you’re summer and winter’s first kiss- the thawing of death, the cooling of bodies. how I wish to hate summer with his sweat and storm, but all my traumas lie in fall and spring, and I’m so sorry. one year I’ll run to you with fists unfurled. I’ll give you all the hummingbirds I hid in my ribcage from the scorching sun. you’ll sound like strawberries and morning glories and fresh tattoos. I’ll call it healing. I’ll call you catharsis. I hope I can make it up to you.
every time I find a dead bee in a swimming pool, a little piece of my hope shatters. I fish her out with my hands and then build her a tomb with pebbles and zinnias. I host a funeral for her family, all twenty-thousand of them, serve bowls of sugared water and listen to their stories. I told her not to go out in the storm, but she was fearless, never scared of anything. you would have adored her. she loved the lavenders and snapdragons best. she couldn’t wait for summertime. we watch the moon rise over our heads and their wings buzz a song of sweet mourning. it sounds a lot like, forgive me.
every year, my mouth grows wider and so does my heart. my ears stay the same size.
sometimes I find myself picturing what it’d be like to die. it always unfolds like some telenovela my mami watches on saturday nights: so unnecessarily tragic. a car crash. the other guy came out of nowhere, t-boned me into oblivion. she never stood a chance. must have happened in an instant. painless. or maybe a shooting- god knows it’s almost inevitable here nowadays. no heroics, no sacrifice, no jumping in front of a bullet. just endless shredded sound, frantic feet running over a pool of my blood. she had her whole life ahead of her. either way, people sob hysterically at my funeral. they pretend to know me and post something like, rest easy, sweet angel, all over my social media. one day, months later, someone hasn’t heard the news. they ask my brother or my partner or my mother how I’m doing, who then blinks and says flatly, she’s dead. and I cry to myself, in the middle of the night, great heaving choking sobs. I feel sick and guilty. I eat breakfast in the morning. I go to bed early. I tell my mother I love her.
Isla Cueva is a writer from Arizona.