I’d rather spend my days with you listlessly watching Youtube videos on that secondhand Mac you bought off a stoner on Craigslist. I’d rather be here watching you watch that video of Frank O’Hara talking about her as the orange of the setting sun washes out the posters of Italy behind you. Today, they offered me a scholarship to study abroad but I declined—envisioning the life you and I would have here. There is no art in that old country that can compare to the clash of midnight moonlight against your jawline. They said Michelangelo knew how to sculpt and I wonder if when he died, God enlisted him to mold clay into human flesh; if you are a work of his art sent down to tempt me away from the foils of manmade pieces.
At dawn, you ask me if I want to explore the cemetery just over the hill because you like the way the rising sun makes the angels look as though their wings are moving just slightly—shadows cast on dewy green and you look back at me as if to say this moment is everything. I wonder then if you are right and if your love is boundless like this city that has lived and breathed for centuries, yet never died. We walk back to the land of the living as if we’ve been changed by the shadows on that hill and I ponder the possibility of loving you from afar. You seem distant now, your fingers twisting air instead of mine—and I know I could love you from afar.
We stop to grab coffee and you ask for a coke instead and I wonder if I’m able to love someone who drinks coke at eight in the morning before even the sun has fully set itself into the sky. You read poetry at dinnertime over half filled bottles of whiskey—my lips forming the words before you push them from your teeth because I’ve heard them all before. Each night, you recite sonnets at happy hour at our local bar and I love the rhythm of the words that are not your own as they spill from your wine stained mouth.
I picture Italy.
You finish your drink and we walk downhill some more—the sun cloaking our backs in orange and I look to you, wanting to love you the way you love me—or should I say, you love them: the poets you find heavy in your mouth. The poets who taught you how to love—made you to think you know how to love.
Your tongue flips their words around more erotically than its ever done me and I ask you what you love about me.
You smile. Fingers flitter over my collarbone—brushing hair from my skin and you whisper: I love you.
I pause. And picture Italy.
*Inspired by Frank O’Hara “Having a Coke with You”
As the year ends people often encourage each other to state their intentions for the new year. While I find some customs for the New Year to be arbitrary, and mentality taxing (the competitive “this year has been great and here is why” social media post being one, which may tailspin others who the Gods have not favored that year), I do find the idea of stating your intentions for the New Year to be a welcome trend.
This does not mean I believe in resolutions because the truth of the matter is that when the clock strike midnight on December 31st, we are simply moving from one day to the next. Yes, the year changes, yes the decade changes, but these are manmade restrictions on time. But, if at the very base of this tradition, we can find ourselves reaching for a clean slate, then by all means, grip that clean slate tight.
We all are in need of that from time to time. Like the chapter of a book closing, we know that the characters from the former chapter are still there, perhaps even still in peril, but we are able to take a breather and start again when we reopen the book.
So, the act of stating your intentions for the New Year is a way to breathe life into that new chapter. Outline it. I will do this, because of this, so I can get to this. That is all we need to do. With the hustle and bustle of the holidays vacating us, many of us find ourselves in an odd slump in the days approaching the New Year—I myself being one of them—attempting to inventory our experiences, our lives even, as we prepare for a new year. Did I do enough? Say enough? Tell that person I loved them? Did I create the life I wanted or am I falling into footsteps of a person I don’t want to be? The questions can be daunting.
The important thing to acknowledge, is that December 31st and January 1st are just a day a part. The same as January 2nd and January 3rd. No momentous action needs to be taken in a 24 hour or even a week long period to prove this year is about “New Year, New Me.” Live each day as you, and make each day about becoming a better you. So state your intentions when the slate is clean at the beginning of the year. State your intentions at the beginning of February, too. Or the beginning of summer, or baseball season, or on your birthday. State your intentions often and follow those intentions to things that will fill your heart. Make your life about self-improvement, self-reflection and joy. Not just one day that closes out a year.
There he was, as always, on the eve of her birthday.
She never expected him. Never dreamt of him, but there he was. As always, he was standing on the corner waiting for something—her perhaps—but she didn’t see him until she tripped, snagged her heel, rolled her ankle and fell slightly into him.
“Whoa! You okay!”
What’s the rush, buttercup?
Each time, his hands felt slightly different. Firm like a contractor. Gentle like a surgeon. Scarred from a fire. But with that first touch, all of their lives came flooding back to her. She remembered how he smelled of cinnamon on that morning in South Bend and how his nose crinkled when he laughed. She remembered the feeling of his fingers running through her wet hair on the shores of San Juan and the feeling of her knees buckling when the military police came to her door in the summer of ’42 to give her notification.
In this life, however, he was a piano player. After nearly rolling into an oncoming bus, he’d steadied her and offered to take her for a drink at a bar up the street. She stared into his eyes and saw their lives together. The last time they’d met, he was a newspaper editor with eyes the color of coffee mixed with cream. In that life she’d slipped her hand into his and they danced all night, his arms supporting the whole of her as she leaned in and smelled the familiarity of him.
In this life, she declined his offer for a drink.
Just one, he’d insisted, reminding her that he’d saved her life and the trauma was inevitable for them both. She laughed and agreed to just one. As he walked her towards the bar, she remembered their fourth life together. He’d written letter after letter from the frontline, until one day they stopped, becoming nothing more than yellowing pages tucked into some forgotten chest–memories of a distant time.
In one life he’d asked her to be his wife against her father’s wishes. She could still smell the gun smoke as her father took aim, and chased him from their front porch.
After losing him in New Orleans, she’d asked her mother if love always felt like inevitable loss. Her mother explained that the love within some souls is too powerful for this world and bringing them together can cause an explosion so forceful that these souls splinter off, leaving bits of themselves across time. These souls spend forever searching for their missing pieces—trying to make themselves and each other whole.
She followed him into the bar. It reminded her of the tavern in Northern Ireland where they’d drank whiskey until the sun rose over the southern border.
This piano player was the twelfth incarnation of him. Eleven lives that she remembered, all fighting to be recounted as she stared into his green eyes. He smiled at her and slipped behind the keyboard. Softly he began to play the song they’d danced to at their wedding—the one in the hills of Mississippi when her hair was twisted into braids and his eyes were as black as coal. She could almost taste their wedding cake as he tapped gently on those keys.
Do you believe in reincarnation? she’d asked one evening as they lay in their bed in Tehran. He smiled and said, Only if it means coming back to you each time.
And so they did. Each time they touched, she remembered. Eleven lives together. Eleven times loving him. Eleven times losing him. Not once did he remember her as that wide-eyed debutante, nor that rebellious poet. He didn’t see her as that jazz singer in Paris, nor that acclaimed scholar in East Berlin.
She swayed softly to their song, remembering the way his arms felt around her at their Junior Prom in Santa Cruz. She smiled at him. She had found him again. As she always had. Soon, she remembered, she would lose him. To war. To illness. To accident. Each time she would lose him.
She studied his face. The way his nose wrinkled and his lips curled back into a smile. She wasn’t sure if she could bear to lose him for the twelfth time. A long time ago, her mother had told her that when the soul is ready to heal, it finds a way. She wasn’t ready to let her soul be ripped from her again. She patted her pockets gently, searching for her keys—searching for her out.
The music lulled to a stop and he moved towards her, a flash of silver in his hands.
“You dropped these.”
She thanked him. Taking the keys from his hand, she excused herself—explaining that her friends were waiting for her at another bar. She would have to raincheck their drink.
“Of course,” he smiled and winked, “Maybe next lifetime.”
*As published in Cleaver Magazine Issue No. 26*
I attempted to remind myself that patience is a virtue and life –a journey. Egged on by the conversations surrounding the achievements I should have by “X” age, I’ve found myself speaking poorly of my life—the life that I built, the life that I control.
I’ve reframed the truth when asked at Thanksgiving how things are going at work –because I haven’t a relationship or child to speak of and telling Aunt So-and-So about that new show I’ve been watching, the one that’s beautifully directed and beautifully acted and has inspired me to write more— seems far less important than telling her about my job— the one at that prestigious place— the one that, even after 5 years, she still doesn’t understand. I tell her I might be getting a promotion in the coming month, but I’m exploring my options; perhaps relocating to Louisiana because that trip I took there last spring truly won my heart but she’s half listening—wiping spit up from my baby cousins mouth. The baby’s mother and I grew up together and though we’re only 2 years apart, her life is where mine is supposed to be in my corrupted mind and my Aunt—though unintentionally at best—has just reinforced that idea, because the giggle of a baby is much more entertaining that the pained musings of a thirty-something who isn’t quite sure where she’s going in life—
I tell her that my roommate and I are planning a party for New Years and my uncle laughs and asks when I’ll buy a place of my own. He had his first home by twenty-two and he’s not sure what I’m waiting for. I laugh too—as if the commitment issues and financial woes of buying a house at this point in my life is actually a joke—not to mention the wanderlust that I’ve been cradling for seven years—the ones that makes me look at jobs and apartments in other cities far from home. I’ve tallied the cost of flights there and flights home so if I were to go, I’d know what to expect when flying back next Christmas to tell my family I’ve done something with my life.
My announcement would be thrown off course by the announcement that my little brother has proposed to that girl that he’s been seeing for 7 months and though our grandmother has said it wouldn’t last, she’s the first to break into tears and hug him close. And I, standing there with luggage in hand, am just another visitor to this land of accomplishments that aren’t my own.
I attempt to remind myself that patience is a virtue and life—a journey. And it is mine and it is mine and mine alone. But it’s hard to find salvation in that notion when your mother reminds you for the third time in as many months that all of her friends are planning weddings for their children and she’s printed out photos of wedding venues so that she’s prepared for that miraculous announcement she’s hoping I’ll make somewhere between cutting the turkey and passing the mashed potatoes. Her intentions, though good in her idealist mind, feel like knives in the ribs and I smile through it because she doesn’t mean to twist that dagger and the pain– it’s only momentary.
I tell myself again that patience is a virtue and my journey does not owe stories, or lies, nor does it need to abide by arbitrary timelines devised to make us feel bad when they don’t match with our peers. My journey is mine and is mine and is mine alone.
And the sweet potato pie that I made and brought after learning to bake at that three week cooking class after that bad break-up last spring still tastes sweet so I’ll savor that and I’ll savor this because my journey is only mine to critique and all things considered, I am doing just fine.
So dear family, please just….pass the gravy….
Welcome to America
There is no time to waste at airport security.
Remove all liquids from carry-ons. Remove all shoes.
Place them in the bins.
Walk through the metal detector. Listen for the beep. Step back through. Remove all jewelry. Step through once more.
The woman with the hijab stands barefoot at the end of the conveyor belt as a TSA agent unzips her bag and questions her on the 20 Hershey bars neatly packed beside her jacket and make-up bag.
She whispers in Arabic. Her friend speaks on her behalf, “They’re for her daughter.”
She is waiting further questioning on her delicious contraband as I collect my bag, step back into my shoes and move away from the security wands and x-ray machines.
I move quickly past the duty-free shops, and early morning drinkers. Vacation has started for some and I watch them toast, clinking glasses of mimosas, bottles of lager, shots of whiskey.
I am in a rush. There is no time to waste on drinks and decadence.
As I take a seat in the waiting area amongst both weary and excited travelers, I hear the report—to the dismay of many and relief of some, luggage clutched in tired hands, who have just stumbled into the waiting area for flight 805. The flight has been delayed twenty minutes.
Now, there is time to waste in Terminal C.
“Gracias por Dios!” a woman exclaims with relief. She thought she’d missed her flight, she explains in Spanish to no one in particular. The woman beside me smiles politely, her voice cloaked in an American accent, “Te esperamos.”
An older man in a tattered red baseball cap glares at the women, mutters under his breath to his wife–her white hair spiked high like an exotic bird. She nods in agreement to her husband’s words.
An announcement cuts through the noise of Terminal C and pleas for Ibrahim Al Harif to return to the gate. His passport must be verified.
The woman across from me adjusts her hijab. The man beside her moves only to console their crying child, whispering soothing words. The child calms and curls his body into his father’s ready arms.
The older man averts his eyes—whispers to his wife. There is an uneasiness with which she watches them, unspoken words pressed against her parted lips. Her eyes catch mine. She is looking for understanding—comradery.
She quickly looks away.
Her husband unfolds the newspaper tucked into his carry-on. The headline reads: In Portland, Three Men Stood Up to Anti-Muslim Attack. Two Paid With Their Lives.
He turns to the Sports—hands his wife the Entertainment Section.
There are more pragmatic matters to investigate than the story of human brutality brought on by hate. The Phillies played the Reds and there was money on the game.
A blonde child runs by, chased by his mother in khaki capris and a pressed white tee. She is cooing in a hushed tone in an attempt to coax the child back to her side. He falls—wails. The mother swoops him up, brushes off his knees and kisses away his tears.
Lowering the Entertainment Section the woman smiles at the child, whose cries grow louder the more the mother soothes.
An announcement crackles overhead; we will be boarding shortly.
The white haired woman rises from her seat. She needs to speak with the airport staff. She must know if there have been safety concerns lately. If she is safe. If her husband is safe. There was a bombing by a Muslim in Manchester on Monday, she states. Should she be concerned?
Shaking her head, the woman behind the counter asks her to please take a seat.
The pilot of the arriving flight departs the aircraft. I watch as he passes through the glass hallway overlooking the airport. Each pane of glass is adorned with a flag from around the world. Each with a message of welcome beneath.
Ahlan wa sahlan.
Welcome to America.