D Press 2007 Sebastopol
24 pp hand sewn
Cover art by the author
I wanted the tennis match to be a front for an invitation to make out in Walter's garage bedroom that just happened to be right across the street from the courts of Bell High where metallic gold Trans Am's, sapphire Stingray's, and silver Z-28's lined the road like exotic bugs, ready to be mounted on an entomologist's wall. Walter's boxy, tan VW Bus, seemed out of place, the wrong species, but much more beautiful, the way wrong things sometimes are, like a Cuban boy with fuchsia hair and combat boots, which is why I liked Walter, wanted him to teach me something I thought I was dying to learn. When we were sweaty enough from playing, we crossed the street to his room and he handed me a beer from his stickered mini-fridge, balanced an album on the tips of his fingers, then tossed it onto the turntable like a licorice pizza. It was the first time I heard the Violent Femmes, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, and John Cage, sat on the edge of a bunk bed, wasn't afraid of a boy, and the first time I didn't care what my girlfriends or their mothers or my mother would think when they heard I was seen going into "freaky" Walter's room, probably to make out and listen to "esa musica Satanica." But, we were both too shy or too Catholic and spent the whole afternoon just listening to albums, touching each other accidentally, laughing, and finally wrestling on the shag carpeted floor. When Walter drove me home, the shiny insects were gone, the street had darkened, and behind the empty courts I spotted the last tennis ball we couldn't find, the ball I backhanded over the wall on purpose, stuck in a chain-link fence, fuzzy and glowing.
In May, I traded my blood-stained ballet slippers for piano lessons from a senile Cuban named Rosa who smelled of pork, talcum powder and cats. She sat too close to me on the hard piano bench as I fooled her with my good ear; the music I couldn't read, more like soup ladles or confused fleas than music. Still, I collected victory stars the color of Liberace's suits or La Virgen de la Caridad's crown. Rosa swooned between chords, shut her eyes, and I gazed out the window at the boys playing baseball on the street, pointing and laughing at each others asphalt-skinned knees. In July, I traded my Tuesdays with the 88's for a stiff, clay colored baseball glove, which I oiled and caressed until it hugged my eager hand just right. After a game, I ran upstairs to the bathroom, balanced on the edge of the slick, porcelain tub. The scent of leather and sweat filled the room as I poured Bactine over my crude wounds, watched the froth and crackle of newborn flesh. I carried my glove back down, placed it gently on the shelf in the closet behind the dusty piano, where my ballet slippers hung on a hook like rotting bananas.
Suddenly, I'm in speech therapy, a mirror in my hand, a thin gringa hovering over my shoulder, asking me to repeat, sarsaparilla, seashells, somersault, while she points at her tongue to show where mine should be, because it's lazy, refuses to rise to that spot behind my top front teeth to form the perfect S sound, snakes, sweat, stereo, she is recording me now, so I can hear when I accidentally get it right, remember how it feels, do it again, stupid, spic, soledad, the gringa is persistent, says I must practice everyday at home, my tongue needs exercise, skateboard, summer, Estevan, my tongue is heavy, collapses from exhaustion, takes up more space in my mouth than before, like I've bit off too much of a Cuban sandwich, saliva, sucia, stink, I think of my mother buying cow tongue at the meat market, that big slab in the frying pan, suspiro, somnambulist, system, the gringa says that's enough for today, sends me back home, stucco, stained glass, San Lazaro—where my mother stands in the kitchen, slicing cebollas and singing those strange Galician songs with all the wrong kinds of S's.
PLAYING DENTAL ASSISTANT
My father says, "Open wide." I gaze into the stranger's mouth, place the suction tube against a moist twitching tongue, between gum and cheek, watch bubbles grow in the caverns like hot springs. I think of mountains, and sweep the tiny vacuum across enamel glaciers, some jagged, some smooth, others stuffed with amalgam, the color of petrified bark, then the suction catches on the thin skin under the tongue, stretches those strange veins way too tight, like the blue and red rubber bands my mother put in my hair in the morning. But, I want to think of geography, other planets, the surface of Mars, and how the tongue is an ideal landing strip for a spaceship. I step off onto the spongy surface, stare at a red pulsing horizon where the uvula dangles in the dark minty air like a stalactite at the entrance of a secret tunnel. I walk towards it, grab that fleshy pendulum, swing back and forth like a gymnast, until my father asks the patient to rinse then spit. I tumble out with the other unwanted particles and land on the edge of the cold, porcelain basin.
THE DAY I STOPPED BEING ADORABLE
I stuff my cheeks with soft, buttered Cuban bread, sip Tang and ask my mother about my dimples. I'm seven and curious, but mainly fed up with strange gringas pinching my face and shrieking, "Oh, how adorable!" Particularly Mrs. Hobbs, who boards the bus at Seville Street on the way to St. Mathias for mass, reeking of Jean Nate body splash and dressed in too much powder blue.
My mother clears the table and tells me my dimples are marks left by the steel forceps, giant tweezers, the doctor used to yank me out of the womb.
Later that morning, when the bus reaches Seville Street, I sit up tall in my seat and smile. Mrs. Hobbs wobbles down the aisle, blue pleated skirt diffusing the morning light, her cold arthritic hands slowly reach out for me, fingers uncurling, her face bloated with delight. I stand up and announce that my "adorable" dimples are dents from delivery, scars of birth, "I was plucked out of the womb like a splinter."
Mrs. Hobbs gasps, looks at my mother who sits beside me, clutching her purse, not understanding a word of this English. She backs away from us, zigzags and bumps into arm rests then drops into a seat near the front of the bus and never says another word to us. Ever.
Years later, in Teen Magazine, I read that dimples are fatty deposits, something like "cellulite of the face."
CHILE VERDE & DIET COKE
Rachel, Patty's little sister, starves herself in a dark room, coming out only to gather armfuls of diet Coke and swallow spoonfuls of chile verde from a clay bowl on the counter, because an article she read in Cosmopolitan claims spicy foods speed up the metabolism.
Rachel freezes in refrigerator light, skin transparent, long black braid hanging over her sharp spine, curling at the end, like a seahorse. She turns, dips her finger in the chile, rubs it over her lips, an exotic balm that makes her mouth feel, "Pouty, like a supermodel."
At the other end of the counter, Patty ignores her sister, smothers a warm corn tortilla with beans, and sips her steamy coffee, while on the stove, eggs drown in tomato sauce and onions, grease bubbles pop out of the pan and land on the wall, like the morning sun streaming in through the sliding glass door where Chiquita, the black Chihuahua, lies on the cool tile floor, sunbathing.
Rachel gulps down two cans of cold soda, scurries away from the light, back to her dark room, where she watches talk shows and soap operas, jogs in place, does thousands of abdominal crunches, until she feels the burn, her body begging to be extinguished.
HOW THEY SNEAK UP ON YOU
It happens when you are ten or eleven or twelve. Your mother drags you into the underwear department at JC Penny's or Sears and asks you to choose between the two styles of training bra. You stand there gazing at the yellow rectangular boxes with a Marcia Brady-looking teen model on the front and try to choose between the white bra with tiny blue flowers all over, and the satiny beige one with a bow in the center and wonder why, suddenly, you need a bra. You glance down and are sure that nothing has changed since yesterday, you haven't sprouted overnight like a rose or mold on a tomato, yet standing there in the fluorescent light, you are quickly growing obscene in your thin, red and white baseball jersey. You want to scream and vanish in a puff of prepubescent smoke, but instead you grab the box that holds the neutral beige bra, thinking it will blend with your skin and you might be able to ignore it. On the bus, on the way home, you press the brown bag with the bra tight against your chest because you now feel exposed, because you notice how the bus driver's eyes, reflected in the rearview mirror, shift towards you.
CATHOLIC SCHOOL RETABLOS
I stand at my locker, fifteen and bound in a white starched shirt, red acrylic wool vest and a gray gabardine uniform skirt with an obscene pleat straight down the front. I can see Sister Nulla sliding up the hall, Jesus on a giant wooden crucifix hanging from her neck, his nailed feet bouncing against her hidden breasts. Sister's thin, translucent fingers are interlaced, hands cupped right below Jesus as if she's about to give him a boost up to Heaven, the way my father gave me a boost out of the pool at the YMCA, where the water was always murky and green like Sister Nulla's eyes.
In Algebra class, Sister Catherine tries to get our attention by whipping the blackboard with her pointing stick. Her face shrivels, eyes bug out of their slots as she paces back and forth, screaming, picking out students to expel to the hall as chalk dust hovers in the air around her. Formulas blur. Dust floats, sparkles, settles on Sister's forehead like ash.
At lunch, while our classmates gather at the sub shop down the street, Lisa and I sit alone on the grass in Senior Square in front of the white statue of the Virgin Mary and eat sunflower seeds making sure to save a handful to bury at her feet. We want something to grow. Spread across the concrete. Burst from the cracks like sunrise.
The infirmary fills up faster than confession during Easter. Girls fake fainting to escape the 14 stations of the cross, the claustrophobic chapel, the kneeling and standing and sitting and kneeling—hours of it— the monotone chanting, those carved wood scenes of Jesus falling, falling, falling and Father in his purple robe, the stained glass behind him glowing like fire. By station 5, the girl's thighs begin to twitch. Not from the thought of eternal damnation, but from the looks the boys give as they wait for the girls to collapse, one by one, plaid skirts rising, rising, rising.
When the school gym is vandalized right before Christmas, Sister Hortencia howls, runs through the brick courtyard to the principle's office and leaves the gym doors wide open. A gust of stink like the pier hits us. Noses pinched we peek in. See silvery fish the size of footballs scattered across the red floor, piled atop the gold painted warrior, dangling from the basketball hoops, hundreds of them, glimmering beneath the streams of morning sun like a miracle.
Surprise confession. I'm called out of class to see Father Campion. He sits behind his giant oak desk, his face bloated and pink from too much wine. The walls are covered with posters of Mexican bullfights, black beasts in tortured positions, their flesh pierced and bleeding, like Jesus on the cross, who shares the walls with the bulls and matadors. And I wonder about Father, his need to display all this unnecessary sacrifice and how matador means killer in Spanish. Father wants me to confess. Can't think of anything I'm sorry for so I lie, tell him I sometimes imagine stabbing my mother in the neck with her knitting needles. I receive my penance. Say my Hail Mary's in a flash. Get back to art class where I learn perspective, try to capture shadow and light.
Watermelon Blow-Pop pit-stop 7-Eleven air guitar The Dickies and The Damned V8 Mustang narcoleptic truckers 405 freeway midnight neon fries and hamburgers Big Boy winks Coppertone girl drops her loose panties Oceanside Camp Pendleton Free parking Golden Arches wetsuits cooler of the Silver Bullet Carlsbad beach flip- flops on gravel flashlights tall grasses waves shatter fluorescent tubes on the black shore Tressles surfing in the dark moon tan numb toes fireflies underwater the Big Dipper smell of Sex Wax and freedom salty towels pruned fingers and peanut butter sandwiches.
Patty let me ride in the front seat of Johnny's Volkswagen Beetle, so I could straddle the hole in the rusted out floorboard. Peering down into it, I watched the asphalt rush between my legs as I urged Johnny, faster, fasterůstick shift grinding, slamming into gear, and behind me Patty scooted up, hugged the seat and my stomach while the Beetle vibrated against the balls of my feet, pulsed between my ankles and Patty's thumbs pressed on my ribs as a gust of heat shot up from the hole, slipped under my damp summer skirt, between my thighs. Hairs rose. Patty's breath brushed my cheek, lingering, long after Johnny came to a stop.
LOVE POEM # 1
I blame The Biggest Little City in the World, narrow oxygen and that last gin and tonic during blackjack for our spins and kisses on the Stardust rooftop turning so tragic like the gambling strip sinking behind the Sierra Nevadas as we rode back into the desert.
Later you stoned me with driveway gravel, because I confessed to wanting men!
The next day, boarding the plane I imagined going off to war in some flat musky place, then coming back to find you and the mountains magnificently intact.
PERSONAL AD AT 33
Androgynous, ambidextrous and beige ISO man with calloused hands. UPS driver, plumber or glass blower preferred, although other manual laborers will be considered. White-collar knuckles need not apply. Not interested in a man who will keep me up at night discussing Plato's Allegory of the Cave. Beer drinkers preferred over mixed cocktail drinkers. Wine is acceptable on certain occasions, but tequila straight up is best. Roses not expected. Diamonds are not my best friend however, chile rellenos are. Unromantic walks on the beach are nice but hiking in Death Valley is better. Atheists preferred, yet open to spirituality of the Buddhist persuasion. If you are a cat person there is no need to read on. I am allergic. Dogs, birds, reptiles and fish are choices for suitable pets. No pinky rings, no SUV's. Participants of Survivor and other adventure shows need not reply. No plans of being fruitful and multiplying, but I am a voracious gardener. Road trips are the best vacations. Cruises are unacceptable. Columbo, yes, Kojak, no. I tolerate snoring and somnambulism well. If you are a rock star or have aspirations of becoming one stop reading now. Mastermind not Monopoly. Bi-polars, mild schizophrenics and multiple personalities are okay, pedophiles are not. Not interested in those afraid of death, cockroaches or spilled salt. If you still feel compelled to pause on MTV while channel surfing, please move ahead to the next ad. Bisexuals are okay. Polygamists are not. If you were born under the sign of Sagittarius or any other fire sign, please do not reply. Van Damme, no, Jackie Chan, yes. Black ink not blue. Robert Johnson, yes, Eric Clapton, no. If you still sing along to Stairway to Heaven, please do not respond. Speaking more than one language is a plus, speaking only one well is good enough. Membership to a gym not required. Size doesn't matter, IQ does. Pop quizzes are to be expected. Attendance is not mandatory, but will affect your final grade.
after Lisa Glatt
It's like the splinter in your finger you don't remove, enjoying the oddness of the skin there, needing that sting, it's like taking a walk in a dangerous neighborhood, a fantasy of being kidnapped, a stray dog or dirty penny picked up off the sidewalk, it's like feeling wanted, it's like that, the thought of his face between your legs, the pile of condoms on the floor, chocolate mousse birthday cake making you cry, it's like being fifteen again, swallowing too many blue allergy pills to ease the great itch, it's like that day, waking up groggy, still alive, it's like pulling weeds, then watching them return, spending money you don't have, trying to walk through a wall, it's like pressing your hand up against that wall when he is on the other side, pushing the splinter deeper into your finger, realizing it's all necessary, like the thickening of skin.
is a celestial lubricant found in wormholes, which some scientists claim can help man slide forward or backward through space and time, like stepping on a banana peel or coating a finger with butter to remove a too tight wedding ring. Skeptics say, that time travel is impossible, that time overlaps, so while I'm writing this sentence, it has already been rewritten, so to look back or forward and figure out how the words assembled themselves on the page is pointless, like trying to understand daily life back when the light bulb meant electricity, back when I was still invisible and dry and my own quantum foam (which I assume is like an iridescent aura) had not yet achieved the effervescent quality needed for my body to slither through these suburban milky ways and repel strip-mall meteor showers. But what I want is to imagine this aural foam fully formed, a body halo or shield allowing me to hopscotch through the universe without erasing my own chalk lines. Sooner or later, when my foam is replaced by tar or glue, my body will wait to hurl itself into oblivion like a dying star, and I will leave behind a faint spark, a glint in the night, which will cross a stranger's sight as they stare up into the sky and make a wish. Then, Q-tips will unravel and the joy of crossing birth control off the long list of things I have to think about will become an endless knot of meditation or a spotless counter-top or too many hours spent yanking slot machine arms on Ladies Night at Seminole Bingo. My principles are not negotiable. If you need me I will be in the bathroom, on my knees, coating myself with a thick layer of moisturizer and playing Scrabble with the moon.