"my father, the wind, howling," "Portrait of Two Mothers," and "Portrait of Two Fathers"

my father, the wind, howling

      Title from Safiya Sinclair's poem "After the Last Astronauts Had Left Us, I" 

 

My mother’s shadow
puppet display      collects
dust      in the corner
of our basement      black
paint chips      sprinkled
around the floor      as radioactive
fallout      or debris
from a volcanic eruption
an eruption      like my father’s
rage      the rages that leave
residue      caked
in our pores      for days
after each blast      so
we hide      in corners
as spiders melted in dark-
ness      legs crumpled
up      under our feathered
bodies      my sisters and I peering
with      too many eyes
out at our mother
as her face      collapses
under the years      her body
smaller       and
her smile      flattened.

My mother’s shadow
puppet display      disappears
in the move to their new
house      I think      until
one day      when helping
my father      dump
salt      into the basement
tank (as well-water
purification from their dirt-
packed yard) I see
it behind him      folded up
as three black boards
the hinges rusted      but somehow
my father      or      maybe
my mother      has hidden
it away      carefully
balanced it under the stairs
I can      see
the moon-crescent      and
irregular stars my father
carved for her      in the wood
nearly      a quarter century
ago      a gift from his hands
before      there were children
before      the volcanos      shifted
earth and sky      to follow him
up the coast of Central       America
demons      from his past
carrying echoes of      abuelo’s hand-
me-down neglect and
as he thanks me      for helping
with the salt and the water
thanks me      for coming home      even
I think      maybe I can
unfurl my legs      I can
imagine him      carving into soft
panels      staining them black      I can
imagine my mother’s youth
her happiness      at his gift
her face relaxed      just
how it is captured
in our dusty      family
photos      her smile eating
into her full cheeks.

 

 

Portrait of Two Mothers

In a gesture that shocks my father shocks my mother shocks her family
Nana hands my bundled body to Grampa and nods her head toward the door
wordlessly asking Abuela to join her on a walk. And so the story goes:
my mother’s mother and my father’s mother the two oldest mothers in the room
wrap winter around their wrinkled bodies outside the house gathering their coats
tight like straightjackets (Abuela smelling like the basement mothballs
and searching for the sun against the snow) Nana speaking English
and Abuela responding Spanish two grandmothers in two different conversations
but their laughs like summer melting the iced puddles beneath their feet.

 

 

Portrait of Two Fathers

My sister hands caulk to our father
from a crusted dispenser
in Grampa’s bathroom. Papi chips
at the tub tile he resealed
years back at his wife’s, our mother’s,
request. His hands cloak the wall
in stiff plastic papering
waterproofing the walls
like the inside of a foreign hive
when Grampa returns too soon
from the store, taps the door open
exposing the two silent bees
(Maeve and Papi cleaning debris from tile fallout).
His shouts startle them as he waves his arms
ushering them out his house.
In his curmudgeonly exasperation
without Nana (his compass)
he forgets or rather omits
the words thank you.
Instead grabs Papi by the arm,
white hand on brown skin,
attempts to hand his son-in-law cash
not like family like the hired help, the brown-
skinned Latino landscapers
who cut his lawn every other Sunday.
Papi pulls away.
Pulls away so readily
like etched muscle memory
and when my father turns his back, Grampa folds
the bills into my sister’s fist.

 

 

Originally from Rhode Island, Mariela Lemus is an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Minnesota. She received her BFA from Hamline University in creative writing. Currently, she splits her time between writing; reading poetry submissions for Midway Journal and Great River Review; and contracting for the non-profit Sphinx Organization dedicated to diversifying the arts.

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