I was walking in the AM air

With all the street lights off.

These friends I know declined a walk,

So I left behind their scoffs.


On a bench, still wet with dew,

I gazed into the ink,

Dripping black and endlessly,

Were two stars along the brink.


They danced around each other,

Never losing sight.

All the other stars had vanished,

Overshadowed by their light.


Vivid white, they had burned–

The hottest flame of all.

They came in closer until they touched–

Fire now enthralled.


Their energy had mounted

To such great extremes,

That from here on Earth I heard

Echoed songs like fading dreams.


But it only was a moment

That the night lit up like day,

And a second later it was gone–

Dimmer stars were redisplayed.


I looked to buildings far and near

To see who else had seen.

The scene, however glorious,

Seemed to have trusted only me.


Had I chosen bravery

To share with those I knew,

The wonders of that strange night

Would’ve been lost on those few.


By accident I found a man,

Someone who I could trust,

And we danced around each other,

Until we finally touched.


He too saw those stars collide–

I know this for a fact.

When he told me, it was silence

That brought that moment back.


We only had one day to burn,

To mourn those stars that died.

But with him, those stars reminded me

What it meant to be alive.


Then, Now, Later, but Always

Elias then had blonde hair, not white, on his head and in his stubble.  Elias then rode horses in the midwest and traveled to South America to save the brown children from their own poverty, their own country, and their own people.  Elias now remembers Elias then as heroic and beautifully, tragically, romantically depressed.

Elias now closed the last cardboard box and wrapped it completely with packing tape so that nothing could fall out, nothing could climb in, and none of the movers could steal the things inside of it (though he knew they would try anyway).  The boxes were stacked, according to their weight — not size — along the hallway.  His watch ticked for Sergio and his crew to arrive and load the truck to Vermont, which was as far away from his niece that Elias could get while staying in the country (although Canada was starting to sound pretty good).  Elias looked at his gold watch tangled in the thick, white hair of his arms and calculated.  There was, indeed, enough time to go to the backyard before the movers came.

He stepped onto his dead lawn, took a small trowel from the bench, and walked to a tree that hadn’t born fruit nor flowers nor leaves in years.  His gardener, Xavier, had tried to remove the tree several times when he first noticed its trunk hallow and the dirt around it was dead and dry.  Each time, Elias had run out screaming at the boy.  “Get the fuck away from my tree!”  he shouted when the chainsaw started to rumble.

“But Mr. Walters, the tree is dead.  With a strong enough wind it could blow down and hit your house.  It’s a hazard, sir.”  Elias did not listen then, nor the other times he ran across Xavier with an ax trying to chop it down quietly, with subtlety, piece by piece.

“Do you really expect me to believe that it’ll fall?”  Elias shouted.  “It’s a fucking tree, for god’s sake.  It only has one job, and that’s to stay in place!”  Elias fired Xavier, and no other gardener had been hired to replace him.  The tree sat in his backyard with ax wounds, and his grass and flowers soon faded from vibrant greens to piss yellows, and finally into the the flat brown of the earth.  The plants laid still, just as they were, flattened by footsteps, without the bother of being ripped up and carried away to the city compost bin.

Elias now stood at the base of the wounded tree facing his house with his feet together.  He counted as he walked toward his screen door.  “One…two…three…four…”  on his fifth step he turned sharply and counted five more steps towards the shadowbox fence.  He stopped, knelt down, and dug.

Underneath the dead soil, the rocks, and a box that held the bones of his third cat — Draper — were clumps of tinfoil.  He pulled each one out and stacked them between his legs as he refilled the hole, tossing Draper in unceremoniously along with the rocks and dirt.  With care, he stuffed the tinfoil into a fanny pack that he kept hidden under his shirt.

Elias now kept his money in pockets of land in his backyard, wrapped in foil to keep it clean.  Elias later will hide it in the freezer, in the same foil that was tucked safely under Draper.

Elias now looked at his boxes, knowing without a doubt that he is missing rings and paintings and rare sculptures from South America, and knowing without a doubt that it was his niece Adaline who had stolen them.

Elias later would wonder what his missing art would have looked like in his Vermont townhouse.  Elias always had believed that the only way to be safe was to hide the most precious things away, like deep into the earth.  Elias now forgot what exactly he had buried and where, and artifacts remained scattered underground.

Adaline now had painted a tribute, a portrait of her estranged relative — her last relative —  in loving light, with blonde hair in the South American city he saved so heroically.  Adaline now had sent it to her uncle’s new place in Vermont, and it rested at his doorstep, waiting for him.  Elias later would scream when he unwrapped the package, and Elias always would watch his security cameras.

Then, Now, Later, but Always

Pointing Fingers

Tyler and his sister Tara ran around downtown counting pigeons in the allies.  They did it with their BB gun and a packet of pellets Uncle Aaron bought for their 16th birthday.  “One!” Tara shouted, pointing up at the pigeons, as Tyler practiced his quick draw and the reflexes of his trigger finger.  “Two!  Three!  You keep missing!”  she shouted over the echoes of airplane engines and car horns.  She turned to the carnage of broken pigeons she had left behind them in the alley, the ones she shot with success.   Some of them were merely stunned and sat there panting on the asphalt.  Some of them lay flat and lifeless on the ground with the pellet still lodged in their skulls.

Without asking, or warning, Tara wrenched the gun from her twin’s hands and ignored his yelp when the trigger caught his index finger.

“Tara, you stupid–!”  Tyler wheezed, holding his finger tightly in his left hand.

“Let’s see,” she commanded, but Tyler wouldn’t release the grasp on his finger, too afraid that if he loosened his grip the entire finger would fall into the dirt of the street and become covered with loose pigeon feathers that still quivered from the breeze.  “We gotta know if you need to go to the hospital,” she snapped, getting her fingers between his hands and prying them apart.

He was strong and in pain, but she was vicious.  Her fingernails were jagged pieces of glass, so thick and sharp that girls in her homeroom sometimes asked Tara to use her nails to pick the locks of the teacher’s desk so that they could steal the candy and test questions inside.  Tyler’s fingers started to peel back from each other.   Just as he feared, the flesh had ripped open.  The bone twisted around until he was pointing to himself, though his palm faced the ground.  His insides, the torn tissues, felt the air for the first time.  He was exposed.

“WHY?”  Tyler cried, so loudly that it snapped some of the wounded pigeons out of their daze.  So loud that it echoed off the sides of the buildings, ping-ponging until all the space between them was completely filled with “why”.

You, his finger spit at him, you know exactly why.

Tyler stood paralyzed, his rapid breathing instantly became shallow, as if his chest expanding and caving too greatly would agitate the finger further.

You knew this was coming, his finger hissed to him.

“I don’t know what you mean”  he whispered, no longer registering the pain that came with a broken finger, nor noticing the blood splashing onto the concrete below him (and spraying the pigeons that still laid there).

“What’s going on?”  Tara asked.  Her raspy voice high enough, her face pale enough, her backward steps shallow enough to let Tyler know that she could hear everything too.  Tyler’s face matched his twin’s– their once dark complexion was now pasty and sick, becoming the color of the milky flesh around his finger, still losing blood.

Gracie was never shy about telling you…

“Shut up.”  Tyler’s eyes darted quickly between Tara and his finger, which continued to twist so that it pointed at him no matter how he rotated his hand.

…that you were the only thing worth living for…

“Stop it–” he shouted, grasping his good hand over his mutilated digit, squeezing more blood out.  It flowed over his fist, ran down his hand, and dripped into the ever growing pool that raced towards the grounded birds.

“What is it talking about, Tyler?  Who the hell is Gracie?”

“It’s not my fault, Tara–” He said quickly, looking up with big, pleading eyes.

She shook her head.  That was never the right way to start a sentence.  She had heard this time and time again from their father, but never from Tyler.  She was surprised how much he sounded like their dad in that moment.  Tyler didn’t speak to him most days, so she never expected him to pick up on father’s bad habits.

“It’s not my fault, Tara–” said Papa, when he drove them 2 hours late to school.

“It’s not my fault, Tara–” when only her clothes were used to soak up the water from the overflowing toilet.

“It’s not my fault, Tara–” when the money was missing out of her sock drawer, pillow case, and jewelry box.

“It’s not my fault, Tara–” when her father twisted words and sentences into elaborate labyrinthes, hoping she would get lost trying to follow the path.  She was lost for years, but found the key to getting out:  only listen to the last sentence.  There she’d know if it was really his fault.  So far, it always was.

Her mind wandered through these thoughts as she recognized all the features of Papa on Tyler, features she had never noticed that they shared before.  Growing up, Tyler’s face was only his.  Perhaps it was because of their starkly differing personalities that she had never seen the family resemblance.  But now she looked on, running her father’s famous words in her head; they faded into the background and synched with Tyler’s voice.

She noticed the heaviness of his lids, exactly like dad’s:  thick and weighed down with too much skin and long eyelashes.  The pores on his nose were inherited too: large and planted with thick black hairs, too far north to make contribute to his sparse mustache.  Small patches of bald skin freckled his beard, in the exact same pattern as father’s.

What was strange to her was the water in his eyes.  She had never seen that before.  Perhaps it was new.  She found herself transfixed, and searched in her databased mind what the tears could mean.  As her own voice took up the space in her head, she wished she was listening to what Tyler was saying, or understood him through his gasps for air and clumsy words.

She would have heard all about Gracie Tran from Lincoln High.

And how Tyler had dated her briefly.

She would have known about how Gracie watched her mother kill herself, how she convinced Tyler no one could love him as much as she did, or how she called him the n-word when she got angry.

Tara would have heard how her brother stayed for months after he had stopped loving her, afraid Gracie would overdose on sleeping pills if he left, and how it was the hardest thing he ever had to do.

Instead she heard this, the last sentence crawling painfully from his throat:

“She’s dead because of me.”

The BB gun fell loosely from her hands.  The blood below her brother still running rivers down the street, streaming around their pricey sneakers, split between the bodies of pigeons laying still in the street.

“But I am not a killer,” he said.  The sound of airplane engines and car horns echoed between them.  Lost in the city sounds, minds strangely blank, both their eyes now noticed the lines of red against on the pavement.  The color vivid against the gray of the street, the darkness of the alley, the overcast in the air.  “I am not a killer,” he repeated, fainter, softer, before his head hit the ground, his hand still clutched tightly around his pointing finger.  It rested on his heart.

Tara chose just to stand there.

Pointing Fingers

What You Cannot Replace

“The spider is our pet now, children, but one we can’t touch.  We leave him in the corner above the lamp. And we don’t hurt his webs.

“Charlie, you do not blow on the spider.  Do you see how he jumps and wiggles about?  He think’s there’s a storm and he panics.  Do you want to make your pet panic?”  Mary looked down at her son.  Charlie huffed and crossed his arms.  His sister, Emma, kept her eyes trained on their new pet.

“Yes, Emma, we can name him.  No, we cannot name him Mommy, because that’s my name.  No, we cannot name him Daddy either.

“Charlie, let your sister decide the name.  You named the dog and the fish, and now we have two pets named ‘Charlie.’”

Emma thought for a while.  Though only a year younger than her brother, she was never quite as creative as Charlie was.  And here she was, with the important task of naming a new pet.  Charlie looked up at his mother.

“No, we cannot ‘just kill it’, Charlie.  Can you make a new spider?  No, I didn’t think so.  Don’t destroy what you cannot replace.”  Charlie’s eyes shot down to the floor.  He stomped his foot.  He could not name the spider, he could not touch the spider, he could not kill the spider.  The spider might as well have never bothered to exit.

Charlie turned his body and marched over to the couch where he sat, sulking and breathing heavily.  He stared at Charlie, swimming between rocks in the fish bowl.  Another pet he wasn’t allowed to touch.

“It’s okay, Emma.  Your brother is being a poor sport.  We’ll let him mope until he is ready to join us again.”  Emma moved closer to her mom, holding the fingertips of her hand and humming.  She stared endlessly at the spider, studying its thin, brown, branch-like legs, and trying to think of names outside of her family.

Emma’s mom was also thinking about names, or rather, one in particular: Roland.  If Emma choose any name but that, it would be okay.  It already belonged to a loved one.  Mary kept her head high, and was glad that her son was pouting on the couch and her daughter started so intensely at the spider that she did not blink.  It meant no eyes were on her, and unwatched, she could reflect.  Her memory worked in faded colors, like the old home movies she sometimes watched when she couldn’t fall asleep.

Though staring at the spider, she could see the room she grew up in, white, and its hardwood floor, glossy.  She felt the rug she was rolling up, stiff, and the metal from Roland’s cage under her bed, cold.  She enjoyed the pitter patter that his toes made wandering across the hardwood flooring.  He was smart, and she had taught him to grab ahold of her hand when he was hungry.  He’d grip her finger firmly, and she’d feed him a piece of bread tightly coiled into a ball.

Roland had come from her 4th grade teacher, who did not want to keep the pet rat in the class after school had ended.  Mary was very skilled at forging both of her parent’s signatures.

Though only 10, Mary had learned a lot that year with Roland.  It was true that her father normally knocked on doors, and it was true that she could quickly sweep Roland back into his cage and under the bed when he came to visit her.  But these truths were not absolute, she found out.

Without hearing the light switch flick on, without hearing footsteps in the hall, and without hearing the door knob turn, Mary was caught by surprise.  And so was her father, who stood at the doorway with a bowl of popcorn.  The bowl slammed to the floor, scattering kernels and warm popcorn .  Both of her father’s hands gripped the door frame at the sight of Roland running across the wooden floor, his feet slipping.

There was yelling, mostly from fear, and mostly from her dad trying to protect his daughter from such a dirty creature.

There was so much yelling that he could not separate his voice from hers.

So he did not hear her say that his name was Roland.

And that she was his friend.

Or that his favorite snack was bread.

And she did not hear the bones break.

But she saw the neck twist.

And she saw his kicking legs drop loosely beside him.

And learned that blood can sometimes seep from the mouth.

Emma finally took her eyes off the spider.  She gazed, instead, at her mom.  “‘Leggy’ is a fine name, Emma.  From now on, he is Leggy.”

What You Cannot Replace

Mi Abuelita Muere Cada Noche

Every story is a gateway to a more detailed dream, so I asked my dad to stop telling them.  My bedtimes were filled with recounts of the death that he has seen, and that I now cause.  It’s a memory of mine now, one we share, and when I close my eyes I can hear the wood creaking when the ropes tighten, as my abuela steps off the chair.  His stories, my dreams, are what my father remembers from when he came home from school that day.

The rigidity of her fingers and fabric, unaffected by the wind generated from her own swaying, tells me when I’m dreaming, but I still wander the crooked flooring of the apartment building and become suspicious at the air standing still.  I know what will happen before I gaze inside her darkened room.  I don’t choose my this, but Abuelita swings from the rafters of her bedroom and dies every night.

That same year my dad found his mother, he quit school.  School hid behind ugly fonts and stories about perfect white families, and he could no longer pretend to listen.  He had seen what the world was like as the paramedics sawed the rope from the rafters, letting her carcass collapse so heavily to the floor that the downstairs neighbors ate bits of the ceiling that had dusted into their cereals.

My dream tonight was not like the other ones.  On the night Abuelita died, my dad said the rain water fell in quarter-sized drops, and all of them hit his head as he spent the night in the park’s tennis court, alone.  Tonight’s rain mimics this, and she knows it.  Her legs kick wildly for the first time, and water spills from ceiling around us.  She screams Stop this, Mija.  

I jerk awake, hyperventilate, and run for the park, for the tennis court, while my dad takes sleeping pills.  His back slouches along the couch as the TV’s voice sooth his thoughts into reruns.  He does not stir when I swing the door open or shut.  He does not ask me where I am going.

I sit against the tennis net with the breeze that comes with it biting my nostrils down through to my throat.  All of the rain hits me, but the drops against my skin fade while I think about her voice in my dream.  She had not only kicked, she had spoken.  For the first time in 30 years, her voice clawed through to her mouth.  I only starred.

Every story my dad tells me is a new memory.  Each word builds the room she is in, until it is more like my home and less like her casket.  From old photographs, I know of a sign she kept above her door:  love is not bearing the pain alone.

The truth is, Abuelita did.

And so will I.

Mi Abuelita Muere Cada Noche


Half the sky, sunlit cerulean.  Ashen clouds softening the remainder.  Skylar throws rocks.  In his hands they break the skin.  From under the skin, the dirt seeps in.  Through the blood, the dirt flows.  From the veins, it meets the heart and also his brain.

Hospital tiles are dirtier than they want him to know.  His feet dangle above the grimy floors.  Phlebotomists can’t stick the needle in just once.  They gossip: “hard stick.”  Skylar’s veins were worms hiding safely, fearing greatly the sharp beaks of the needles.

The needle presses long before it pierces him, his skin slowly rising around the syringe.  He doesn’t dare look.  Echos of blood slurping into the barrel is all the information he needs.  Wafts of rubbing alcohol and new plastics invade his lungs, assaults his tongue.  He counts seconds, hundreds of them.  Nurses’ voices bounce off the labyrinth of walls and down the halls.  He hears only the last syllables, and the last word.  “Positive.”

He is left with arrays of old needle points on his arm and the rising bruise.

Straining his ears, phlebotomists mumble apologies.

He doesn’t tell his girlfriend the news.  He coughs a lot.  Skylar can’t hide health.  He tries.  Sarah stops asking, turns on her side in bed.  He does not press, but wants to.

They don’t speak.  They talk over dinner.  Neighbors hear yelling.

Half the sky, sunlit orange.  The sun, running away.  Sarah follows suit.  Her jacket, forgotten on the lawn where boxes of her things sat earlier.  Her car, driving away.

Skylar smokes heavily again.