We are rooted in a torn apart flag.
The one in which the white has darkened
and yellow stains have grown.
The flag my mother takes out only
during the World Cup. As if soccer
called for patriotism. She wraps the family
under it, closes the blue and white stripes
around us, as to keep us safe.
When Argentina loses against Germany
and my brother has stopped crying,
the flag returns to the attic
the only room we enter only if we must,
where dust accumulates on albums
and Spanish books that survived the 70’s.
We are rooted in pictures. On a less sober night,
Nick shows me the black and white versions
of his grandparents, climbing aboard a plane
in 1964 with dull leis matching
the fading liveliness of the photograph.
He keeps the picture at his bedside,
next to a hackneyed bong and philosophy books.
I don’t ask their names and he only says,
I guess it just feels good to have them around.
We are rooted in our skin.
How I burnt my body in the sun to darken
this northern whiteness of snow
my family cannot recognize.
How I became a Latino only after moving to New York
and defended my European looks with fluent Spanish
and recipes stolen from my grandmother.
How who we are becomes a list of senses
we can remember, and names we have forgotten—
Jasmines sold on the street on Christmas Eve day,
a grandmother bending over the stove,
the weight of another’s body on our own.
The weight of smells, sounds
memories carved onto the blank sheet of paper
the body has become.
The doorframe widens to the beat
of snow falling on Washington street.
Slim flakes, the size of irrelevant absence
slip into the animal’s mouth, a deep hole
with knackered fangs as locks.
Abscessed teeth close on wet denim
stuck to pairs of nomad legs,
tired from nights inside other beasts.
A strange warmth, one of ground water
seeping through basement walls, fills
each room. In the dark, the footsteps’
echo mimics languid traffic,
the rubber soles yawn like tires
worn down by highways, hitch hikers
trails, shores. The erosion of these hands
is one of frail handshakes, the kind
that always say goodbye. In the dark,
each hallway leads to the center
every path is right. Water runs down
the veins of the apartment, furnaces
burn the heart of the street, neighbors
thaw into the pit of each other.
The walls shift and then disperse, the bounds
between people weaken into leftover
scraps of rope. Whatever holds one
onto another, into space, becomes
a latent dream only broken by plastic
switches flicked the wrong way.
The way matches strike against cloth,
only to reveal through a second of light
a pair of mimes making love
Had an early dinner on the bar strip
(urban grilled chicken with mashed potatoes),
after outrunning the storm that still skipped
to Niagara, where the rain slapped our clothes.
Left the Falls after only ten minutes
to come back to the Hyatt dressed in jeans.
We spied on a wedding wrapped in chocolates,
the new twosome dancing in smoke machines.
Didn’t even mind the upstate ghettos
didn’t try those wings (too spicy and red).
After some daiquiris and jack n’ cokes,
we stood naked on the white king size bed.
Back east on route ninety, a new medley:
Drove back as the Boss and Crazy Janey.
You match your breaths without notice
without reference to how the sun,
flushed and wild
set behind the rearview mirror.
How in the frozen night,
the mechanics of the body
swing a chest; expand it in the same motion.
Like fire braiding
Strangers’ ashes into each other.
How a marble hits the rest
and reunites at the opposite
end of the courtyard.
As if all movements were the same
but shifting at different angles.
The lines cross together, curve and collide
into this, us, the kaleidoscope.