All the Names
My blood is full of someone else’s memories. The epigenetics of windows leaking in their frames, collecting moisture and holding it like breath inside. My blood knows my aunt’s broken nose along with the ex-husband who broke it once more. It keeps the memory of days like stamps removed from letters. The day my mother and I stood in my aunt’s apartment, my mother there to protect her. I watched for the ex-husband’s car, for any car entering or leaving the parking lot, while my brother slept in my mother’s arms. My brother and I were so young then, but our cells were already coursing with our mother’s swallowed hair, with the torn away patches of her baby scalp, smooth as cooled eggs. Our platelets reddened with the dinner table contests between her father and brothers to see who would be the first to make our mother cry. Years later, I sat with my uncle at a diner in New Jersey, listening to him recount those childhood meals. The cruelty of their father, how he never wanted a girl baby. My son was there in the booth with me, too young to understand words then. And my mother’s mother was there as well, sitting catatonic in my blood, staring at the bedroom wall through the California days while her kids ran all over the valley. Lightning and horned toads and too many cocktails. All the names pressed into my mother’s flesh have rounded and sweetened there over time. Will these too pass on to my children? Lighting up their organs with unanswered phone calls? My own sadness rests there in the undercurrent. The image of my brother’s body on the floor by my parents’ bed. Untold truths of unknown ancestors shaking the cells with their own leaky windows. Trespasses and shoelaces, garages full of carbon monoxide and crumpled cars quiet in the summer canyons. Give us instead the blood of quilts and peppered stitches, sapphires in our fingers. The blood of tended gardens, all the ant-chewed sugar swallowed away. My grandmother’s peonies, big as faces, white with a swirl of crimson inside.