by Jasmine Marie Francis
Where we live is concrete and occasional green—squared and
careful—with roads that lead us away from the neighborhoods.
This is not a neighborhood where we live, but an assortment; we
arrived here—ended up here—without meaning to; on all sides is
another Mama on her way to someplace else with her blinds
closed, always.
It is mostly women and girls in the assortment, except the boys.
When we do see a man here, it is not for long; we can’t reach them
unless we take the highway until it meets gravel, dust and dirt, to a
land that is in our city, but not part of the city; it is part of nothing.
Above it is nothing, and it stands on nothing, barbed in wire, steel,
and more concrete, or the occasional green we pick from the
roadside leading to the blocky grounds, Super Mario construction,
carefully geometric and unsettled. Men are frozen here. To our
Mamas they are nothing, sometimes. For the men to go here and to
leave here, they must freeze and re-freeze: Freeze. Give us your
bodies; we don’t want them. Now go be something now; don’t come
back if you want to leave again. We’ll always find a way to get you
back; the city can’t have you now. Why are you so insolent? So
angry? Freeze. Get back here. Listen to me, boy. What else are you gonna
Our road to the outside world is a highway with food that is so
easy to eat, and we love to eat easy. Many of our Mamas work
here, in the easy places that keep us in our assortment. They come
home with brown paper sacks spotted with grease from
flash-frozen beef wrested from creatures who never tasted green,
nor saw sun not refracted through window, and blanched potatoes
harvested by metal and the hands of men who’ve learned not to
love dirt, but to bear it on their bodies, as our Mamas bear smoky
scents on their own as they watch us smile at a meal that is not
floating in milk or micro-waved in cardboard.
At the entrance to our assortment is a pool. We swim here in the
summer, our beach, our ocean. We’re not let into the camps, so this
is what we do: we play. We play, and we laugh; we don’t read. We
can, but we don’t; who is giving us books in the summer? When it
is almost fall, the pool closes for cleaning, and we wander the
assortment grounds battling north Cali heat and Santa-Ana winds,
passing our night-shift Mamas smoking on their front steps—not
that there are any back steps—stopping only to stare at our
condemned body of murky green water, once a lucid, chlorinated
blue; now a darker green slime floats on top with fallen leaves,
flies, and grocery bags that have flown through the black steel
cracks to tangle with twigs.
When it is winter, fall, and spring, we walk on the road leading
from the Assortment to get to a place surrounded on all sides by
neighborhoods. This place is tasked with making something out of
nothing. It is a mill, a factory. Make make make. And out of what?
They give us books. When that’s done, they give us numbers to
make more numbers. For this, we use our imagination. We make
numbers bigger; then we make them smaller; more and more, then
less and less. We can't get to anywhere else—except when we peek
into bared glass in the neighborhoods, walking on the road to and
from the factory; we take the fruit and pick the flowers and wonder
not at all about things we don't have the names for.