Locked in the hothouse—my steamy, salt-air Neighborhood crayoned with hibiscus, each blossom’s Red stalk aiming its pollen-beaded headdress Toward the sun—all of us knew which of our fellow Alpha classmates had become pregnant, though no Impromptu blooms would blaze to meet the light. On my last Miami visit, my childhood House was lost in a tangle of tropical greenery. Stepping out of his pickup, the owner, whose Fix-flip M.O. had not worked, admitted foreclosure. Later, on Zillow, I wandered the shell of my vacant House—the kitchen sleek with its brushed-steel fridge And black-flecked granite, the pool pale sky-blue, The patio stone recast a ruddy sunburn pink. Photo of my youth: on fire from napalm, a naked Vietnamese girl sprinting, shrieking, as she fled Her countrymen’s blast. At home, two-inch palmetto bugs Ate crayons stashed in a shoe box bumping colored paper And pencils in a closet, burst into a psychedelic mess Whenever I thwacked one with a shoe. One time a friend Barreled out of her house in only a T-shirt. Bad mescaline. For the girls in my circle, earning A after A was a given, Our engines vrooming even in the hours allotted To lazing at Haulover Beach, a half-dozen concert venues, Discount Records, Greynolds Park. We had to get out. One girl, ahead of us, Marxist romantic, alighted in Berkeley, tutored prisoners with her boyfriend, founding Soldier with the Symbionese Liberation Army. Sign-off On its missives: “Death to the fascist insect that preys Upon the life of the people.” She escaped, fading Into the rain in England, soon after the first murder— Oakland school superintendent—but before bank heists And that machine-gun, stuff-into-the-trunk abduction Of blindfolded heiress Patty Hearst, nineteen. Behind us, Another girl, only three during the year of the napalm Girl and whose yard slid down to the glinty lake, Rose to the top of a corporation, asks parents to praise Daughters for leadership skills, urges women to gather In circles and build themselves a bigger box—lean in. As kids—propped up on our elbows beside the murky Edge of the lake, with our toes combing the chopped Grass and the humidity pressed against us—we thought We could pilot our afternoons as if they were float toys. Steeped in the greenness, oversoaked by the gleamy Heat of the sun, we monitored limb buds erupting On tadpoles, clouds of them wriggling among the weeds.
When I held smooth the satin to zip Up your wedding dress, frosted with flounces And pearl-beaded filigree, a rococo Confection more sugary than the cake, And watched as you swiveled slowly to face Me—all floaty notes, pure flute—so still As I situated the baby’s breath and the veil, How could I have told you, knowing You’d learn it soon enough, my perfect doll, How fuzzy the world is, how the clearest Picture, frill-tipped gladioli in primary Colors, can dissolve into darkness, how The eye can fool you, presenting a straight Or diagonal path when the earth is curved. “It can be corrected,” I tell you, a half-truth, When you call me to say you can no longer Focus, nothing is sharp. And I can hear How the light is bent in your voice, the shadows Behind what you say, while in my mind’s Eye you stare at me, blinking, a week old, The day you were placed in my arms, Able to distinguish little but two black Moons, my eyes dancing in the fog. That this was the most exquisite Instance of my childhood never changes. Nor does the decade between us Or the way you looked up at my face After racing out the front door To greet me eight years later, almost Toppling me over, ringing my waist. Two sisters, so nearsighted That upon my return to you, before I resumed my groping tromp Through the world, you held me like a reference Point, a place you will always find, The sheen of your eyes announcing My bearings as much as your clear Shout of my name, as your words: “You’re here.”