Essay on Synonyms for Tender and a Confession

                      —For Sandra María Esteves

Color it all blue.

                      My father and my father’s father and his.


           And all of us in one suitcase that hasn’t been opened.
           I haven’t been opened.

                                  And I say to my father,
                                  I want to be all pink. For one day.
                      To name each part of me after the names of my mother’s lovers,
                      To throw my head back and dance like someone pretty,
                                            or just hold the shame in my hand.

           And sometimes this doesn’t stop me.

My name a two-hundred-year-old word for Please.

                                  As in, please let me open the suitcase.
                                  As in, please let me play whatever is inside.

           And sometimes my name talks to me.
                                            It says, you ain’t shit.

           It says I could send you flowers but what’s the point
           if they will still be flowers when you get them.

                              It says even the priests are lonely.
                  It comes to me as one priest confessing to another:

                  Marcelo, I want the red dress
                  and to throw my hair up real beauty queen style.

If I’m lonely, put the bright birds back in their cages.

                                                                 Marcelo, I wanted a gun.
                                                       I’m not ready to be dipped in water.

Like you, like a father.

                                                And so I opened the lid
                  and held each flute inside like shattered glass.

            But there was no song, there was hardly any glitter.

And the priest who is no longer Marcelo,
                  and the flute which is no longer Marcelo,
                  and the lover who is.

                  I don’t know what it means to name a child.
                  When he said my name, I opened his eyes.

                                          I played the song.

                                          Neither of us knew how it ended.
         We would have paid anything at all to make it stop.

Gesture with Both Hands Tied

I’m going to open the borders of my hunger
and call it a parade.

But I’m lying if I said I was hungry.

If dying required practice,
I could give up the conditions for being alone.

I undress in the sun and stare at it
until I can stand its brightness no longer.

Why is it always noon in my head?

I’m going to run outside and whisper,
or hold a gun and say bang,

or hold a gun and not do anything at all.

The lamps that wait inside me say
come, the gift is the practice,
the price is the door.

First Wedding Dance

The music stopped playing years ago
but we’re still dancing.

There’s your bright skirt scissoring
through the crowd—

our hips tipping the instruments over.

You open me up and walk inside
until you reach a river
where a child is washing her feet.

You aren’t sure
if I am the child
or if I am the river.

You throw a stone
and the child wades in to find it.
This is memory.

Let’s say the river is too deep
so you turn around and leave
the same way you entered—
spent and unwashed.

It’s ok. We are young, and
our gowns are as long as the room.

I told you I always wanted a silk train.

We can both be the bride,
we can both empty our lover.

And there’s nothing different about you—
about me—about any of this.
Only that we wish it still hurt, just once.

Like the belts our fathers whipped us with,
not to hurt us but just to make sure we remembered.

Like the cotton ball, dipped in alcohol,
rubbed gently on your arm
moments before the doctor asks you to breathe.

if found, then measured

Now that I can, I am afraid to become a citizen.
I don’t want to become anything because I’m afraid of being seen. 

I am arriving, and departing, 
and later I will punish myself for looking over 
at the person sitting next to me on the plane, checking their screen 
and reading their email. For now there is no punishment.
Today I have realized everyone is just as boring as me. 
Everyone in TSA had enormous hands. 
I still refuse to travel with my green card.

It is my mother’s birthday and I bought her merchandise from a school 
I didn’t attend but only visited. She, too, understands the value of cultural capital.  

Today I am wounded. I like to say wounded instead of sad. Sadness is reserved
for days when I can actually make money from what I do. 
My mother raised me to make sure nothing I ever did I did for free. 

When I land, Northern California is burning. 
We keep a suitcase near the door just in case.  
A man calls me three different names before giving up
and asks if my son has begun coughing yet.  
Beneath all that ash, no one seems bothered if you cry in public. 

Sitting around a circle of grateful alcoholics, some of whom will leave 
the room towards a clear portrait of their ruin,
which can either mean they will or will never return, 
a man tells me I have been selfish, and I admit I have. 
Sometimes I want every goddamn piece of the pie. 
A woman pulls aside her mask to smoke and says 
she’s going to look up what temperature 
teeth begin to melt, the implication being that if teeth melted, 
they won’t be able to identify her parents who are still missing in Paradise.

When I pray, I don’t know who I am talking to yet.
I take the eucharist in my mouth for the first time 
since changing religions and it is not as holy as I imagined. 

How easy. How effortless. This breath. 
I’m here. I’m here. I’m right here. I want to say.
I wish things were simple, like taking just one drink
and not another, like not burning in a fire, 
like letting things be good without being holy.
I wouldn’t have to pretend to try
to resume the bounty of this blossom.