Flying Down the Five

after Gala Mukomolova’s “On the Brighton Beach Boardwalk”

Families roll on toward summer, its feral freedom, ocean waves 
beckon every sibling like schools of skipjack leaping together to  
catch the sun on their silver scales. Bundles of beach umbrellas  
waiting to be raised high & planted for their temporary kingdoms.  
Trucks bobbing with oranges, station wagons bouncing with  
babies in the back. Lovers fight in the red gleam of a rover or  
swerve in the sweat of a frolick behind the wheel. A highway  
stretch of to & fro, bodies raucous & guzzling. So many dreams  
leaking from gas tanks, the oil drip of wasted want. A congested  
uproar of miles in waiting. So many exits missed.  What-could-
have-beens, just beyond the turnpike. Dead ends. Concrete &
unmoving.  

My aunt, a tree cutting herself down & me with, turns to me from  
the front seat, says, some of us didn’t get the looks in the family, right?
You know how it is. My silence hits the lane markers, all we hear is  
bumpbumpbump. All I hear is my tías telling each other, you are  
beautiful, mija, but wear a hat so you don’t get too dark. All I hear is a  
world saying brownbrownbrown a little too much & I am furiously  
stuffing my mouth with plantain chips crunching centuries  
between my teeth, my lungs a bouquet catching a windfall of  
particles unseen. So much ugly 

I tug on my seatbelt to breathe a little easier, flicking all the dead  
ends off me. A cement barrier, the road of my throat. No one says  
anything, the words filling the car like murky green lake water after  
a tumble off the road. I imagine the doors stuck in the pressure of  
the plunge, my drowned body floating to the surface not pretty  
enough to salvage & burn. I spread to the shoals, a seasoned meal  
in undertow, delicious, at least, to the fish. I am the fish, feral &  
flying.  

But I am flopped against the window, a pane dusty with estival  
judgment. I roll it down, gills gasping for air, my face a drum of  
highway breath, the 65 mph hot wind on my cheek reminding me  
I am a body on an irreplaceable planet. Don’t take everything so  
seriously, I hear. Roll the window up, dear, it really is too loud. 

pitter/patter

(for a.g., you & yours)

the night is silver in its silence
moon-pop echoes of the day
raked up rubble of the hours spent

my, the children slumber
a thousand tomorrows bubbling at their lips
the dream projections lighting up
the clouds’ ample cotton                    relish the silence

as you’ll relish tomorrow
and the honesty of such raucous noise, thick
child feet of our unfeathered breasts, beasts we cherish

hallway run, sprints to smash the mash of food
tumbling, rolling right into these arms
charmed in their amnesia regarding where one
begins or ends

reminding us of the joy
of first step and the storm after the holler:
mama see, mama watch

pitter/patter
                     pitter/patter

thunder on a hardwood, heartbeat
this sole and counted rhythm

every generation a temporal fugitive
running from the death grip
every death ship’s watch, yesterdays
we weren’t meant to make it through
relish the memory ingrained in the sound
how these tiny, tiny feet
grip the floor, say

tomorrow, tomorrow

I make you

tomorrow

Related Poems

On the Brighton Beach Boardwalk

On the Brighton Beach boardwalk men sit in the rain shelters smelling of piss, shouting drunk genius into the afternoon sun. Men play chess on small portable sets, holding beach umbrellas for cover. Men take care of other men, raising them from wheelchairs and guiding them to benches and it looks just like slow dancing. So gentle. Someone has rolled blue carpets from the boards, over the beach, to the pale-blue water.

There are so many young mothers but my mother has hope for me too. She says a beautiful girl like me, men must make advances all the time. A beautiful girl like me has to think of her future. A beautiful girl like me, well, cousin Lena turned forty and she quit that Los Angeles life and that Los Angeles girlfriend. Got herself a rich husband, an adopted baby. And, don’t you know they love that baby? They love her despite how, in the wrong light, she’s a little too brown.

I’m furiously stuffing my mouth with black bread because this talk makes me angry and because I’m crying, staring down into my plate, thinking on last night—how you called me difficult when you could have called me beautiful. And here it is, beautiful tumbling out my mother’s mouth like bad oil. More and more I imagine my dead body slumped beside me. It feels peaceful. We’re just having a heart-to-heart, my mother says, you shouldn’t get so upset.

To a Dark Girl

I love you for your brownness,
And the rounded darkness of your breast,
I love you for the breaking sadness in your voice
And shadows where your wayward eyelids rest.

Something of old forgotten queens
Lurks in the lithe abandon of your walk
And something of the shackled slave
Sobs in the rhythm of your talk.

Oh, little brown girl, born for sorrow's mate,
Keep all you have of queenliness,
Forgetting that you once were slave,
And let your full lips laugh at Fate!

Girls On the Town, 1946

           [Elvira H. D., 1924-2019]

 

You love a red lip. The dimples are
extra currency, though you take care to keep
powder from caking those charmed valleys.
Mascara: check. Blush? Oh, yes.

And a hat is never wrong
except evenings in the clubs: there
a deeper ruby and smoldering eye

will do the trick, with tiny embellishments—
a ribbon or jewel, perhaps a flower—
if one is feeling especially flirty or sad.

 

Until Rosie fired up her rivets, flaunting
was a male prerogative; now, you and your girls
have lacquered up and pinned on your tailfeathers,
fit to sally forth and trample each plopped heart
quivering at the tips of your patent-leather

Mary Janes. This is the only power you hold onto,
ripped from the dreams none of you believe

are worth the telling. Instead of mumbling,
why not decorate? Even in dim light

how you glister, sloe-eyed, your smile in flames.