I was under the kitchen table, guessing who was at the sink by how they used water when I heard my mother say to my father, what about this job, that one, those people, did they call? And my father said, everyone says no. I see all the doors but none of them will open. My mother said, maybe we just haven’t found the right key, I’ll go look for it. They laughed for a long time. Their toes looked at each other. Maybe they forgot the bag of keys in the crooked-mouth dresser. I lined up the keys on a windowsill, metal on metal on my fingers until they smelled like missing teeth. I looked at the best one: large cursive F, a scarlet ribbon tied to it. It had two teeth, like my baby sister. I tried the little door behind the community center. Then the big-kids door at my school. The shed of a house with a backyard so large the family could never see me. I got grass and sand and an ignorant pebble in my shoe. Dust climbed up my pants so I could spit-spell my name on my leg when resting. I went back to our neighborhood. There was a black cloud over it while the nice neighborhood down the hill shone. A girl said our house was darkest and the first raindrops fell on it because we’re all going to hell. When I told my father he said it was “isolated” or “separated” storms. So it was true we were set apart for a punishment. The next day dozens of dead flying ants covered our patio. I took all the keys and tried all the doors in the abandoned mall. One unlocked. It was a room with white walls, floor, ceiling. White squares of wood flat or leaning in every corner. The door closed behind me and no key would work. Maybe the room would swallow me and I’d get invisible if I didn’t stop screaming but then a surprised guy, white, wearing white, opened the door. I wanted to try one more time but my keys disappeared and everyone said they were never real.
They grow too aware of crowns, spend
evenings rinsing and rinsing, water boiled
with oils and herbs left to cool
alongside chicken and grains. The women
send their children to work, on themselves
or the house, and steam their scalps.
I dream of my father but don’t know what he says.
It’s kind. I share rice and other grains with a man.
I hand him light in my kitchen.
He takes it and my belly cools.
I prefer not to write about love.
I prefer not to write about my body.
My father’s love, my mother’s body.
Both regenerate with astounding speed.
At times, I find myself in an ancient pose.
In a café, I make my arms a bow
and look up, as if an arrow will appear
at an absurd angle. I mark a line
from privacy to throat, trace the dark line
under my bellybutton. Maybe someone
took my astral baby. Maybe I birthed the man
who denied me. Maybe he had to deny me
to avoid a crime. I don’t point my fingers.
I’m convinced our fate is determined
in part by water, that we can’t avoid walking by
or being near a body of it, however we plan our travel.
That showers are prescribed before birth.
How many things have I missed
letting my wet bangs touch my eyelashes,
singing into a stream?