They laugh at you,
Just another Filipina nurse—
Because they can’t see how you, Esperanza, cool
Wet wipe blood clots slipping down my thighs
Or shoulder me over the toilet at an angle
That won’t rip my
Instead of “you’re welcome,” you tell me, “It’s my job, Mama,”
So you don’t have to learn another name.
No one told me
How much and long
I would leak after birth,
That that’s what’s supposed to happen.
My mother promised, You born in America. Be so easy.
Two months of waking life
Wetness, dimpled thigh
Skin learning viscosities
Of blood and other,
My big, mocked nose smelling the tastes
My growing baby exclaims,
With the mouth that once suckled and chewed me until I curled over and around the pain,
Now, muscular from mimicking tones of jokes and the songs of our phonetics, says,
In the trees.
On this, our morning pandemic walk, she lifts her chin skyward and follows it with a gallop in
shoes on the wrong feet.
Her run unnerves me. The way her knees and elbows and teeth cut the wind with the strength of
a body surviving, the forward movement away from me—that ebullient shrinking—
I grow certain that what I’ve created will inevitably be erased, that the pattern violenced on my
people will persist, but this time not guns or napalm or seeds scattering across seas, but a car
shuttling down a blind alley, an errant dog, a cough from one of the many unmasked neighbors
I’d never seen before quarantine anchored all my inertia.
She reverberates excitement and wonder
At the coiled shells estivating on
The emerald arborvitae
All the way up to where the conical tips sway.
To escape death,
I want to say—
The bigger animals with teeth,
The unglancing crush and shuffle of shoe soles,
The conducted heat rising from the sidewalk
That sèches and shrivels their viscous bodies,
The moving world that crushes just another snail.
To get a better view,
I promise her instead.
Soaked, our sheets recoil me from a dream—A nightmare, she corrected me the other day—of
overflowing piss and shit and blood with no Esperanza to assure me that I am as I’m supposed to
be. One hand reaches for my pantiliner, the other for her breathing sleep rhythm in bed next to
me, her pillow damp too. I fan her hair into dried sweat—crisp coils at her temple—a pressure
point, a soft spot. I check the windows and the door locks, return to our room and reposition the
bat and knives in easy reach for me, but not her.
Not in themselves,
But in the violent thrust of history
Into the bones of their faces—
The women in Atlanta,
The elders from the Bay,
The watched woman on a New York sidewalk,
The three thousand who spoke,
And the thousands who don’t.
And then there was
The story I had to dig for, late at night, scrolling, scrolling:
What happened to that mother and daughter,
Their wide noses, their coveted skin refracting projections.
The hands of a white man
in their bodies,
Blood pooling on their own sheets.
The nightmares loop. The men take the shape of He-Man and Bachelor contestants who grab and
stomp and drown and slice me in crowds who don’t hear the ripping, the pouring—the echo.
When I wake, groggy and muted and hot, I stop changing out of my pajamas for the day and then
two—You wore that yesterday, Mama, she says—and then more, my body stewing like a broth—
the ones that my mother used to boil to heal me—and my fuzzy unbrushed mouth humid inside
my mask as I float our ancestral language on the wind to her, and she turns and smiles into me,
understanding the crevices and crests and coils of the language that every woman before us
whispered into their babies’ ears. What if quarantine could last forever? Because if I could, I
would keep hiding my face and body, and my hope that she can pass. But then I worry that who
could take her from me or me from her is—remember—they who don’t have to see your blood to
I won’t be the next tragedy, I won’t be next, she won’t be next, she won’t be, she won’t—
But all I can do to get back to sleep
Is hold her hand
And imagine the snails,
Descended to the sidewalk,
And my saliva, urine, juices, and blood
Pouring pouring pouring
Slick under their gelatinous muscular bodies,
Soaking them to the mantle,
Just floating coils,
Without Esperanza to dam,
To assure you,
That’s what’s supposed to happen.