Hani Nuwayhid first heard the professional mourners sing at his sister’s vigil on a winter night in ’84. He was ten. His older sister, Serene, lay in a white dress on a bed propped in the middle of the parlor. Her cheeks were powdered red and her silky dark hair scented with rosewater. Female relatives dressed in black and covered in wool quilts sat in chairs around the bed in the dim light of kerosene lamps. Every so often, a few stepped into the winter room to warm themselves by the stove and feed it with pinewood. The icy north wind howled through the trees of the village, banging at the frosty windows.
I was settling down for a quiet afternoon at my usual café when the waitress asked me if I’d like to try their new marmalade. “It’s made from special wild oranges from Ehime,ˮ she explained. They were planning on officially introducing it onto the menu next month, but wanted to have some regulars test it out first.
“I’d love to try some,ˮ I said. In a few minutes she brought over a pot with my tea, as well as the plate, loaded with carefully sliced squares of milk bread and two small ceramic tubs, one with a creamy whipped butter, the other holding a delicate orange jam.
There can be nothing humble about a modern supplicant
if circumstance leaves him begging for a five-pound block
of cheese. Someone makes sandwiches of broken glass
and light mayo for the children of the divorced, who are us.
In all the early photos of my life, you are wearing a long skirt. It is pleated, with an elastic waistband, patterned with purple and red Japanese flowers. I imagine you purchased it from one of the consignment stores in Lincoln Square, their window displays nothing more than dresses and shirts hung on latticed wood wound with fake ivy. I imagine you kept wearing it because the polyester didn’t need to be dry-cleaned and you preferred not to shave your legs.
Outside, on my grandparents’ back lawn, which rolled off into an alleyway, I would crawl between your ankles. I did not want to be near the dog, or my cousins with their large chins and black eyes. My father would tell me to run through the sprinkler, or to play with the peeling block puzzle that had been scattered across the grass, the same one he had played with as a child. But I wanted to be inside, on the quiet, humming floor of our kitchen, so I tried instead to hide beneath your skirt.
My father plods around our small apartment, the rooms arranged in a square, the center of which is the staircase up from the garage below. He’s 72 and has taken to wearing only boxer briefs anytime he is at home, stripping his other clothes off moments after he gets through the door. He still works 40 hours a week on graveyard shifts. Seven years have passed since he started fighting cancer. He’s singing the words Life’s a bitch, and then you die at a high volume because he’s going deaf and he wants to hear his own reaffirmations. He told me and my brother he’s done living once we move out. He wasn’t threatening us. He wants us to flourish and move out, stepping into our own lives. He wants us to love him enough to let him shoot himself.
After Watching the Changing of the Guard at Arlington National Cemetery
What if there were no light, he wondered. Just sound & scent owning the night, without the invasive
Surf Shop green neon, or PCH streetlamps glowering at everyone.
Their glint was wrong, false, while the waves sounded
like aloe on a burn, a quick fix.
Some blue & some red lights also flooded the water—flashed