for my grandparents, who did not teach me
how to farm, and yet they scattered these seeds:
How a dunk into scalding water slips
the skin from a peach, leaves it unfuzzed, slick
for canning. How the trick to shucking corn
is one clean jerk. How jars of beet brine turn
eggs to amethysts that stain my fingers,
my lips. They left me to play in cellars
stocked with preserves and jam, in rows of trees
that released chestnut burrs for my bare feet
to find. What would they think of my pea shoots
left unlatticed, free to tendril one noose
after another around other plants,
my slapdash harvest, larder left to chance?
In the Garden of Invasive Species, I Offer Gratitude
“We need to do more, Mom,” my son tells me. He’s fifteen, supports the Kurdish resistance and fancies himself an anarcho-socialist (“It’s not like being an anarchist, Mom, okay?”). The Young Socialist lives in a state of perpetual indignation about the state of the world. He insists that governments can and should do better, and that capitalism is the root of almost all problems—past, present, and future. He hopes for radical social change, but when I call him an idealist, he’s furious: “It’s practical, that’s all. Marx and Öcalan, their ideas would work if people weren’t just so… stupid. And greedy.” I usually tell the Young Socialist that, because I’m a literature professor, my version of “do more” is of the teaching and writing sort, rather than the man-the-barricades sort, which I know disappoints him. He says: “We’re all complicit, Mom. You’re white and a professor, and there’s no way to escape your own privilege, even if you’re only white by accident.”
“You Like to Have Some Cup of Tea?” and Other Questions About Complicity and Place
At the second hospital in as many days, my father starts seeing crows. He points at the nurses’ station with his chin, speaks in perfect Polish, the kind I haven’t heard him speak in decades. His brain lights up momentarily with the speed and language of the young man he was when he first came to America, before Multiple Sclerosis and age started robbing his body. My father tells me to look, look, look. Tells me the roof is so thin, that the small one is looking for its nest. I can tell by his eyes he really sees it. He’s hallucinating, I say. I’m startled, then startled a second time when the nurse and doctor don’t think much of it. They tell me it’s ICU psychosis, the lack of sleep and all the beeping.
Sunday morning, Buckroe Beach. It’s early, before the kids and kites and coolers. A different crowd is here. Another breed of beach-lover.
A small group of Baptists emerges from the water’s edge. The men, burly and robust, call and jostle in boyish exuberance. The sisters, in flowing white, hover around one woman wrapped in a maroon beach towel like a rescued bird; damp curls cling to her forehead. She is radiant.
Just past the pier, the yoga class that started a few weeks ago has already doubled in size. The backsides of fifty-plus downward-facing dogs in every possible size, shape and color, stretch toward the heavens.
the great ramble of the roads toward the airport, the flight up & down the flight of stairs inside the house in which i work now, inside the city & its parks that sprawl long & point toward the river, which points toward an ocean, the soft hush of the air conditioning unit above my bed, the drop of rain against my window
Start small. Your brain created this mess; it can get you out. Right?
The key must be to think the right thoughts. Your elaborate rituals have so far kept the airplane from nose-dive and tailspin, but they don’t prevent that boulder of fear from implanting itself cozily in your gut weeks ahead of any flight. You first notice its presence the year your annual life tally reaches nineteen, the year the solid base of your adolescent invincibility begins to erode under waves of ontological dread—like this whole time it was just made out of stale bread, not stone at all, and now it’s sogging apart.
We travel together to the outskirts of Alone. Hunger permeates the car like teenage funk, but there are no crumbs on the seats. I do not allow snacking.
I don’t know what is the most surprising—that a tumor grows inside me, that my love is not in the car, or that Hope sits in the backseat. A pillow, a book, and a look that annoys me every time I glance at her in the rearview mirror.
When you arrive at Umuahia by 10pm to visit your cousins for the Christmas holiday, because their house is closer to your school than your parents’ house in Lagos, you will pass by the tall square-shaped tower with a sign at its peak on all four sides proclaiming “Welcome to God’s own state.” When you get to the bus park, do not attempt to leave without calling your cousin to pick you up in his black, battered catering van. If you do, you will wander in the dark night, pulling your noisy roller bag behind you, looking for your cousin’s house in Amuzukwu. You will wonder again for the umpteenth time why the capital of Abia state does not have functioning street lights, and the rationale behind the governor ordering transport companies not to move about after 9pm for security reasons. You will ask questions of two people in white cherubim and seraphim robes sitting in front of a church and you will be directed to the wrong place. Then you will give up and walk to the only landmark you know—Shoprite. You will call your cousin with your phone battery on 4%, fervently hoping you are not robbed before he gets there. You would be disillusioned by this experience if your mind hadn’t already given your past experiences the surreal quality of a fairy tale since the two times you were here as a child.
In mid-May 1999, alone on my last morning in the Annapurna Sanctuary, I tramped along the moraine below Annapurna Base Camp. The sun reflected off Machapuchare, the distinctive fish tail peak, at the bottom of the valley. Tharpu Chuli flanked me on the left, its 6000 meter crown glistening with fresh snow. No clouds covered Annapurna’s summits behind me or obscured the immense sky. The trail meandered from 13,500 feet to 12,000 feet. The low-oxygen air, like a drug, rendered the sapphire sky in vivid contrast to the silver cliffs, the white snow, and the wild crocuses that burst from south-facing patches in happy pink dots.