— for Mama
Every Friday night, when I was six,
we danced –
to the Beatles, Patsy Cline, Queensryche.
We shoved the furniture out of the way,
played music as loud as a heart beat,
then Mama, Sterling, and me…
Sterling: three-year-old twirling hellion;
me: trying so hard to be like her;
Mama: singing her favorite songs like
they were pieces of reality –
teaching us the words to her life.
Later, we’d order pizza,
spread blankets on the living room floor –
our personal picnic ground, our sanctuary.
We’d watch Disney movies
long into the night.
We didn’t need money,
movie theatres, or theme parks.
We had Mama,
and we danced.
She wears her dress uniform,
the Marine Corps emblem shining
black like tangible pride,
medals hanging from her chest as if
that is where her strength is tied –
she wears them the way
Kali wore her necklace of skulls.
Her voice is a
taste of steel and incense.
And given a war to wage,
especially in her children’s name,
she discovers a tiger’s kind of sense –
she will battle, first blood to final blow.
It doesn’t matter
who she has to fight, where she has to go,
she’ll stand victorious all the same.
The next day she is Shashti –
seated on the sofa like a lotus throne,
wrapping her children in lullabies,
riding the sacred tiger,
knitting blankets out of moonglow.
The walls sweat beneath your stare,
and tigers rage beneath your skin,
but I’ve become immune
to the eye that boils the winter air;
and the claws that tear you up in-
side only prove this peace is
a veneer of lies over lies
that try to cage the tigers in your veins
(whose bristling fur stirs your blood),
and swallows the screaming in your eyes.
We measure every word by cost and gain,
before we ever dare to speak.
My disappointment holds me down;
your fury keeps you entranced.
And it’s become a sad, cold fact,
that we can’t find a common ground.
But when I was six, we danced,
and that keeps me from leaving.