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Floorboards Hold Memory

The fear of the darkness kept me away from the fuzzy lavender carpet
I harken the spirit in me that rather dance the night away
That keeps the buried grief at bay
That rather explore the unexplained
And dance
Twirling in the tv light in my fear
Ears perked for the footsteps
One-two…one-two… the legato beats boom through the base of the floorboards
The ceiling above creaks, telling me who’s around the corner by analyzing these beats
My dad the offbeat rhythm
But no base beats harder and firmer than the steps of my mother’s
Who empties her anger into the carpet until it pounds the floorboards
Words never spoken, come alive in her walk
The way she washes the dishes as if breaking them would be the better solution
But her voice barely louder than a whisper
so as not to break the eggshells under our feet that linger
In the space deep beneath the floorboards
It’s safer this way to release the pent-up aggression in words unsaid
It’s how I’ve learned to twirl in my temper and escape from my bed
It’s how I dance in tune with the tv until the sun finds me again
Until the legato base pumps in like the South Florida heat
All in a hurry I hear urgent whispers
Surprised for the umpteenth-time at my face
Like “rise and shine!” and we settle into the comfort of the morning
Until she departs and with it I feel a piece of my heart hold its breath
Like how the night suffocates the Sun and the only thing to do is find the rhythm of the drum
Late morning heat sets in and one-two…one-two…followed by the cigarette smoke and calling of my name
The clanking of ice in a shaker cup filled to the brim with water
In some ways I think that it’s his only piece of his father left
Who saw to the bottom of bottles and didn’t bother to ask for help
I watch him sip slowly and tried to understand what I felt
The rhythm now in my chest
Heart racing with panic of the sleepless
I tip toe away on eggshells and nestle into the safety of the sunlight’s rest
Until we meet again
Sweet songs of the night
Dancing in terror was how I found my delight


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Lucky Draw

Not sure what’s more embarrassing, that at fourteen
I still lusted for stuffed animals or that mum’s target
at the claw machine was way better than mine. Precise
as threading a needle, she’d push the steel arm straight
into the heart of the stuffed pit, wait, sipping Pepsi,
hand on hip, sure as a cowboy. Once, her single turn
brought back not one but two animals — a spotted panther
and a long-tailed squirrel. Unlike their real-life avatars,
the two never escaped my sight. But she did.
44 then gone. God plucks some of us away randomly,
the priest said. Walking home that night, her wins tucked
under my arm, I trotted ahead, curious and jealous, asked —
how is your aim so good? She shrugged, caught up, tightening
her grip around my wrist. As if I was the one prize she wanted.


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Thhuk Pand Te

There was never enough for cab fare
so we walked within the small radius
of our lives, mum & I. What would
decades on; be diagnosed as arthritis
first conceived itself as a stretching pain
in the back of my knees. I hated walking.
Flapping my heels against my butt,
I’d slow down, as mum dragged me on
and often to sweeten my slog, en route
temples or doctors, she’d buy me
a large frosted cup of crushed orange ice,
knowing already it was surefire laryngitis
for my cords, knowing already
she was over-budget yet instead
of letting me into the gloom of deficit,
she’d sugar our stride with mmms and
aaahs as I fed her tiny tastes, cold syrup
saffroning her tongue with which
she’d lick her thumb, count
money over and over, hunched at the edge
of the bed, darkening the minus symbol
at the tally point of her slow calculations.
Those nights when she VapoRubbed
my neck, massaged warm coconut oil
behind my knees I’d mime, taxi, next time
and she’d say why, wherever we needed
to be or go was just thhuk pand te—
a distance reachable by the throw
of one’s spit. Except the stretch between
purse and want. Then she’d pat my knees,
turn on the night-light, and before leaving
for less than an eye-blink, stop. Fix her hair
in the mirror and whisper, see us through, god. 
This was three hundred moons and more
before her cancer. And in those sleep-
laden seconds some words for her
would sprout inside my swollen box.
When I cleared my throat, I’d find them
gone. And she was gone too. She’d walked
away, out of our little dark.


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Hardness

Who hardened you like this?
Thickets of “protection” fortified around your heart
“Protect you from what?” I ask
The emptiness in your eyes replied in place of the silence of your lips
Resting and waning
The tide pulls back viciously
Draining the earth around it
You give and you take your love away
Stow-away for “safekeeping”
Closed down so good even you couldn’t find yourself
I’d like to believe there was once a spark where your fingertips grazed the curves of life’s edges
A glisten in your eye when you spoke life into the ears of the universe
Hope in your heart where now hollowness pervades
Because to feel nothing is better than to ache
I said “What did they take away?”
But I meant “What did they leave you with?”
A fragment of your own reckoning
Without the whisper of desire to put yourself back together again
And for what?
Time to be filled with emptiness
As vapid as the distractions that divide meaning from the meaningless
Hope from the hopefulness
Empty as the empty nest that sings in the wind’s limbs
“What have they done to you?”
But I meant “What have you chose to live with?”


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Flesh as Mother

I’m only as strong as I am soft
The first earth between your feet
The soft mounds of flesh that blanketed your skin
The landscape of striations and colors like a canyon stretching over the hills that you call home
Cradling my hearth
From my heart to the nest of my womb
From my spine to the depth of my spoon
I hold stories in my waters
From which I birth myself and you too
I am blood as much as I am bone
Cradling the strength of you standing on your own
As I find my balance
The pillows of my flesh are always here to lay your head
So many nights my sobs gave me new breath
So many days laughter freed the pain from my chest
I’m not without blemish
I drink from the roots of Love when there’s nothing left
I’m only as fearless as I am tender
I am the clay malleable in your hands
As you take shape of the space I hold for you
We are of each other but still two
It’s from my depths I pull the truth
And still, you’ll find your own
And may it ever keep expanding
To hold the breadth of you
In all of your beauty and anguish
In the cracks
May beautiful things grow
Thankful for the lesson
You’ve taught me all I need to know
I’m only as strong as I am soft


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