Issue No. 19 • Spring 2018
Josh sends me an article about migrants fleeing to Canada
as if I’ve made a mistake by not coming back to Montreal, capital of exemplary politics. No, thank you. People always think Canada is the answer and America,
the beast. But I saw how they make beasts in Sicily and how they need
to grow for centuries on top of salt flatlands and salt mountains.
Don’t let the shallow seas fool you— the Mediterranean Sea has the oldest seafloor
in the world, at least 280 million years of residual ancient ocean between Africa
and Europe, disappearing into a crust. I drink in a town of Salemi, a town of notable ruins since the Belice earthquake of 1968 and I am listening to people
teach me about Sicilian volcanoes and Sicilian politics which go together.
An older woman said that in Gibellina, she saw a woman named Anna cleaning the steps of the church when the first tremor occurred. And a piece of the cathedral just fell off.
She never clarified if it fell on Anna, but she ran to her father’s orchard with her children who only brought their Christmas shoes and what they don’t say enough about earthquakes is the ways the shocks continue to build, how one minute you are sitting
next to your brother and the next, in the violent amorphous dust, he is across the room. The old town of Gibellina was turned into art, but really, a graveyard
when a contemporary artist filled its half standing homes
with concrete so now it looks like a lunar sarcophagus, white and labyrinthine, where the trapped dead still push out caper vines and even the birds flying above, pause in reverence. In Sicily, I listen to a boy from Argentina tell me
what America looks like and it looks ugly. At home, I like the way my Brazilian friend, Aarao, is afraid to go out on his balcony on the 24th floor of an apartment
on the Upper East Side, that the threat of the ledge is sickening, that he laughs
when I tell him his view would be the best to watch the downfall of the city, of a civilization. This is our mood these days, which is, I’m told, very American.
To think in catastrophes, to stretch in disaster, to make events more shark-like, to eat up trash.
This summer, people all over the world tell me about the country called America
and yet I do not know to what they refer. I shrug. I get worked up. I shrug again.
All I know is that in Paris, white men don’t look at me and in Lisbon, people still cherish
children in bars and in Palermo, I watch my close friend, Elisa, roll and smoke
cigarette after cigarette amidst the Mafia windmills. In Montreal, when I walk in a store, no one will help me like in Pretty Woman, and in New York, you can fall in and out of love
in the same day with a cheap, fickle quickness that was once defined as so Roman and now, is so very reactionary, so very American. Yet, to be from here is to always under-react, even if it kills you, even if the flooding waters have already snuck through the screen door, soaked
the carpet, swelled your feet. It is to deny all of it even at the moment when your family is drowning. Truly, nothing is exceptional here except that my parents looked at a map and leapt and were received on some days and on others, not at all. Like everywhere.
No one can humiliate you like that white woman
who said your footsteps
were too heavy in the hall. It seems
she used to be a dancer,
but never spent
a day with a gypsy scale,
knew music, but not
if too percussive.
Her tiny feet so unlike
the plodding gait
of a girl more built
like a comet
in the shape of a rubber duck.
Sometimes I could see my parents
spiraling in the Americas,
in the opera rooms and dives,
in the bodega where the VCR
played Bollywood in Northeast Philly
where my dad worked.
In January, I will visit India
and fail there too, because
I am childless
or because I am American
where they gun down
I took too long
to come back. Somedays
I close my eyes and imagine
a body of land
without relatives like Iceland
with her flagrant
light, flaring in dance
and those magnetic poles—
a green current whistling
across my eyelids.
I want to throw myself
in and come out
dainty, come out graceful.
Grace is a word that stings.
Because if you don’t have it,
you are not a lady.
And if you are not a lady,
then what are you.
Beast girl on speed.
My parents hardly ever let me go
to any white girl’s house
unless she was an immigrant.
I had a Greek friend.
We had curfews and got slapped hard
for mouthing off.
We grew into dragons
and ate too many pills in college
groveling on a floor
that could barely pass
for a forest
like a centaur that has been shot
and pulled along
the weight of the horse’s body,