The ex locates my new home and sends a photo
of his fingerprints. A ghost of nicotine in the folds
of the envelope. No caption. No note. Only ten
wrinkled, mouthless orphans exposed on a bed
of paper, one edge plucked awry from its spiral bind.
The next day, a photo of the crease in his stockbroker
slacks, dollar-flat. And here, a blurry photo
of the alarm clock I bought him as a thank you
for the alarm clock he bought me. A photo of arbitrary
minutes—7:10, hollow, starved of sentiment
like a picture of a planet blundered together by molecular
collision—a photo snapped by God,
who gave the cosmic accident a half glance and thought,
This might hang nicely on my wall.
I lied to you the last time we spoke.
I said it’s not you, it’s me. But really, it was
God. My pockets clutched
glue guns, toggle clamps—an assortment of tools to fix us
when God stalked me on Marion Avenue. Said, You can’t
fix it. Then, I can’t either. That morning,
my ceiling lamp had ripped from its cord. Even after
I welded the fragments with duct tape, everything
felt cracked—like your five-hundred dollar glasses
I smashed that winter—so I thought, if I couldn’t fix that,
what the hell am I doing piecing together
your eyes? Our crumbling
kisses? So I didn’t question God. Sometimes, God wants
to be understood. Sometimes, God hates
his perfect grammar. His pretty
universe. So he’ll pluck a butterfly of its left wing. Call it
art. He’ll turn from a hurricane. Say, It wasn’t me.
If artists were created in his image, how often
does God abandon his mistakes?
The day I stopped talking to you, I said
nothing to him, too. I cursed. My entire drive home.
I littered the freeway with fistfuls of tissues
while God shuffled his God feet
and pretended not to see.
The first time I imagined harming a man,
I was twelve. I imagined that cop
quivering in my fists.
He’d paraded my sister and me—disguised as boys—
like two prized rats. Bragged,
We rescued them from their kidnapper, and my mouth
sutured shut. I uncapped
a permanent marker. Scrawled onto my arms, Please help.
Monsters have stolen my dad.
When our dad ran from California—first on foot, then by bus—
did my sister and I chase him?
Did he drag us out? We left our mom
messages from payphones. Survived on fries.
And the morning he was arrested
outside that Wisconsin hotel, I stitched into my eyelids
that image of him clinched in handcuffs, mouthing
assurance from the back of that howling car.
Nine years later, at Incheon International Airport,
I don’t recognize him, cloaked in monstrous welts.
How does he know to run to me,
older than Mom was when I was born?
I had pretended it was a bus trip across the country—
our first family vacation. How could I know
my dad flushed my hair down that hotel toilet
because every cop—everywhere—was studying my photo?
When he’d joked about changing our names, my sister cried.
Did she believe that word? —kidnapper?
I should have said, I asked my dad to take me.
I should have said, I promised him
I could be a boy for as long as he needed.
6,883 Miles from New York, My Father Is Alive
But a man who knows the eyes
of the delivery boy better than the eyes of his daughter
is not alive. A man once caged, now
cracked, chapped with pleading
forgiveness from the living
too haunted to visit
a man once caged, then deported—picked off from his home,
picked off like lint—cannot be alive.
It broke me to receive envelope after envelope from the dead.
It broke him never to be sure
his envelopes delivered. It breaks a girl
to repress. To shred with her unsent letters.
It breaks her to wake each day to a thicker
haunting—the dead crying with desertion.
How we dare hate
the dead! How we cripple at having been
left. But how much more—how much more
crippling to know you are the one
who left him for dead?