When a man dies, his loved ones take turns trying not to fall
asleep. They sit in front of a coffin keeping their eyes wide open
and their hearts firmly shut to any slivers of pain that might
slip in through the cracks—not tonight, please. Not tonight.
They pass around coffee cups and stories; it is a competition
on who knew him best, who collected his secrets
like blood-soaked possessions from the passenger seat
of a crashed car. When a man dies, his loved ones gather
in a funeral home in a quiet part of town, away from
skating rinks and bowling alleys and pizza parlors, and think,
Here is our life. And here is yours. Someone will keep
an eye out for a beautiful woman dressed
in black, sobbing silently in a corner, avoiding conversation
and questions. This happens a lot in movies but maybe
there are plenty of real-life thieves who are brave enough
to show up, too; maybe what was stolen is returned
once it no longer belongs to anyone. Someone will barge in
and throw himself onto the floor, and someone else will offer
a box of tissues, a glass of water, still, a paper fan, calm
in any form. Someone will bring cookies, gingerbread and butter.
Someone will eat all the salted peanuts from the bowl
on the table; someone will finish the last can of Coke.

When a man dies, there are things that have to be said.
“He was a good brother,” for instance, or “He was the best father
a daughter could ask for.” There are things that have to be decided:
who will put all his clothes in a box, who will pick out a tie,
who will cancel his flight to Hawaii in the summer, who will settle
the remaining credit card bill, who will call his employer,
who will write the obituary, who will take care of Mom.
There are things that have to be remembered. “He watched
all my ballet recitals,” for instance, or “He had the heartiest laugh,”
or how about “He told me once to think of his love
as a campfire song, a bag of candy, a stack of new books, a puppy—
whatever makes me happy.” There are things that have to be said
again: “He was the best father a daughter could ask for.”
There are things that have to be forgotten.

When a man dies, his loved ones take turns trying not to fall
asleep. Here is another cup of coffee. Here is a slice of banana loaf.
Here are flowers from the first company he worked for—can you
picture him in his early twenties, all ideals and hope?
Here is money folded into squares. Here is the grieving widow.
Here is a row of children, all too young. Here is a girl
in a pale pink leotard. Here is a smile that will never
be the same again. Here are more flowers. Here is a photo, look:
look how handsome he is. Here is our life. And here is yours. Here is
the night. Stay. Don’t close your eyes just yet.


     The sun sets and rises on our resentment, and there are sheets
     of ice between us and not enough blanket to cover our limbs,
     spent and sullen. No breakfast today, just coffee—black,
     strong—and silence served on a chipped dish. (We try not
     to mind the mess in the sink, the broken saucers and shards
     of glass hastily swept up before they can cut through soles.)
     It is a contest on who can look away longer, but beyond our
     own faces there is not much to see in this place. I want to
     tell you about the dream I had, the spinning rooms and the
     windows opening up to reveal red leaves and blue-stained
     petals falling from the sky, a strange bouquet shedding parts.
     I want to tell you that your hair is sticking out all funny, that
     there are angry pillow marks on your otherwise smooth cheek.
     I want to tell you that maybe we should take a walk, breathe
     in the flecked clouds and scattered puddles. Sooner or later
     one of us will have to speak, and though I never want to
     be the first, maybe today I will. Fine. I want to tell you
     that I understand things won’t always be clear. Right. That
     sometimes the walls will be delicate and the corners will be
     sharp and the floors will strain under our weight. Good.
     I want to tell you that in the middle of the night it is hard
     to be forgiving, but in the morning it is so much harder
     not to be.


When I meet you in the middle of a snow-lined pavement my skin
will still be as brown as fertile soil. I will know the names the sun
has christened all its rice field sons and mango tree daughters,
and yet I will struggle with mine, try to find the easiest way for you
to remember it when you can’t even say it right. My name will feel
strange on your tongue, like a fleece coat draped over your arms
in July, or that buzzing at the back of your head when you step out
of a plane after a 16-hour flight. You will ask me to write it down.

When I meet you in the middle of a snow-lined pavement my skin
will still smell like garlic, vinegar, whole black pepper—all the things
I used to hand my lola as she stood in an open stone kitchen cooking
adobo for supper, her long hair in a bun, a swirl of black and gray.
When I meet you in the middle of a snow-lined pavement my skin
will long for sweat dripping down the small of my back or collecting
on the bridge of my nose, as I help my mother sweep and scrub from
top to bottom a house that we would soon leave behind. I will fold
my arms across my chest, protect my fluttering heart from frostbite.

When I meet you in the middle of a snow-lined pavement my skin
will still buzz with a tropical warmth and you will not recognize this
sound, mistake my loneliness for anger or resentment or perhaps
something else that cuts, bleeds, hurts. But my loneliness has no
sharp edges, no jagged rims; it is not a weapon against the cold, hard
streets and the dark, dark nights and the towering silver walls and the
shrill scraping of ambition and the dreams I will chase until I die.

When I meet you in the middle of a snow-lined pavement my skin
will still be as brown as fertile soil. Sometimes when the stars are not
harsh and the days are gentle, I can imagine my body stark against
seas of concrete and sheets of white, and I swear I almost shine.

today the world

Today the world will tell you about the fault in your scars. It will tell you to keep 
them hidden, beneath a shirtsleeve or under the covers on a Friday evening,
when everyone else is dressed to let their skin breathe, let their youth roam
free, like paper planes and fairy wings, delicate things designed to take flight.

Today the world will tell you about the fault in your scars. It will tell you to keep
them hidden, or else it will tell you to brandish them about like swords, and if
you are brave enough to ask what you are fighting for anyway, or fighting against,
the world will tell you that perhaps you are brave enough to figure that out
on your own, too.

Today the world will tell you that your scars are a part of who you are, like your 
legs and fingers and nape and chest, like that mole just below your left cheekbone
or the birthmark tucked underneath your chin. Like your eyes and hair 
and spine and lungs and heart.

Today the world will tell you to take a good, hard look at your scars. Count them,
it will say, the big ones and the little ones and even the ones so faint and faded
nobody else can see them but you. Count them because you need to keep track
of how many there are, and where they've settled on your body. Count them
because tomorrow someone might ask you for your number, and you have to
be ready to say five or twelve or twenty two. You have to know
where each one belongs.

But someday—I don't know when, you'll have to be patient—the world will
tell you, enough with the scars already. Enough with things that have already
healed. Enough with things that no longer bleed. Someday the world will
tell you, hey, let's talk about music. Let's talk about poetry. Let's talk
about art. Let's talk about the things pain does other than leave scars, greater
things, hopeful things. Someday the world will hand you a fresh serving of
sadness or betrayal or disappointment or hunger or grief, along with a pen
and paper, a guitar, a paintbrush, a camera, a drum set, a microphone stand, 
and you'll know these aren't weapons; these are tools, these are companions,
these are your new friends.

And the world—this magnificent, magical, 
terrifying, looming, spectacular span
of earth and water and sky—
will look you straight in the eye and say:
"This is your hurt.
Learn to use it well."

running low

We have nothing left for each other. This
comes to us cold and hard on a Thursday morning,
our empty rumbling hearts waking us 
before the sound of the alarm we had carefully 
set the night before. I am lying in bed with
eyes wide open, and so are you, and in better days
one of us might have gotten up to forage for
sustenance, selfless and noble so that the other
would be fed, and nourished, and full
of the warmth that can only come from living
a life that goes above and beyond enough. But today 
is not one of the better days; it is not even
a good day, and so we press our backs
against a mattress as unyielding as the brick wall
we once spray-painted with grafitti promises:
you and me together, you and me forever.

We tried to beg
for a brand-new shot at happiness,
but the man at the store only had secondhand
joy to spare, diluted by great expectations
and half-hearted forgiveness, and even as beggars 
we didn't want to be unable to choose.

We tried to borrow
time, and bargain with the world to wait
until our ducks were lined up
in a neat little row, ready and willing and able. 
But we missed deadlines and chances, gave up
eventually on trying to keep up.

We tried to steal
kisses on street corners,
light from passing vehicles,
heat from fires we had not built ourselves. 
Neither of us believed we would ever get caught
in the milky tangled threads of our own untruth.

We have nothing left for each other, and it is 
so easy to leave, when this is all 
we are leaving behind. Our hunger
roars like thunder now, eager
for an easy free taste of 
something other than empty.

All text original work by Marla Miniano. Powered by Blogger.


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I write books and edit a teen magazine for a living. I also: take photos, attempt poetry, make travel plans, snore, do the dishes, daydream on the treadmill, and dress like a loose grandma. For feedback, questions, and invitations, email me at marlaminiano@gmail.com.