That’s where she was from.
Down near the Rio Grande, the Mexican border.
Poorest place on earth, she told me.
She had the window seat of the bus.
I rode shotgun in the aisle.
She was a stranger who talked and listened.
And I was a traveler who did the same.
She was her way to Dallas
in the heat of summer
to see a friend.
I was passing through
on my way to Florida.
Through the glass,
I could see the shimmer of
everyone of those hundred plus degrees.
She shrugged her shoulders, said
“You get used to it.”
Her accent drawled
as plain as the plains we crossed.
But her face was fetching
even if her mouth took up more of her jaw
that I was used to.
Her eyes were where
I mostly took her measure.
They were a pale but expressive green
like the little that grew thereabouts.
She gave me the inside dope
on roping steers.
I told her what it was like
to sit in a room half the day
We had nothing in common
but for a willingness
to talk up our differences.
She was shapely
but in a modest way.
For all my writer’s wrist workout,
she’d have had me easy in an arm wrestle.
But we didn’t touch,
at least no more than bus riders do
when jerked sideways around a corner.
But there was a connection there.
forced by circumstance perhaps
but the underlying humanity in people
has this flair for finding itself in others,
even if she’d never been inside a theater
and I hadn’t once stood at the base of an oil derrick.
We talked for hours
as that vehicle rolled across Texas.
Her tongue gift-wrapped her life story.
Mine was easily as honest.
We ate together
in a cheap but filling bus stop restaurant then parted.
She gave me a number to call
if I was ever in Brownsville.
I never did go there
but I looked the place up in a book once.
I still must have that number somewhere.
Like I have everything that’s happened to me somewhere.
Maybe it’s with Portland, Maine
and Ann Arbor, Michigan
and a one-horse town in New Mexico.
I recall that every one of those places
sent their envoy to greet me on my travels
and they were, in each case, female.
Brownsville wore her hair brown,
like the city’s name.
And long, like how long ago it’s been.
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in
That, Muse, Poetry East and North Dakota Quarterly with work upcoming
in Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal, Hawaii Review and the Dunes
/ flowers are arrangements like music / and the convent approved my work / conventional morality and living like a body made up of closed boxes or rooms/ i wasn’t allowed to repeat
the same music / devoid and defloration / the bass and the treble clef and middle c /
/ so we stopped to dive into the shore / for my body has crossed over / there were eggs in warm sand / and when the summer was over / and the wind lifted and the shift of the sand / i played so my virginity / and my body a river like smoke curls when i blow out the candle / relocate its path when i hook it with my little finger / but when my shadow man comes / i notice he’s not dialing a phone / there is just the palm of my hand / so i reached out for the latch behind him / jammed my hand until it bled / there is a door and then there is love like a rosarium / and i pushed my body against him and he opened it /
/ when my mother came to my wedding / the bride and groom / the bridal march would not play and the singer could barely sing / toy soldiers and how we can never walk away from war / my father / my god / his brass band and our drum /
/ so i didn’t let her take my rugs from under me / hand-knotted the persian rug my own way / for if the hunter took out her heart / sown her snow right under her toes /
/ fleshy petals / warm as bodies / hothouse / virginity in the convent / like a florist and exorbitantly priced / it should be beautiful / but i can barely walk through / so many clocks stop working in antique shops / for i have felt a body and a spirit / warm vapor / pour of salt from my father / and how he taught me to kneel down and close my eyes / if i should die before i wake / i pray the lord my soul to take 1/
/ when i think of her / of how i barely knew her / if she ever stood a chance in hell / it’s easier to say my mind is sick /
/subtle smell of a cemetery / the convent always smelt disinfected / where i used to pray because that was what my mother wanted / festal days / taking up the offertory like a bunch of flowers / and i led the procession / because my parents died in marriage / her wooden spanking spoon and my father’s spoon was made out of bone /
/ my mother’s arm and hand / limbs of thought / turn over the crank of its body / spider black / they ate of me / my navel / their curricular dish / husbands whose bodies are made up of his own bones and how she understands circular economy / then she will bear her children and for her tear / off their own back / / take back their skin /
Annie Blake enjoys semiotics and exploring the surreal and phantasmagorical nature of unconscious material. Her work is best understood when interpreting them like dreams. She is a member of the C G Jung Society of Melbourne.
a crowd, but calm
the routine anxiety is absent
consonants you faintly recognize travel to your ear
you try to make out the tongue,
but think it rude to ask
in your white skin, your white face
you remember the time you asked the ethnically
ambiguous boy at the rec center "what are you?"
noticing his first and last names
were not a typical combination
now you feel a sunburn of embarrassment
because surely ahmad what's-his-name
didn't know that white girl
was just trying to say
i'm a swirl too
i'm just like you
but too naive to know
the hegemony of my history
that words like these don't just roll off
white girls' tongues without consequence,
and damage done
so I don't ask
even when I hear my father's tongue
and my heart cries joy at the familiar
even though ahmad what's-his-name probably
forgot my inquiry many moons ago
i don't ask,
i walk on by,
my short shorts screaming invisibility
in one and a half languages
i tug at my golden necklace
i try to tan
i mouth to myself what I would have said
if i had the decency
to wear a scarf
Summer Awad is a playwright, spoken word artist, and a case manager at Bridge Refugee Services. Her work centers around diaspora, biculturalism, and feminism. Her play, WALLS: A Play for Palestine, played at the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival and earned her the Artist of Change Award from Community Shares Tennessee.
She might be a ballerina in her old denim
floating or perhaps an apprentice Amazon
fighting or giggling with little friends in dresses
laughing or moaning with the hurt of a scrape.
She could be everything dreams made her to
be or again learning her trade with the quill
become or change as she walks and slowly
turns or stay in a pose puzzling to even space.
She would guess a journey to continue on
always or maybe imagine in her heavy boots
never or per chance to fly on the back of a steed
some time or at last to travel in her breast to infinity.
She is in truth with her wand more than a friend
apparition or dawn she guides strings, winds, and
percussion or she writes on eternal walls a code of her
creation or making worlds she exhales lives in a mere sigh.
She might be God as she glides into another day
in elegance or a glowing robe refreshing to the stars
with her scent or everlasting births given to angels
inside the palace or a shack, she might be God after all.