DOMINIQUE K. PIERCE
We shared the same childhood religion, blowing ladybugs off our fingers for good luck and jumping the last step down to the boatyard. We skipped stones there together in the bay. I taught you how but you were better, finding the right stones, thin and sharp. There’d only be four or five good enough a day, rationed by something unseen, maybe even the ocean itself, but it was good like that, in pieces. What we got we blessed with kisses—one each—grinning, gap toothed. I remember your sister’s dress, she had just outgrown it, snapping around your knees like the ship flags do, wet sand clinging to our sunburned skin. I could’ve brushed the sand from your hair, I was tall enough.
You wound up, holding your breath, one eye closed and snapped out your wrist like a gunshot blip blip blip endless over the bay making birds out of nothing and I was jealous, sick-jealous, hating my own blip blip thunk no matter how long I stayed, long after Rosie called you home, tugging at your fraying braids, shaking sand loose like a halo.
So I rose with the sunrise and went to the shore alone. Cut my hands open turning up rocks and amassed an innocent fortune—seven perfect skipping stones, the fever growing inside me a wet stain like moss on the rocks mother said we couldn’t climb, where a child had once slipped and drown; a sea offering. But I was not thinking of the ocean as I bled into it or when I threw those rocks back into the water so that you couldn’t have them.
You cried that day, dressed in all yellow, the burnt skin peeling around your nose and mouth, empty sand running through your fingers and the gulls screaming murder over our heads. You cried like the world was ending, pressed against my shoulder as I brushed back your hair, and felt, for the first time, like a king.
The Migratory Patterns of Estranged Birds
I follow the sunrise back home, magnets in my gut swallowed as a kid undigested & insistent but I don’t want to be a wind-up toy. Alone in the car with my mother’s music on and my mother’s hands around the wheel, wishing instead I was holding a cigarette, wishing I smoked, wishing I liked myself more, wishing evolution was wrong about me.
That these calluses, these sharp knuckles, were mine.
That I had no ancestors.
And that I did not know myself, or you, going sixty down fat American highways, speed limit sixty-five, making everyone pass me. Migratory patterns are a reflex. How many of us grow wings or split into colored monarchs at the turn of the season, return in confused agitation to the earth we first spilled out onto, thinking—why this town, why this dirt?
I remember when you took me into the desert to practice standing still until the sand grew roots around our ankles, filled our shoes. Why? You never loved me, you didn’t know how—you told me so, looking into nothing, breaking glass in the sink and washing it away. The car breaks down along the state border, and I shed its metal carapace, crawl free and raw. I leave the keys inside and walk, fingers in my mouth to keep them warm, my fresh skin itching in the weak November sun. It’s cold enough to animate my breath, to freeze the foam rolling off the wounded sea. I watch the water bruise itself along the shore, and dream about what it was like to drift, unborn, in the darkness of you, the loneliness, the only thing alive for miles. My infant lungs taking in your stillness; we shared everything and I was born quiet, so quiet they thought I was dead. I walk along the highway, don’t re-name myself or wave to passing cars, already knowing that nobody will stop for me and that even if they did, they would someday disappoint me. You taught me that.
Once, I found a corpse of black feathers in our unwatered backyard. This crow was mine and I glued its feathers to a paper crown, claimed kingship and was still dancing when you emerged from your locked bedroom to watch through the old bay windows, gravity tightening my girlish circles, my shadow pulled out like taffy by the setting sun. In the dark, I conquered dirt, desert shrub, the baby cacti and its blossomed mama and a rock, which river-smooth did not belong here or in my greedy hands. How many hands had touched it? Touch passed from past hands to future hands until this gentle swollen-belly rock passed that phantom touch into mine. I wanted to keep it but I was afraid you would take it, Mama.
So I knelt in the dirt and dug into the quiet earth. Is it still there? Under the bone meal soil, threadbare crow feathers, under this Arizona sun, and are you still watching, a swaying saguaro silhouette in the bay windows?
Waiting for me to come home.