regrets

the uncontrollable steaming of
molten rock releases confined exasperation,
cracking charcoaled, ashened lips–
the breaking of civility.

an announcement of an ignorant truth.
no quiero vivir como tú, má.
silence.

the air suffocates thirteen year old me,
but i narrow my eyes even harder.
tensions heighten and my eyes soften
like the dimming of a glaring sunlight
on a stained glass window.

mother drops the plastic plates she
had been washing all afternoon,
turns off the faucet
and my legs wobble. she wipes her
soapy hands on her thighs,
and i inhale sharply, bracing myself
for an earned slap.

she leaves.
a raw, cutting quiet to the end
of a storm.

*interpretations*
no quiero vivir como tú, má: i don’t want to live like you, mom.

inconsequential decisions

I briskly walk up to the front desk of The Oakland Tribune, re-adjusting my glasses one last time. With my brown leather briefcase in hand, I smile widely at a young man sporting a comb-over haircut. I pause. He doesn’t seem to notice my arrival as he continues to vigorously type on an Apple computer. “Hello, my name is Cecilia Vargas. I’m here for my one o’clock interview.” He nods without looking up. “Go straight down this hallway, and turn to your left. There’s a sitting room and you can wait there.” I mutter a thank-you as pleasantly as I could, and head down the hallway.

As I turn to the left, I see the large sitting room. There are several long, suede black couches that stand out against the white walls. Several bamboo plants are scattered across the room, the tips of their stalks as tall as the crystallized floor lamps that stood right beside them. A few glass coffee tables were placed between the black couches, with magazines sprawled out on them.

On the center couch sits a middle-aged man dressed in a khaki suit. As he hears the click of my heels come closer, he looks up from reading a Reader’s Digest. “Hello,” I say pleasantly. He redirects his gaze to his magazine, then nods. I sit on the couch across from him, and fold my hands on my lap. While crossing my legs, I look around the room. “Are you here for the interview?” I ask. He nods again. Guess he doesn’t befriend the enemy, I say to myself.

I decide to skim his outfit, and I noticed that the bottom of his shirt, near his navel, is unbuttoned. He isn’t wearing a shirt underneath, and I see the coarseness of his body hair. I raise an eyebrow, and shift my gaze up to his face. Still engrossed in the magazine, he turns the next page. I pick up a Times from the coffee table in front of me, and place it on my lap. While reading it, I cross my arms and lean back on the couch. Should I say something about his shirt?

Minutes pass. I am still reading an article about the wage gap when a woman steps into the doorway, clipboard in hand. “Cecilia? Come with me to begin the interview.”

I stand, smooth my pencil skirt, and follow the woman to my interview.

❂❂❂

After my interview, I head to the restroom. Inside, I set my briefcase down and sigh. I think she’ll call back. It went pretty well. Looking in the mirror, I smile, and I notice red lipstick staining my teeth.

I hope she notices his unbuttoned shirt, I mutter vengefully as I grab a paper towel.

my little secret

you’ve spend weeknights in the company of white noise,
the only lighting that illuminates your half-open eyes and
flushed cheeks, saliva dripping from your mouth and
soaking your shirt. beer cans sprawled on the wooden floor
without your noticing.

the family broken by malt liquor and the crushing
of fragmented dreams haunt the bare walls
we once called home. the ghosts of our
faith in you don’t let you sleep because
you’re afraid to ask forgiveness.

shortly after grandma left, too.
initially you spoke of your momma in memory, that’s what
twenty years of bad blood does, i guess–
and life with her seemed like a brother’s grimm
fairy tale. momma was vile, momma was the evil queen
you banished from the kingdom you rescued.
when she actually passed away, may she rest in peace
i think it was then you realized the value of
your crown.

i feel like little black birds are pecking at my insides,
cawing about my reluctance to speak to you
stirring an overflow of guilt and sorrow and anger
and helplessness–a heartless bitch* i am.
i learned from the best.
now you know who.

swings

mi querida mami sways from side to side
holding herself while looking up at the ceiling fan
in the darkness of our little kitchen, with the sink water running

she mutters avemarías y padre nuestros and swears that tonight is it
tonight is the night we’ll all run into the night holding hands
without him.
without my father.

ten minutes later i don’t hear the sink water running anymore.
she mumbles, hoy no. the children are still in school,
she has to go to la fábrica tomorrow, he financially supports us–
this isn’t so bad.

we’ll leave some other time, she says. ya casi.
she’s said this in our small yellow bathroom,
in our cluttered bedroom.
we tell ourselves too
que ya casi.

meanings of spanish phrases:

mi querida mami: my dear mom
avemarías y padre nuestros: hail mary and our father prayers
hoy no: not today
la fábrica: the factory
ya casi: almost

inevitable tensions

the landlady and i don’t speak to each other.

she’s a plump, pale woman who always wears chunky, black sunglasses, even when the skies are cloudy. her hair is dyed with blonde highlights that accentuate her light brown hair, which is usually wrapped in a messy bun. the wrinkles oaround her mouth make her look like she’s frowning although her other facial features are inexpressive; i know this because that frown doesn’t leave her lips while she smokes. when she smokes, which is quite often, she sits under the white umbrella that is stuck in the middle of her round patio table. she puts her feet on a nearby chair while sitting on another, often staring at her two-story house or scrolling through her smart phone. i see her do this everyday. every other day, i’ve heard her blast old hip hop and r&b songs like 112’s “Peaches and Cream” and Sisqo’s “Thong Song”.

one evening, i was on Facebook. i saw that my older half sister had commented, “That’s not funny, that’s my dad :(” on the landlady’s status. her and i share the same father, so, out of curiosity, i clicked on her comment so that i would also see the post.

now, i had always disliked the landlady. when i was a tween, i heard her making jokes to her girlfriends about my father’s alcoholism, my mother’s inability to speak english well, and our financial struggles that my father had confided in her. it was a typical friday night for her and her friends, sipping vodka with limes, gossiping, howling with laughter. they all sat by the round patio table, under the white umbrella, toasting to their friendship.

i saw her post and my heartbeat sped so rapidly i felt my chest rise up, clogging my throat, clamming up my hands, tightening my mouth and deeply furrowing my eyebrows. on my computer screen was a picture of my drunken father and his large beer belly, without his shirt on, bending over, his reddish face oblivious to the camera. Underneath the picture, she had written a cruel joke, my father being the punchline. No one had commented on the photo yet, except my older half sister, who had commented a few hours ago.

the overwhelming mix of emotions fueled the long Facebook message i wrote to the landlady who was in her late 40s. even if she doesn’t like my family very much, it doesn’t allow her to publicly shame any of us, to mock us, to use us for her entertainment and the public’s. my message was a big Fuck You, except without those exact words because i wanted her to understand the reasons why what she did was wrong.

an hour later, Facebook indicated that she had read my message. she did not reply. she did, however, take down the post.

she has not acknowledged me since then. when i saw her after the incident, i waved. i waved, and still wave because, she is the landlady. i see her everyday, and i didn’t want too much tension between us—but i did figure that there might be some no matter what.

she did nothing but stare back behind those sunglasses, her frown more pronounced than ever. sometimes i still wave, and she still doesn’t.