the little choices

we sit at the oversized, red-toned mahogany table a salesman pressured you into buying. you have never admitted this to me.

my sister recounted the transaction, while you were showering. you were on the hunt for a sturdier, slightly larger table than the plastic black one you had. it wobbled when you put down a cazuela, so no, it wouldn’t do.

and, at a thrift store, this tall, reddish brown table caught your eye. the reflection of the spinning ceiling fan on its glossy tabletop hypnotized you. however, it was too large for the studio apartment. it wouldn’t do, you mumbled.

a lurking salesman noticed your lustful gaze and offered you a price. you shared that you were interested, but that it wouldn’t fit. how would you even take it home? it’s just too large. he said not to worry–he’d bring it to you and set it up for free. you politely declined. he insisted.

you both are at the apartment. you’re sitting on the couch, with your legs crossed, sipping an iced coke while he’s kneeling beside the table, piecing it together. he makes small talk. the weather is lovely. you are lovely. do you only have one daughter? she’s awfully quiet. is her mouth sewn shut? people must walk all over her.

you agreed with him. you wished aloud that she were more outgoing, talkative, and confident.

my sister watched you in silence.

she says you didn’t want this table, but at least you got to choose it. choosing is important to you. you remind us that our dad never let you pick anything that went on the walls. he never let you select furniture. he never let you choose.

you chose this bulky table, and you’re keeping it.

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

a love pattern

my momma, a petite, quiet woman
who hates cooking but loves sewing,
loves my papa, who hates reading but loves singing,
very, very much. on chilly nights, they’d curl up together
on our new pleather sofa to watch Jeopardy!,
and yell out their goofy, incorrect answers.

once, momma was late for Jeopardy!. she came home two hours late
with a brown, plastic grocery bag. i went to pick up some veggies,
momma said. papa snatched the bag away.
she bit her lip, and said: i also went to Ricky’s to get the—

momma never got to say what was in the bag;
papa slapped her left cheek, shoved her against the wall,
and whispered something into her tiny ears.
she crumbled to the floor and sobbed, while holding
her reddened cheek. later that night, she told me
not to worry; papa loves her, and papa loves me too.
i believe you, momma. i do.

last year, i met a boy. the first time the warmth of his hands
enveloped mine, i knew we were meant to be. he gave me
chocolate roses and white teddy bears
when it wasn’t valentine’s day. he even carried my books
and kissed my forehead. Cosmo quizzes said
he’s a keeper.

after a night of lovemaking, i fell asleep to the sound
of his beating heart. he woke me up, and we kissed again.
when his fingers played with my panties,
i said: i’m tired, and i need to go home. he ignored me.
again, i said: no, leave me alone, i want to go home.
when i shouted, he smacked me;
when i struggled, he punched me.
i cried. he whispered, i’m sorry, i just love you too much.

that’s when i realized that i loved him too much, too.