AFTER HER DEATH, WE FIND HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS IN MY GRANDMOTHER'S CURTAINS
(a version of this poem previously published by Tap Literary Magazine)
After her death, thousands of dollars floated out from the curtains, pouring out like dusk. A sky of bills burgeoning into men’s faces floated down to my mother. Moths that had stayed hidden in the same coat, same sleeve. Ten thousand dollars. Now paper planes sent from a child to another child. A secret, hidden from the nuns with their tight and coiled buns. Money hidden in closets, in pillowcases, crisp with the smell of receipts, mothballs, waiting for my grandmother's death to be spent. Twenty dollars from making a wedding dress in 1952. Bills forgotten from a social security check cashed in 1971.
My grandmother's hands held a belt, deftly, as if she knew how to beat a horse so that it was broken, then ride it until it forgot it was a horse. Most of the time, in the kitchen spilling a fistful of lard into a black cast-iron pan. Watching beans, chicken, rice, boil and boil. Then calling the men to come eat. At the funeral, my mother clutched night-blooming jasmine in her hand. Its leaden perfume that drowns out stars and the oak trees' clutch of soil, heavy blanket of sickened sweet when the night opens full of that expansive dark and then is usurped by that tiny clutch of white petals.
I have made her memory into wings, I have shaken them from my own coat. Isn't that what we do, take what dark things our parents & grandparents held tenderly, shuck them off. Lay our hands in the dirt to remove the smell. Scentless now, stock-still, her body half-hidden by the coffin and its décor of anemic white lilies, carnations, larkspurs, gerbera daisies, roses, patient in its waiting to be tossed in the waste-heap.
The trick of her body that belied warmth, sweating its leftover tears. Her head allowed to rest on a cradle of white pillows. And the crucifix wrapped securely around her wrist, not once, but three times. The Gothic Christmas scene in her foyer, animals of every fang and hoof, giraffes and elephants and pigs, twenty-three ducks, swarming the baby in animal longing, the white baby Jesus resting in his radiant humanness.
The worms are going to eat me, she’d like to say to me as a child, hoping to force love out of me. And into her heavy breasts I'd tuck a smile, please let it be, to make my mom stop crying when we leave your house.
At three, at five, seven, and then thirty, standing in the hallway of the hospital as my mom sat with her to be scolded one last time before she died. Her body, the area where her legs belonged sunken as if dripping off of the edges of the hospital bed, her torso and its stiff holding up of the sheets, like it didn't want to be touched.
¿Porqué nunca me ves? I am trash to you. You throw me away just like I found your mom thrown away in a dumpster. You know I found her in a trash bag.
At ninety years old, her eyes watery and brimmed with bruises of years she turned away from. The eyes that hated the fat or the bony or the beady-eyed and the whorish in every girl, tried to smother them in a bathtub's reflective sheen of water.
Then stared listening to her own chest crackle open when her own daughter told her how he pulled her in the closet, unzipped his pants. And she does nothing. That see her granddaughter reading a book, and say it's a way to store men in her closet to be a whore, learning new ways to be a whore, to stash men like shoes or money.
Letting yarn unravel long and long from her lap. Ask how pretty is your Lita. Now my mother, reaches for a bill, another bill, one for each time she was orphaned. First by her teenage birthmother, then her adoptive father that died young. Kept by a woman who raised her to be a nun and caregiver: locked her in a box of God Hail Marys & fists & belts and the Devil with his roaming hands.
Dear Mother, every-thing can be mourned even this these men’s faces laying their eyes on laying their animal eyes of forest green and moss on us. I want to spend it this pile of blank wings called mourning: a bird that saves flight until it’s about to die pecks and pecks and pecks that worm a hunger a hunger that grows wild, clutching its tiny white petals. I wish, Mother, that for one minute your mother had loved you.
Now, let’s spend this dough like crazy.