Bio Note: I am a new Verse-Virtual member who currently serves as the Mat-Su Vice President of the Alaska Writers Guild. I am also a poet, teacher and "former" journalist with an undergraduate degree in English and Japanese Studies. My work has recently been published in Alaska Women Speak and Make-A-Scene magazine, and I am an active participant in Rattle's open mic shows on YouTube. I have also published several books through my own publishing company, Red Sweater Press.
After Craig Santos Perez
I don’t remember when my dad first said the little green boat was dangerous, the tide a treacherous thing of mutiny, prepared to silence those reliant on it, as sure as the sun rises. If we were to, say, tip over our tiny vessel, on an ocean or lake, or river, what then? We might find ourselves sleeping with the fishes that night, unable to right the rim or swim to safety, each paddle lost to the depths of the sea (or something like it). Now, your experience may differ — your tongue may click, tell me to rearrange my thoughts on this story, a front for the paranoid fears of a father. Maybe these letters are my internalization, the result of his desire to protect his daughters, form a safety net around us in our perilous canoe.
We had been hiking, but now it was a climb, the difficulty of which did not deter us. We felt the heat, the dust on our faces, sweat trickling into our smiles, like the time we traveled by ourselves. As we near the zenith, a boy approaches on a dirt bike, asks for our code names. I say, We don’t have code names, like I told that toddler we were not who she thought we were. Only this time, it is a we sisters share over friends. The boy disappears. We complete our ascent and meet a woman standing on the ridge dressed in layers, as if she is a jogger, as if she doesn’t feel the sun, as if she’ll never melt the way we do. I think, she is my mother, but she is Black. Her box braids, accented with gold, extend below her waist, and if I were not dreaming, I might have stared, in awe, at her beauty. Instead, I watch her eyebrows raise, and I know she is thinking we complicated our journey but her pride seeps out beneath her skepticism, as if to say, Thank God you’ve finally arrived.
The First Time my Sister Said the F Word
She texted it, actually, which lends more to its permanence (and her resolve) than would’ve been evident in speech. Around 6:30 a.m., I awoke to the vibration of my phone, an alarm as unexpected as the earthquake that woke my sister, a thousand miles away. Only her message had been sent at 5:12 a.m. (my time), and I had slept through that disturbance, unlike her. As soon as I inquire about safety, she begins to backpedal, claims she overreacted because she’d been rattled awake without warning, unaccustomed now to that phenomena once so commonplace in both our lives. I imagine she expected me, like our mother, to scoff at her insecurity and remind her I survived much worse, on the second floor of an Alaska school, in a room full of sixth-graders, on a dark November morning, 16 months ago. I bet she didn’t anticipate my surprise at her use of The F Word (the only curse with such a lofty, unmistakable euphemism), but she is about to turn 30, married with three kids, and this is a revelation: that my carefully worded sister and I can in fact speak the same language. I see my mother on social media, saying, “I didn’t know Utah had earthquakes,” but she’s a scientist, so I suspect her follow-up of, “How long did it last?” is another of her competitive measures. My brother-in-law taunts, “I’m glad it didn’t wake me up,” because he was already at work, most likely, and he didn’t see the 5 a.m. message to me, from his wife, which said, “I may never sleep again” (this, said by the mother of three children between ages 1 and 7, whom I didn’t think hoped for sleep anymore, anyway). So, although I still can’t quite hear the F word in my sister’s voice, I can still feel the momentary terror of a life with children, shaken — albeit in different contexts — and the aftershocks left in its wake.
©2020 Caitlin Buxbaum
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