Memories of a neighborhood in St. Paul

Memories of a neighborhood in St. Paul

Summer. I remember riding bikes through the alleyways. I slipped and fell and skinned my knees and hands. Gogo and I snuck into the University Club. We went skinny-dipping in the pool. We found a diamond necklace at the bottom near the drain – I told her to keep it, to wear it, to show it off like we have money for diamonds like these. She said, What if I see the woman who owns it? The woman who lost it? What if she sees me with it on? And what if she says it was me who stole it? What then? I said, And? What then? She laughed and put the diamonds around her neck. She still wears them, I think, but not on special occasions. With t-shirts and sneakers and jeans. Fall. I know the small white house on the corner of Webster Street, and the lady who lives there who looks like my grandmother. She waves at me from the porch with a wrinkled brown palm when I pass on my bike. She once beckoned for me to come inside and offered me cookies still warm from the oven. My memories are made of brick and cement and glass. My dreams are bathed in the sunlight of an autumn day at 4pm. The long shadows that creep over fences and pull at the sidewalk. My dreams are apples picked from trees and flat piano notes from songs I never learned how to play. Winter. We disappear into snow. Into a swirling white mist that puts icicles like diamonds on eyelashes. The drifts rise to our knees....
What is it like to be so in love?

What is it like to be so in love?

We’re in the shower. Holding tight. Hot taps running down skin. Between our fingers and toes. Then: We’re falling into fresh sheets on the feather bed, our bodies wrapped up tight in blankets, surrounded by pillows. There’s a small bar at the end of the block. An old-and-rickety place that smells like cigarettes still – though cigarettes have been banned indoors for years. It’s hot in this bar. Because it’s so small. And. So full of people. Even (especially) in winter. When people yell for drinks and cheer their favorite teams playing basketball on the TV overhead. Potato chips hang from the wall behind the bottles; the only thing they have to eat. There’s a dartboard in the back – slightly crooked, like an open mouth with sharp teeth. We throw darts and I let her win. Then she lets me win. And then we have one more drink while the game above is last second, hold-your-breath, one shot, two-points, three, down-to-the-wire. We talk about leaving, about long road trips across the country. Before. When the open spaces of the country were still a mystery. And the open road could stretch on and on and on until finally it came to an end at the edge of the ocean. And anything is possible at the end of the road. America is not the mystery she used to be. She once was. Her corners and conventions have been brought out into the light. Her rolling hills and long prairies and badlands now documented and developed. But we talk about it anyway. Talk about getting away. From here. There’s no need...
When the world becomes water

When the world becomes water

Gogo stands over the oven. She is sweating – the air is warm and humid, even at night. She is cooking when I come through the door, licking her mother’s recipes from the wooden spoon. There’s a loaf of bread and garlic next to her with a piece missing. And she says, “Forgive me. I was so very hungry. You’re late.” “I’m sorry.” “I started eating,” she wipes her hands with a white towel from the rack. “I couldn’t wait.” Only the light over the sink is on, keeping the kitchen in shadows and smells. I take a bowl from the cupboard and she fills it with noodles, tomato, garlic, wine. We sit down at the small wooden table pushed against the wall and eat mostly in silence. We fall asleep on the couch after we’re finished, watching something on TV that we’ve both seen before. The apartment is only one room. Nothing is far away. It was the opposite the last time we had sex. It was the last time we fell asleep together in the bed – slept someplace other than the couch. “You’re early,” she had said, her hair pulled across her forehead, panting, licking her lips, unsatisfied. We watched a movie recently. I don’t remember the title. It was something that Gogo wanted to watch and I fell asleep before it was over. I woke up near the end to a guy with a strong jaw taking the leading lady in his arms and telling her, “You’re silly.” “What?” The heroine asked. “To think that the money that you’ll inherit from your mother is what...
Not for sale

Not for sale

Gogo was raised by her uncle after her mother died and her father left for Africa. Her father never returned from Africa, and whether he was alive or dead she never found out. And neither did anyone else, as far as she knew. Her uncle was large and had a strong jaw – a head shaped like an anvil. His words had the same sort of weight. But he didn’t say much, thankfully, and his house on the edge of the river was large enough that they could (mostly/almost) coexist without crossing paths. Gogo told me she could dissolve into a glass of water when he yelled for peace and quiet. When I visited her we stayed in her room. If we were hungry we left her house and went to the diner nearby. If her uncle was in a particularly foul mood we stayed at my place, hiding beneath the covers of my bed so that my parents wouldn’t know she was there. We were safe beneath the covers, holding each other and whispering about where we would go tomorrow, next month, next year, forever. We read books to each other. Great Russian literature and the American classics. We tackled “Waiting for Godot” which was one of her favorites: We said we would go and see it performed one day when we had the money. We read poetry and wondered how so much could be said with so few words. My parents never caught us. Gogo always slipped through the window before sunrise and before my dad started making jokes at the breakfast table where I pretended to...
It would be safest if you ran

It would be safest if you ran

There has been, of late, a focus on borders and walls. And, consequently, a rise in xenophobia. Or is it because of xenophobia that there is a focus on borders and walls? Populism has always existed, but the sentiments that elected the current administration seem to be the result of a “chicken or egg” conundrum: Are people scared because the world is scary, or is the world scary because people are scared? But the rhetoric itself has changed in the United States: The denial of the USA as a “country of immigrants” and open borders has been the guiding force behind recent policy in the White House. The conversation is not about coming together as much as it is keeping out the “unfamiliar.” The notion of community becoming something more rigidly defined: who belongs, and who doesn’t, and who gets to decide. But perhaps it was always there, as has been suggested by the Washington Post’s America has always been hostile to immigrants, among others. The United States of America has always had a nativist streak – a populism as inward-looking as today’s “America-First-Make-America-Great=Again” mantra that has led to so much hatred and violence from the ruling class. People can’t really be to blame for feeling scared, they tell us. As humans we pride ourselves on our autonomy; our ability to be in control, to conquer, to rise above. We are in control. We need to be in control. And when we can’t give the enemy a face, a face must be given: Muslims. Immigrants. “Welfare Queens.” Others. Them. The people you don’t know. It doesn’t matter, of course, that there is no...
Lazy days, falling asleep, stuck in school, dreaming

Lazy days, falling asleep, stuck in school, dreaming

I don’t want to be here, my eyelids getting heavy. My back starting to hurt. I don’t want to stay sitting, stuck at this desk in this classroom of this school that smells like old wood and grandma’s books. Mr. Jalle up front talking about history and politics and why we are where we are. But he can’t explain why I am where I am. I think sometimes about climbing the trees outside, climbing to the very top, then jumping off with my arms outstretched because I think I can fly. My eyes are open. I see something in front of me. Dark green, watery green, swamp. I’m underwater. My eyes are open. The water stings my eyes. I reach forward with my hand. There’s nothing. I’m choking on swamp water that tastes rusty like old nails and tonic. “You’re blind,” the voice in my head tells me. Mr. Jalle’s voice up front is like a hum, steady, like low-fi bass reverberating in my ears. I don’t hear anything he says. I’m listening. I don’t hear anything except for the sound in my head. Chatter, like radio static, noise. The bass low and steady in my ears. I’m blind, I think. I’m blind. I don’t need to learn any of this. What good will it do me if I understand the Emancipation Proclamation? I can’t run for president if I’m blind. There’s never been a blind president. How would I get to the podium to give the speeches like I see on TV? With someone helping me every step of the way? Holding my hand? How would I negotiate...