Bury Me in St. Paul

Bury Me in St. Paul

It is a warm and humid night in summer. The sound of dogs barking on the street. The sound of crickets from the brush and cicadas in trees. Fireflies flash like tiny cameras through the grass along rows of dark cars parked along the curb. Half-dressed teenagers gaze from the windows of clapboard houses looming like tombstones above, their darkened figures like tributes to a night defined by their beauty. Run away!  they call out. But where would we go? We are all here together – in that we are all made in the same way, follow the same rules, and there is no space or time or place anymore between us. Shiv’s red pickup truck sits crooked in the empty lot next door, the front-left tire blown out by police during the protest two days before. Mama Yea’s garden grows thick with tomatoes and pole beans and squash in the yard across the street. A feral cat slinks beneath our porch in the shadows to hide from barking dogs, but the wail of coming sirens, those to announce curfew, is shrill and louder still. We are at Lea’s family home She comes to me shirtless in the heat. She moves with a certain slowness – each step taken with care. Milky light from the lamp in the corner moves with a coruscating glow across her skin. She stands before me, one leg crossed over the other, her hands on her hips and her hips cocked to the side. In winter we need blankets, scarves, coats and hats to help keep our bodies warm but clothing is optional in...
The Seasons

The Seasons

In Summer. The sun shines high from its perch in the sky. I remember riding my bike through the alley when I was a child, when I slipped and fell and skinned my knees and hands. Gogo and I sneak into the University Club overlooking the city’s downtown. We hold hands and go skinny-dipping in the pool. I find a diamond necklace left at the bottom near the drain – I give it to Gogo and tell her to keep it, to wear it, show it off like we have our own money for gemstones and jewels. But, she says. What if the woman who owns the necklace sees me? What if she sees me with it on? And what if she says it was me who stole it? What then? I say, And? What then? Gogo laughs and puts the diamonds around her neck. She’ll wear them all day. But not on special occasions – with t-shirts and sneakers and jeans, because, she says, it’s all about balance. There is no need for money in warm weather like this – the less we have the better when we sweat and the humidity and the heat keep our bodies warm. In winter we need more – we need coats and hats and scarves – when the snow falls and ice cracks around the windows and it is the icicles hanging from the rooftop are the only jewels we have access to. In Fall. The small white house on the corner of Webster Street. The lady who lives there who looks like my grandmother – she waves at me from...
To Be So In Love

To Be So In Love

We stand in the shower, holding our bodies tight, close together. Hot taps run down our skin, and splash between our fingers and toes. Then: We’re falling into the fresh sheets of the feather bed just outside the door, our bodies wrapped up in blankets and sheets, surrounded by pillows, a warm and safe space where anxiety disappears into dust on the floor. A small bar sits at the end of the block. An old, rickety place that still smells of cigarettes – though cigarettes have been banned indoors for years. It’s warm in this bar. Always, no matter the season. Because it’s small. And. So full of people. 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 there is to eat. There’s a dartboard on the wall in the back, hanging slightly crooked, like an open mouth with sharp teeth. Have another drink. The game above is last second, hold-your-breath, one shot, two-points, three, down-to-the-wire. We throw darts and I let her win. Then she lets me win and we both go home happy. We talk about leaving. About a long trip. A trip across the country. But before, long ago, when the wide-open spaces of the country were still a mystery to men. And when the open road could stretch on and on. Until finally it came to an end at the edge of the ocean. Anything is possible at the end of the road. America is not the mystery she once was. Her curves have...
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 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 pasta, 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. Yesterday it was the opposite. 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 the night before that. 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. A man with a strong jaw taking the lady in his arms and telling her, “You’re silly.” “To think that the money that you’ll inherit from your mother is what makes you special. It makes you no different than the homeless man your mother gave...
Some Things Are Not For Sale

Some Things Are 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. 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 was large enough that they could (almost) coexist without crossing paths. Gogo told me she could dissolve into a glass of water when he yelled for peace and quiet. The house was on the edge of the Okopai River. When I visited we stayed in her room. If we were hungry we left her house and went to the small diner nearby. If her uncle was in a bad 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 blankets, lying close together and whispering about where we would go tomorrow, next month, next year, forever. We read books to each other. Great Russian literature and American classics. We read “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 laugh. My dad always said, “You can’t be a...
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...