Starting Over

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from October, 2022.

I. light head, n. and adj.

Today is a new day.
I’m going to turn it all around.

Roll out of bed, complete a yoga routine
with my phone propped
against the lamp on my nightstand.

A quick shower, a quick breakfast
that I eat on my way to the bus stop.

Nothing is going to stop me.

II. per fas et nefas, adv.

Headphones in as I approach the stop.
No one is going to ruin my day.

No one is going to bring me down.
Lizzo will keep me afloat.

III. downpressor, n.

Bus pulls up,
everyone files on,
backpacks knock against each other,
people, doorframes, seats.

Bus driver’s voice mumbles through
his expectations. It’s early enough
that people quiet down for him,
but I leave my headphones in,

wait for his voice to stop,
the bus din to return,
the yellow dashes in the road
to scroll by underfoot.

IV. alieniloquy, n.

The thing about
the lines on the road
is that they’re hypnotizing
as they fly by.

An intermittent, off-yellow flash
carries your mind to
some elsewhere
without dimensions in time or space.

And when they end
at the parking lot’s edge,
you suddenly remember
you have to go to first period.

V. bobsled, v.

Hallways are full of bodies—
a current
pulls me right to Ms. Acevedo’s
classroom.
I don’t remember moving
my feet.

VI. rhubarb, n. and adj.

Throat’s tight.
Swallow the past, Tori;
this is a new chapter.
I put a smile on my face
convincing enough
to fool everyone
at my cooking station.

VII. lightning bird, n.

I’m holding steady until
he enters the room.
His hair curling
under the edge of his hat.
A jolt in my chest—
why
do I want to cry and smile
at the same time?

VIII. dump cake, n.

I look down at our counter,
can’t look up,
need to forget
he’s here.

Ms. Acevedo gives instructions;
I don’t hear them.
Shay does, assumes the role
of our group’s leader.

She tells me to measure and pour
baking powder, salt, flour
in a bowl and stir. I see his face
in the powdery mountain range.

IX. dunnish, adj.

Eli asks if I’m done mixing.
I nod and xe dumps
my bowl into xyrs, mixes.

I look up, the room’s colors
seem to be on a dimmer switch—
it looks like the sky
an hour before thunder.

X. folx, n.

Ms. Acevedo address the class
about over safety protocols.
Shay and Eli discuss
how to decorate our cake.

I sneak a headphone
through my sleeve to my palm,
rest it against my ear.
Hayley Williams yells about misery.

XI. ice blink, n.

The bell releases us
to the sea, a long voyage
to our next classes.

Stare ahead at nothing;
looks better than watching
bow waves collide.

Mr. Persson’s display for
the Revolutionary War
overwhelms his end of the hallway.

XII. birdscape, n.

Respite 
among war stories,
since
he’s in math class.
I
can stretch my wings,
restart
the new me.

XIII. bodgie, v.

New Tori
writes her notes in cursive.

New Tori
nods her head while someone talks.

New Tori
asks questions during lectures.

New Tori
has her shit together.

XIV. chugalug, v.

I drink from my water bottle
throughout third period,
which helps me focus
on geometric proofs—
tonight’s homework.

I get in the zone, my homework
finished, ten minutes to spare,
an empty water bottle.
I ask Mx. Archer to go to the bathroom.
They tell me to go fast.

XV. mediocritize, v.

You are never going to change.
There is no “New Tori.”

You are the same piece of shit
you were yesterday.

You are alone for a reason.
It was obvious he’d leave.

You are deluding yourself into thinking
anyone would like you.

I scramble for my headphones,
play the loudest Sleater-Kinney song I find.

XVI. spreathed, adj.

I feel cracks spread across my arms
as I enter the bathroom.
They become deep, wide;
demons rise from the dark crevasses.

I feel the boiling spittle drip
from their open maws,
their claws pierce my skin
as they push off to take flight.

It burns and I scratch, hoping
my nails bury them alive,
but they keep sprouting
like weeds in an unkempt garden.

XVII. ignorantism, n.

Shay enters the bathroom as I leave,
gives a small wave,
looks at my arms—
radiant pink, thin scratch marks
all over my forearms.

She tilts her head, her brows concerned,
starts to ask a question
she doesn’t have words for.
I tell her
I’m okay.

XVIII. monkey bear, n.

I don’t know why I can’t calm.
Why is it so hard
to stand still, to quiet
the thoughts that clash in my head
like marbles against a mirror?

I watch the branches on the tree
outside Mx. Archer’s window
sway in the wind as the bell rings.
Everyone gets up and leaves robotically,
but I just sit there, unable to look away.

XIX. dark thirty, n.

I see it clearly still—
the madrone branches
dripping into the sound 
as we sat in the bed of his truck,
watched the sky above Vashon turn pink.

My hand in his, a blanket between
us and a cloudless sky.
He poured coffee from a thermos,
told me he loved me. He said
he’d never hurt me.

XX. amoretto, n.

I was warm then;
I thought it boundless.
I wrote his name
in different styles in the
margins of my notebooks.

I lost focus in every class.
Doodles— abstract shapes, hearts—
left on every scrap of paper
in my backpack. I wrote
poems, left them in his locker.

XXI. nightertime, n.

Mx. Archer asks
if I want to eat lunch in their room,
if that’s why I haven’t left.
I shrug, nod, but really,
I’m not there;

I’m still lying in bed at
three in the morning, looking
at my phone, reading the last
message he sent me to make sure
I understood each word.

XXII. chuddies, n.

The chill of the metal chair
on my thighs brings me back.
I regret that New Tori decided
her style is yoga shorts and large sweatshirts
regardless of the weather outside or in.

Bell rings and I’ve eaten nothing
again. Frustration builds up behind my eyes;
I’m supposed to be better than this now.
Mx. Archer throws a granola bar at my desk,
tells me to eat it on my way to class.

XXIII. gist, v.

Suffice it to say
I inhaled the granola bar
on the way to English.
I listen to Big Freedia,
need to explode to start anew.

XXIV. menehune, n.

How could I have ever thought
I could start over
overnight, as if
it would ever be that simple?
I need to confront him.

XXV. yo, int. and n.

Chemistry. That’s when
I’ll see him next. That’s when
I’ll tell him what’s on my mind. 
I spend English drafting the words
I need to say to make him understand.

XXVI. drooking, n.

I stand outside the chemistry room,
waiting for him to show up.
I take a sip from my water bottle
when I see him round the corner
holding Melanie’s hand.

There’s a white flash and I feel
my fingers tighten into a fist,
a scratch grow inside my throat.
My water bottle points at
his waterlogged hat and shirt.

XXVII. grrr, v.

In my chest, a beehive
hit with a baseball bat,
their wings bristle against my skin.
I fly away before he says a word,
before an adult makes me talk about it.

XXVIII. mosker, v.

What was once vibrant, warm,
soured, cold and bitter as coffee dregs.
My throat on fire, I heave
by the mailboxes in the
neighborhood behind the school.

It’s over. There was never any chance.
You don’t get a fresh start.
You will always be the second choice,
alone, a fucked up girl
no one will remember.

XXIX. sabo, n.

He knew I’d be there.
He knew I’d see them.
He must have wanted me
to see them together, to see
how he’s moved on already.

They’re probably laughing now
at what a fool I am to believe
there was any possibility
of reconciliation, to believe
I am worth anything to anyone.

XXX. ablepsy, n.

My vision gets blurry, goes black.
I sit on the curb, dig my headphones
out of my pockets. My phone trembles
in my hands; I can’t see the screen,
can’t make the sounds to activate Siri.

Silence envelops me. I drop my phone,
don’t hear it hit the asphalt.
My breathing becomes muted; my chest
heaves, but there’s no sound— no air.
I don’t know what to do.

XXXI. jack-o’-lantern, n.

A light, an arm's length away,
appears, slowly retreats. I reach for
the light, a face amongst the dark, which
welcomes me, accepts me.
Why is it leaving?

I reach, lose balance; my palms,
knees slam the road. Pebbles
make homes in my skin. The light
fades like the sun over the horizon.
I evaporate as mist in the void.

Daddy Warbucks; Or, Go in My Place

I get that my dad has to do all these stupid ceremonies;
he’s the king, la-di-da.
But, does that really mean I have to go to the things too?
It’s not my kingdom—
would it still be a kingdom if I ruled it? A queendom?

Anyway, I’m not the ruler;
I shouldn’t have to go
to this drawn-out, fuddy-duddy event
 to celebrate the bicentennial of some old tavern
with good hash browns.

‘It’s a landmark, blah blah blah,
good for the economy, blah blah blah,
boosts the morale of the citizenry, blah blah.
The optics, Aerith, the OPTICS.’

Can’t you go in my place?
You look just like me.
You just need to get up on the stage or whatever,
give some speech, point at that old dwarven guy, then leave.
Ten minutes, tops.

Ugh.
His council probably expects some gaudy centerpiece
for their table to project how important they are.
Forgot about that.
You can probably find something cheap at the market
if you hurry.

This poem is part of a collection called Shards of Kardpaz, which are texts I’ve written for the world of the Dungeons & Dragons campaigns I run with students at my school.

A Scrapbook for Our Anniversary

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from August, 2020.

I. Chicane, v.

A sheet of notebook paper. Wavy as Saharan dunes. Pastel purple ink in your handwriting. Steady, certain curves. Circles for dots. A play-by-play description of your biology class. Casualness I convinced myself meant more than it probably did.

II. Angeliferous, adj.

You. That band uniform Merklin made you wear. Your smile. The way two of your front teeth didn’t quite line up. Your eyes. Your blonde hair a lighthouse in a sea of band uniforms shuffling around the band room with pre-concert jitters. Your sax strap tucked under your collar. You. Just. All of you.

III. Sitz im Leben, n.

A selfie you took of the two of us in our usual seat on the bus. Spring sun through the window. My eyes squinting. A small heart drawn with eye liner under my right eye to match the ones under yours. My cheeks pink as you lean into me, rest your green hair on my shoulder. Each of us with an earbud in connected to my phone playing “Los Ageless” by St. Vincent.

IV. Coorie, v.

A picture of me asleep on my bed that you took after the first time my dad yelled at me in front of you— the first time you saw how small I could get. He stormed out, slammed the door to the garage, and I just stood in the middle of the kitchen, frozen. You lead me to my room and told me to rest. I fell asleep, exhausted in the summer heat. Tears stain the sheet below my face. The picture is mostly empty, mostly shadow around my head, which you filled with a silver sharpie, writing: “ur the best & I love u.” The first time you used that word in direct relation to me.

V. Schola Saxonum, n.

Your family’s dining room. Every seat at the table filled. A roasted turkey splaying like soaked notebook pages. A container of mashed potatoes swirled and steaming. A bowl of green beans. A plate of beets that would remain untouched. A basket of dinner rolls. A vegetarian roast your mom bought after you asked if I could spend the holiday with your family. Half of my face obscured by the floof of your blue hair.

VI. Chicken-Pecked, adj.

A selfie I took of us in the back row of the movie theater when we saw Spider-Man: Far From Home. The light reflecting off your hair makes it look like you’re wearing half a Spider-Man mask— like if Peter Parker was also the Phantom of the Opera. You’re looking off frame, distracted by the kid a few rows ahead of us complaining to their adult that they wanted to see Toy Story 4. By the second trailer, the pair had left the theater and you loudly sighed with relief.

VII. Ambitus, n.

A screenshot I took of the Form our school made for ASB election ballots after they committed to being paperless. Admin called you down to get your picture taken to be displayed by your name on the ballot for 10th grade representative. You flung your green swoop over your right ear and held a peace sign under your left cheek. Your opponent, Dylan Forster, stood stoic in theirs, arms crossed over their soccer jersey. Their campaign posters used the word “no-nonsense” a lot, followed closely by “logical.” We were sad when you lost, but I was so proud of you for running and insisting on being yourself.

VIII. Sinistral, adj. and n.

A selfie you took of us sitting on the steps outside the main office. Yellow leaves tucked behind your ears, blending in with your hair. The office lights off, staff long gone. Waiting for your mom to pick us up, because I forgot my phone in Rosales’s classroom, making us miss the bus. I’m slumped over the steps, staring the at awning’s ceiling, my face hidden by my elbow, probably mid-apology. “It’s alright,” you’d said. “Don’t worry about it.”

IX. Top Bin, n. and adv.

A soccer field. People cheering in the background. I’m wearing my home jersey, black with green lettering, sweating and gasping for breath. You’re cheering, your face half-painted in silver. Behind us, several of my teammates rush toward me. In the moments after this picture was taken, I was tackled then hoisted up on shoulders for scoring the winning goal.

X. Calligram, n.

I had an art assignment in Supang’s class that seemed like a cool idea for a Valentine’s Day present. To do it, I needed to make a picture using words, shaping and coloring them to make the picture come alive. I had the picture in my head that I wanted to do, but trying to think of the words that would fit everything I felt about you was difficult. You know that I’m not great with words— the letters get all jumbled like headphone wires in a pocket. So, I tried starting with just the picture first and then I could fill in the words as they came to me. That revelation didn’t happen though, because I got so caught up in the details of the cherry blossom branches and the wispy clouds in the sky that the words never came to me. So I just sketched and painted them for you.

XI. Yever, adj.

A booth at Chipotle. Homecoming night. You. A burrito in your left hand, your right covering your mouth as you tell me to put my phone away. To not take your picture. But I don’t think you understood how much I loved you in that exact moment. Sitting under the florescent lights of a fast food restaurant. In your fanciest clothes. Devouring a burrito. Sofritas dribbling into your basket. I don’t think you understood how many futures I saw in the refracted timelines in your eyes.

XII. Bearless, adj.

A summer afternoon. Vapor waves from the sidewalk in the distance where your neighborhood turns away from the woods behind the elementary school. You’re holding a small watering can, a brighter shade of red than your hair, shaped like an elephant, pouring a steady stream of water into a planter of pale dirt. You had bought tomato seeds at the Home Depot by the park on our walk after the last day of the school, and you watered them every day that summer, always talking about how bomb your BLTs were going to be. They never reached above the soil.

XIII. Palynology, n.

Late August. Muted clothes shuffle between tables with small paper plates with small sandwiches on them. Your eyes are tired from the long night you spent dying your hair black with a cheap, temporary dye, rather than the dyes you usually use. You said a memorial is too solemn a place— you didn’t want to draw focus. Your hesitant hand is on your mom’s shoulder, who is cradling an urn against her stomach, who asked me to take “one last picture of my daughter, my sister, and me.” A bee sting, you told me later, while watering pumpkin sprouts in her backyard.

XIV. Acid Drop, n.

A selfie. My couch’s old, floral print fabric. Both of us with Sour Patch Kids sticking out of our mouths. We were watching something, but I can’t remember what. I remember you heckling the movie the whole time, until you double-dog-dared me to dump the sour sugar from the bottom of the bag into my mouth all at once. I groaned as my cheeks tightened, and I coughed. You coughed too, but from laughing. 

XV. Dulcarnon, n. 

A copy of the acrostic you wrote to ask me to homecoming. You told me it took you weeks to figure out how to ask, what to write. You scribbled couplets in the margins of your science notebook, you showed me afterward, saying, “It’s so hard to rhyme every line. Why can’t people just write their thoughts.” When I showed you the Wikipedia page for free verse poetry, you slapped my phone onto the comforter of your bed. “Ugh! Shut up!” you groaned, falling back into your pillows.

XVI. Angustation, n.

A picture of you sneaking up on a gaggle of geese at the lake in the park near your neighborhood. Your hair blending in with the grassy field. The brisk spring wind a welcome escape. You were so busy with tests and clubs and sports, I barely got to see you. I was stuck in my house, sequestered to my room to avoid crossing paths with my dad, having to endure another lecture about some other failure I had committed. You, squatting near the geese, your arms tucked like wings, staring at me with your eyes wide as theirs, were a breath I didn’t realize my lungs needed.

XVII. Observanda, n.

A summer afternoon. In the backseat of your mom’s Forester swerving left and right to avoid potholes in the road. Our hands splayed open, our fingertips dyed purple from hours of huckleberry picking. You wanted proof that you were the better picker, because the fact that your old Costco soup container was more full than mine wasn’t enough.

XVIII. Soirée Musicale, n.

A cheesy homecoming picture that I insisted we get. You rolled your eyes at first, so cliche, but you agreed, because you knew I wanted it. What I appreciate is how invested you got, not just standing there like a hostage. Really, I just wanted to remember the time we got so fancy and dressed up and happy, because I never imagined that I would be able to do all of those things at the same time.

XIX. Delicatesse, n.

The before picture you took of my brown hair before you helped me dye it for the first time. You said we should match for homecoming, and I agreed, because I knew you wanted it. Stress palpable in my eyes— uncertainty. I knew you knew what you were doing; I never really doubted you or your ability, but I couldn’t stop the worst-case scenarios playing in my head. My left eyebrow is bent from me trying to lower the volume.

XX. Meep, v.

The after picture you took of my blonde hair when you were done. Your excitement escaped from your hands over your mouth. Relief palpable in my face— jaw unclenched. I knew I could trust you to make sure it all went well. You made me feel safe enough to do something I never would have otherwise. My eyes contain the horizon, the sun, the ever-expanding possibilities— or its just the edge of the counter and the light above the mirror. Either way.

XXI. Rozzle, v.

A selfie I took of us as we walked around the mall before seeing Pet Sematary. My hand in yours. Fire. My fingers twitched every so often, I’m sure you noticed, with excitement. Fake cowering to justify getting closer to you. Setting the chair arm up to get it out of the way. Feel your warmth in my arms, against my chest. Shushing each other when the movie gets quiet. Quickly readjusting when the usher comes in with their flashlight to check the exit doors and scan the crowd.

XXII. Querimonious, adj.

The art show our school put on at the end of the year to exhibit the best student work. Somehow, a collage I made from a torn up printout of one of my Instagram posts and its comments was chosen for the show. I guess those troll comments were worth something after all? The collage is hanging on the wall, and you and I are standing next to it. I look nervous, you look proud, my dad is taking the picture. After you went to congratulate one of your band friends, he asked me what the collage was about, why I hadn’t told him people were saying these things to me before, why I would ambush him with it like this in such a public place. He shook his head before walking away to talk to the soccer coach on the other side of the commons. 

XXIII. Phlogiston, n.

A drawing I made for you. Not something required for Supang’s class. A lot of reds and oranges, yellows— warm colors. An abstraction of a portrait. No firm lines. More like waves of color lapping at the shore. Frantic energy along the edges, so shaky they blur and fade. It’s you. Well, I was trying to capture what makes you, you, at least.

XXIV. Totem, n.

A picture of a capybara that I got from Google. There’s an adult standing by a watering hole with a few younger ones. You always said you loved how calm and collected they look, how friendly they are to other animals. You frequently look up compilation videos of them when you feel stressed. I know you hate the term “spirit animal,” because we’re white and it’s racist to claim to have one when you’re not part of an indigenous group with those beliefs. I don’t mean to go in that direction at all. I just thought a cute capybara would be nice for you when you get anxious. You’re as calm and friendly as a capybara, even when you don’t feel like you are. 

XXV. Past Master, n.

A crowded ballroom. Rows of round tables, each with four large bowls in the center. One bowl full of crab, the others filling with their empty exoskeletons. Every chair filled. You are sitting in front of a plate with a crab claw lying on it, a small clump of lettuce and tomato on the side, a seafood cracker and pick in your hands. I am sitting to your left, my plate full of dinner rolls, a similar attempt at salad pushed to the side. My dad stands behind us, smiling, posing with a hand on each of our shoulders for this picture to commemorate the end of his term as Worshipful Master in his Mason lodge. A large chain collar hanging over his shoulders, a thick blue fabric the same shade as your hair, which he would later pass to the person who would succeed him.

XXVI. Ex Abundante Cautela, adv.

A screenshot of the first texts we exchanged where I asked you if you wanted to hang out. A lot of non-committal language to give the impression that my heart wasn’t an earthquake. Phrases like: “or whatever” and “idk” and “sure.” I almost don’t recognize the person I was trying to be there. I remember distinctly the sigh of relief when you agreed though. I remember sitting on my bed, breath escaping as my head fell into my pillow, looking at the ceiling and its safe, congratulatory waves. 

XXVII. Bamstick, n.

A selfie from the chaotic din of the Paramount, faint light from the stage rolls over the crowd, amplifying your blue hair as Sleater-Kinney goes into “Hurry On Home.” During the outro, someone behind us tried to start a mosh pit, leaning and thrashing around into whoever happened to be there, including you. You stood up straight, rubbing your shoulder, assuring me you were alright. The song ended right after that, and the thrashing whimpered into a stop, multiple people shaking their heads. 

XXVIII. Coopetition, n.

State Solo and Ensemble Contest stage. Silhouetted heads eating into the edge of the stage. The lights making your green hair stand out even more than normal, which may have been why Dylan had told you to dye it “normal” beforehand. They’re on the piano beside you gently walking through the chords and arpeggios for “Hallelujah,” while you swing through the melody on your bari sax. Your eyes are closed. Not wanting to see the crowd or falling into the song, I can’t tell. 

XXIX. Artotyrite, n.

The coffee table in your living room covered with a cheeseboard and a platter of your mom’s homemade sourdough. Barely in frame is your gas fireplace, slightly obfuscated by red and green stockings, a basket of children’s books. You have a slice of sourdough in your hand, covered with a slice of brie. Your mom is next to you, talking about how the sourdough recipe was passed down from her father. You’re nodding, knowing how this story goes, because you’ve heard it so many times before. 

XXX. Nudum Pactum, n.

The sky. Sparse clouds float over the park. I took this with my phone while laying on the grass next to you on the first day of spring break. I had just gotten the question that was stuck in my throat out. A question that I lacked vocabulary for— labels, exclusivity— about wanting to be yours. You said yes. There was a breeze then, a new breath. I took a picture of the sky then, the sky where we started. 

XXXI. Ambuscado, n.

I hid this scrapbook in the bottom drawer of my nightstand, the only place I could think of that you would never look. I spent several late nights going back through my phone history to find the best pictures, print, trim, and arrange them. Had to ask your mom for some that I knew she took, carefully placing them into my backpack between my binder and my calculus textbook, when you weren’t around. I wanted to surprise you. I’ve never put more effort into something than I did into this. For you. Because you deserve it.

Cottonwood Seeds en Route: V. Nadine Sauer

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from May, 2020.

This is the fifth and final entry in Cottonwood Seeds en Route. It is a continuation of Part IV: Isabella Dudosa.

I. Dulciloquent, adj.

It’s not only
because old books are cheaper—
though that certainly helps.

The language
flows like rivers with
centuries-old glacial water—
crisp, refreshing.

The pages age,
change shape and tone
like a person’s face and voice.

They’re
the only ancestors I have—
roots
for the rootless.


II. Arte Povera, n.

I know
it doesn’t seem like much, Elinor,
but our home has all we need.

I realize
you may find the stacks of books annoying,
but I haven’t found a good bookshelf at Goodwill
yet.
So, instead
our apartment has some free-range novels—
no oppressive, corporate cages here.
You, as a wildflower,
can probably appreciate that.

I know
I could get something cheap at work,
but it’s all soulless squares—
an erasure of home and culture.
We’ll MacGyver something, Elinor.


III. Microfinance, n.

After my shift, I usually
drive home,
cuddle with Falstaff as I
eat dinner and
watch Dragon Ball Super.

Lately, every commercial break
is an ad from Target
thanking me for my service,
lauding themselves for
donating masks to hospitals.

They
say they
care about me.

Not enough to
increase hazard pay.
Not enough to
ensure safer working conditions.
Not enough to
provide guaranteed COVID-19 leave.
Not enough to
cut a CEO’s salary to
cover the loss of hours of their employees.


IV. Padawan, n.

You called my name
from the backyard to show me
the tomatoes you were growing.

You held this bulb in your hand
that was as black as your hair,
and I didn’t believe you.

You held it up to me,
told me to bite it.
“They’re delicious, honey. Try it.”

I squirmed as I held it,
imagined black ooze gushing
from phantom bite marks.

I closed my eyes.
My trembling hand raised it to my mouth,
and I bit it like a wolf on deer meat.

I smiled as
seeds and juice dripped down my chin.
Delicious— just as you said.


V. Sinistrorse, adj.

feels like no matter what i do
i always wind up back here.

the same patterns
recurring perpetually.

i still water
your tomatoes

when I think of you,
so they’ll be ripe if you come home.


VI. Mural, adj.

I wake up surrounded by
four walls
covered in specks of memories
lingering in the paint.

I drive to work enclosed in
four walls
made of glass
so I can see the world, but not touch it.

I work in a store with
four walls
full of food and clothes, enough to
nourish multiple impoverished villages.

I don’t know what to do when these
four walls
inch inward like a long exhale—
air seeping through a seam on a spaceship.


VII. Femina, n.

When I learned
my grade couldn’t go down over the closure,
I stopped turning in anything.

Most days, I have work—
had to pick up extra shifts
cleaning to keep my hours up.

Today, I have off; the sun’s out.
I watch the leaves on the birch
across the complex wave in the breeze.

Lying on the couch, draped
over the edge,
I can’t bring myself to move.


VIII. Simony, n.

I didn’t trust you
when your will said
you wanted to be
cremated.

It’s hard to separate
your mom
from
the body she inhabited.

We did it, though—
well, you know that,
since you’re sitting on the side table
by the window overlooking your tomatoes.

I hated that guy at the funeral home
who kept trying to upsell us on gaudy urns
covered in emerald crosses
fully aware we couldn’t afford them.

I also hated that pastor who did your service.
I’m sorry; he did a fine job.
He just kept going about praying and
donating to save all of our souls.


IX. Time-Ridden, adj.

“Hey Nadine! How are you and Elinor?”

“Oh, we’re great! Elinor’s started teething, so I gotta massage her dirt sometimes after I water her. How about you and Lupine?”

“We’re good here too. Lupe started dancing to They Might Be Giants yesterday, and she’s so good, I’m thinking about enrolling her in Auburn Dance Academy.”

“Yesss! She would out-dance all of them! I’d enroll Elinor too, but I don’t know if Cory would get us there.”

She pauses. “What do you mean?”

“Well, when I was leaving for work, they screamed like Goku going Super Saiyan when I turned the ignition—“

“They?”

“Cars don’t have genders; keep up. Anyway, after achieving their new form, I was able to drive to work. They had to power up again to get me home, but it took less time that time, so I think they’re getting stronger.”

“Hasn’t Cory been struggling for a while now?”

“Yeah, sure, but they’re on the up-and-up. Got ‘em a new battery just before the closure.”

“And it— they’re already struggling to start again?”

“It only happens sometimes. Cory’s doing fine.”

“Have you thought about maybe replacing Cory? It’s kinda unsafe to keep driving them.”

I pause. “I can’t get rid of Cory, Isabella. I’m not going to lose them.”

“Isn’t your safety important enough to warrant a consideration, at least?”

“I’m perfectly safe.”

“But someti—“

“It was hers! Okay?! I can’t.”


X. Monody, n.

They asked me to speak at your memorial,
but I couldn’t
find the words.

There are no words
for the gaping tear your death made,
the shrapnel haphazardly embedded
in my limbs.

When someone dies suddenly, people say
they wish they had known it was coming;
they’re wrong.
Knowing,
watching you wither,
hoping for another day
made the period at the end of your sentence
much worse.

Your medical bills were so much,
we had to sell the house,
leave the garden you spent years curating.
Before we moved into this apartment,
I repotted your black tomatoes,
so they could live on our porch.

I still
water your tomatoes,
drive your car,
read your books,
because
it makes me feel like you’re still here
or
you’ll soon come back
from wherever you’ve gone.


XI. Adespota, n.

Do you ever think about
who makes the wind blow?
Why they want to rattle
the dogwood’s branches so much?

Or, maybe:
who spends the hours
setting up endcaps
to show off brand-name labels
at just the right angle
when you walk through a store?

What about the people—
long shadows now—
who cleared the forest,
flattened the hills,
paved and painted the roads
you drive on
as you lament the hours you’ll spend
sanitizing the pharmacy?


XII. Begrudgery, n.

I know it’s bad, but

on Sunday, when Instagram was full of
people with their living moms,
captions saying
they looked forward to seeing them again
after quarantine,

I wanted to scream.


XIII. Awfulize, v.

it’s been two years, nadine. you keep dragging her around with you in that old car. you know the risks. don’t you remember that time it stalled in the middle of the intersection on meridian in front of fred meyer? you don’t want to end up in a bodybag.

you’ve stalled— life on pause. each day like the one before. drag yourself out of bed. drag your feet at work. are you even alive? is there a will that lingers in your heart? is there a pulse there? steps echoing down a long hallway?

or, have you stopped walking? standing in place staring at one picture in the gallery though hundreds await you. you can see the edges of their frames in your periphery.

move your foot. move your foot. why can’t you take step?


XIV. Peck’s Bad Boy, n. (and adj.)

“Ms. Sauer,
can I see you for a minute before
the end of your break?”

Charles
insists on referring to minor employees
in such formality
for reasons lost on me.
He butchers Suri’s last name every time.

I leave
the disinfectant and rag
on the table where I took my break
reading For Whom the Bell Tolls.
I place the book in my locker
on the way to Charles’s office.

His office is small,
loose papers scattered across his desk.
“Thank you for coming to see me, Ms. Sauer.
I greatly appreciate your work here.”

Sounds like one of those commercials.

“It’s really great
that you volunteered to help us
keep up with sanitizing the store.
Are you sure
you’re not overworking yourself?”

“Yeah. I’m sure.”
Not where I thought this was going.
“Why?”

“We’ve just gotten
some recent survey results saying
some employees have had
negative interactions with customers
and morale seemed down—“

“So you’re asking this to everyone?”

“Not exactly, no.
The results correspond
with times you were here,
departments you were assigned to.
We just need to make sure
customers are having a positive experience
from the moment they enter our store
to the moment they leave.”

“But
I’m just wiping down
the floors, shelves, and counters.
I’m not really interacting with anyone.”

“It’s a— vibe thing.
“Maybe you could try
smiling more.”

Ugh.

“I’m wearing a mask.
They can’t see whether I’m smiling or not.”

“It’s about
the vibe you give the customer—
your aura.
Does that make sense, Ms. Sauer?”

I sigh. “Yes, sir.
I’ll smize all day.”


XV. Quint, n.

There’s no way
I could have gotten this far
without my friends.
I know
I’m not great to be around when
I get lost in the fog.

So,
I bought five books after my shift
to thank them
(and show them I know modern books).

First, I grab
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
for Crys,
because I thought she’d appreciate
the splintered narrative structure and
the narration of gay ghosts.

Second, I buy
The Fire Never Goes Out by Noelle Stevenson
for Suri,
because it’s a graphic novel (which they love)
by the showrunner of She-Ra (which she loves)
about figuring out who she is.

Third, I put
The Martian by Andy Weir
in my basket
for Isabella, 
because it’s a story on her favorite planet which tackles its
science and psychology thoroughly.

Fourth, I get
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
for Violet,
because she finds metaphors everywhere and
she helped me appreciate poetry,
especially poems by Angelou.

Last, after hesitating at the end of the aisle,
The Divine Comedy by Dante
ends up in my basket
for me.
My mom had always said
she meant to read it,
the way everyone says
they mean to watch The Sopranos, but
Goodwill never had a legible version.

I bag them individually
(I hope
Isabelle, Crys, and the planet forgive me),
leave them on their porches
on my way home.


XVI. Simkin, n.

In the back of the pantry is a bottle,
half full,
older than me.
A faded label, faint swirly writing.
Its cork sneaking a glimpse of
the kitchen when the door opens.

My dad takes it out sometimes
to look at it—
never drink nor open—
late at night,
when he gets home from Applebee’s
covered in dishwasher stains.

Lately,
after my late sanitation shifts, I’ve seen
the white of Seth Meyer’s attic
reflect off the curve of the bottle
and the streams on his cheeks.


XVII. Bukateria, n.

Near the end,
days before
the doctors shrugged
and we lost the house,
the realization came
that things were worse than I thought.

I had walked out of the hospital
after spending the night in your room.
We spent that night
splitting the penne you liked
from Applebee’s. Dad brought it
for you after his shift,
as he did every night he worked.
As you fell asleep,
I read a chapter from Sense & Sensibility
to you, because it was your favorite.

But, when I left the hospital that morning,
I walked up to the coffee stand
on the edge of the parking lot
before getting a ride to school
from Crys’s mom.
The realization came
when Kelsey, the barista, said,
“Morning, Nads!”

I had been to this coffee stand
outside the hospital
so much, not only
was I on a first-name basis
with the barista,
I had earned a nickname.
You had been in the hospital so long,
it felt normal, routine—
no end in sight.


XVIII. Pickthank, n. and adj.

Calling it “hero pay”
is not enough to justify
poor working conditions.


XIX. Simplex Munditiis, adj. and n.

On my way to work, I drove
by TJ Maxx, its planter covered
with cottonwood seeds, scattered
like melting snow.

Some cottonwoods, when felled,
don’t make good nurse logs, lacking
the width and girth to last long—
fell too early, too soon, too young.

They try their best—
stretched like shadows at dusk,
spread thin to help whoever
is still sitting there longing for shade.


XX. Antelucan, adj.

it happens a lot—

i get home late,
my clothes covered in
patches of lemony disinfectant.
i eat some leftovers
of what dad brought home from work
that night or the one before
while watching an anime
i don’t need to think hard about.

i shower then read
before falling asleep at
some witching hour or other. 

then terror;
never the same, but never that different.

sometimes,
you’re swallowed by a void
pulsing from shadows
in your hospital room’s corners,
slowly capturing finer details until
everything becomes
two-dimensional, matte
like a cartoon—
outlines bolden until
all is black, all is void.

sometimes,
you and i are in cory
driving to the discount movie theater
in the mall when
we get t-boned in the parking lot,
shards of glass falling
like hard rain in a thunderstorm—
sounds like one too—
sticking out of your skin
like darts in the dartboards
movies use when they want to
establish conflict or character.

sometimes,
you’re in a pit of quicksand, waist deep,
and I’m standing on the edge
reaching on my tiptoes toward you,
and you keep saying “no, don’t. it’s okay,”
and I argue with you
as you slip deeper and deeper,
the thixotropic sand
climbing over your blouse, your shoulders,
devouring your hair, your neck.
your eyes wide, cracks in the dam evident,
before becoming dark, empty.

i startle awake at the end
as the night sky’s blue-black 
begins its transition to
orange peel.
i watch the line march across the sky
out my window
until my alarm tells me
it’s time to get up.


XXI. Angrez, n. and adj.

This morning,
Falstaff digs his claws into my thigh
when I ignore my alarm.

This afternoon,
rain pounds on Cory’s windshield
when I drive to work.

When KZOK plays “Blackbird,”
I see my mom swaying and humming
in her garden.

When I pull into a parking spot,
I count between inhales and exhales
in my hands.


XXII. Muscose, adj.

I latch onto you
to get as much as I can
before you’re completely gone.
Always have.

I worry in hindsight
that maybe I drained you of energy
you needed.
I’ve been told
that’s not true,
none of it is my fault.

You can never know
how immense the impact of both
your presence and your absence
can be.

I carry you now
like you carried me then.


XXIII. Oblique, adj., n., and adv.

“Hey, are you alright?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I say as I get in Crys’s car.

She squints. “Then why did you call me at midnight to ask for a ride home?”

“Well, Cory was tired from flirting with all the mall cars— you know how they are— so they kinda fell asleep, and they’re so cute when they’re sleeping, I just let them be.”

Crys rolls her fingers along the rim of her steering wheel. “Cory didn’t start again?”

“Yeah. I tried a couple times to get ‘em up, because sleeping at home is def safer than sleeping in a parking lot— true for both cars and humans— but they shut me out after the third time.”

“Shut you out?”

“The anti-theft system kicked in. It happens sometimes. It’s not a big deal.”

“Nadine, I think it is a big deal. Cory’s been falling apart for a while, and—“

“I just put in—“

“— a new battery in March that’s not solving the whole not-starting thing. Are you sure you shouldn’t look at getting a newer car?”

“I have to hear this from you too? Isabella already lectured me about this.”

“Is that why you called me? Because she would lecture you again?”

I open my mouth;
no words come out.

“It’s alright,” she sighs, places her hand on top of mine. “I know Cory is important to you.”

I look at Cory
sleeping in the spot beyond
Crys’s left headlight.

I shake my head. “It was her car, Crys.”

“I know,” she nods. “And it must be hard with her anniversary coming up, right?”

“Yeah.” I clear my throat. “It’s not like we can afford another car anyway.”

“You could always trade Cory in to pay for it.”

My cheeks burn. “Would you have traded your sister in when she was sick?”

The engine’s hum fills the silence.

“I know you’re hurting, but that was a truly awful thing to say.”

She shifts the car into drive.


XXIV. Plutodemocracy, n.

Puyallup changes
when you get a few blocks off Meridian,
especially at night when
strip malls become neighborhoods,
street lights become sparse.

I stare at trees consumed by shadows as
Crys drives, silent,
chewing the inside of her lip,
angry tears welling up in her eyes.

“I’m sorry, Crys. There’s so much going on, and it just kinda… I took it out on you. I’m sorry.”

Her eyes don’t leave the road.

“I know I upset you. You came to help me and I was a dick… I’m scared, Crys. I— The anniversary of her death is coming up, so I’m seeing her everywhere. Cory is dying, and I need them. They connect me to her and allow me to get to school and work, which we need to pay off all those stupid bills...

“And work is a constant reminder of how close death is. My job is literally going aisle to aisle disinfecting everything to eliminate the threat of a deadly virus, and my only protection is this old shirt I fashioned into a mask.”

My throat feels like my knuckles after washing my hands a tenth time in one day.

“I know you’re going through a lot. I don’t hate you. I’m still mad though. You can’t just walk away from the thing you said.”

“I know.”

There’s a long silence as she turns into my apartment complex. She parks in the middle of the lot outside my building.

“Your mom is not her stuff. Her soul is not in them, and she still lives in your memories.”

“I think that’s easier to believe when you have a lot of stuff and the money to get more stuff when you need it.”

She sighs, nods.

“I know she’s in my memories. Sometimes, it even feels like she’s my shadow. And I worry about losing even a millimeter of her.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry. I appreciate you and your friendship so much.”

“I appreciate you too, you dick.” She chuckles as she shoves my shoulder. “Now go to bed. It’s past your bedtime.”

“Thanks for the ride,” I say as I close the car door. I wave as I walk up the stairs to our door.


XXV. Hendecad, n.

We never ate at restaurants much, but
on the last day of the school year,
my mom
would take a half day at her office,
pick me up from school to
take me to the Original Pancake House
for lunch.

She died on a Saturday—
the 26th of May—
Memorial Day weekend.
9th grade,
my last year at Ferucci.

Neither my dad or I were capable
to being around other people
for months.
I don’t remember
the last month of that year, but
I do remember
the bus ride on the last day
to an empty apartment—
walls of unpacked cardboard boxes.

Last year,
it still didn’t feel right.
I drove myself home
in silence.

They may not be open this year—
doesn’t look like
the closure will open up by then—
but I should get something from there
to commemorate surviving
my junior year
while working full-time
amid a pandemic.
She would want me to.


XXVI. Simili-, comb. form

Me
crouching on the patio,
humming a Phoebe Bridgers song
as I water two pots of struggling tomatoes

is not the same as

you
walking by planters in the backyard
humming the Beatles
as you hose lush beds of vegetables

I wasn’t able to save.


XXVII. Alkahest, n.

I
wake up
Tuesday morning, the 26th,
to a bright sun outside my window—
no dreams nor dew drops—
and a text from Isabella about Skyping.

I
sit up in my bed,
start my laptop while
taking a drink of water from
an old pickle jar on my nightstand.

“Nadine! Lupe said her first word! Look!”
She holds up Lupe’s pot,
tiny purple highlights on her tips.
“Did you hear her?
She said, ‘shhh!’
I think she’s going to be a librarian!”

“Oh my god! Yesss!”
I reach over, pick up Elinor.
“Look at your sister! Aren’t you so proud?”
Elinor nods.

“That’s not all,” Isabella adds.
“Hold on.”
She looks down, starts typing.

I set Elinor down, look outside,
see white fluff float between the trees.

I hear several bloops from my computer,
turn to see
four faces smiling,
three hands waving.
All of their voices meld together
as they say hello.

“We didn’t want you to be alone today,”
Crys says. “And—“

“And,” Violet cuts in,
“I actually have internet now!
Did you know
there’s a deadly virus
spreading all over the world?
Google told me. You’re welcome.”

“Dude,” Suri chuckles,
“don’t even get me started.
I’ve had to explain it to
Yusef and Amina
like every day.”

“Ugh Same!” Isabella yells.
“It’s like Alejandro has amnesia,
I swear!”

It’s the first time
I’ve seen all of them
at the same time
since lunch
on the last day
before the closure.


XXVIII. Vehemence, n.

“Anyway,”
Crys emphasizes each syllable
to get our attention,
“we wanted to show you
we’re here for you.
We know how important
the anniversary of your mom dying
is, and we want to support you.”

They all nod.
So many half-sentences
stuck in my throat.

“Your mom was the best,” Isabella says.
“Remember my quinces?
She volunteered to bring salsa
for the snack table
using tomatoes from her garden, and
she placed both bowls
in the center of the table with
labels she made herself.

“And she made a point
to fake-revise the mild salsa label
to make it say ‘White Salsa!’
I was dying!”

My computer erupts with laughter.

Crys wipes a tear from her eye,
a hand on her heart.
“Oh my gosh,
my mom’s face when she saw it!”
She inhales, exhales through her nose,
goes wide-eyed, juts her chin out.

“That was the face!” Isabella yells,
laughing into her hands.

“She purposely sat us at our table
so she could see people’s reactions to it,”
I reminisce,
see her snickering into her napkin.
“She was so proud.”

“I wish I could have met her,” Violet says.
“She sounds like a great mom.”

“Me too,” Suri agrees.
“If only I could have gone to Ferucci too.”

I often forget they went to Glacier View.
It feels like
they’ve always been in my life.
“Yeah,” I say.
“She would have loved you nerds.”


XXIX. Sidereal, adj.

It’s a small action,
but it reverberates.

Before the call, I felt cold,
like I was laying in a puddle during a storm.
After the call, though,
which bounced from
stories about my mom to
stories about quarantine,
I felt less alone.
Warmth spread
from my chest to my limbs
then out.

That afternoon, the clouds opened up
to blue sky, birds started singing.
The sun
came out, stayed out
the rest of the week.


XXX. Dataveillance, n.

One of the line cooks from Applebee’s
follows my dad to Target
in his pickup
several nights after I left Cory there.

I meet them by Cory’s spot,
my dad having to drive me to work
the last couple days.
Charles
had commented on
a car being in the lot too long.
He plans on calling a tow company
tomorrow morning.

Luis opens his tailgate,
climbs into the cargo bed.
The truck’s creaking and staining
fills the empty lot.
He uncoils a long rope,
hops off the truck,
lays under it to
get a better vantage of the frame
as he ties one end of the rope around it.

“I really appreciate your help,” my dad says,
getting under Cory with 
the other end of rope.

“No problem,” Luis groans as
he gets back up to his feet.
He bends over, stretching his back.
“How old is the car?”

“Uh,” I stammer, “about 20 years old.”
I wring the strap of my messenger bag.

My dad tugs on the rope a couple times,
gets to his feet,
brushes off his jeans.
“It gets the job done
for the most part, though.”

They walk me through how
we get Cory home safely— how I will
put them in neutral,
get pulled by Luis’s truck, only
braking and turning when he does until
we’re in our complex.

Luis’s eyes bounce
between my dad and Cory.
“You need a car?”

“What?” My dad asks.

“We have a pickup we don’t use much
since Isaac went to college.
You could use it.”

“It’s alright,” my dad shakes his head.
"We don’t need your charity.”

Luis focuses on Cory.
“You can pay for it, then.”

My dad looks at me. I shrug. “How much?”

“How much you got?”

Luis insists on finding a compromise,
while my dad reluctantly drags his feet.
They work out an agreement
that doesn’t hurt my dad’s pride and
figure out a day for me to pick up the truck.


XXXI. Gas Giant, n.

A thunderclap.
Rain patter.
Wind howl.

Saturday morning, I drink coffee
sitting in the living room floor
next to my mom’s ashes and Elinor.

We watch the sky flash,
gutters spill over with rainwater,
young sprouts struggle in the wind.

I focus on a cottonwood seed
snagged on the rim
of one of the tomato pots.

They shiver,
inch like they’re afraid
to fly on their own.

I put down my mug,
place a hand on my mom’s urn,
boop Elinor’s nose.

The sliding glass door opens;
cool air roars in
as I step onto the porch.

My face is wet with rain as
I clip the seed’s fluff between two fingers,
whisper in their ear.

I let go, and
a gust of wind sweeps them up.
I watch them sail across the parking lot.

I lose them in the clouds,
but I’m not worried—
I know they’ll be okay.

Cottonwood Seeds en Route: IV. Isabella Dudosa

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from April, 2020.

This is the fourth entry in Cottonwood Seeds en Route. It is a continuation of Part III: Suri Dihan.

I. Ombrogenous, n.

It is often stated as a fact that a person needs to feel some sort of pain in order to grow— we can see this literally when someone’s joints ache as their arms or legs grow longer. I am not sure how plausible this claim is though— too much stress can crush a sapling or snap a flower’s stem, for instance.

Humans are naturally social creatures— there are mountains of research and meta-research supporting this— so time during this Stay-at-Home order from Gov. Inslee is sure to cause a lot of stress on a lot of people.

That is why I decided to start skyping my friends. To help alleviate that stress from them. Their schedules are all conflicting though— Violet barely has internet, Crystal’s always watching her sister, just like Suri and their siblings, and Nadine’s always nose-deep in some Austen novel or at work— so there’s never really a time for us all to talk face-to-face.

So, I just talk to whoever I can, a different person each day on a cycle— I need time to work on my own studies, you know. And my homework too.

II. Chicken Scratch, n. and adj.

Yes, I am aware that Zoom lessons are recorded, and I can go back to them whenever, but who has the time for that? I want to get as much information written down as possible, so I can get whatever random assignment the teacher’s added to their Schoology page done.

I scribble notes down as quickly as I can, as much precise wording as I can. I become a stenographer— no, a machine recording every syllable that travels through our ethernet cable.

The feeling of accomplishment washes over me at the end of Ms. Hendrix’s lecture. That is, until I look back at my notes during the quiz she posted for review, and my notes look like a pile of pine needles on the sidewalk.

III. Daddock, n.

After wrangling Alejandro to sit at a table and practice subtraction for 30 minutes, I realize I need air. I put on my jacket, a scarf around my mouth— per CDC guidelines— and go on a walk.

The first step outside is like the first time you sip cold water after not drinking any for a long time— I don’t realize it until I feel the cold spread through my ribs.

I walk to the end of the culdesac and sit on the curb— acing social distancing the whole time, by the way. There’s a nurse log behind the fence that abruptly ends the road. I sit there. Just sit there watching the moss inch in the wind, sparkles of light from fresh rain blink in the sun, mushrooms stretch their necks like giraffes through the moss canopy.

Everything’s quiet now. I feel my ribs expand as I take a deep breath. Can’t remember the last time I did that.

IV. Ruly, adj.

“Morning, Violet!” I say, holding my phone to my ear. It feels so weird using a phone… as a phone.

“Good morning,” she responds. I can hear the exhaustion in her voice.

“You doing okay? Still no internet?”

“Not yet, no. My mom applied for that free internet offer from Comcast, but they’re booked out for over a month. It’s alright though. Nadine dropped off a couple books on our door for me to read—“ Rusting of plastic fills the pause.”Do you think she reads anything from this century?”

“I think it depends on how you define ‘century.’”

She chuckles, “Within the lifespan of a currently-living person?”

“Results are inconclusive; further research needed.”

We laugh. Hers sounds strained. “It’s just stressful, you know? At first it was like being a tree in a rainstorm, but as soon as school got closed, it’s like the sun went out. I don’t really know what’s happening. The calls from the principal help, I guess?”

“I heard pretty much every phone company is giving their customers unlimited data. Can’t you use that to get the news?”

“Maybe, but Crys is constantly texting me the latest panic-news. She’s like my personal Associated Press. Her takes seem pretty extreme though. I mean, I went on a walk yesterday, and everyone was wearing masks. Like that would help anything.”

“The CDC said everyone should wear masks, Violet. Were you not wearing a mask?”

“No. A random patch of cloth isn’t going to prevent a virus. Plus, if you’re walking far away from people, it’s unnecessary!”

“But it wouldn’t hurt! Shouldn’t people do everything possible to prevent the disease?”

“Yeah, I guess. I just don’t want stuff on my face. It feels weird. It’s weird that stuff feels normal on my arms and stuff but not my face.”

“I know. It was too warm for scarves, but I wore one yesterday anyway. Sometimes you need to make sacrifices for the greater good.”

V. Broigus, adj. and n.

Sunday morning, I wake up hearing frustrated groans from the dining room, sporadic clacking. It all builds up to my mom yelling “Isabella! Get out here!”

I sigh, roll out of bed. Everything feels half speed, like there’s rust in my joints. I drag my feet out of my bedroom, the light of hallway too bright.

“Isabella! I need your help!”

I enter the dining room, see her sitting in front of her old laptop, her glasses down to the tip of her nose. “Yes, Mom. Good morning.”

“Isabella. I can’t get this to work.”

I walk around to see her screen. “Get what to work?”

“Church. It’s online, and I can’t find it.”

“The livestream? Is that what you mean? Did you get a link for it?”

“I don’t know! They said on Facebook they were holding mass online, and I can’t find it.”

“Alright.” I lean over, scroll on the trackpad. “Most Catholics don’t go to mass every Sunday, you know. It’s okay to miss it this one time if you can’t figure it out.”

Her eyes go wide. “Isabella! What are you saying?! It’s Palm Sunday! The Dudosas do not miss mass! Especially during such a holy time!”

“Okay. Okay.” Her prideful fury— while technically a sin, but I’m not going to bring that up to her— is terrifying. “The link is right here, under the status.” I click on it, wait for the stream to load.

The priest’s voice bursts out of the laptop. Mom gasps in delight. “Thank you so much, Isabella! You’re a blessing.”

“No problem, Mom,” I say, turning back toward my room. Behind me, I hear her sip her coffee and the priest read from Matthew.

VI. Geodesy, n.

Every day, around lunch, I go to Johns Hopkins’s COVID-19 map and update a spreadsheet I’ve been maintaining for a couple weeks. Call it biased, but I track each county in Washington. I also check on the major cities in each state though, as well as some other countries.

I track the number of confirmed cases, deaths. I also check any news on what governors or national governments implement— always find an additional source to corroborate. I then go back and update graphs I’ve made. They’re not as good as the professional ones, obviously, but I’m getting better. Maybe I’ll spend spring break trying to get better with pivot tables.

It takes a while, I know, but it’s become meditative. There’s a block of time in the afternoon where I get some quiet, find patterns and logic in the waves of chaos. When things break down into numbers, and I can connect those numbers to actions of people, it gives the haze shape.

VII. Wordsworthiana, n.

On the last day before the closure, in the frantic dash through 30-minute classes, most teachers dumped packets, talked about future units or plans that could be. They talked about due dates, projects being delayed. I remember the strain in their eyes, their sclerae bold around their irises, their hair disheveled.

That is, except for Ms. Hendrix. She sat on her stool in the front of the classroom, her eyes calm, her braids neatly draped over her shoulder. She talked about uncertainty, coping with the feeling of not knowing what the next day or week would bring. I could hear old sadness in her voice.

She read us a poem before class ended. I can’t remember the name or the poet. But, I remember the feeling of comfort, of being an element in Earth’s circuit inside an intricate galaxy. There was a warmth when her voiced lilted as she said the word ‘daffodils.’

VIII. Simon Pure, n. and adj.

Every morning, my mom walks into the kitchen to start the coffeemaker. As she waits for it to brew, she says good morning to Jesus on the crucifix above the sink, hanging between the two window panes. She grabs a copy of the Bible from the shelf with the cookbooks, and thumbs through a few pages until her carafe is full.

Every afternoon, my mom reads the Bible to Alejandro, just like she did to me when I was his age. She reads in both English and Spanish to help him gain fluency in both languages, but to also really drive home Job’s hardship.

Every night, right before bed, she gathers all of us up to pray the Rosary. Alejandro doesn’t quite have each prayer memorized yet, so she says them out loud. Each prayer is punctuated by the quiet clicks of beads moving through fingers, dangling exhausted from our hands.

IX. Arbitrium, n.

Things are difficult for everyone now that, a couple days ago, Governor Inslee announced schools would be online for the rest of the school year. Likewise, everyone deals with their grief and trauma differently. It’s hard to reserve judgement, however, when I see so many people go to the park by my neighborhood.

I keep seeing the numbers of deaths rise every day. Maybe this meditation tactic is starting to wear thin. I feel a shout grow in my chest, but I swallow it, keep it down.

Don’t want to be like my mom, who never hides her judgement. She’s upfront with every person she sees, wether it’s my cousin’s quinces or the produce section of Fred Meyer. It’s mortifying.

X. Armisonous, adj.

There are several signs when my mom is overwhelmed. First, she whispers a Hail Mary under her breath after she steps away from everyone else, the crucifix on her necklace gripped in her fist.

If it gets worse, I hear her Bible’s spine forcefully land on the dining room table, followed by its covers flapping open and the frantic turning of pages as she looks for the right passage. She reads for a couple minutes. Sometimes, she reads it out loud (that’s when we know things are REALLY bad).

She then closes her eyes, takes a few deep breaths, then gets back to the tasks she thinks need to get done.

Religion is a common coping mechanism when someone feels chaos and tragedy gnawing on their ankles. It’s possible God is the generator that kicks in during a power outage. It’s also possible that the act of stopping to breathe is sufficient on its own. But, if God helps get her there, what’s the difference?

XI. Sumi-E, n.

While waiting for my bread to toast this morning, the last Saturday of spring break (according to the Star Wars calendar in the kitchen my dad marks to keep track of time), I look into the hallway, see the section of wall filled with family portraits. My mom insists on subjecting every child to a photoshoot at JC Penny on their fifth birthday.

My eyes stop on Alejandro’s portrait, taken back in September, a few weeks after he started kindergarten. My brother’s hair is neat, the crease straight above his right ear. There’s a teal button-up under a white sweater vest, a red bowtie in front of the top button, fastened tight. He’s smiling.

That picture isn’t really Alejandro though. He can’t sit still for longer than ten seconds. His hair is always tossed, his face covered with candy and souvenirs from that day’s adventure. The picture is an imitation that simply doesn’t capture him— it tells a story that’s easier to understand.

XII. Locuplete, adj.

On Sunday, my mom wakes all of us up early. Despite sleepy protests, she insists we dress up for Easter Mass. Dresses, ties, all of it, to gather around her laptop.

“Don’t you think this is a bit much?” I ask as she watches me brush my hair.

She folder her arms, leans on the doorframe. “It’s Easter, Isabella. We must be our best.”

“I don’t think Jesus would mind if we wore our pajamas to sit in our living room.”

“You can’t go to Mass in your pajamas. Especially on Easter! It’s the most holy day of the year!” She puts her hands on her hips.

I sigh, put in my toothbrush to hopefully end the conversation. She shakes her head, walks away.

When I get out to the living room, her laptop is on the coffee table, the stream ready (proud of her), tall candles lit on either side. There’s even a wine glass filled with juice and a bowl full of Triscuits. She’s so extra.

XIII. Sumpter, n.

Crys answers my call, waves, holds up a finger, walks offscreen. No sound. On her wall is a Harry Styles poster surrounded with pinned ticket stubs and playbills.

She returns with a small plate. “Hi, good morning, sorry, I had to get my bagel and close the door.” She takes a bite, covers her mouth with her wrist. “How are you?”

“I’m alright. My mom went all out for Easter. She even got Triscuits for communion. It was absurd. You guys do anything?”

Crys covers her laugh with a cloth napkin, nods. “My dad thought we should do something, right, but neither he or my mom really know how to conduct service, you know? So, my mom read some passages to tell the story of the Resurrection. My dad then decided to illustrate it afterward with The Passion of the Christ.”

“That gory mess of a movie?!”

“Yes! Lexi was horrified.”

“Wow! What a dad move!”

“It really is!” She continues eating.

“How are you though?”

She nods. “I’m okay. Been really tired for not going anywhere, but we have food and aren’t sick, so I can’t really complain.”

“You’re allowed to complain, Crys. It’s a pandemic.”

“See, you get it. Violet doesn’t get it AT ALL. She still doesn’t have internet— probably won’t get it until after stimulus checks get here, and who knows when that will even happen— so I try to keep her up on the news. Not all of it, obviously, not every press conference is important, but the ones that would affect us somehow, right?”

“Yeah. I talked to her last week about having unlimited data. She hasn’t taken advantage of that?”

“No. She doesn’t like reading on her phone that much. Or being on it in general, I guess?” She shakes her head. “I think it’s a hang-up from never having a big data plan ever.”

“Probably some screen-time paranoia from her mom, too.”

“Oh, absolutely. It’s not like I mind. I’m looking at it anyway, and I talk to her about whatever I’m doing and feeling and whatever. It just feels like an added responsibility. She thinks everyone’s overreacting, and I want to show her they’re not.”

“Right. That sounds stressful.”

“Yeah.” She pauses, looks into the light from her window. “I just miss her. I miss being in the same room as her, you know?”

I nod.

XIV. Summulist, n.

There is no denying that corruption exists within most organized religions. There’s a preponderance of evidence within the Catholic Church alone, but you can find it everywhere. I’m just more familiar with Catholicism, because it’s what I’ve been raised in.

My rift has been growing for a long time. It started with small fissures— inconsistencies between what I was told in school and what I was told in church. I rationalized, tried to find middle ground that could bridge the gaps. But the rhetoric. The narrow-mindedness. The lack of willingness to listen or admit they might be wrong.

It wasn’t any of those things that made me break away. It was when my mom argued with Alejandro’s doctor. They said he should be evaluated for ADHD. She flatly denied. She said her experience was just as good as the established research the doctor gave her. She didn’t even read the pamphlet they gave her. She threw it away.

When she said God would never allow such a thing. When she went on about the overreaction to COVID-19. When we knew people were dying. When we knew children were dying. The idea that a benevolent God would kill children— would give children cancer. I couldn’t take it; it didn’t make any sense. Benevolence would never allow children to suffer— to exist just to snuff them out like candles.

I haven’t told her. I don’t know how to. It’s easy enough to say nothing. Easy enough to go along with the rituals and traditions quietly.

XV. Vel Sim., phr.

I don’t think you can really know whether or not there’s a God. I mean, if you follow the scientific method to its logical conclusion, you can’t really know anything— you just have strong correlations.

Correlations aren’t causations, of course. There could always be some sort of variable that you missed, which is why experiments need to be in controlled settings and must be replicated forever.

But, being “pretty sure” about something feels like “knowing” something, for all intents and purposes, so it’s tedious to split hairs about the difference in most everyday things— like whether the floor will collapse as you walk down the hallway, or whether gravity will suddenly switch directions.

God is a different conversation though. There’s no concrete evidence or experiment to ground either side— it’s all abstract propositions and reasoning. So, it just makes sense to doubt, not devote yourself to a possible void that does not and cannot care about you.

XVI. Henriad, n.

I think it was a year or two ago when Nadine and Crys went through their Shakespeare phase— wait. Ninth grade, after we read Romeo & Juliet. Right. They started reading as many plays as they could and started shoving ‘art’ and ‘thou’ into their sentences.

Crys would not shut up about the historical plays, the ones based on kings. Feudalism this, Renaissance that. Nadine was always more about the characters— she even named her cat Falstaff. There were days at lunch where they’d talk about the themes— on their own, not assigned by a teacher, mind you— of the change, social and political movements shifting through recurring waves of violence.

I think about that a lot now. I’m afraid of the violence that may be coming. It happened back then with kings, now with civil rights. Each social movement met with pain. Change is inevitable, but the violence from climate change may be perpetual. It’s not a change in who wears a crown; it’s a change in how much food and water we have, whose homes get washed away, where those refugees can build new futures.

XVII. Brightshine, n.

It’s easy to get sucked into a dour spiral now. I had to step away from tracking COVID-19 data this week, because it no longer ironed the wrinkles out of my mental bedsheet— it started making caverns. It took me away from the work my teachers started posting, which came like a river after a dam breaks. So, I need to find something else to balance myself.

“Have you tried gardening?” Nadine asked yesterday. I had her on speaker as I made Alejandro’s lunch.

“Gardening? Really?”

“Yeah,” her voice was accompanied by Target’s speakers playing an upbeat pop song that was familiar in the vague cultural-osmosis way. “Taking care of a plant is calming to a bunch of people. My mom used to do it all the time… There’s science that backs it up.”

She gets me.

“Am I just supposed to dig in the yard and throw seeds in?”

“Good. Lord. You know better than that. You have a pot somewhere? You know what, I’ll take care of it after my shift.”

When I woke up this morning, my mom told me there was a bag left by the front door with my name on it, a Target bag. Inside, there was a small pot, some dirt in a Ziplock bag, a small sprout of something (so cute), and an “It’s a Girl!” greeting card. Inside the card, she wrote a list of steps to “take care of your newborn.”

After breakfast, I carefully place the sprout and its dirt clump in the pot with the other dirt, set it on the windowsill by my desk, water it with an old measuring cup I found in the back of a kitchen cabinet. I wonder what she’ll be when she grows up, what her major will be. She probably needs a name.

XVIII. Ben-Feaker, n.

“Isabella, will you say Grace? It’s your turn.”

“Really, Mom? It’s just Five Guys.”

She puts both hands on the table. “Yes. It is food, and we must be thankful. Not everyone has food to eat or money to spend on food! You are lucky to not know the toll of poverty.”

“I know. I’m aware. You don’t have to tell me about what it was like in Colombia before you came here again. I’m sorry.”

She tilts her head, smiling. “Good, so now you say Grace.”

I put my hands together, fidgeting with my fingers, watch everyone else close their eyes and bow their heads. I clear my throat, “Heavenly Father…”

I’m not really conscious of what I’m saying. My mouth goes on cruise control, saying whatever comes to it. I snap back in after I say, “So say we all.” I cringe before concluding, “Amen,” then quickly unwrapping my burger to make as much interfering noise as possible.

“Thank you, Isabella. That was beautiful,” Mom says, gently unfolding the foil from her lettuce-bunned burger.

My dad chews on some fries, furrowing his brow. “Was that from Battlestar Galactica?”

I freeze.

“Excuse me?” My mom asks.

“I think Izzy added a line from a that sci-fi show she always watches into Grace.”

“Isabella. Did you taint Grace with this… science show?”

I gulp. “Well, yes. I didn’t realize it was happening, but I did, and I think it works well with the whole thankfulness thing, becau—“

“Grace should from your heart! Not some awful television show.”

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA IS A MASTERPIECE! WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?!”

I place my hand over my mouth, exhale through my nose. “Sorry, Mama.” 

She nods at me. “Well, is John Leguizamo in it?”

I squint. “Uh… no?”

“Then I stand by what I said.”

My dad laughs so hard, he has to cough into his napkin. “That’s your barometer?”

“HE IS A TRIPLE THREAT! WHAT MORE COULD YOU WANT?!”

XIX. Ember Months, n.

“So, they’re trekking across a glacier that has ancient runes etched into its face like giant crop circles, right—“

“Wouldn’t the etching make the glacier more vulnerable to melting or breaking apart? Like, icebergs and st—“

“It’s. Magic. It’s always magic. Ma. Gic.”

“True. True. Alright, so there are runes that are huge, but Kordra totally knows what they are, sure. Go ahead.”

“Ye of little faith. They were told by mages who flew by the icescape and read it. Nice try.” Suri sips her tea. “But then, get this, as they approach the ruins of a temple abandoned millennia ago— preserved by the frozen tundra, don’t even try me— they see a dim glow deep within one of the caverns.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. They carefully step toward it, right, only to brush against some loose shards along the wall. The icicles clang on cavern floor and echo into the dark. They freeze. Then a loud PACHOO and a bolt of light shoots over their shoulder.”

“Whoa. Wait—”

“Yes! The ruins were being excavated… by Martians!”

I erupt into excited cheering. Suri laughs at me. Listening to them tell Korda’s adventures is always fun, but this is the first time one of my ideas happened.

They used to tell me about what happened every week in their campaign at Glacier View’s D&D club, where some teacher there is their dungeon master. Since the closure, they haven’t been able to meet. It turns out, this week, their group met over Zoom.

“That was AMAZING!” I yell.

“I know! I didn’t think he’d actually go with the idea at all after I messaged him, but he did!”

It almost feels like before. The gradual return to what used to be. It’s different, but there’s a semblance of normalcy returning, new schemas and routines taking hold.

It’s like the transformation of a cottonwood between seasons— blooming in spring and summer only to wither to bare branches in the fall and winter. They have to strip away all the excess, find what’s necessary, then build on that to grow into their new selves.

XX. Yark, n.

Whenever things start to feel normal, a pang comes to remind me it isn’t. There’s a pain that brings me back to the reality that this is a burden hanging over our shoulders.

It comes when I hear Alejandro in his room at a Zoom meeting talking to his classmates. When he tells his friend Jaxson he should come over to play. When I have to tell him that it isn’t possible. When I have to explain social distancing to him again, knowing it’s incredibly hard for him to understand and remember.

It comes when I see the playground at the park by our house wrapped up in caution tape like a crime scene. Its fields empty and silent. Like the park itself died.

XXI. Bagel, v.

Alejandro’s teacher included a time slot for creativity in this week’s plans. One of the options she listed was “putting together a jigsaw puzzle.” Since Alejandro had depleted all of his crayons drawing pictures of Minecraft characters in his notebook yesterday, I thought a puzzle would be a nice change of pace.

“So what’s this supposed to be?” he asks while turning over pieces we dumped on the coffee table.

“It’s the mask of Tutankhamun,” I say, moving remotes and coasters to a side table.

He stops flipping pieces and stares at me. “Mask of what-are-you-talking-about?”

“King Tut! He was a pharaoh in ancient Egypt.”

“The pyramids!”

“Yes. That’s where the pyramids are. He took the throne when he was only eight years old.”

“What?!” He dramatically flopped his arms over his head.

“I know! Can you imagine ruling over a society at your age?”

“Yes! I would give everyone ice cream all the time.”

“Even the people who are lactose intolerant?”

“You use a lot of big words that don’t make sense.”

“You’re right.”

As soon as all the pieces are face up, Alejandro says, “I’m going to win the puzzle.”

“What? I don’t think that’s how—“

“These two are together! I get two points!” He holds up his proof.

“You found them like that!”

“Doesn’t matter! I’m winning!”

XXII. Stupor Mundi, n.

There’s something therapeutic about assembling a picture piece by piece, having to look at how each shape interacts with the others, how they all fit together. I’m lost in the process until my phone buzzes, and I see that it’s been an hour.

In that hour, Alejandro and I talked about a lot of things: how he was frustrated with his schoolwork, what he wanted to build in Minecraft, the new Pokémon cards Jaxson had showed in their last Zoom meeting (their teacher tried to have a virtual playdate where each student showed off a toy or game).

He managed to stay focused for the entire hour. He usually loses interest or changes gears in maybe ten minutes on any given activity— Easter mass required “wiggle breaks.”

He even asked me questions about ancient Egypt when he’d put together parts of the mask (after announcing how many points he was up to, of course). I told him as much as I could remember from when we learned about Egypt in 6th grade. I’m telling him about pharaohs when my phone buzzes.

“So they were like kings?” he asks, jamming two pieces together that don’t fit.

“Yeah, kinda,” I nod, seeing the time. I put my phone face down on the arm of our couch. “But they were also seen as gods. That’s what the pryram—”

“False gods,” my mom says as she walks through the living room into the kitchen. She does not pause or slow her gait. The clack of her Bible on counter punctuates the lesson.

XXIII. Philobiblist, n.

“So, have you given her a name yet?” Nadine asks, sitting on the floor of her room, leaning against the blue comforter of her bed. Over her shoulder, I can see a stack of paperbacks with Goodwill pricetags on her nightstand.

“Who?”

“Wow.” She shakes her head. “You are such a terrible mother. You forgot about your child?! Wow.”

“Oh! you mean the plant! I didn’t forget about her! She’s right here!” I reach behind my laptop, pick up the small pot from its place on the windowsill above my desk. “I’ve been feeding her every day. Don’t worry. She’s even growing! Look!” I hold the plant up to the camera.

“Yes she has! How are you sleeping? Is she a crier? Colicky?”

“Uh… No?”

“Phew. That’s good. I mean, you’d love her no matter what, I get it, but you must be thankful to have such a low-maintenance baby. Mine on the other hand—” she reaches over her shoulder to the nightstand. She lowers her arm to reveal a small pot just like mine, with a similar sprout. “She’s hit that adventurous age where you have to childproof the house.”

“Aww! She’s so cute!”

“I know! Elinor is going to be a senator one day. She’s gonna give all the other wildflowers free healthcare.” She boops Elinor, then puts her back on the nightstand.

“How did you get the name Elinor?”

Sense & Sensibility, Isabella. Read a book— a not-science book. So, have you given your daughter a name or not?”

“I haven’t. It’s hard naming things!”

“First of all, people aren’t things; don’t be rude. Second of all, you just need to give her whatever name comes to you when you look at her.”

I look down at the little sprout in my hands. “You said her sister is a wildflower?”

“Yeah.”

Tilting the pot back and forth, the sprout waves her head back and forth like she’s dancing. “Lupine. I think her name is Lupine.”

“Lupine?”

“It’s a wildflower indigenous to the Mt. Rainier—“

“Oh. Gotcha. That makes way more sense. I thought you were talking about wolves for a second.”

XXIV. Mauvais Ton, adj.

Friday afternoon, Alejandro and I continue on the Tutankhamun puzzle after he finishes math work. The puzzle’s been a good motivator for him completing his schoolwork.

“I finished the edge! That’s another 50 points! Let’s goooo!” He jumps up, runs in a circle, cycles through several Fortnite dances he’s seen.

He asks about pharaohs being gods, so I tell him about their beliefs and the pyramids. I’m talking about how the tombs had things they liked while they lived when Mom tells him it’s his bath time.

He sighs, looks at me. “Don’t put any in until I’m back!”  He gets up, Naruto runs down the hallway.

As soon as the bathroom door closes, Mom turns to me, arms crossed. “I wish you wouldn’t talk to him about that Egyptian gods stuff. He’s too young for that.”

“It’s history, Mom. Learning about culture is instrumental in a growing child.”

“He’s too young. He needs to learn math and spelling. Leave religion,” she places her hand on her crucifix, “to me.”

“I’m not trying to convert him. I’m just telling him about another culture.”

Her hands move to her hips. “You spend an awful lot of time talking about gods and the afterlife for talking about ‘culture,’” she air quotes.

“It’s a big part of their culture. You can’t talk about Colombian culture without talking about Catholicism. It’s the same thing.”

“No, it’s not! That’s OUR culture, OUR religion. It’s different.”

“He can learn about the stuff he is, but not the stuff he isn’t? The only god he can hear about is the one in this house? He can’t learn about anything else?”

“I feel like you’re trying to trap me, and I won’t allow it. I am your mother. I say you can’t talk to him about this, so you will not. That is final.”

A swarm caught in my chest— I feel them push against my ribs.

“You shouldn’t put such sinful ideas in his head.”

My arms go limp. “It’s not a sin to learn about other people.” I stand up, grip my elbows in my cold hands. “Ignorance perpetuates hatred, bigotry, racism. He needs to learn that there are different people with different beliefs, and that it’s okay.”

Before she says anything, I walk by her, down the hallway, into my room.

XXV. Puntabout, n.

I resist the urge to slam the door. Lupine peaks over the edge of her pot to check on me.

“I don’t know what to do, Lupe.” I sit in my desk chair, close my laptop.

She tilts her head empathetically.

“She just—“ my hands cover my face. Deep breath in and out.

“She’s just so… narrow-minded. The world is too big, there’s too much to learn, to put age-restrictions on so much information.”

I flop my hands down, palms up. “It’s not like he’s going to start worshipping Ra just because he hears about him. It’s just so weird for someone so devout to be so insecure about those beliefs.

“Yes, I know I don’t believe in the whole Catholic thing anymore, but I wasn’t trying to push Alejandro away from it! It’s his journey to have. He enjoys the time Mom spends reading the Bible to him. It’s not my place to disrupt any of that.”

I rub my right temple. The fading sunlight casts an orange glow on Lupine’s face.

“She’s just trying her best, Lupe. It’s all she knows.” I gently caress her head with my index finger. “I can’t let her hold his education hostage though.”

I grab the measuring cup I keep on my desk for Lupine and water her.

XXVI. Saturnine, adj. and n.

Saturday morning, a rainstorm rolls over Puyallup. Grey light comes through the window in my room. i rub my eyes, then scold myself for touching my eyes, as the rain pours silent. No thunder, not even the subtle tapping of rain hitting the driveway.

i stay in my room for as long as i can. my room is mine. It’s my space. i don’t feel welcome outside of it right now, like i’ve become the antagonist in some religious crusade. Maybe i am. Maybe i am corrupting Alejandro.

But, should asking questions be frowned upon? It shouldn’t make me feel isolated. i don’t think i should have to accept everything blindly— skepticism is healthy. Why can’t she see that?

XXVII. Mimesis, n.

Monday morning, I get Alejandro set up at the dining room table for his weekly Zoom meeting with his class. I sit on the couch in the living room, my feet on the edge of the coffee table now decorated with Tutankhamun’s complete mask, to work on calculus. The couch faces away form the dining room, but I can still hear him— seems like a good-enough illusion of privacy for him while still keeping him supervised.

“Okay, Alejandro. It’s your turn. What did you do this weekend?” Ms. Davis asks.

“It was GREAT! Me and my sister finished a puzzle of King Tutankhamun. He was a pharaoh in ancient Egypt and ruled when he was a teenager. I won the puzzle one billion points to 245!”

“That’s a lot!” Ms. Davis says, her voice uncertain. “When did you start wearing glasses?”

I stop writing, look over the back of the couch.

“Um,” Alejandro looks over his shoulder at me, then quickly turns back to the laptop and takes them off. “They’re not mine.” He places them on the table. “They’re my sister’s. She’s super smart. She knows everything about Egypt like she told me—“

I turn back to my calculus work, nudge the rim my glasses with the knuckle of my thumb as I wipe the corner of my eye (stop touching your eyes, Isabella).

“I would be buried with my Mega-Charizard-EX!” Jaxson yells.

I stifle a laugh. I especially have to as Alejandro tries to explain how cards would deteriorate over the millennia.

XXVIII. Sub Voce, adv.

For dinner, Mom made tamales— a recipe she got from her mom who got it from her mom, and so on. She tells Alejandro to set the table as they finish steaming on the stove.

He gives the silverware and napkins sound effects as he places them. Many crashes and explosions litter the table surface. He then turns on his heels to the living room to announce, “Dinner tiiiiiime!”

We all sit at the table as my mom puts a serving dish in the middle. She sits, places her napkin in her lap, says, without looking up, “Isabella, please say Grace.”

I tense up, bite the inside of my cheek. “I, um, would rather not.”

Mom freezes like a video that needs to buffer. She looks at me. “What do you mean?”

“I, uh, mean,” I stammer, adjusting my glasses, “that I don’t wanna say Grace.”

“Why not? Are you not well?”

I speak slow, trying to analyze every word I say. “No— no, that’s not it. I’m alright. I’m just not… sure.”

“What?”

“About the whole… prayer thing. It just doesn’t feel… right… right now.”

She freezes again, blinks a couple times slowly. My dad and Alejandro are silent, still.

“Are you saying you’re… you don’t believe… in God?” I can hear the heartbreak in her voice.

I look down. “I’m not sure that’s the right wording for it, Mama. I just don’t know what… is.”

A tense silence. I can’t look up from my plate.

“Mama, I’ll say it,” Alejandro says quickly. “I’ll say it so great.”

She nods.

He stumbles through a prayer that feels like ten prayers mashed together. I don’t hear a lot of it over my own mortification. I can’t believe I would be so foolish as to bring all of that up now of all times in such a stupid, clumsy way.

He clears his throat, then concludes, “So say we all. Amen.”

XXIX. Awesomesauce, adj.

I sit at my desk, forehead on the ball of my right hand.

“It’s going to be okay,” Suri says. “She’ll calm down at some point, and you’ll be able to talk to her. You spoke your truth, dude. That’s a hard thing to do sometimes, but it’s better to get it out there rather than bottle it up forever.”

I quickly breathe in and out through my nose, look up at my laptop screen and see their face, pale and tired in the morning light from their window. “Thanks. Does Ramadan make you more wise?”

“No, I don’t think so. I’m always this wise. I’m just more hungry and tired now.”

“That’s all you get? That doesn’t seem like a good deal.”

“It’s a spiritual thing, Isabella. There’s sacrifice, yeah, but you get clarity and become closer to Allah and your community.”

“Huh. That’s pretty neat.”

“It’s nice for you to say so— as a nonbeliever, I mean.”

“Oh, no problem. Fasting isn’t that strange of a tradition, really. Some Catholics believe the eucharist LITERALLY turns into the flesh of Jesus as it goes down their esophagus.”

“Dude. What.”

“I. Know. So, not that strange. All cultures have those kinds of things. I like learning about ‘em, you know? People are weird; the human condition is weird. We’re all just trying out best, right?”

“Yeah,” they nod pensively. “The wafer turns into actual skin and stuff though? Wild. That’s a Death Spells song if I’ve ever heard one.”

XXX. Puppify, v.

She’s my mom. It’s her house. I can live with her practicing her religion and raising her family in the way she wants. I’m not going to actively argue or ridicule her beliefs. I’ll even go along with the prayers. There’s nothing wrong with being thankful or reflective. I can participate in her rituals until I go to college.

Soon, I’ll be able to be outside of this bedroom without feeling her coldness. Maybe it’s more of a shock thing. Maybe it’s like grieving. She just needs time.

Lying on my bed, I look over at Lupe sitting in her little pot on the windowsill. I know my mom still loves me. I’d love Lupe no matter what. She’s my daughter. Even if she told me she wanted to major in business or start going to church. I mean, I’d certainly worry if sh—

“Don’t become a Scientologist, Lupe! Promise me!”

She nods.

Thank goodness. I’m not worried about her. She has a good bulb on her shoulders. She’s going to be alright.

Continued in Part V: Nadine Sauer.

Cottonwood Seeds en Route: III. Suri Dihan

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from March, 2020.

This is the third entry in Cottonwood Seeds en Route. It is a continuation of Part II: Crystal Coleus.

I. Amour Fou, n.

“Morning, Suri!”

I finish the outline of
the swoop of the prince’s hair
(the kingdom’s kinda stuck in their 2000s-emo phase)
before looking up.

When I do,
Crys and Violet
are standing across the table,
holding hands.

“We have something we want to tell you,”
Crys says, blushing.
Violet is smiling
more than I’ve ever seen.

“Alright,” I say,
placing my pencil
in the crease of my sketchbook.

Crys stutters.
“Well, umm,”
she looks at Violet, who nods.
“We’re dating.”

“Oh my god, you guys!
That’s awesome!
I’m so happy for the both of you!”
I get out of my seat and hug them both.

I act surprised, but it’s obvious—
she watched The Good Place
within a week of Violet telling her about it.
I’ve bugged her about She-Ra forever.


II. Plutography, n.

Obsidian and ruby—
Carefully I draw in the shine on the prince’s necklace.
His silk robes, black as night,
wave in his castle’s courtyard’s breeze.

Is eyeliner too much?
Nah. He’s totally in his feelings.

He holds a goblet in his left hand
as a servant nervously pours wine in it.
A small band of lyre players perform
by a line of pink tulips in the background.

Kordra kneels in front of him, 
blushing, accepting their quest.


III. Informator Choristarum, n.

When I was in 7th grade, I was so excited
to join the choir.
My family sang all the time—
I always stole the solo or lead.

But there was a huge difference between
the music the director chose and
the Irani songs my family sang.

It didn’t feel like I fit there;
I was otherworldly.


IV. Astroparticle, n. (and adj.)

I don’t remember
if I’ve seen a student who looks like me
in Puyallup.
We have to drive to Tacoma for the nearest mosque.

It was hard for my parents,
when they moved here, being othered
everywhere they went, especially
after 9/11,
through 2003, when I was born.


V. Booky, adj.

Wednesday night,
I drive to Target,
clock in, walk to the break room,
put my purse in my locker.

“Hey Suri.”
Nadine sits at one of the tables,
doesn’t seem to look up from
The Things They Carried.

“Hey. Break or waiting for your shift?”
Nadine has a habit
of going straight to work after school
to read uninterrupted until her shift started.

She picks up an old notecard,
one of its edges curled and brown from age
(and probably spilt coffee).
“Waiting.
Tim O’Brien demands attention.”

“Because… of how they carry things?”

“Oof. Stop,”
she laughs,
gets up, puts the book in her locker.


VI. Geodynamo, n.

My parents
have always pushed me to do my best.
Their jobs are similar to mine,
which is why
I had to start working when I turned 16
to help support our family.

My parents
always talk about me becoming a doctor
or an engineer for Microsoft, but
I just want to draw.

My parents
talk about UW as much as Crys
(somehow possible), but
I keep looking at
student work on Cornish’s website,
Art Assignment videos on YouTube,
Muslim comics on Instagram.


VII. Historicist, n. and adj.

It feels necessary
to look into the past,
bring it with you,
showcase it somehow.
The past made what you are, you know?

That’s what occupies me
as I set up the endcap for
Hearth & Hand.


VIII. Metamathematics, n.

COVID-19 spreading
into Washington 
unearthed
what I thought was dying.
Brown skin
seems to be enough to
label as infected,
warrant wide berths in the hallway.

Usually,
it’s an occasional “joke,”
like some white boy in a COD shirt says
”Allahu Akbar”
before simulating an explosion
when I enter a classroom.

Or,
there’s a hesitance
when an adult tries to explain
something President Trump said.
It doesn’t really matter what—
they take long pauses, staring at me
while they talk.

My mom
lectures me about not wearing a hijab,
while Crys
lectures me about how they’re oppressive.

As if
anything
is that clear-cut.


XI. Trainspotting, n.

Everyone else
walks around
like they belong,
like they have a role to play,
like they are pieces of the same puzzle.

I
feel like I’m
sitting on a bench,
watching each one pass by,
losing count.


X. Geometric Progression, n.

Nervous.
Uncomfortable.
Like background noise.
Made worse
seeing people fit into boxes
with ease.
Like they come with instruction manuals.

I feel like
I can never find my box.
Maybe that’s why
my hijab never felt right.


XI. German Tinder, n.

When Crys asked me
why I never wear a hijab,
I told her it’s because
I wanted to be liberated.

When my mom asked me
why I never wear a hijab,
I told her it’s because
of racism at school.

Last year, one night
when my parents were getting groceries,
I put my dad’s taqiyah on my head
to see what it felt like.

It felt
the same way
my hijab felt—
not right.


XII. Timelily, adv.

It was during lunch this morning,
at the end of a half-day for conferences
that were canceled due to COVID-19,
when Isabella looked up
from her magnetism notes
to say to Nadine,

“Did Suri show you
her
drawing Kordra slicing off an ettin’s heads?”

It chafed.
It felt wrong.
I wanted to say something, but
I didn’t know how.

After I got home,
I got an email saying
tomorrow
is the last school day for at least six weeks.

It feels like something I should tell them in person,
the way Crys and Violet did.
Nadine and Isabella supported them—
Violet used Kordra’s pronouns right after I told her.

Tomorrow has to be the day.


XIII. Train-Scent, n.


Friday morning, snow
falls on the bus window,
blankets the grass and tree branches.
Static from the tires turns into
static from confused teachers turns into
static from the lunchroom.

Nadine is the last one to our table,
placing The Handmaid’s Tale next to her sandwich.
They’re all here.
I wait for a lull.

“Hey, uh.
There’s something I wanna tell you guys.”
They all turn to me; my throat is dry.
“Um, I’ve been feeling, uh, off lately,
like something isn’t fitting, and
I think that thing might be me.

“I mean— this is hard.
You know how Kordra is non-binary?
Well,
I think I might be too.”

There’s a silence. I can’t tell how long.

“So,” Isabella starts,
“do you want us to start
using they/them pronouns for you?”

“Um. Yeah. I think so.”

“No problem,” Crys smiles.
“Thank you for letting us know.
That was a brave thing you did.”
She starts to go for a fist bump, stops,
offers her elbow
for a more-hygienic elbow bump.


XIV. Uranography, n.

The night Kordra returns to the capital
to return the king’s scepter—
which cultists stole
for a ritual to summon a harpy army—
they walk to a hill on the edge of town
that overlooks the city and its harbor.

They lie against a madrone,
start connecting constellations.
Legends still play out
in the blue-black fabric.
Small figures move across a map
dodging dragon wings and poison fog.


XV. Black Friar, n.

“Now, just because schools are canceled doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to continue your studies.”

“I know, mom.”

“You will spend seven hours a day studying. An hour with the Quran, an hour with math, an hour with history, an hour reading. Each of your classes, you will find a way to study. No exceptions.”

“I understand. I will do my best. But, what if my hours at work change due to the closures, though?”

“Your studies come first! You are a student. Your school must be your first priority.”

“Alright. I’ll make it work.”


XVI. House-Lew, n.

Monday,
the first would-be-school day at home,
I wake up early,
start studying before my parents wake up.

When they do, they prepare quick breakfasts,
head to their jobs,
which, thankfully, haven’t been suspended
yet.

After the sun rises,
I prepare
eggs and toast
for my
brother and sister.

After they eat,
I send them to their rooms to read while
I clean the living room—
disinfect, sweep, vacuum—
then sit down to study trig.


XVII. Fleadh Cheoil, n.

Day two.

After lunch,
I clear the living room,
tell Yusef and Amina
to not go back to their rooms.

For about an hour,
I show them dances
our grandmother taught me
when I was their age.
I sing the songs myself.

Yusef giggles
as he trips over his own legs.
Amina murmurs
the lyrics under her breath,
gradually raising her volume.


XVIII. - Securiform, adj.

Day three.

I scoop same blackberry jam
on one of our small, rubber spatulas,
spread it on a slice of wheat bread
for Yusef’s sandwich.

“Suri,
I really liked the dance you showed us yesterday.”

“I’m glad, but
you’re not getting extra jam on your sandwich,”
I say,
pointing the spatula at him accusingly.

“No, no. It was just fun.
I’ve never really danced like that before.”
He looks at the counter,
rubbing his wrist with his other hand.

“I could teach you more today.
The same dance?
A different one?”

“That’s— well, is it normal for boys to dance?”

“Of course, Yusef. Everyone dances.”

“But none of my friends dance.
And you taught us a girl dance.”

“Dances are dances, Yusef.
You can dance whatever dance you want to.”


XIX. Talavera, n.

Day four.

I get the urge
to make something
with my hands.

My sketchbook:
buried in my backpack,
untouched since Friday.

Yesterday, I shelved
these bowls at work that were
an obvious, mass-produced appropriation.

Maybe I can try to draw
in the style like those bowls’s patterns,
fuse their culture to mine.

All art
borrows, blends;
we are all one.


XX. Baselard, n.

When Kordra was young,
they walked everywhere,
a dagger holstered on their hip.

Not welcome
by a family who
praised an unforgiving god,
lamented a blight on their names,
hid their faces in public.

When Kordra left home,
they walked across the kingdom,
a dagger pang in their chest.

Not welcome
by civilians who
glared at their dark skin,
winced at their accent,
scoffed at their pronouns.


XXI. Colour-de-Roy, n. and adj.

The morning sun slips in the throne room
when Kordra returns the king’s scepter.

The king rises out of his seat, walks to them.
His hand appears from under his purple robe,
a victorious eagle embroidered on his chest.

He accepts the scepter in his left hand,
His right on Kordra’s shoulder.
“Thank you, Kordra.
You have done a great service for our kingdom.
I am so sorry for how our order has treated you.
You have brought great honor to yourself and
the Order of the Cottonwood.
Our kingdom owes you dearly.”

Applause echoes off the aged stone walls.
Loud, overwhelming, Kordra starts to tear up.
In the last moment of clarity,
before their vision blurs completely,
they see the prince rise from his throne,
his smirk, his smooth hands clapping.


XXII. - Frammis, n.

“What does that even mean?
I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

It turns out
a pandemic
isn’t the best time
to come out
to your orthodox parents.

“That makes no sense.
There are men and women.
That’s it.
You think you’re a man?”

“No.
I don’t feel like a man or a woman.”

“Nonsense.
You are a woman.
You’ve been a woman your whole life.”

“Sex assigned at birth
has nothing
to do with gender,
Dad.”

“Of course it does!
It always has and always will!”

“It doesn’t have to!”
I pause to breathe,
to flatten the wrinkles in my mind’s bedsheet.
“Look,
cottonwood trees have either
male or female
reproductive organs—“

“Trees have organs?”

“The seeds, Dad.
That biological fact
doesn’t change how you see or treat
the tree;
you’d still walk up to it,
look at the fractured sky through its branches.
Gender is something people made up—
it has nothing to do with
the body a person lives in.”


XXIII. Bridge Coat, n.

For Kordra,
after the ceremony,
the prince fastens up his coat,
invites them to join him on a walk
with a head nod.

For me,
after I come out to my parents,
my father zips up his jacket,
rubs his eyes with his hands
as he shakes his head,
leaves.


XXIV. Macaronic, adj. and n.

Not going outside
except for work—
limited for me
by my mother’s request—
has disrupted my laundry cycle.
Nothing
seems dirty enough
to justify the necessary
water consumption
of the washer.

My clothes piled on my dresser
like a messy beanie.
My hamper
empty
as a classroom.


XXV. Leggiadrous, adj.

day nine, i think.
tuesday, i’m pretty sure.

feels like
i’m watching my family
live out a bad multicam sitcom—
unfunny and boring, an unlikable protagonist,
a formulaic rhythm.

that suri
wakes up, makes breakfast, studies
like everything is fine.
she
smiles and laughs and plays with her siblings
like it’s a normal day.

how does she do that?
she never misses a beat.
how does she keep up?
i’m exhausted.


XXVI. Proclivity, n.

Today, I take a break from
babysitting and acting like I’m reading
to draw.

I never realized
how normal
being around people all day
is in my life.
The absence is palpable
like a baking aisle without flour.

My hand sketches
outlines of people,
a crowd gathered for a concert, maybe—
shoulder to shoulder.

I miss
Isabella’s facts about Mars,
school-Nadine’s book recommendations,
Cris’s arbitrary soapboxes,
Violet’s questions about everything.

Their faces appear
on the figures in the front row.


XXVII. Wallydraigle, n.

It’s hard.
Competence.
Feeling any of it.

My laptop has endless
notifications from teachers posting assignments.
The counters have endless
dust from so many meals made each day.

Did I use this glass yesterday?
Did I shower this morning?
What day is it?


XXVIII. Anaerobe, n.

This morning, Isabella Skypes me—
still in the oversized sweater she slept in,
unkempt hair lazily scrunchied,
drinking from her SciShow mug.

Her way of coping with everything
is focusing on data, making charts—
I’ve never seen anyone
tear through a spreadsheet fast as her.

After she shows me some graphs she made
(so proud, that nerd), she asks,
“So, how have you been holding up?”

“Getting by, you know.
I gotta take care of
Amina and Yusef during the day,
but it’s all manageable.”

“That’s good. What about you though?
You been drawing?
Kordra go on any adventures?”

“Here and there, when I can.
It’s hard to find time.”

“I know what you mean—
Alejandro keeps me busy too.”
A Doppler effect of giggles and stomping;
she turns her gaze off frame.
“Can I ask you something about Kordra?”

“Uhh… sure.”

“Could they, like,
travel to another planet and fight aliens?”

A pause.
Laughter explodes from me,
the hardest I’ve laughed in what feels like years.
“What!?”

“What!? I wanted to help you think of adventures!”

“I don’t think space travel works in D&D!
They wouldn’t be able to breathe!”

“Sure.
Dragons and magic are totally logical,
but you draw the line
at the vacuum of space and aliens?
Preposterous.
There has to be a spell or something for that!”

“Why is everything always about
space
with you!?”

“Why is everything about
hunky, non-binary paladins
with you!?”

I laugh so hard, I cry.
We should so this more.


XXIX. Cockshut, n.

From the desk in my bedroom,
I can see the edge of ER’s roof,
which turns goldenrod as the sun sets.
It makes me think about endings.

How
this closure will end,
my time in school will end,
lives end—
how the day dies in long, drawn-out breaths.

When my grandmother was dying,
she showed me
an old painting by Massoud Arabshahi
she snuck a picture of at a museum back in Iran.
She said it stopped her in her tracks—
the cool colors, warm circles scattered
like a map of watchtowers or
“Allah’s ever-presence” as she put it—
so full of comfort
and anxiety at the same time.

She gave me that picture that day.
I keep it
above my desk,
next to the window where I can see
the sun’s shadow engulf the world. 


XXX. Baby Blues, n.

Can’t stay mad
at my mom
being so overbearing.

The last time
she was this
intense was after
Amina was born.

New checklists everyday,
every moment scheduled—
desperately seeking structure.

If she can
get through all
that, maybe she’ll
see me for
me one day.


XXXI. Sumpitan, n.

And so, Kordra
lays their sword across their palms,
kneels before the prince.

He grazes the blade with his fingertips.
“Are you really done
protecting our kingdom?”

They chuckle, shake their head.
“No,
the journey is never over, Your Grace.
It just changes shape.”
They lower the sword onto a cloth—
fine silk, black (duh)—
swaddle it, hand it to the prince.

They rise to their feet,
lift their pack onto their shoulders,
a spear knotted to its side.
They walk away, stop in the threshold.
“When you need me,
you’ll know where to find me,” they say.
They wink at the prince, and leave.

Continued in Part IV: Isabella Dudosa.

She Thought It Was a Good Day

Emma woke up around noon. She opened her eyes, saw her bedpost. Must have fallen off the bed while she slept. A cluster of dust bunnies huddled on the right side of the post.

She imagined them planning their next attack on her throw rug. Standing around a little map of her bedroom, the general seated in a little throne made from a gum wrapper. They would attack from the north and east, cornering her beloved rug between the dresser and the bed. It would have no chance against their fire arrows and cannons. The epic battle would last four days, the throw rug about to surrender and begin composing a treaty to the dust bunny general—

Emma realized she had fallen back asleep and forced herself up. It was now a quarter to one. She untangled herself from her comforter, a butterfly about to emerge.

She blinked four times. Quick. Quick. Slow. Quick.

The room was well lit by the sun. She avoided tripping over her piles of Hemingway and Faulkner, but kicked Melville all over the floor. She chuckled at her own symbolism.

Emma dragged her feet to the kitchen and poured water into her old teapot. It reflected the sun’s light into her eyes.

“Damn it!”

The teapot’s impact echoed from the sink. She picked it up and slammed it onto the stove. She grabbed a mug, debated which tea to drink. English Breakfast seemed the most logical. It also made her feel regal.

After drinking her tea, Emma got ready for the day. It was almost four.

Her phone’s blue light shined through her living room. It was a message from her friend, Erica, who wanted to go on a walk. Emma looked at the pile of reading she had to do that weekend and decided to go on the walk.

They met at the park at the edge of their neighborhood. When they were kids, they would play there after school— tag around the slide, backflips off the swing set, castles in the sandbox. The slide was taken away when they got into middle school, the swings in high school. Oddly, they left the swing set’s frame, only removing the swings. So, a rusty lower-case N stood in a mixture of gravel and bark, victorious in its war with time.

Emma stood by the frame, ran her fingers over the rust. The blue paint that mirrored the summer sky was still clinging to parts of it. Some was eaten by rust. Her pinky finger moved from the rust onto the paint, but it flaked and fell to the ground. She stared at the lonely flake as it lied on the cold gravel.

By the time Erica arrived, Emma had lied down by the flake and began staring at the sky through the gaps in the trees.

Erica approached hesitantly. “Emma?”

“Yes?”

“You doin’ ok?”

Emma shook her head, “Yeah. Yes. I’m fine. Yes.” She picked herself up and brushed off her arms and legs. “How are you?”

“I’m good, not laying in gravel, the usual.”

“Hah hah. So clever.” Clouds of dirt and bark glowed in the evening sun. “Do you have anywhere in mind?”

“I was thinking about going through the woods to the pond.”

Emma agreed, and they headed off, talking about what they had done over the summer, the people from high school they hated, and their confusion over Pierce College’s registration process.

The conversation was fairly one-sided. Erica dominated, choosing which tangents the conversation should go on, like a park ranger leading a hike on a trail with many forks.

Emma didn’t mind. She understood that Erica exaggerated her views a lot. It seemed like Erica found some comfort in portraying a caricature instead of her real self around other people, like how a sunny winter day looks warm, feels cold.

They arrived at the pond around five-thirty. A mallard couple swam by the dock they stood on. The sun danced on their ripples. Emma assumed they were on a date.

Erica stared at the mallards. “Remember when we came here after Josh broke his arm in 7th grade?”

“Of course.”

“I remember seeing him in gym. We were playing dodgeball, and he was the last one left on his team and he took a huge drive to avoid one of those red, smelly balls, and he hit the floor, and there was this empty thud, followed by him yelling, ‘Fuck!’ and the teachers debated over scolding him before they realized he needed help, and…”

Emma had heard this story a hundred times. It happened every time they came to the pond or Erica thought about something bigger than herself.

“… We all came here after school, and we started trying to figure out what had really happened…”

“Yeah, and Dina wouldn’t shut up about all the blood.”

“I know! There wasn’t even that much of it either!” Erica laughed at the memory. Emma smirked.

The two sat on the edge of the dock with their feet in the pond, kicking cool water into the warm air.

Emma focused on trying to create a momentary rainbow while Erica recalled other stories about Josh, Dina, and other people from their childhood. She considered it a good use of her time.

Cottonwood Seeds en Route: II. Crystal Coleus

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from February, 2020.

This is the second entry in Cottonwood Seeds en Route. It is a continuation of Part I. Violet Caligos.

I. O, n.

When Violet says
she got accepted into the program,
I squee.

Not new-One-Direction-music-video level—
we’re in class— but
I squee,

and hug her
until she sputters,
“Crys. Please. My ribs.”


II. Mauvais Quart d’Heure, n.

I hated my red hair
for years.

In third grade, the boys
whose parents let them watch South Park
started calling me soulless,
a monster.
They said it was a joke,
but after 50 times,
it started to sound like
a fact.

If another white guy tells me
media doesn’t shape culture,
I’ll scream.

So, a week before 7th grade,
I dyed my hair black.
Dyed it every time
it started to show again.
Kept it buried.
It took me until last year,
when I started going to ER,
to dig myself out of the shame I felt.


III. Zeuxis, n.

At lunch, Suri shows us
a piece she’s working on for an art contest
through the Pierce County Library System.
“Well? What do you think?”
Her eyes bounce from face to face
hectic as reporters after a press conference.

I’m not good at art.
I can type 800 words on
the implementation of meatless Mondays at lunch,
but I can’t even draw trees.
What Suri’s done—
the shading, the soft details,
familiar, intimate,
“Stunning.”

“You really think so? I mean I know I spent a lot of time on it, but, like, it’s just us, you know, but as like a hydra, and instead of elemental powers or whatever it’s writing and art and science and stuff. It— it’s dumb. I don’t know.”

“I love it,” Violet says,
bringing the cuff of her hoodie to her eye.


IV. Religieuse, n.

As a
Mormon,
I don’t consume caffeine.
I drink La Croix for the kick, but
I recognize
my body shouldn’t be exposed to addictive
substances—
I should be able to stand and breathe on
my own.

It doesn’t make sense to
me to block
gay people from
Heaven, from
God.
I don’t think
I am less of a
Mormon for that belief—
our church was founded on the
principle of standing up for what
you believe.


V. French Cut, n. and adj.

“Looks like Jaime Smith is running again,”
Mom says at the dinner table, spinning spaghetti noodles in her fork.

“Oh? That’s good. She got close in the midterms, right?” Dad asks, dabbing his mouth with his napkin.

“Mhmm. Only lost by 600 votes.”

“Your office gonna doorbell?”

“Probably. Depends on how much Jennifer wants to organize.” She shakes her head. “We should do it, though. We can’t have another term of Chambers.”

Dad nods, tightens his hair tie. “I’ll probably not have this by then. Better curb appeal, I guess.”

“Dad, no one is going to care if a grown man has long hair anymore,” I interject. “It’s 2020.”

“It’s Puyallup, Crys,” he responds. “Plus, someone’s gonna need it more than me by then.” He smiles, drapes his ponytail over his shoulder. “A couple more inches, I think, and it’ll be long enough to donate.”


VI. Letterato, n.

Violet came over to
study for the SAT.

Digging a notebook out of her backpack,
she asks,
“Are you sure
you need to take it in March?
Can’t it wait
until June or something?”

“You need to make sure you get a great score to have a great application so you can get into a good college with the best professors and good programs so you can get a good job and have a fulfilling career to be able to afford a good house and provide for your family and your parents when they need you and you need to prepare for a good retirement yourself—“

“Crys.
Crys.
Pause.” She interrupts. Her hand
on my knee. Her steadiness
makes me realize how much it was bouncing.
“You have to live in today, not 50 years from now.”

I close my eyes,
try to still the tremors in my fingers.
“But you can’t just live in today,” I say slowly,
“You need to think about 50 years from now today to be prepared.”

“You shouldn’t
let tomorrow consume today though.
You need
balance.
You need
to breathe.”


VII. Kirkify, v.

I love history.
So, when I find out
we’re going to do presentations in civics
about how religion has shaped politics,
I go all in.

Our group gets assigned
Presbyterianism.
Violet and I agree to do research,
Suri says she’ll draw some pictures
to make our slides unique.

I love history,
because the closer you look,
the more complicated everything gets.
There are nuances on nuances;
no one’s great, no one’s evil.

Mark. A Matthews,
First Seattle’s longest-serving minster,
backed progressive ideals—
fought against governmental corruption,
helped create Harborview Medical Center.
He even went to Congress to argue
on behalf of Japanese immigrants
during World War I—
before the whole
putting-them-in-concentraition-camps period.

But Mark A. Matthews
argued against women’s suffrage,
argued against unionizing workers,
argued that Jewish people were the real menace
to the United States.


VIII. Literose, adj.

Revision
is the hardest part of
the writing process.
For me, anyway.
Mostly because
I tend to go a bit
overboard.

I’ve been practicing
college application essays
whenever I can,
and
I keep doubling the maximum word count.
And,
when I go back to see what to cut,
every word, every detail,
seems important.


IX. Mug, v.

Over the last few weeks,
we’ve had rain pretty much every day.
Slick roads, large puddles,
perpetually obfuscated sun.

Over the last few days,
we got hit with a rainstorm.
Torrential downpour,
power outages, floods.

It made me think of when
you have four projects due
the same week, because
teachers don’t coordinate with each other, and
you have to stretch
your time management/organizational skills
on top of what they already expect of you;
how overwhelming all that is;
how those weeks
make you appreciate
times when there’s
only an occasional worksheet due.


X. Crimp, v.

A part of our presentation grade
is everyone speaking in front of the class.
Suri thought
if she put extra effort into her drawings,
it might be excused.
It won’t be.

The day before our presentation,
we practice
after school
in Ms. Hendrix’s room.
Suri mindlessly riffles through her notecards
while we plan and organize.

First few run-throughs,
she riffles between every slide,
reads word-for-word from each card,
never looks up.
She asks us (Ms. Hendrix included)
if we can sit in the audience while she reads.

After seven times,
she looks up at the end of her sentences,
thwaps her cards with her thumb
when she finishes her slides
without looking down a second time.
Ms. Hendrix changes seats each time,
says when she can’t hear us,
applauds at the end every time.

In the last run-through before the activity bus,
She glances only at the beginning of each slide,
adds hand gestures,
ad libs details about what she drew.


XI. Ice Bolt, n.

When it’s our turn,
we get up to the front of the room,
stand just like we did when we practiced.

It all flows, smooth
as the extra milkshake from the cool tin cup.
Violet and Suri kill it.

I
say Matthew A. Matthews
instead of Mark. A Matthews,

and I try to go back, correct it,
but my mouth hangs there. No sounds—
my notes become doodles.


XII. Missment, n.

I look at Violet,
try to talk with my eyes.

She shuffles her notecards,
continues, “Mark. A Matthews was a minister…”

Suri carries the last slide
until the lunch bell rings to end the period.

I walk to the bathroom,
sit in a stall, my face in my hands.

Violet knocks on the stall door,
says, “Crys? Hey. We’re here.”

Suri scoots her sketchbook, opened to a page which
says, “It’s ok. It happens. We still love you.”


XIII. Bastle House, n.

“You know,
a bad presentation isn’t the end of the world.”

“It’s the grade
that UW is going to see, Violet.
That
is the end of the world.”

“... You ever think about those houses
they’re building over by Glacier View?”

“… What? No?
What does that have to do with anything?”

“It’s just— like,
there are all those people
building those houses, right?
They’re all responsible for something,
the job has to get done, and done right
or the people living there won’t have
power or flushing toilets and stuff.”

“… Yeah?”

“Well, so—
it can’t be possible
for all of those people
to be perfect all the time, you know?
There has to be a misplaced nail somewhere,
a loose cabinet door.

“But the house is still there, Crys.
The house still has lights.
The house still flushes poops.
Even if one of them messes up a little bit.

“I don’t think one bad presentation
would make UW hate you.
And,
if it does,
we can egg their admissions building.”


XIV. Bae, n.

There’s something in
how she rustles her notecards,
how she says “poops” to make me laugh,
how she comes up with metaphors for everything.

I don’t know what this feeling is—
my stomach hurts.

She’d say that I’m just like Chidi,
and I think
she might be my Eleanor.


XV. Home-Along, adv.

You know how when cottonwood pollinates,
its seeds fall everywhere
like a switch is flipped—
one day there’s almost nothing,
the next it looks like a blizzard?

That’s kinda how I’m feeling now— everything flying in all directions,
no navigation.

I usually talk things out with my parents,
but I’m afraid.
They’ve always said they love me,
they’ll support me in whatever,
but there’s no guarantee
their actions will match their words.
We are Mormon, and
we’ve all sat in the same sermons
with the same old rhetoric.

We go on a trip to the San Juan Islands
for mid-winter break—
a four-day weekend around Presidents’ Day.
Dinner is awkward— for me;
they all seem normal.
I don’t know if now is the right time, but
what would a right time be?
There’s no universal 
tell-your-parents-you-might-be-gay
scenario.

We’re in a public place,
a brewery with a local guitarist playing “Homeward Bound.”
I think now is
as good a time
as I can get.


XVI. Deek, n.

They say the right things
like they’re reading from a script.

But, it’s the way
they avoid eye contact
for the rest of dinner
that shows their discomfort.


XVII. Gribiche, n.

The next night,
we eat at a French restaurant
overlooking the sound.

My mom
lifts a spear of asparagus,
scoops the spread from the dish
on the platter.

“It’s not that we don’t love and support you; it’s that the you we thought we knew is gone.” She dabs her lips with a maroon cloth napkin.

“I’m not gone. I’m still here.”

“But the you that was in our heads, the future-you that we imagined, is gone.”

“I don’t think my future-me has changed. She can’t be gone. I’m not even sure what I am or what I may be.”

“So it’s possible it’s just a phase?”

Silence.

“It’s just a lot to process, Crys. Nothing like this has happened in the Coleus family before. It’s going to take some time for us to get used to it. I’m going to pray on it, I promise.”

“You shouldn’t need to pray on it,” I wish I could say out loud. “I’m your daughter.”


XVIII. Gype, n.

Violet and I
go out to watch Birds of Prey
Monday night,
the end of Mid-Winter Break.
Her second time—
she couldn’t shut up about it.

Absentmindedly
I put my arm on the armrest
where hers is.
She nudges her arm to share.
Our elbows touch—
my skin’s on fire.


XIX. Hailsome, adj.

She rests
her head
on my shoulder.
I hook
my pinky
around hers.

I feel
so warm,
so whole—
like I’m home.


XX. Hake, n.

Back at Edgerton,
when they taught us how to watercolor—
second grade, I’m pretty sure—
I always used the thinnest brush.
I focused on each detail—
small, smooth strokes.
Yes, even the sky;
I rarely completed a painting.

I’m a bit embarrassed to say
I continued that pattern—
focusing so much on school, college, the future,
I never stopped to breathe.

So, it feels big
that in this breath,
the warmth in my chest
when Violet swooped her hand under mine,
interlaced her fingers in mine,
is still there the next morning
when it’s so cold even the clouds stay home.


XXI. Overton Window, n.

A few days later, when we get to my house after school, Violet kisses the back of my hand, which she’s been holding since I shifted into drive (not the best driving practice; sorry, Mr. Williams).

Violet sees my mom’s Outback parked in the driveway. “So, have you told them?” she asks, leaning her head against the headrest.

I sigh, close my eyes. “No. I haven’t.” I look at my Tetris keychain dangling from the ignition, afraid to see her disappointment. “I’m sorry.”

Her voice is soft, starts as a half-whisper. “It’s alright, but why not? I thought you said they were cool with you being gay?”

“That’s what they said, yeah, but the way my mom tiptoes around me now… She hasn’t told the rest of the family yet, and she told me to not say anything to them either, because THEY wouldn’t be ready for it yet… I’m not sure she’s really ready for me to be dating someone. Like, I’m afraid she’ll antagonize you, and that would kill me.”

“Okay.” Another half-whisper. She nods, thinks for a bit, tapping her fingertips on my knuckles in a rhythm I can’t follow. “So, how many points do you think you lose if you antagonize a queer teenager? Like, a thousand, right? Because of the increased risk of depression and stuff?” Her smile is sad, but still warm.

“Yeah. Easily,” I chuckle. “A real dick move.” I kiss the back of her hand.


XXII. Bloody Caesar, n.

Saturday morning,
I wake up
more tired than when I went to sleep.
I sit on the top of the staircase,
my body not wanting to move anymore.

Mom sits
at the dining room table,
Warren and Sanders pamphlets
litter its surface.
The smell
of the cocktail
she drinks on weekend mornings
wafts up the stairs.

“You think we should
drive or take the light rail to the rally?”
Dad asks.
He places his mug on the table,
takes a seat,
grabs one of the Warren pamphlets.

“Traffic in Seattle is going to be awful.
Especially
if the protests at Kennedy Catholic keep up—
I can’t believe
they would force
teachers to resign because they’re gay.
So, I think the light rail might be better;
her campaign’s said
they expect a large crowd.”
No hesitation in her voice,
no doubt.

I exhale,
head against the railing,
elbows on my knees,
face in my hands.

Her pastime seems to be
comfort at a distance,
like a church dance
where you need to leave room for Jesus.


XXIII. Swellegant, adj.

My parents leave early to get to the rally,
wanting to be first in line for volunteers.
I thought about going, but decided
to stay home
to work on an essay for civics on caucuses.
Plus,
if Lexi can’t even manage to focus for algebra,
she definitely wouldn’t survive political speeches.

When I think about Seattle,
I see people free
to express who they are, open
and accepting and weird.
No closets there,
no skeletons hidden in old Ikea bags.

I know it’s not true; it’s a fantasy. But,
I see myself
walking across UW’s quad some spring morning
as the sun meets their cherry blossoms—
quiet, peaceful.


XXIV. Yes But, n. and adj.

family is important and you shouldn’t upset them.

yes but i deserve to be true to myself.

yes but that is selfish, crystal. you have to consider what other people need.

yes but hiding myself for the sake of everyone else means that i’m not even worth my own respect.

yes but you need a place to live until you graduate high school and you shouldn’t risk that kind of stability.

yes but being with Violet makes me happy. 


XXV. Dicker, v.

I hate
hiding from them,
feeling ashamed.
I hate
hiding my relationship with Violet,
making her feel like I’m ashamed of her.

Dad’s family
comes over after church every Sunday.
Maybe
I should tell them then.
I can figure
out a way to ease them into it—
I’ll write
a hasty Facebook post in case I chicken out.

Violet will hold me to it.


XXVI. Swinehood, n.

After church,
aunt Clara and uncle Wyatt arrive.
Five children
flood out of their Expedition
into the driveway.
Clara balances a bowl of orzo salad
in the crook of her left arm as
she waves at my dad.

Their kids run around the yard as
we eat brunch.
After covering pleasantries, the work week,
Wyatt steers the conversation.

“Did you hear about the new Supreme Court case?”

“Oh yeah!” Clara answers, “The one about whether gay couples can adopt! Can you believe it?!”

“Right,” My dad nods, coughs. He and Clara were raised to never discuss politics, so they rarely ever talked about the news. “That’s a big deal.”

“It IS a big deal!” Clara agrees. “They’re trying to restrict that agency’s religious freedom! They can’t do that!” She waves her arms, gesturing at the obvious oppression.

“It’s a terrible thing,” Wyatt adds. “I mean, there’s plenty of research that suggests that kids need a mother AND a father.”

Both of my parents politely nod. I burst.

“So what, I shouldn’t be able to adopt a kid if I want? You wouldn’t trust ME with a kid?! Are your kids messed up from all the times I babysat them?!

“A person’s orientation has nothing to do with their parenting ability— are you kidding me?! I cannot believe how intolerant you are, how willfully ignorant you are! It’s obscene!”

My fork clangs as it hits my bowl. I feel tears boil on my cheeks. I gasp for air, stand up. “Excuse me.”

There’s silence as I walk into the house. The tap of my shoes on the hardwood floor bounce off stunned walls.


XXVII. Twite, n.

I lay on my bed, stare at the ceiling—
gray as wintry clouds.
I imagine a small bird,
brown like Violet’s eyes,
flying south to escape the frigid breeze.

Cold and alone,
lost in the current,

until she finds a flock of birds,
different colors and shades and hues
like the intricate, harmonious patchwork of a quilt,
that welcomes her with ease.


XXVIII. Yevery, adj.

What is a family that doesn’t see you?

I won’t let them
dig a hole in my heart.
I won’t let them
make me feel empty.

I want more than that.
I want
to come out
to everyone,
to get a bold haircut,
to be with Violet with no shame,
to demand more diverse books in ER’s library,
to demand representation in history and English classes.

They will not hide me.
I will not be erased.


XXIX. Resiliating, adj.

Monday morning,
I text Violet
that I want to tell our friends about us
if she’s okay and ready for it.

My phone clacks
as I put it on the bathroom counter
to brush my hair.
In the mirror,
there’s a fire burning on my scalp, tendrils
try to reach the ceiling.
My brush was
like a helicopter with a water tank containing
a forest fire.

Last night, I told her about what happened
with Clara and Wyatt.
I ugly-cried on FaceTime and everything.
My parents didn’t came to my room—
still haven’t talked to them.

A post-it note I find
on my door when I leave my room
in Lexi’s handwriting reassures me
everything’s going to be alright.
She wrote:

“Crys—
ur the best big sister ever
ur the bravest person I know
love u forever!
- L”

Continued in Part III. Suri Dihan.

Cottonwood Seeds en Route: I. Violet Caligos

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from January, 2020.

This is the first entry in Cottonwood Seeds en Route.

I. Newelty, n. and adj.

“A new job,”
Mom said,
“back where I grew up.”

She was so excited, I hid
my apprehension.

The thing about new houses
in new developments
is they creak and grown
like ghosts
making sure everything checks out.

I’m afraid
of losing my friends,
of starting a new school,
of ghosts following me here.


II. Psychohistory, n.

Our Civic rattled down
the road that had all the stores on it—
Meridian, I think it’s called?
Every couple blocks, my mom
would sigh or smile
wistful.

“Violet,” she said
as we approached a stoplight
by a construction site.
“There used to be a park there.
Well, when I say ‘park,’
I mean a field
we would play in after school.
Once,
my best friend, Sidney,
got her hoodie stuck on a branch inside a blackberry bush,
and she cried and cried when she got out,
because she tore the seam
along her shoulder—“

Her chuckling tapered as she looked at
where the wooden skeleton stood.
A yellow bulldozer
ripped remnants of green grass,
added to a mound of soil
by a neon-orange, plastic barrier.

“Uhh… Mom? The light’s green.”
I tapped her elbow.

“Oh. Right.”
She blinked,
shook her head like escaping a spiderweb,
drove away.


III. Quadrantid, n. and adj.

Close
my bedroom door.
Sit
on the twin mattress in the corner.
Breathe
in cardboard air.
Stare
at the wall of boxes across the room.

Think
about what Maya is doing now.
Doubt
anyone notices my absence anyway.
Hug
my trembling ribs.
Stare
at the wall of boxes across the room.


IV. Contemperament, n.

They stand
along the side of the road
at the end of our neighborhood
waiting for the bus.

Thick jackets under grey sky,
no faces.
Put my hands in my pockets,
look at the white paint on the ground,
splotches chipped from its face.

The bus arrives with a screech.
We climb in
like telepathic instructions were given.
An open seat
near the front—
I claim it, lean my head
against the cool metal window frame.
The other seat remains empty.


V. Clabbydoo, n.

At some point,
the dashes of the road become a blurred line.
I can feel the distance grow.
I’ve never thought about
how weird driving is,
how strange it is to float above the ground.

The bus fizzles away,
the housing, floor, seats, other people,
until it’s just me,
the wind hitting my dangling legs,
the wet concrete flying by.
I feel like I’m about to fall forward,
roll like a ball down the road.

I gasp for air, and it’s gone;
the bus and the hum of students returns.
I hug my knees to my chest,
count the blue cars we pass.


VI. Basta, int.

you are alone
violet
you will always be alone
they will hate you here
just like all the others
before

no no no no
it’s only your first day
violet
it’s fine it’s fine
it’s fine
get off the bus


VII. Mocotaugan, n.

“So, what’s your name?”

“Uhh… Violet.”

“Cool! I’m Crystal. I’ll be showing you to your classes today to help you get used to the building. Your first class is… shop? Did you have that at your last school?”

“Uhh… no… Can I change that? Table saws seem scary.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that. The big saws are for the upper-level classes. In the intro class, you mostly sand and maybe whittle with some fancy knives.”

“… They trust students with knives?”

“Well, they’re not like switchblade-knives. They’re using these weird knives with a crooked handle right now; Mr. Anderson’s husband is an anthropology professor at TCC, so he likes to bring some cultural studies and history into the projects and stuff. It’s way cooler than some generic birdhouses.”

“…”

“You should try it before you jump right out. Plus, the semester ends in like three weeks, so you can choose whether you want to stay or transfer into choir or yearbook or whatever. Mr. Anderson’s really cool though— Ugh. Class is about to start. His room is right over here by the art room. I’ll be back at the end of the period to take you to… algebra, alright?”

“Yeah. Thank you.”


VIII. Altricial, adj.

Crystal walks away,
waves at someone going into the band room,
probably relieved
to not be around me anymore.

Entering the shop room feels like being transported
into the middle of that intersection in Shibuya
that’s in every anime—
more people than I can count
walking in every direction
carrying blocks of wood, sandpaper, clamps.

They bring walls of sound with them
that close in around me, linger
like the hum of electricity pulsing through lightbulbs.

It’s hot
for January, but
I’m the only one sweating.
It’s loud;
my ears start to hurt.
How is there no air in this room?

“Hello, good morning. You must be Violet; you can call me Mr. Anderson. Are you alright? Coming into the class at this point in the year can be a bit overwhelming. Do you need a minute? I have some earmuffs behind my desk—

“Take a walk down to the water fountain at the end of the hall that way, take a drink if you need, then come back; I’ll get them started on their projects and bring the muffs here for you when you get back.

“It’s alright. We’ll figure this out together.”


IX. Herky-Jerky, adj.

Around two weeks ago,
I laid in bed,
watched my alarm clock start a new day.
It contained
the same strained muffles from the floor below
as yesterday.
I could hear them, but not understand
most of the words.
Mostly, vowel sounds made it through,
some harsher, shorter,
a breath between each sound.
He said her first name,
all three syllables, and she yelled.

A vibration climbed the staircase;
my door slammed open.
My mom rushed to my bed, frantic, sputtered,
“Violet. Get up.
We’re going to stay with your grandma
in Puyallup.”


X. Johnny Appleseed, n.

“Around two years ago, I had a student on the autism spectrum. They struggled a lot with writing, talking, most interaction, really; they excelled at crafts though, it was their outlet. So, their guardians decided to try to put them in shop.

“The intro class is mostly sanding, some whittling— Crystal brought you here, right? She had this class last year, she tell you this already? My apologies—

“Anyway, things were going well at the beginning. I had to learn how to read their nonverbal cues, their work. That was, until we had to carve. A student at the table behind them slammed their block on the table to surprise their neighbor. It overstimulated the student with autism— sensory sensitivity is often comorbid with autism.

“It was a clumsy oversight on our part; no denial. Their eyes welled up with tears, swiveling their eyes between me and the door, trying desperately to hold a scream. I could see the strain in their face, feel all the ropes in their muscles tighten.

“I took them into the hallway, walked them down to a quiet room with Ms.Ruiz to decompress, as was the protocol in their IEP.

“I needed to figure out how to help this kid stay in my room; they were excited for shop, their guardians were excited for it, Ms. Ruiz was excited for it— this was the best outlet for this kid.

“I realized that we had a bunch of these ear muffs for the seniors who used the power tools, but we don’t use them at all in the intro class, they just sit in a bin at the back. Plus, this kid couldn’t be the only one who is going to react this way to the noise level that’s bound to happen here. So, I took a couple pairs and kept them by my desk to be used for times like that. As soon as the option came up, multiple students asked for them. Their focus improved. Their work improved. The room felt— calmer. Calm for a shop class anyway.

“That’s why I had these ready for you, Violet. That’s why there’s another pair on the wall behind my desk. That’s why the pair I gave you say ‘Taylor.’

“So we never forget to think about the needs of those around us.”


XI. Schmick, adj.

The rest of the morning was a blur
obfuscated
(thank Ms. Hendrix’s word of the day board)
by Mr. Anderson’s shop class.

Crystal found me sitting in the hallway,
ear muffs on, alone.
Mr. Anderson had to go back to his class, but checked on me when he could.

She helped me up, asked what happened.
I felt embarrassed— a fussy infant.
She asked if I wanted to talk to a counselor;
I shook my head.

“You should sit with my friends and me at lunch.
I know I’m biased, but trust me, you’ll like them.
That is, if Isabella can look up from her Physics
textbook long enough. That nerd.”


XII. Amour Courtois, n.

The commons has
the electricity of a battlefield.
Crystal brings me to a table with
four girls:
one scrolling through something on her phone;
one poring over a physics textbook;
one chuckling at a book called Candide;
one painting a miniature of a knight,
sword and shield in hand.

“Suri, I don’t get
how you can paint here,” Crystal laughs.

She sets the knight down gently,
the brush eased onto a napkin,
exhales through her nose,
then her brown eyes rise to meet ours.
“It’s about control, Crys.
It’s meditative,
focused.
Plus,
Kordra needs a dope helm to woo their prince.”


XIII. Manducate, v.

“How was your first day?” Mom asks,
placing two bowls of tomato soup on the kitchen table.

I open the drawer next to the oven,
take out two spoons.
“Uhh…
It was a lot.
The classes are way bigger
than they were in Sequim.”
Two paper napkins between my fingers,
I fill a glass with water in the sink.

“Puyallup is a bigger place;
more people
out here. I’m sure you’ll get used to it.
Did you make any friends?”
She places her phone
face down across the table from her seat.

“It’s not that easy, Mom.
I can’t just make friends in a day.”
I blow on a spoonful of soup to cool it, take a sip,
realize then how hungry I am,
realize then how I didn’t eat all day.

So warm.

“They assigned a girl to show me around today.
She seems really nice,
her friends too.”


XIV. Musophobist, n.

I didn’t realize yesterday, but Nadine—
one of Crystal’s friends at lunch—
is in my English class.
I ask if I can sit next to her.
She nods,
looks at the board, sighs.

“Ugh. I hate poetry.
Such pretentious
nonsense. Purposefully esoteric
to feel superior
when readers don’t get it.
Random line
breaks to
fake
some deeper meaning.
Absolutely.
Atrocious.”

“I thought you liked reading. You couldn’t put down Candide yesterday.”

“No. Candide is different.
Stories are straight-forward.
They tell you what’s going on,
and it makes sense.
If it doesn’t, it’s confusing and bad.

“Poetry
is always confusing and bad.”


XV. Ambagical, adj.

Violet Caligos
1/10/20
Ms. Hendrix
Symbol Poem

A cottonwood seed floats on the breeze, searching earth, searching for a place to land. A cottonwood seed floats in the wind, tossed tossed tossed by the gusts. A cottonwood seed tumbles, land then sky then land then sky. A cottonwood seed follows a current away from what it knows, away and alone. A cottonwood seed lands in a field, overgrown grass all around it. A cottonwood seed digs into the Earth, something familiar, a new home. A cottonwood seed sings to itself as it waits for tomorrow.


XVI. Prescind, v.

Maya!!!! I miss you so much!! People here are just not the same. They’re nice and stuff, but my classes are HUGE! My english class has 42 kids in it! Plus, there’s no one I can talk to about the Good Place! Did you see the last episode?! I don’t even get their memes here! Anyways, how have you been? I know it’s only been a couple weeks, but it feels like FOREVER since I got to talk to you!

Read


XVII. Contempo, adj.

Back in eighth grade,
back in Sequim,
Maya and I
had the same US history class.

It was December
when they taught us
about the three branches of government.
It was the month after Trump was elected
when they taught us
about checks and balances, the amendments.

Maya asked a lot of questions.
Our teacher stumbled through her what-ifs.

I remember
hearing snickers from the back of the room
when she asked how impeachment works.
I remember
the teacher drawing diagrams
to stall, to scan their words for bias before answering.

I wonder,
as I grab a copy of today’s Seattle Times
from the stack by my school’s entryway,
if Maya is following the process too.
I wonder,
as I wave at Crystal sitting by Isabella
at one of the common’s tables,
if Maya is still asking questions.


XVIII. Telegenic, adj.

Walking through Emerald Ridge’s hallways
is intimidating.
Not just in the a-lot-of-people way,
but in a how-they-dress way.

Their clothes fit
their bodies and personalities
like they all had to pass an aesthetics class
or they all got Tan-Franced.

My clothes are
the first shirt and leggings I find
in the clean pile
with my mom’s high school track hoodie.


XIX. Schlockbuster, n.

I walk up to the table,
put the paper in front of an open chair.
Isabella looks up from her phone.
“Violet.”
Her phone punctuates my name,
collapsing onto the table
from her open hand.
“Have you seen The Last Skywalker yet?”

“Good morning to you too?
Haven’t seen it yet,
no time.”
I take off my backpack,
tuck it under the table,
sit.
“Why?”

Crystal sighs.
“She saw it last night
and has not stopped talking about it.
EVEN THOUGH SHE KNOWS
IT’S NONSENSE.”

“You hush.
Yes, the science is bad,”
she eyes her physics textbook,
“We know about the parsecs.
Yes, the story is haphazard.
Yes, the galaxy doesn’t make sense.

“But look
at what those hundreds of humans made.
Think about
the collective effort and talent
poured into that spectacle.
It’s a miracle.”


XX. Scripophilist, n.

Time feels like it moves slower
when you move to a new place.
Learning new people, places,
memorizing every face.

So these few weeks feel like years,
and Maya’s absence echoes.
I reread our old emails
and scroll through our old photos.


XXI. Downtick, n.

a cold front comes in,
drags in a blanket of clouds.
then the snow comes,
my shadow vanishes
in the scattered light.

hard to talk to anyone
with roads iced over,
layers of jackets
protecting fragile bones.
maybe i’ll just lay here and sleep.


XXII. Ambergris, n.

In the morning, the kitchen is filled
with her perfume
as she bags a sandwich, slides it in my backpack.
It takes me back to

a month ago, when the dining room had
three placemats.

Now, she talks about
making a soup in a crockpot on Sunday
to portion out through the week.
She rubs her eyes, yawns,
wishes me a good day at school.


XXIII. Brussen, adj.

Crystal invites me over to study
for our civics test
on the Boldt Decision.
Her house has two stories,
matching furniture.
She shows me to the living room,
then helps her sister
start her math homework in the dining room.
Some complaints
about letters being in math
echo off the portrait-covered walls.

Her parents
offer to let me stay for dinner.
Her dad
gets a pizza from Papa Murphy’s on his way home.
They all
sit at the dining room table
together
when it’s ready.


XXIV. Apaugasma, n.

Large waves as cars splash
through the parking lot
trying to go home.
Bright gray sky reflects off darkened concrete.

Crystal told me 
trying to drive home within a half hour after school
wasn’t worth it;
Emerald Ridge sits on a dead end off a dead end—
only one road out for 1400 students.
So, I sit on a bench
under the covered walkway by the gym,
watch the parking lot empty,
until she’s done interviewing
a teacher for something in the yearbook.

Ripples flow across the clouds in the sidewalk,
blurry with constant rain,
bright as stage lights.
The gray swirls and low hum all around—
feels like I go somewhere else.

Don’t notice Suri’s face appear,
don’t realize she says, “Hello,”
until she sits by me.
“Waiting for Crys?” She asks,
opening her sketch book
to start shading a half-drawn knight.

“Yeah. She’s giving me a ride home,” I say,
rubbing my hoodie’s cuff between
my thumb and forefinger.


XXV. Boerekos, n.

Suri closes her book on her pencil,
exhales through her nose,
then digs in her backpack
for a bag of Flaming Hot Cheetos.

“I don’t know what to do about Kordra,”
she says between Cheetos,
tilting the bag in my direction.
“I can’t figure their armor out.”

I take a Cheeto.
“I don’t know much about— heraldry?
But, wouldn’t his kingdom have a crest or
color scheme that all the knights wear?”

“Their kingdom; Kordra’s non-binary,
which is why they got kicked out of the
kingdom’s training camp. It’s why
they work to be so strong, to be the best.”

I pause to think.
“So, Kordra wouldn’t be able to use
the kingdom’s crest,
because THEY got kicked out of there?”

“Like Kordra would want to use
their lame eagle crest anyway.
Those fools didn’t want them—
Kordra’s too good for them anyway.”

Suri’s getting heated, almost yelling.
She stops to breathe, eat three Cheetos.
I say, “They could use Cottonwood then?
A white and green palette, renewal?”


XXVI. Cockaigne, n.

Our bench feels like an island
surrounded by torrents of rain—
protected, somehow, and warm.

Suri shows me
more of the sketches in her book,
always quick to say
what’s bad about them
(they look great to me).

Lulls in our conversation come
when she has an idea,
has to write it down or draw it.

Crys finds us,
tells us about her interview with
the coach of the girls basketball team.
She asks if Suri needs a ride home.
She asks if I’m ready to go.

I see Crystal’s writing; Suri’s art;
Isabella and Nadine; how welcoming they all are;
and feel like this is all too good for me.


XXVII. Boojum, n.

I’ve looked at the
“Read”
at the bottom of my last text to Maya
for weeks.
It seems to grow by a pixel
every day that goes by.
Why didn’t she answer?

I’ve worried since we moved.
I’ve thought about calling her,
but each time I see that she
read
and didn’t respond,
it feels like our tectonic plates drift further apart.
When does it make sense to stop?


XXVIII. Peacocking, n.

Back in Sequim,
I walked down the halls,
smiled and waved
at students and teachers
when they’d say hello.
It was automatic—
done without second thought,
regardless of the previous hours
or days.

I don’t know why it’s so hard to do that
here.
People say good morning,
then ask if I’m okay.
Even when I think I’m passing,
even when I think I’m happy,
they look at me
with pity in their eyes.

I know what
I am;
I’m not going to try being what
I’m not.


XXIX. Paralogism, n.

don’t get comfortable rainier is due the ground below your feet is faulty and can fall away at any moment they hate you they feel sorry for you that’s the only reason they put up with your pouting that’s why maya doesn’t talk to you anymore that’s why no one from sequim even thinks about you you are forgettable not worthy nothing nothing nothing a burden a manifestation of a minus sign a weight that drags down crystal that wastes suri’s time that sucks the joy out of nadine’s day that dumbs down isabella they would be better if you just left them alone


XXX. Hipparchy, n.

don’t get comfortable rainier is due the ground below your feet is faulty—

“Morning Violet! I found the earmuffs that were lost yesterday. They’re on my desk. They have a post-it with your name on it to make sure you get ‘em.”

they hate you they feel sorry for you that’s the only reason they put up with your pouting that’s—

“Violet! Thank god! I forgot we have a test in algebra today. Did you fill out your notecard? And also can I see it?”

you are forgettable not worthy nothing nothing nothing a burden—

“Hey, would you mind reading my civics paper at lunch? I feel like I’m missing something, but I don’t know what.”

a manifestation of a minus sign a weight that drags down—

“Bro!! That cottonwood idea was genius! It fits them so well! Check this out— it’s Kordra slamming their warhammer into a werebear that’s attacking an elven village! That human saving that crate of tomatoes in the background is you!”

that wastes—

“Okay. I concede. Not all poetry is confusing and bad. Brown Girl Dreaming was actually really great. Thanks for recommending it to me… Nerd. Now, you have to read Slaughterhouse-Five.”

that—

“Violet!! I finally caught up on the Good Place last night! You should come over to watch the finale at my house tonight! Shut up, it’s fine— my family loves you, they always get too much pizza, and I already told them you’re coming.”


XXXI. Summa Rerum, n.

“They’re looking for more people to
welcome new students,”
Crystal says as we walk to civics.
“I think you’d be great at it.”

She’s so excited, I 
actually consider it.

“Why would you say that?
You’ve barely known me a month.”

The thing about Crystal
is she always has her reasoning at the ready.

“1. A person who cried that hard at how the Good Place ended is a good person.

“2. You know what it’s like to be new. You’ll be better at understanding what new students are going through. You haven’t forgotten how it feels to be surrounded by so many unknowns.

“3. You could help admin do something that’s better at getting people used to ER. There has to be something better than what we’re doing, which is practically giving them a schedule and hoping they figure out where to go.

“4. You’re great, weirdo. Deal with it.”
She mic-drops her binder on her desk.

I place mine down in the seat next to hers.
“Whatever, nerd.
You did great, and you know all the things!
I know, at most, SOME of the things.”

I pause. It’s hard
to get a deep breath, but
I think it’s a good thing
this time.
“Okay. I’ll do it.
Will you go to the office
with me
so I don’t chicken out?”

“Duh.”

Continued in Part II. Crystal Coleus.