by Ariana Brown
alternate memory, or love dances barefoot after the men have disappeared
it is christmas eve in my grandmother's house
& everyone is in love with your gap tooth. you make
all the cousins laugh up bows—everyone more beautiful
than the year before. I unwrap hojas & spoon masa
onto your tongue while the moon drops
from the sky to light your teeth. my grandmother runs
her hand over your hair, feeling for mines.
god has mercy on those who love at the right time: my mother
would know. we become a hit for how quickly you turn
tamales to dust & you remind everyone of my father.
this is the way depression comes: my mother fell
to her knees once & stayed there a few years. love
had something to do with it. because of this,
I do not own painless stories of my parents,
my father's funeral, my feet protruding
from my mother's belly during the service.
you kissed me in the moonlight & I loved you there a few years.
this is the way depression returns: I recall
the skin on your right cheek, the softest
anywhere on your body. the music playing
in your car on that last perfect day we belonged
to each other. my mother crumpled in her room,
a soft, wet sigh. the men we have loved
with thick hearts, mixing & spilling our tears
& offerings. I pull you from my throat each christmas,
vomiting hojas, wiping the moon from my mouth;
my belly, feasted & stretched, mocking
the children we would have had, black & gorgeous & alive.
I do not know how to properly miss you, so I become
my mother & name our children in my sleep.
I take too long giving him my number but he’s nice about it. runs
a hand through his hair & spews ideas for the group project (the one on discrimination).
his pink mouth offers endless ideas & I veto all of them.
“actually, I was thinking about…” & go on to list my own experiences.
when I speak, he doesn’t.
he wears a different version of the same muted outfit every day
& thinks I’m funny & has a terrible accent but he still speaks
this language better than me. he’s encouraging, meets his pupils to mine.
& I’m petrified, leaning so close I’m spilling into the aisle between us.
he wore a san antonio spurs t-shirt the first day I noticed him & I commended him
for being “a good man,” (an unusual phrase from me, directed towards a white boy).
tried to convince everyone in the room (including myself) that I was comfortable
in advanced spanish grammar & composition, the only Black girl in the room.
later, I am proud of myself that we actually met before—the boy & I—
as co-workers for an entire semester. I hadn’t the faintest memory.
I invite him to three of my poetry shows before I realize he’s not interested. it’s fine.
blake isn’t his real name, but I wanted to discuss my feelings on twitter
so I thought of the whitest name I could think of.
my friends have been calling him QB for short.
“maybe you should just text him and be like, ‘do you wanna make out with me?
no pressure. if not, see you in class!” my friend says. I’ve been meticulous with the updates.
today quaker blake walked me to class. today he took a book to the library for me.
omg today quaker blake & I totally had a moment.
my friend isn’t white, but he isn’t black either. I don’t know how to tell him
that the last time I liked a white boy, he kissed a girl named ashley on the playground,
& the school was buzzing for weeks. that day I came home from school & stood
in front of the mirror. pulled my hair tight. commanded it to lay flat, turn yellow.
be like ashley’s.
“what if he’s like, descended from abolitionists? HOOO! what if he’s a quaker?” I yell
across the apartment. my roommate does the thing Black people do when they scream
before laughing. “then it would be okay, right?” my other roommate has a saying—
you gotta stretch before you reach.
he still works at the library. I check out headphones once a week, an excuse
to stare at his lips. he tells me about his semester in san antonio & does the accent
of everyone I grew up with. I give him a pass because it’s accurate. or because he’s cute.
whatever. I do the thing where I ask him questions about his life & he goes on & on.
I say thanks & head back to my computer, but not before he calls me “vato.”
& I freeze. turn back around. “was that weird to say because you’re a girl?” he waits.
no. that wasn’t the reason at all.
sometimes when I talk to him, my accent comes back. the way I sounded
at five & six years old trembles underneath my tongue in spanish, marches
out the black hole of my mouth when I have to switch, quickly, back to english.
& I remember the small words: a ver, ya dejalo, muévete, n’hombre güey.
little cherries I place in the air between us & later wish I could spoon back into my mouth.
Ariana Brown is a Black Mexican American poet from San Antonio, Texas, with a B.A. in African Diaspora Studies and Mexican American Studies. She is the recipient of two Academy of American Poets prizes and a 2014 national collegiate poetry slam champion. Ariana, who has been dubbed a "part-time curandera," is currently earning an MFA in Poetry at the University of Pittsburgh and is probably eating an avocado, listening to Ozuna, or validating Black girl rage in all its miraculous forms. Follow her on Twitter & Instagram @arianathepoet.