My Cousin and Marilyn
So much that I didn’t understand back then,
I only saw the poster of sad-eyed
Marilyn O-ing over your bed, your eyes,
green as Heineken bottles, your shapely ankles
that you wound in pink ribbon, rose
high on your toes after my brief begging.
So much I didn’t understand then, until years later,
when our family attached synonyms
for junkie to your name.
Now I know the name for what makes you sit
scratching beside the phone. I know the name
of the force that makes you disappear,
one eyelash at a time, until you are all ghost,
all smoke, all vapor, a presence gone
for days, whose shame keeps echoing.
Now I understand what you couldn’t explain
when I asked what “high” felt like.
You could only say the feeling carried you
to a heaven you didn’t deserve. While Marilyn
still hangs over your bed and watches: another
blonde, too lovely for her own good, who
had no words for self-erasure,
anymore then you do. As you drift away
while drug sings through your blood,
your silence is like a spoon dropping: a single
sound heard echoing through the house.
I was sixteen, old enough to place a tab
of acid on my tongue. For my spirit animal
to tell me why my parents slammed
down love like searing pans. Why, since
my grandmother died, my mother cracked
like a china plate. Refused to remove her black
clothes, saying, this how Greeks mourn. Though we’d lived
in the States for years. Wanted to understand
why kids called me Foreigner, Slut, Ugly. Why
I’d still never kissed a boy.
Feel anything yet?
asked the boy, sitting on the floor
across from me. My sadness stretched like taffy
so far between us, I couldn’t
see where we began.
So, when his tongue entered my mouth, I pulled
him close. Then, it appeared: one caged animal
clawing to enter another’s maw. Still, that night,
I’d go home alone. Burrow into bed, sober, awake,
and strangely alive.
Imagine Me as Smoke
–after the race riot
As I look down at a city of flaming violence,
The blue-black sky turns from ash to white.
Is there a word for steam you can’t scrub
Off? Call it by my name. Weigh the meaning
Of each syllable. Name those taken. I’ll send your gross
Rebut of all lives into the air; take myself out
Of my body, hover over this burning. Gently lift you out
Of your skin. Look down on a world you call violent.
Say not the answer, say I’m just dust, but you’ve grossly
Underestimated me. Don’t you see? I’m whiteness
Turned gray. Sending flares from broken windows, mean
Doesn’t begin to describe me: in my gray scrubs,
I rise from dumpsters. Burst out of stores, a scrappy scrub:
I’m the last one to leave. It’s past last call, I’m out
After curfew. Next time, maybe you’ll say what you mean:
You fear a rioter’s burning brick, fire. Black violence
Isn’t the answer, you say. Your stiff, silent whiteness,
A space to fill with gray ghosts, whatever your gross
Adjusted income, I’ll drift through windows of gross
Injustices. Swirl through cars. You want floors scrubbed
Clean? I’ll hover in your every rooms, your white
Walls sullied as a reminder. Your city’s gone up and out
In ash. Don’t you see? You’ll remember me after violence.
Your petty kindness, your silence, that’s the meanest
Thing you can say. Give me your tired, your grossly
Overlooked. Try to snuff me out. A lover tried to scrub
Me away. I set off his alarms, he snapped on white
Gloves. Before I thinned to mist, his hands reached out
To smother me in blankets. Call it domestic violence,
But I hung in his lungs for years. Call me stubborn, mean.
A shadow, wisp not worth my weight, but I mean
Business when I get hot. I learned to burn before your gross
Motor skills. You can open windows, but unlike violence,
linger in our air. You wish you could huff or scrub
Our history clean. You want to blow me up and out,
A brief candle. But you’re just a tiny white
Moth. You can’t put me out. You’re too engrossed
With my bright-white glow. I smolder with a meaning
You can’t scrub away. Inhale, breathe in my violence.
Maria Nazos‘ poetry, translations, and essays are published in The New Yorker, Cherry Tree, Birmingham Review, North American Review, Denver Quarterly, and Mid-American Review. She is the author of A Hymn That Meanders (2011 Wising Up Press) and the chapbook Still Life (2016 Dancing Girl Press). Maria has received scholarships and fellowships from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, the University of Nebraska, where she took her Ph.D. in Creative Writing, and the Vermont Studio Center. She lives with two crazy cats and a patient husband in Lincoln, Nebraska. You can find her at www.marianazos.com.