by Julie and Mas
I grew up watching my mother
practice spelling out foreign english words
her finger was her pen
the steering wheel, her slate
words she had learned that day
words plastered on billboards she saw, while driving
FLY AWAY TO BERMUDA
umma muh hanin gu ya? mom, what are you doing with your fingers?
do you know where we're going?
her fingers scratching out a different world as she fell into her worries
why didn't he call?
how long can I hold my breath, to not smell the alcohol?
should I flinch or try to block his punches this time?
I pray my daughters don't hear my screams tonight.
how many times we went down
a four lane one way street
the wrong way
an army of headlights storming toward us on queens blvd
my sister and I scream
as the lights jolt my mother and her red oldsmobile
back from her distant reality
I thought my mother was crazy
CAN'T YOU READ ENGLSH!
that sign said one way!
LEARN HOW TO DRIVE!
do you want to get us killed!
my father's voice clogs my vocal chords
sometimes we drove away
constantly watching for familiar headlights behind us
to an ahjuma's house that smelled like last night's dinner
smashed on the floor
we slept with our clothes on
I remember seeing the tiny creases in my sister's palms
falling into mine
praying she would not remember our midnight exodus
* * *
years later my mother is no longer running away
those worry lines on her forehead
have transformed into laugh lines that dance
when she sings in her choir
when she tells me about the latest book she is reading
about a woman who plays her cello behind waterfalls
in our motherland
the crackle of turning pages
underneath the warmth of her bedside lamp
is the only sound in the house.
but I have inherited
the same anxiety ridden disease of my mother
mindless replays of regrets and worries
pulse through my arteries
as I sit there on the subway, hands on my thighs
my fingers begin their automatic dance
typing out the tiny print I see on advertisements
stretched out in rows along the subway cars
DO YOU EVER FEEL ALONE OR SCARED?
I am no longer my mother's full time bodyguard
I don't have to panic every time I hear the keys jingle at the door
but my body still remembers
my stomach squeezes out my breaths
my throat forgets to swallow
and the whimpering starts inside
sometimes my father's voice infiltrates my dreams
WHY ARE YOU SO STUPID!
impetuous explosions of his anger
and I must use every muscle in my body to stop my convulsions of hate
I am in that red house once again
my sister and I paralyzed with fear
faking sleep to survive
and I remind myself
I AM A SURVIVOR
* * *
red numbers blare 6:29
and the dark night has dissolved
into a pale, blue-grey haze surrounding me
and I blink
to remember my dream again
I am standing in a wide, green field on a beautiful sunny day
I see a bunch of kindergarteners dressed in colorful clothes,
their black hair are their matching hats
it's an outdoor field day
they're all running towards me, on a track
laughing and running the way little kids laugh and run
one little girl in particular catches my eye
she is wearing a bright yellow sweater with a green trim
and I know her mother knitted it for her
she gets closer and closer as she rounds the bend
I reach out my arms to embrace her because she is so adorable
I want to play with her and tickle her
her smile radiates, framed by her perfect bowl haircut,
she dances with me for a heartbeat
before she giggles away with her beckoning friends
I can't stop smiling under the sun
as I get into my car
and drive on.