(First published in Apeiron Review, Issue Twelve, March 2017)
If only I was a painter
I would gather the disappointments
you’ve left, the eccentricities
the loneliness I have absorbed
and I’d fling it all onto the canvas
in fearless indigo blues
red only for accent
Despair would transfer—
Leave me and become something else
A dream, a depiction,
Or moments of reflection
Instead of black, persistent sadness
Your sadness, not mine
So nothing I do
Can make it go away
I’d make the brush strokes
become waves the color
of the Mediterranean in moonlight
like the night we swam–sapphire
And in the morning
they’d capture the sun, glisten,
and the shadows would be gone
Nothing Can Be Something
(First published in Issue #15 of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and later in The Best of Vine Leaves Literary Journal 2015)
The pickup creaks like an old tree branch under the weight of too much snow as I roll out to face this last dreaded task, and I groan an echoing protest. Panic strangles my stomach, but I grab a few banker boxes from the bed and let myself in the house. Your house used to be our house, our family home for decades, but now you’ve all left me and one does not a family make. I have until the end of the day to take everything I want before the estate sale.
I notice a familiar scent, and at first I think it’s gardenias lingering from the doorway or maybe cleaning supplies. Then I realize it’s your soap, that fresh sea smell that reminds me of your hugs. We were two, you and I, a slightly mismatched set, a table tennis team, a duo in the back seat of Dad’s Buick, we two, the kids. I’ve heard that siblings share 50% of their DNA, and I think about that when I look at my toes, the texture of my hair, the grey-blue color of my eyes.
The love you had for numbers and mathematics though, that came from the other 50%. You tried to teach me, scraping on that old green chalkboard, formulas like Ax² plus something or other equals zero. You relished in the idea of zero. When someone dies all the facts and figures, ideas and deep thoughts in their heads just disappear, and I don’t understand that just like I never understood your formula that equaled zero.
I take a box into your bedroom and start with the closet. Behind the clothes I uncover bundles of photos and an old stuffed dog with a rubber band holding folded tissue over its missing eye. In the corner on the floor I spot the magic decoder ring you bought with a box top and a one dollar bill, and slip it on my pinky. When you revealed the secret code to me back then I wanted to write it down but you said “keep it in your mind, that way you’ll never lose it.” I still remember Izqao. It meant later. I’ll tell you later. When Mom asked you where you’d been, and you made up a story, you’d wink at me. “Izqao,” and I’d know eventually I’d hear what really happened.
You always loved codes, making your living creating languages only a machine could understand. You gave up teaching me formulas and sent me books instead—theories of nothingness, the concept of zero. Books teeter in three-foot stacks on your dresser. There’s more on the floor and they’re zigzagged on your nightstand. I pluck one off the top and read the title, but it makes no sense to me so I put it back. You used to tell me nothing can be something, like an open mind, and I didn’t get it then but now that you’re gone I think I do. I feel it in this house surrounded by what’s left of you, the something that feels like zero. The zero that still feels like something.
It’s growing dark and I’ve only filled up half a box. I step outside and trace the first visible stars with my finger, making the sign for infinity, another concept you loved. I wonder if zero and infinity mean nothing forever or a limitless open mind, and I try to ponder this like you but even though I have your toes and your hair your mind is a mystery. I spin the decoder ring. Izqao. You’ll tell me later. I leave my half-filled box in the house and drive away.