first-year immigration expenses

Saturday, July 15, 2023

i. apartment 

fall. we arrive. nanay heaves
herself to the kitchen & becomes
nocturnal at the apartment we rent
by the railroad. she whoops & slaps
the thin flaky walls. it’s home she says & i smile.

ii. whole foods

winter. blur of bodies stacked like monarch
butterflies in a carpet of sycamores. a classmate
once called this place expensive living & i
find out he wasn’t joking. i don’t know why
we are here. maybe we are briefly pretending
to be rich & native-born. in front, the macarons
glint like round teeth set behind crystal faces.
a woman with smooth hands cherry-picks them,
words enunciated just enough for the aisle worker
to know she has the money for it. nanay catches me
watching & i find out we can only buy one mini
cheese-jalapeño baguette to share between the two
of us. my tongue is too fat to say macaron crisp
like new dollar bills & i find out it’s time to leave,
stomach heavy with the knowledge we might never
come home with pockets smelling of macarons. i leave
the store with a lisp still feeling the empty spaces of my teeth,
coins laughing in our pockets in the shape of a half-eaten baguette.

iii. middle school

spring. the whole school smells
like lemon-scented ammonia &
bath and body perfume. the boys
like the latter; you can tell by how
they plaster easily to girls flicking
their wrists full of it. they remind me
of counterfeit barbies nanay scavenged
on my birthdays back home. the closest
a boy came near me was when i told him he could
copy my homework in the library after school. still,
i cannot hide my accent better & i don’t know how
to use foundation like reverse spray tan. i only know
what they hunger for: ceramic skin, china, long hair
dyed like piss & lean sexy lips without the weight
of another language attached.

iv. forever 21 

almost summer. it is my birthday & nanay
surprises me with twenty dollars for “something
nice.” the saleswoman has a perfect brace-free smile
like my counterfeit barbies. i briefly wonder how long
it took her to remove the metal bones. she has a warm voice
i would befriend if only she lets me. instead, she hovers
like i’m intruding on holy ground that happens to be
the entire store. i am only amused but maybe i shouldn’t
be. it’s hard to know when to laugh in this country. everyone
in the store is looking hard for a smaller size. nanay once called me
too big-boned & i never knew how to apply that to the fit
of goodwill clothes. outside, nanay pretends she is shopping
for nice things too. i imagine her trying out all the rings
she will never buy, asking herself if we are living
the american dream & never knowing how to reply. the night before,
when she gave me the twenty dollars, i heard her voice
crash against the thin walls in the shape of weariness. those twenty dollars cost her more
than a counterfeit barbie. saleswoman asks me again
in her warm voice if i need anything & smiles. i’ve seen enough
so i buy a pair of socks & leave the coins in the tip jar
to answer someone else’s prayer for macarons.
when the saleswoman does not thank me, i do
not attempt to respond in english. in this country,
every breath is tiring, every laugh
an heirloom.

Saturday, July 15, 2023