Through Bus Windows: Seattle

Monday, July 15, 2013

We make love on the floor
of your brother's unfurnished guest room,
mornings he walks his postal route.
An apartment complex five blocks
from my parents’ house in View Ridge.
The neighborhood’s color bar
a slow dissolve, we take this closeness
for a sign, our bodies flushed
against shag rug in the crepuscular
diffusion of half-closed shades.

Your father must never know.
My mother’s whisper flares above the spin
cycle, her laundry space behind World War II
shipping crates stenciled with his name.
He bends over oscilloscopes and vacuum
tubes, safety goggles in the high-intensity
glare of his workbench. My brother
fingers Scarlatti and Couperin
in his practice room, the harpsichord’s
black-key registers.

Days we prowl Coast Salish displays
at the Burke Museum: Tlingit masks
of ravens and wolves, Haida potlatch blankets.
Then perch with white wine on Jazz
Alley’s spider-legged stools, waiting
for sidemen to ease in with their horns for
the sound check—through the stage door
a gritty breeze and homeless vets
swaying to their own beats, purple
hearts like bloodstains on their sleeves.

At the Obon festival, late July, we watch
Nissei women raise their chrysanthemum fans
as they circle the tiger drums, chanting
to the ancestors, a chorus of lanterns in
their moon-folds as evening deepens. But
we’re cool, we don’t stare at black professors
holding hands with their kimonoed wives—
couples whose steps we hope to echo.
In crowds that witness the spirit harvest
our differing skins mingle like anyone’s.

At night, we ride the bus back to the same stop
like teenagers. We know you couldn’t
walk me home: betrayed by the rainy
green light of my city, your shadow
never stumbles over its own doubts
at my parents’ door. I phone you late,
you and your brother pouring Georgia
moonlight into the tape deck with Aretha
and Ray Charles. My brother lingers
in the hallway and makes eye signals.

How does this old score become our song?
My father grins into whiskey
and TV. Jungle bunny. Jigaboo,
he mocks through Cosby. The expert’s
last word on the subject. My mother folds
clothes in the kitchen and keeps her face
to herself. Why do I play along? I am
such a good girl, I want only to outlast
the dawn, keep quiet till the moon sets
in uncertainty’s blue kimono sleeves.

The day we leave, we make our own ways
to the Greyhound depot. My father idles the car
in the lot, my mother walks with me
to the boarding gate.  Do you want
to meet him?  I ask.
                               No, dear,
I’d rather not:  her face with its contours
of disbelief.
                   Oh, I say.   Okay:   my last words
with her before departure.   I’ll call you
from New Orleans, once we’re home.
I hug her goodbye.  What good to say

more, to try to change any generation
but my own?  My cowardice
my strength, my eyes don’t search
for you, waiting in the bus seats
you’ve saved us, minutes between our life
and the only family I might ever have.
From the platform my mother
looks up at us, one hand raised,
her watery brave smile like a clue
to her own diminishing.

Does she see how our faces, gazing
back at her through the bus window’s
tinted glass, make their own chiaroscuro
and shadow-play?  Could she know
how the future’s double blade
would cut its secret deals with us?
Late sun strikes our eyes as the bus
pulls out of the terminal,
the blood currents under our skin
in the same dark as anyone’s.

Monday, July 1, 2013