From The Fable of the Paddle Sack Child
Bastard: A derivative from the Old French Fils de Bast, a child conceived on the sacks pulled from beneath a horse’s saddle and used by travelers as makeshift beds (1642).
—Oxford English Dictionary
The school door opens a crack. Whistles,
and giggles, skin slaps and clapping
games pour out.
Miss Lopez’s brown wrists brim eternal
against the slate green chalkboard.
In her maple leaf dress, she recites letters:
Broken circle: C
Tie it tight: O
Add another: B
One leg kicking: R
Micaela’s dark hair falls in a messy curtain
across her desk. The pink blush of eraser filament
sticks to her sleeping cheek.
Miss Lopez lets her rest just as she lets others
wash themselves in the school lavatory
and take home lunch scraps to their grandparents.
~ ~ ~
Micaela’s mother’s white satin gloves are unrolled to her elbows. She dusts her feet with lavender powder. Her brow bones blare with a trombone gold. Tonight she is going out on the town. She’s living it up, having a ball. She is leaving with Rodrigo, sad Rodrigo of the big brown pockets. Micaela ducks out of the way as her mother dashes through the door.
Micaela’s mother’s black eyes and curly black hair sparkle when she speaks. Her nose is large and her big strong teeth crowd out her mouth just slightly, giving her the curious beauty of a mare.
She has a way about her. Tengo mi manera, she says so herself, smiling so broadly her red lipstick smudges her front left tooth.
She knows how to get attention. The baker tosses an extra empanada into her sack with a wink. The butcher brandishes his carving knife with the flourish of a gallant and cuts her a piece of discounted meat with an extra wide ribbon of fat. She knows how to talk her way out of four or five days of late rent or the fee on an unpaid bill. But she doesn’t command the attention of men who own sailboats or men who buy steaks and rubies.
Micaela’s mother still has to say, Yes. Please. Thank you. No worries. We’ll be fine.
~ ~ ~
In an abandoned lot, the neighborhood children play sticks and shields,
trampling the ground under which a looted monastery was long buried.
A lemon tree casts sundial shadows, dividing Micaela’s arm
into dark and light. She digs a stick into the base of the tree.
Bearing wreathes of torn and tangled leaves,
the neighborhood boys form their armies.
They line up large rocks next to pebbles and yell, Country!
With the heels of their ill-fitting shoes, they crush
the pebbles into dust and roar King!
Their saliva drips into the dust and forms a paste
upon which they kick and scream.
They form their armies.
A scrawny grey cat flops down before Micaela.
He blinks. She nods. She studies him and decides
his kaleidoscope eyes signal good fortune – a trip perhaps
or palm-sized cakes, sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar.
~ ~ ~
One suitor, a failed novelist-turned-fisherman who smells of bleach, and rubber boots, insists that Micaela’s mother listen to a different story every night, but instead of making love to her at the height of each tale, he acts out a shadow play of each story’s climax. The result is a spastic display of shapes cast in frightening proportion across the room Micaela shares with her mother. Micaela peeks and sees a large humpbacked shadow inching toward the ceiling. It could fall on her mother like a bag of bricks or it could swallow her as if she were a minnow in the belly of a whale. Suddenly the ascending humpback splinters into ten slimy tentacles. Micaela’s mother giggles her bored giggle.
~ ~ ~
None of the men who visit
the narrow room are Micaela’s father.
When she was a baby, he
didn’t exist. Now, he’s absent.
Micaela’s father is the wool coat clipped
from a chipped button,
He is the warm plate
swiped from beneath a cold stew.
He’s the zebra
fleeing the stripes’ rippled gallop.
He was once an occasional shiver
or hard swallow.
Now, he is the Never was
in Once upon a time.
Micaela doesn’t dare ask who her father is,
and her mother doesn’t dare tell her.
Just a turn of her head stirs the leaves
of the lemon tree’s lowest branches.
Born with a woman’s head of hair,
from the womb came
a herculean mane and eyebrows
as prominent as hieroglyphs.
At night, she strokes the dark vellum hair of her forearm
and asks, Who was I before I was born?