I don’t like to talk about the first time you died, Papá

I don’t like to talk about the first time you died, Papá

in that moment, you couldn’t even hold yourself up, get off of that stained couch.
Alejandra says you were debating. something about the moral implications of marring

her body with ink & piercings. as always, you brought up the bible, adamant
God wouldn’t like steel nail impaling her nose. she told us one moment you were teasing

her cow ring through the restroom door & the next you were silenced, mid-remark.
you were limp, eyes open at the ceiling. or maybe you were staring at the portrait

on the top shelf (the one where we sat with Santa in a Houston mall). you say
you were staring at God. & suddenly, a stranger sounded through the speakerphone,

remain calm, where do you live, is he breathing, can you feel his pulse, is there anyone
around, help is on the way. &, at some point, Mamá shoved two fingers down your throat,

convinced you were choking (her fingers got stuck & were swollen & bruised for weeks).
I remember Mamá shook me awake before the police, paramedics, & firefighters

arrived. shook us all awake. I remember rubbing hazy dreams from my eyes,
(the dogs barking, & the cats under the bed). I remember wanting only to return

to my sleep. but I grabbed your arm, no the other arm, Xaida had a leg, I grabbed
the other leg, & Mamá held, cradled, your head. I don’t know how we managed

to lift you down to the floor, you, weighing nearly 60 lbs more than now. Alejandra stood
aside, the speakerphone voice advising, make a path for the first responders, leave

the door open, they’re on their way, can you hear the sirens? trash bags full of August
spring cleaning blocked the doorway (& I remember thinking, worrying,

that the living room wasn’t clean). so I shouted, Xaida, help me, the bags, move them
out of the way, they’re almost here, hurry up, we don’t have time. we laid towels down

around you; the floor had grown yellow sticky. then the policewoman rushed in, no knocks
at the door, past the bags, straight for you, to your heart, to your chest, compressions.

they made us look away, ushered us out onto the curb, & Margarita, warm beer breath
& sweaty fly away curls, stumbled onto the scene two hours late for curfew, confused

at the red & blue lights. hysteria crawled down her throat & nested in her gut. holding
Margarita, & soothing the sobs that racked her body, almost drove me to ponder

the what if of it all. but you didn’t look blue. in the movies, they always turned blue.
& I was convinced your chest was rising, falling & rising.

 

XAVIERA HERNÁNDEZ

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