“growth” by Kassandra Wolfe

Today, Lise Quintana and Kevin Sharp explore “growth” by Kassandra Wolfe, submitted to Zoetic Press for the Viable chapbook series.

memory
[peering through the bathroom door]

my first memory is of my mother
as I peer through the bathroom door

she sits on the edge of the cracked white tub
plyers in hand, a towel between her teeth

her eyes brim with tears
as she pulls the glass from her forearms

her wounds brim with blood
which becomes lost in the water below

I am transfixed. as I see her body now
I am reminded of another

a pile of flesh wrapped in glass
with my mother’s red hair

my first memory of my mother
is that I almost did not have one

it is of a woman who suffers alone
it is of a woman whose cries are silent

as I peer through the bathroom door
I learn that when Wolfe women break

we break alone


black velvet
[a trip through McClung Museum]

little girl who’s been to
every Smithsonian
the MET
the Louvre
rolls her eyes at the replicas

that plastic Rosetta Stone on the wall
she’s seen the real thing
does not share the
enthusiasm of her peers

they run their fingers across it
marvel
“how does it still look so good?”
“this is amazing!”
“I can’t wait to tell my dad!”

she scoffs
uninterested
traipses
until
she halts

across a black velvet landscape
delicate purple flowers waltz
propelled by some unknown breeze

little girl who’s seen the world
is caught in a trance

meticulously embroidered
the flowers are lavender
indigo, violet, blue

she has found the authentic
in a sea of look-alikes
handmade by local artisan
one-of-a-kind

presses her face to the velvet
inhales the history
of the woman who created
a masterpiece
in an exhibit
made for a little girl
takes it home for forty-two dollars


adolescence
[written to the scar that marks my father’s left lung]

I have wondered at you
poked and prodded
traced your lineage
questioned your origin

the flesh you occupy
soft and light pink
is a reminder
of the lights, red and blue

of the ambulance which
took him away
lungs full of fluid
body fighting itself

his white blood cells took up
arms against lungs which
required doctors
to cut, create you

when I ask about you
he just laughs
tells me a story
about a war

he fought and the knife
of an enemy
that pierced his flesh
in one foul swoop

guess it is not too
far from the truth


ashes
[my mother screamed her name]

She screamed
Mommy don’t go
to the static on the other line.
My mother,

headstrong, moved halfway
across the country—
I wonder if she considered
what would happen when
the life she left ceased to exist.

The night my grandmother died
we laid only feet apart, my head
buried deep into the pillows that
might still hold her scent, my mother
staring at the popcorn ceiling.

Kassie, isn’t it crazy, that grandma
is ash now? Isn’t it crazy?

My grandmother’s face becomes molten,
melted, distorted in my mind as her
flesh is burned and a deteriorated
skull remains. I become sick, wretch
into the floor, inconsolable I cannot
regain composure. I am broken and
together we have broken the first
law of this house—silence.

I look at her through the dark room,
pray that she will remain this way,
pray that her voice will not cease.

She’s right, it is crazy,
to think that a person can be
reduced to a box which rests on the mantle.


adulthood
[my father, silent commander]

We collect secrets like seeds
drop them
one
by
one
into the dark earth.

My family,
commanded by a quiet man,
Brian,
who holds all the silence close to his chest,
who cultivates
who prunes
who refines
what buds.

Brian,
somber provider,
calls the weeds
flowers,
so
they are.

Until his word is not enough.

For children
eventually grow—
search
for
truth.

There must be truth
underneath
the
uniformity—
and there is.

When I rip
the weeds from the earth,
I find
the letters
H
I
V
etched into his bloodstream
and a woman who’s not my mother
and a bottle labeled ATRIPLA
and a
and
a—

I push the roots back
down
into
the earth,
pack it tightly,
compliment him on his flower bed.


distance
[a letter to Grandview Baptist]

I have not entered your doors in
over a year—you look at
my parents and ask How
is that daughter of yours? when
you are really asking What
is the condition of her heart?

As if you can quantify that,
my heart. As if you are qualified.

I have not walked your halls since
the day you looked at the Indian man
I brought home and called him
“brown boy”—ridiculed my sister for
loving a Mexican—asked
my parents What do you think of all this?

As if Jesus wasn’t a “brown boy”
himself. As if all love looks
like your family portrait.

And the Mexican? He is Guatemalan.

My parents lightly laugh off the
things you say, overlooking your
phobias, both homo- and xeno-. They
respond Kassie wishes she could be here
just to get you off their backs—but
Grandview, you must know it’s a lie.

You must have known since the day
I turned fourteen and asked you how
the hell a purity ring was supposed to
guard my heart that I would not be
one of your Proverbial women
Clothed in Strength and Dignity.

What they don’t won’t can’t tell you
is that I will never break bread
with you again—on Sunday mornings
I sleep past ten—and Grandview,
I don’t think of you at all.

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