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Angela Apte

Postcard from the House of Past and Future

Dusk scrubs the day of its busyness, its hoax of whiteness, its box of cures. Dusk turns the boy who sweeps the courtyard into the night watchman which is to say he sleeps outside. Nothing wakes him, not even when I come home dressed and smelling of the girl he will marry. An old man reads a prayer book on the top floor of this house because he believes this brings him closer to god. All the words have been washed from its pages, its blankness mirrors the moon portioned out by the tree at the window, its thin branches recall the shoulders of the daughter who died from fever. If he had never left his country, my father would be planting. He’d sow millet and barley. His prayer book would be an almanac. He would know about rain and when the light would return. Tonight he fills a glass with ice and whiskey, turns on the television. In a few hours he’ll pack his briefcase, a flask for the down hours. We are very far away at this time. My mother is not even born yet. I’m in the kitchen singing from the radio in the voice of his childhood idol: What does the mad wind say, love, it says I'll never leave. I'll stagger the river. But the night train comes through and breaks the transmission so all he hears is never and stagger. When he sleeps my father will dream of being a child. So many birds in the field. How he watched the older boys startle them. How he learned to conjure distance with the clap of his hands, the lift of an arm.

To the Girl Writing a Future on the Bathroom Mirror

after Beckian Fritz Goldberg

A door opens, this will disappear. A little less heat
and you might have been someone else.
And while I do not have a mother I know the story:
Once there was a woman who every day woke up thirsty.
She floated on a raft made of balsa wood, beer cans, string, and gristle.
I will leave out the part about the stranger
everyone thought was the woodsman
and the many times you will drag him back to life.
Right now, you are learning to lie and still be good.
One day you’ll take a woman’s hand on a plane
in bad weather and tell her it will all be okay.
Right now, you collect all the animals and like Noah’s child
you cover your mother’s nakedness.
Try not to look so directly. The eye devours
and does not forget. Its cells are found in a worm.
Split with a spade it keeps on. This is the oath
woven into you, like the two black braids you want to cut.
Soon the animals will not recognize you
and that woman outside the door –
One day she’ll live behind another door
that only opens with a button.
It makes a sound like a colony of bees before they swarm.
A buzzing? A humming?          Yes, she’s singing.
It’s a good day. She wants you to do her nails.
Tell her about the lake, gin clear in summer.
Next week, she won’t know who you are.
She’ll think the red light on the television records her thoughts.
This is the day you get to be someone else
her sister, a nurse, anyone walking in on a day so warm
the windows are open, waiting for you to climb out.

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