October 18, 2019

Catherine Pond

STAR SIGNS

Luna sits on the bed, taller than last summer, tan legs
dangling over the edge. You’re a Scorpion, like me,
she says, when I tell her my birthday. That’s right,
I say. At school in Oaxaca, she has a nemesis
named Oasis, pronounced Oh-ah-sees. She tells me
about it, bouncing up and down on the worn mattress.
Before they were enemies, she says, they were
best friends. Maybe you’ll be friends again one day,
I suggest, but she shakes her head. I don’t think so.
She tells me about her other friends, Sofia, Lucia.
I’m popular, Luna explains, and with a flush I remember
what those first loves felt like: all the girls I knew
by heart and wanted so badly to impress.
The pair of black patent leather sneakers
my mother bought me, which squeaked when I walked
and which I was too shy to wear until one day
I got up the nerve, and Kelsey Tucker, the most popular
girl in fifth grade, said, Cool sneakers, and suddenly I was in.
By middle school it was all over. I was too nerdy,
too desperate for attention from my teachers.
My mother bought my clothes one size too big
so I would always be comfortable, and when
I ran into my old friends in the bathroom,
sucking in their stomachs to get their pants
zipped up all the way, I was embarrassed.
I still wore jeans from Limited Too that sagged
in the butt, and t-shirts that announced all the tourist
destinations my father had taken us the previous summer:
Niagara Falls! said one. Luray Caverns! said another.
The other girls didn’t wear t-shirts anymore.
They wore halters so you could see their bras.
They liked being looked at. Didn’t they know boys
would hurt them, I wondered. Didn’t they know
that boys thought awful thoughts. I knew it
without being told, and wore big sweaters
so they wouldn’t look at my chest. Luna kicks at the bed.
Are you listening? she says, and I tune back in
to a story about a beach trip with her friends,
and the boys she hates. When I mention
my own boyfriend her face twists and her blue eyes
go steely. Who is he? she asks, barely veiling
her jealousy. You’d like him, I say, but it’s clear
she’s already made up her mind. I’ll be thirteen
in November, she says, eager to change the subject.
Maybe you can come for my birthday party.
I imagine boarding a plane, cruising south over
sun-drenched hills, red flowers dotting the valley.
Luna in a blue dress. That would be nice, I say.
Through the window behind her, the lake glimmers.
Rows of apple trees on the opposite shore
glow in the light. I don’t ask her
if she remembers the move to Mexico,
the day her mother boarded the plane and flew her
away from her father. In the few months each summer
he has custody, I don’t blame him for trying to win her
over, giving her the biggest bedroom
in the house, building her a pool in the middle
of the orchard, buying her whatever she wants.
Though her eyes are set wide in her face,
and mine are close together, though she is small
for twelve, and I was tall, we look alike.
We have the same broad nose and blue eyes,
as if we were burned by the same star
when we were born. I take a photo of her
standing in the bedroom with the pink wallpaper.
The lake ripples like a silver backdrop,
the kind they drape behind you for a school photo.
Later, we play Scrabble against “the adults.”
She and I are a team, and when we lose
she flips the board and storms out of the room.
Who does that remind you of, my father says,
and laughs. I find her by the water, sulking,
and in an attempt to cheer her up, find myself
making promises I know I can’t keep.
I’ll come visit for your birthday, I say.
I’ll write you every month. But when I fly back
to Los Angeles, I forget to write. Life tumbles in.
It’s September when the earthquake hits Oaxaca.
My phone buzzes in the silent room, my heart jolts
when I see the headline. Biggest earthquake
in a century, it says. I text everyone I can think of,
then move through my apartment as if I’m the one
darkness has settled down on, waiting to hear
that Luna is safe. An hour passes. Then another.
What is it like, I wonder, when that first bolt
breaks loose off the coast? What does she think
when the Earth doesn’t stop, but keeps buckling
beneath her, and she wakes inside the full force
of that rift, so sudden, so deep, and does she know,
though she is only a day older, how from then on
everything will be different.

from Rattle #64, Summer 2019

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Catherine Pond: “Scorpio is a water sign, and I wrote this poem for my cousin Jurni so she will remember that being ruled by water is ultimately a gift, though the depth of it can sometimes overwhelm you.” (web)

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