“Exodus 15:21” by Miguel Barretto Garcia

Miguel Barretto Garcia

EXODUS 15:21

There are pages of home
work left open on the table.
The way there are plenty
of leftovers in the fridge.
Here I am left on the fringes.
This desolate place I call
home. The TV at some point
started to hiss. No more reality
show kissing scenes. No more
breaking news. Reality is white
noise with a white dress dancing
to a Poltergeist. Kitchen cabinets
stocked with bottles of
prescriptions. White tablets
of antacids for upset stomachs.
Light blue sertraline pills
for the nerves. In the morning
I break the fast. All I know
that something is broken:
The yellow bus no longer passes by
my street. My teacher keeps
calling our landline but my mother
is wearing thick black headphones,
cancelling all her appointments
including motherhood.
I crack the egg and whisk it
until my mother stops breaking down.
I learned how to change the oil
of our car, but I’m still figuring
the ways to keep the ballerina figurines
from falling onto the hardwood floor.
Our house leaves no secrets
and our house has plenty of them.
All of them demons in the freezer
waiting for the day the social
worker knocks on our door
and takes me to another version
of hell. I do have faith
in our Protective Services just as I
have faith in the God
Moses prayed to. The last
time I was in Sunday School
the needle screeched on the turntable
and the living room was the sound
of old ‘50s Hollywood. My father
used to be a happy man. My father
used to be alive. When he checked
out from this world, I checked out
the cold silence of my mother’s bed.
Death sleeps beside my mother
the way a child clings to their mother
to the sound of thunder.
My mother is the child. Nothing
in our textbooks prepared me
to mother my mother.
Nothing is the mother
I bring close to my milkless bosom.
Here, I sing to the Lord America’s
requiem. Here, I hold her close as if
we were no longer the parted sea.

from Poets Respond
March 31, 2024


Miguel Barretto Garcia: “I wrote this poem as a form of response to the problem of chronic absenteeism in US schools. Currently, the student absences have only exacerbated since the pandemic. I feel like there is more to the story. The pandemic not only affected children’s relationship with schools, but it has also affected the way families have to navigate through the frictions in the workforce. Post-pandemic, parents also suffer from anxieties and work-related imposter’s syndrome in ways that are similar or even more concerning. In several cases, it’s the children that end up buffering the internal struggles that parents have to deal with, and in some instances, they end up stepping up to the role of parent, and consequently foregoing their education. This is a dimension of post-pandemic life that I wanted to explore through this poem.”

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