July 3, 2019

Rayon Lennon

RED BRICK TOWN

I roll to Ohio
To find my sister
Who exists
In a red brick town
As flat as her affect.
In the condo, her three
Kids pool around her. I wave
To them as the stranger
I am. They don’t wave
Back, two teenage
Girls, one tall as Naomi
Campbell, the other
About half white; and one
Boy who is in love
With breaking the law. “Nice
To see you,” I say. “I’m sorry,”
Sis says. “What
Do you want?”
I say, “To see you.”
She sends the kids
Out to spend time
With water guns
Or their boyfriends.
“Sit down,” she says.
I don’t. The blue leather
Couch looms
Ominous as the hurricane
Heart of the Caribbean
Sea. “I hear
You’re a therapist,”
She begins. I nod.
“And you’re a nurse,”
I say. She’s in a light
Bluish outfit. “Did you
Figure out that
You’re gay yet?” she smiles.
“Don’t be childish,”
I let out. She says,
“You won’t find
Pity here.”
The carpet looks
Like an overused golf
Course. I pray her therapist
Told her she’s borderline.
She grins. The heat in the living
Room inches toward
Insufferable. “Life’s not
Been easy,” I say
Now. “We got here
The hard way. We are
Barrel children, after all.”
She nods. She looks
Like depression. I remember
Her constantly trying
To die as a kid
In Jamaica, threatening
To run out in front
Of a truck or jumping
Off the stone wall
Into the speeding brown
Sludge of the gully during
A storm. All after dad
Left us for America.
Her face is brittle
From too many slaps
And punches from
Men who loved her.
She’s fatter after
Too many babies
And too much greasy
Food. Scars from a recent
House fire litter her arms
And legs. Here stands
The damaged gal
Who used to pummel
Me until my nose streamed
Red. The sun
Wants to burn through
A window. “I remember
The first time
You called me
A whore,” she says.
“I was 12. You were 7.”
It was after church
On a Sunday in front
Of our old house
In Jamaica. “It made
Me want to die.
My own brother
Calling me trash.
I know I hurt you
Too. I hit you
For no reason.
I let you fall off
The bed and knock
Your head on the concrete
Floor. I couldn’t
Catch you. We couldn’t
Afford a crib. And mom’s
Bed was too high.
You were always
Smart but never
Quite right. I’m
Sorry. You could’ve
Been a supernova
Genius. I myself
Wasn’t the same after
Dad left.” Cars scream
In the distance. “It’s okay.
You’re a queen,
Sis,” I insist. She says,
“Thanks. But don’t
Lie. I’m sick
Too. I couldn’t stop
That freak older
Boy from fucking
With you under a bridge
When you were too
Young to know what
Was going on.”
The kids do sound
Like a war outside.
I say, “You didn’t
Know until I told
You afterwards,
And while you closed
The windows for
The oncoming
Rain, you cried.
That meant a lot
To me.” I hug her for
Perhaps the first
Time and say, “I love
You.” She stops
Breathing, and her
Body steels up.
“You don’t mean
That,” she says. “I
Love you,” I say
Again as the kids
Push open the door.

from Rattle #63, Spring 2019

__________

Rayon Lennon: “My work operates in that magical gray area between poetry and fiction. For this poem, I wanted to dramatize a number of the reasons behind the recent outrage over children being separated from their parents at the border. In the news, the focus has been placed on children and how being separated from their families adversely affects them—while their parents hunt for the American dream. You don’t have to pick a side on this issue to empathize with the children. This poem widens the scope on the issue—by exploring what happens generally when parents leave their children behind to pursue the American dream. My father left Jamaica when I was born to work on apple farms in Connecticut. His departure decimated the family. He overstayed his visa and did not return to Jamaica for several years (he returned briefly after becoming a U.S. resident; he and my mother eventually divorced because of the long separation). I was six and my sister was around eleven years old when our father left for good. She changed the day he left and has never been the same. My relationship with her suffered because of this. This poem—an imagined journey to see my sister—attempts to address and repair the harm done. I think I’ve only hugged my sister once. It was the day after my wedding. It still shocks me how shocked she was when I pulled her in for a long hug. It made me sad then to think about all the love that didn’t exist between us.” (web)

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