Year One, First Friday of January
All Night Long, I Dream of Blueberries
I follow the blaze of sun bouncing off
my older sister’s blonde head. We inch
backwards down the mountain hunching
over our house— small red smear from
this height. Sister has moved from pigtails
to ponytails, is inching toward double digits.
There’s me: sturdy five year-old, hefting
yellow plastic pail in chub-rolled arms.
Dad leads the way as we slowly crawl
down the mountain, gathering blueberries.
I want to gather the most berries of anyone
in our family, plucking their juice-plumped
bodies from between low-growing green curls.
But I reach back to Mom, make sure she doesn’t
fall behind. After all, she is the one who will
later make a steaming blueberry pie, make
rhubarb-blueberry crumble, make blueberry
pancakes for breakfast if we’re very lucky.
I think of the oysters we saw clinging
to the grey rocks by the shore, think of
the sluggish lobsters Dad brought home
in a bucket. At five, the idea of living off
the land is miraculous to me. Though just
as quickly, I dart to eat a berry, and Dad
says: Not that one, it’s poisonous. I reconsider
the whole matter. At night, Mom rests my
head on her lap, reads me Blueberries For Sal.
I pretend that it was written all about me.
Just as when I’ve had a really bad day, I like
to pretend Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible,
No Good, Very Bad Day is about me. Just a few
orbital go-rounds in me, and I’m already learning
to find myself in language, in stories. Words
peeling off the page. Adhering to my skin. I fall
asleep while Mom reads, blueberry pie crusted
indigo in the corners of my lips. She wipes it off
with her index finger, and hauls me into her arms.
Sweeps a kiss across my forehead before leaving
me in bed. All night long, I dream of blueberries:
ripe, plump. Blissfully unaware that in thirty years,
they will become one of just five foods I can eat.
This is the year we are both eighteen, the year we both
live in Boston. Gusts pour off the Charles River, and rattle
my fifth floor windows. Blue glass bottles line your bedroom
windows, just one level above street. When we lay in your bed,
breeze waltzing across our necks from cracked window, I hear
glass breaking beneath us. Voices catching and shouting.
I nestle deeper into the dip of your collarbone, holding you
the way I imagine one eggshell might hold another.
We start a Thanksgiving ritual this year, crafting vegan stuffed shells
ballooned full of baked tofu, red and green peppers, grilled onions.
The pasta shells are enormous; we clasp them in our small hands
and giggle. Chopping onions streaks our faces with tears, so we
wear sunglasses; mine, glittered pink stars that recall Elton John.
Yours, pure Hepburn. When even the glasses don’t stop our tears,
we laugh so much that we only cry harder. Bent over, clutching
sore sides. I like pepper that’s a blend of white, sharp black,
and red. You like a particular tamari. We cook with entirely more
olive oil than anyone needs. Placing the shells on enormous
swirled discs of pottery, we devour them, palms shiny with oil,
green pepper between my teeth, onion clinging to your full lips.
I watch you laugh, red curls dipping into wide-tossed mouth.
Loving you is the most effortless thing I’ve ever done.
This is the year life asks so much of you that I consider challenging
it to a duel. It is also the year I get sick again, though not quite yet,
not until one more season turns over. For now: Thanksgiving,
twenty-two years past. You are back in your native Philadelphia,
surrounded by ferns, obscure philosophy texts, jam-sticky fingerprints
from nieces who consider you Mom. I’m in Baltimore, which I’ve
come to love deeply, tunneled into the trenches of graduate school.
Piles of poetry books drip from both sides of my bed. Three well-fed
cats drape across second-hand, velvet furniture I hauled from Portland.
Our bodies, forty years old now, are bent and particular.
Your dietary needs as regimented as a platoon of Marines,
while my new illness will soon allow almost no foods at all.
We’re almost precisely a hundred miles apart on this
Thanksgiving Day, and you decide to make a heavily
altered version of our ritual stuffed shells. Instead of pasta,
floppy red pepper shells, hollowed out. Instead of baked tofu,
fake beef made from corn. You send photos, turn me all teeth.
I send words that leap and glisten from the page. Haiku kisses.
I have loved you for twenty-six years— I will love you for the next
twenty-six. Even when bodies change; when sugar, gluten,
soy can’t be processed. Even when bodies break down in ways
science does not understand, rock gardens growing in the cradle
of my own delicate stomach. Even then, we persevere.
A hundred miles apart on Thanksgiving, I open your email,
find photos of glorious red pepper shells. A hundred miles apart,
I close my eyes, imagine a garnet fleck stuck to your lower lip:
I laugh out loud.
When we were young, and sick to our stomachs,
my mother would craft some old-fashioned miracle
of a milkshake. Made for her by her mother before.
It didn’t even involve ice cream. She shook two percent
milk, bitter vanilla, grainy sugar into a froth. Rattling them
in mason jars crammed with ice cubes. A sort of kitchen
cha cha cha, dancing her way across orange and green tile.
I gulped the contents down. Every time, instant relief.
I had seen re-runs of Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie flit
in grey-scale across my family’s tiny living room t.v. set—
so when my mother performed her kitchen conjurings,
I knew well enough to suspect some sort of sweet sorcery.
Years later, I would become so ill, I could not leave
my bed for years. At one point, forced to gulp back
fifty-odd pills a day, along with liquid medicines and
gummy fentanyl patches. Nothing ever worked as well
or as quickly as my mother’s milky kitchen concoctions.
So now, sick again, and drinking my first-ever vanilla
milkshake from Shake Shack, it’s possible I expect too
much. I only want to take a sip, and find that my mother
has materialized from dust mote-rich air. I only want
the milkshake to taste as good as her frothed mason jar
concoctions. I only want to stop needing oxycodone
or zofran or any of it. Every swig acts as a wish for my
mother, for the curl of her small hands on my shoulders.
Shake Shack lets me down, lifts the typhoon of my nausea
only slightly. I watch the spotted white goo ooze slowly
down the drain. Slink into my bedroom. Take another pill.
Canticle For Our Sunday in The Park
The sun lies along your skin like a lazy, sleeping cat.
Nearby, a fountain sings a bubbling mermaid song.
An elderly man sleeps on the green steel bench across
from us, his delicate snores their own small symphony.
I have brought with me edible treasures: glistening
watermelon, vanilla cupcake with sweet cream center.
I envy the crumbs as they tickle your lips; envy the fruit
as it swirls around each taste bud of your cunning tongue.
The earth beneath us is green as sweet peas fresh from
the market, as if gallons of them were snapped open and
spilled beneath us. We sit on a slight slant that urges me
closer to you, as if even the ground beneath us wants me
to touch you. I waltz to the fountain a few paces from us,
and toss in two copper whispers: One wish for me, and one
for you. You seem at a loss when I tell you this: What to do
with a wish; what to do with this pale, pink-haired creature
who offers it to you? My lipstick shimmers, fish scale pink, and stops
us short of kissing. The anticipation is an animal hum as I lean in,
brush my nose against your cheek. You say: We might fall in love.
It’s terrifying. I say: Sunshine, fountain, an infinity of pennies. I say:
Dreams as wide and long as the cumulus clouds above us. I say:
Love and Yes and Please— oh, please.
Robin Kinzer is a queer, disabled poet, memoirist, and editor. She was once a communist beaver in a PBS documentary. She previously studied psychology and poetry at Sarah Lawrence and Goucher Colleges, and is now an MFA candidate at University of Baltimore. Robin has poems recently published, or shortly forthcoming in Little Patuxent Review, Kissing Dynamite Poetry, Anti-Heroin Chic, fifth wheel press, Corporeal Lit, Delicate Friend, and others. She loves glitter, Ferris wheels, and waterfalls. She also loves radical empathy, vintage fashion, and carnivals. She can be found on Twitter at @RobinAKinzer and at robinkinzer.com.