I’ll Bring the Pencils

I am the youngest of three sisters.

There is still a joke between us, about how I would knock on the door of one of their bedrooms when their friends were over. Let’s say I was 11 and they were 15 and 17, give or take a year. They’d be in there, hanging out, listening to music, and just generally being older than me and cooler than me no matter what they were actually doing.

I’d want desperately to be in the room with them, not taking up any room but just breathing the same (probably smoky) air. But I knew this wasn’t going to happen, so instead I’d stand there at the threshold of that untouchable teenage space. And I’d make up some reason for having knocked. The excuse I made I remember most clearly for my embarrassing longing was: Can I borrow a pencil?

That girl still lives inside of me, the one who is shy around the older girls, the real grown ones with boobs and boyfriends and cigarettes and jokes I don’t get. That girl still lives inside me, who doesn’t belong, who isn’t invited, who goes back to her own room feeling a little bit mad and a little bit sad and a lot lonely. She puts on one of her dozen David Bowie albums and flops across the mattress on the floor, wondering when she will be cool.

it’s no wonder a big part of my work in this world is to say: Come on in. Have a seat. Let’s hang out together. Let’s write and draw and listen to music and laugh and tell stories.

I’ll bring the pencils.

“Welcome Home”


Today, I’m thinking of the people who won’t hear these words.

The veterans who won’t come home to loving arms — or at all.

Those we call displaced, refugees, whose homes are quite simply no more.

Those who had to flee their homes because of war or drought or famine.

Those whose homes were destroyed, physically leveled, by storm or quake.

Those who were kicked out of their homes because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Those who ran from abuse, whose home wasn’t safe to begin with.

Today, I’m thinking about how those two words, “welcome home,” sound at first so sweet and good. Whether at the end of a long day, a short outing, or years away, to be welcomed home is something that should be received and appreciated.

It is not a given.

It’s nice to think about home being the breath, the body, the heart. Home as belonging with oneself, or with God if that’s your thing (it is for me, in ways unbound by dogma or dharma or religion at all).

But it’s also not the same, at least for me, as the physical structures of home and the people we share them with. The markers of home that shape and sooth us — the scents, the seasons, the flora and fauna, the birds and songs, the vibe, the color of the dirt, the lilt of language. These can be carried with but not replaced.

I’m thinking about those whose hills and valleys, whose mountains and lakes, whose rivers and cities, have been ravaged, whose borders have been moved and moved and moved, rewritten, blurred, and buried.

I’m thinking of those who were born in transit. What is their home? Their mother’s breast? Their sister’s little hand?

Those for whom home is forever lost. Lost because of danger or destruction or both. Lost because of greed and crossfire and hatred. Lost because of erasure.

My heart breaks today for the millions who have lost their homes.

May I keep them close, as I move through my own.

All the Places of Waking

photo-1422433555807-2559a27433bd

Yesterday afternoon, I woke up from a nap
looked out the skylight and saw blue
with wisps of white

Yesterday afternoon, I woke up from a nap
looked out the skylight and saw blue
with wisps of white
then out the two south-facing windows
to the far tree by mean neighbor Jim’s house
with its green leaves coming into fullness

Yesterday afternoon, I woke up from a nap
looked out the skylight and saw blue
with wisps of white
then out the two south-facing windows
to the far tree by mean neighbor Jim’s house
with its green leaves coming into fullness
then out the three east-facing bay windows
to the far tree in the yard where students
party and play volleyball and drink
from red solo cups in the summer

This is the room
I thought
where I’m waking up from an afternoon nap
This is home
home now
home for now

Then my thoughts drifted back and back
to the other rooms and homes where I woke up
from naps over the years
and though I often think I have a terrible memory
when I thought of the rooms where I woke up
I could picture so many of them
and how each one was home

Do I tell you the addresses
or what blankets were on the beds
or which direction the windows faced
or what color paint was on the walls
whether there were shades or drapes or blinds
dark or direct line of sun
rotten window frame
or new windows
rent or own
stay or go
what of these would you like to know
and which should I say was home?

My mind jumps around from each to each
rather than traveling methodically back
and back
no wonder I am anxious
and so as I woke yesterday afternoon I stayed in bed
a while looking at those two faraway trees
not the closer-up branches nearer to the house
this yellow house this house with two apartments
ours on the second floor
and an attic
filled with other people’s old boxes broken down
and lamps that may or may not work
as I woke I traveled a little bit in line
through time
glad for the quiet
glad for the slow

5 Eames Pl
559 Pulpit Hill Rd
38 Bilodeau Ct
Clymer St don’t remember the number
38 Bilodeau Ct
256 S. Winooski Ave
Summer St don’t remember the number
S. 4th Ave.
Davis St don’t remember the number
Lessey St on and off
Mexico there were two rooms
W. 78th St.
A Russian orphanage
W. 116th St.
Claremont Ave.
Blocked out Claremont dorm address completely
and 57 Harkness Rd
378 Crescent St
130 Crescent St first memory that quilt hanging on the wall by the stairs

Can that be right
Were these the homes
no no
none of these were home
I kept moving
and I’m still here
but yes, these were
all the places of waking

**

The month-long poetry party that April participants have called “nourishing,” “enriching,” “life-changing,” “sacred,” “beautiful,” “best four consecutive weeks ever,” and “most amazing writing experience that I have ever been a part of” is happening again in July! Just $28 and all are welcome: bit.ly/1qg583L

The Roar Sessions: Lesley Salas

Lesley1Mira, mami: A Story of Lost and Found
by Lesley Salas

I can hear them but I don’t understand. It flows smoothly over the tongue. “Mira, mami!” I repeat over and over again. I always want my mommy to see what I’m doing but now I want her to see me doing it in my Cuban identity.

They came to our house in rural Illinois, my cousins, not knowing what was going on except that they were out of Cuba and that their former home was no place to be.

They spoke only to my father, eye conversations is what we had. I, being the oldest and most curious, stared and tried to speak the most. Their names – Pepito, Bebo, Cuqui, Thelma (without pronouncing the T) – were poetry to me.

Mira, mami, I’m talking to them, haltingly, because I don’t know the actual words. Perhaps that’s why I’m a reader of feelings. The brush of palm trees flickered behind their eyes. I could see it in between blinks. They brought me the food, they brought me music, they brought an intermittent breeze of sadness as they put on their winter coats. Funny, I felt like the uprooted one in Illinois. Can you be born somewhere yet not belong?

The throwback. The Cuban one who had been to Cuba only five times. The urgency to learn more than “mira, mami.” The rush to perfect the sounds delicious as the slurp of an ice cream cone once you have the dripping verb tenses under control. The search for a homeland that fit better than the Midwest.

Lesley-porch

It was a substitute, Mexico. For a long time, I thought I had found my homeland after living there for over three years and being surrounded by Mexican people for nearly thirty years after.

But then, mira, I was uprooted, some would say, from the Midwest to Florida. Miami fucking Florida. Mira, papi, I’m home. I fit, even with the strong American overtone, even with the mixed-up accent, even with the hybrid Cuban-Mexican expressions. This is the homeland for me, because people born in Midwestern suburbs are not so keen after all on uncivilized toilets like the ones in Cuba. I get it all here instead, the music, the taste of guayaba in every pastry, the strong coffee, the strong opinions, the pulsing life force of the Cubans. Mira, mami. I did it.

**

Lesley-BioLesley Salas is a Cuban American lesbian mother of two from Illinois who was recently transported by the fates to Miami, Florida, to work on her dream job writing grants for legal services for immigrants.

She has published literary translations, personal essays and the occasional poem. After a long hiatus, she is resuming her creative writing career.

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The Roar Sessions is a weekly series featuring original guest posts by women of diverse backgrounds and voices. Read them all