I come from a curbside
Where my mother decided to jump
Out between one place and another.
I’m sprung from the inertia of anger
That flung ashtrays at my dad’s ZZ Top beard
And propelled her from his truck in front of a Conroy’s
Where someone clipped roots
And pruned bitten leaves
To sell by the dollar
Investing in burials and births and apologies.
That person saw my mother
Pull me from my carseat
And hold me tightly
As she kicked his car door shut.
My bald head shone in the sun,
Bouncing up to the counter.
“Phone,” my mother said.
“I need use your phone.”
This was the curbside where
My head shining
Before I split
Shuttling between two intractably lonely
Mouths telling the story differently,
Stalks cracking like my collarbone
Through my mother’s hips,
And I grew bent through the downpour.
Now I send my mother flowers
On each of her birthdays
Hoping to regrow memory for her,
Hoping she’ll hold me tight again.
Priscilla, A Reading Quiz
1) Slanted were our eyes, but we passed with freckle
bridges across our mixed faces and the bounce
of our heavy-for-sixth-grade boobs that all
colors of boys stared at, but they never talked
to us because we’d throw off the whole racial
clique lunchroom that prepped us for the
world where our bodies were
2) Transplanted like the shock and wilt of uprooted seedlings,
we were new kids forced to share a desk and
the cloud of pee stink that hovered around you
and your unlaced Timberlands and oversized
flannel shirt and you, who looked like me,
except when your face
3) Slashed between your freckles which were, as my
grandmother told me, the story the stars wrote
for us; you said it was your cat--”wild,” you’d
said--that kept scratching you, and I was too
lonely-eager so I asked you more about cats
and showed you pictures of my own and,
stupidly, purred at you when one day you
came to class red and raw. I couldn’t read
those constellations that would have signaled
to me that your cat was a lie
4) Rumored you became a CPS ward, and I was alone at
our desk where the smell of your body still
lingered in the rubber erasers, the pencil lead
with which you doodled symmetrical, easy
shapes in the margins instead of filling in the
bubbles that my hands ached over, straining to
get answers right. I’m sorry I believed your
The Christian and the Quail
You look lonely, she said, like you could use a friend.
My butt was numb from the cold concrete bench on campus.
Yes, I surprised myself, would you like to get some coffee?
Because that’s what I saw white college kids on TV doing.
My dad had called to tell me
Her body was already hard.
I remembered my great aunt’s warmth
As I combed her hair out of curlers.
She’d asked me to cut it,
But I’d refused out of fear.
She must’ve thought my multicolors and changing gravities of hair
Equated to knowledge.
I couldn’t mess the curls that hadn’t changed since the ‘30s
When she was a teenager scrapbooking all the headlines of war
That interned her best friend to whom she wrote letters in tight curled script.
All that dust Josephine breathed browned her letters.
The college girl was Asian
So I accepted the paperback
Anyway, I liked stories.
My word, my great aunt yodeled from the bedroom.
I ran to her, worried her metal knees from a teenaged car accident
Had buckled in that house on a hill of red rock.
She was huffing and screeching at the cat whose tail peeked from under the bed.
She couldn’t bend down to see.
I pulled the cat, the quail’s plume
Poking out between its paws. I wrenched the cat’s predator bones
Apart and cupped in the cage of my hands
This warm, soft-downed
My great aunt waddled to the back door
As quickly as she could, an oh oh with every step.
The screen opened to a sharp vista--
Manzanita, prickly pear, banana yucca.
She cooed and yodeled
As if to her cats,
The children she never had.
Red dirt powdering my toes, I squinted through sunlight
Until I saw the rustle before I heard it.
The mother’s plume and waddle,
A covey of chicks shuffling puffs
Of red desert dust behind her.
I flattened my knuckles, fingernails, to the dirt
And its feet tapped relief across my palm lines.
Reunited, they flushed.
I smiled to my great aunt,
We saved them.
My new Korean friend was a missionary
My mom had warned me
But my great aunt had been friends with
Those who were different from her--
Josephine, her husband’s ex-wife, and everyone
She sent a Christmas card
With pictures of me and my dad, her cats,
Typewritered stories about the cats, me.
I went to study at the Korean girl’s apartment
And forced myself to hold hands
With her roommates in prayer.
She’d invited other new girls over too,
Ones who looked sad in the eyes
As I felt
We were names on names on names.
On the other branches
my family tree, my yi
Introduced me to her friend with a brain tumor.
She can hear the voices of the dead, yi whispered
Excitedly, not knowing about my pollard pain.
The medium was large and strangely exaggerated beauty
Like a Henson-Burton hybrid.
Her heavy brow arched and lip curled back
To ask, do you want to know?
Knee-to-knee with the puppet medium,
I heard my great aunt:
Don’t even think about getting that tattoo;
The hole in your heart needs to be filled
(the medium mimics smoothing with a baking spatula);
Heaven isn’t real but I’m with my cats.
And then, her puzzle:
In turquoise, coral, and malachite,
You’ll find yourself,
Protected in gold.
During her scheduled cremation,
My dad and I were preparing for our trip
When the lights flashed on and off.
We drove out to the desert
To inventory her estate and clean out the cat smell.
How to estimate the value of Norse troll dolls
With real human hair,
Her floral mumus and showercaps,
The scrapbooks’ thick pages wrinkled by
Rubber cement--these books
That taught me to save
Pictures, stubs, dried petals, fingernail crescents of red dirt
To combat the loss--the burn of paper--
On that other side of the tree.
In her bedroom, her jewelry case shone
With the veined colors of the earth.
Among the gilded armbands
And heavy Navajo rings
A thin chain hung a
Locket of me,
Infant protected in gold.
Outside, I dusted
Off my knees and lifted
My arms up to the desert wind--
Your ancestors, a Navajo woman once told me--
A quail skittered from behind the house
Its plume weathervaning in the gust.
The college girl’s book never told this story,
The way the quail peered at only me.
Hi, I said,
And we saved and saved and saved.
Jade Hidle (she/her/hers) is the proud Vietnamese-Irish-Norwegian daughter of a refugee. Her travel memoir, The Return to Viet Nam, was published by Transcurrent Press in 2016, and her work has also been featured in Southern Humanities Review, Poetry Northwest, Witness Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, The West Trade Review, Bangalore Review, Columbia Journal, New Delta Review, and the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network’s diacritics.org. You can follow her work at jadehidle.com or on Instagram @jadethidle.