Jade Hidle

The Florist

 

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 

We waited

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

She’s chosen,

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

                              lies. 

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

But Korean

But smiling.

So I accepted the paperback

New Testament.

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

Baby quail.

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,

Hanging,

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

And paused,

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.