The stop sign has been replaced with a shrug, but only on my street.
Robins make nests from cigarette butts while my parents
play checkers in the attic, hoping one day the power will return
so they can finish their DVD’s and Chinese takeout. The holes I dug
in the backyard as a child have been filled with my grandmother’s
quilts—her needlework too colorful for life above ground.
I dig them up with cold purpling hands. They’re stiff and filled
with maggots. They’re black and brown. Perfect says my mother. I’ll put them
on the bed for winter. My father says king me, so I kiss his forehead
and leave town with dirt under my nails, a quilt rotting in my arms.
When they see me, the neighborhood kids will remember
the smell of burning plastic; paranoid speech and the grace of god.
They’ll follow me to the city of which we’ve been dreaming
for so long. I’ll try to explain why the mirrored finish of our dreams
has been sandblasted flat. Why did we leave our parents for this?
they ask me. I can’t say because of two cent hot dogs. I can’t show them
where the fire hydrants were stolen before I got here.
But those kids will follow me under bridges, where bearded ladies
roast self-doubt over open flames. I know the women are afraid to go home,
their own children having eaten all the watermelons and swallowed every seed
but one. I take the neighborhood kids to see it. See, I tell them.
Look in this earth where something is growing. Remember the taste of your mother’s
They notice my ancient quilt, my full head of hair. But why is everything so small?
they ask me. And when our parents arrive, injured and bloated, they tell us
the power is back on. We can come home now. Should we believe them? the kids mutter
and hiss among themselves. Should we follow them back to the land of milk and light?
I’m lying in the grass between them, frantically searching my grandmother’s quilt
for an image they might take as their answer.