The day we left was marked by nothing but gauzy light. Everyone slept facing the wall; we could not bear anything but dust bunnies, floors, and hidden diets of unswept pencil shavings. The truth is that we were not ready to leave even if immigration shut their eyes to unsee our faces. The truth is, the night before our flight was reminiscent of Gethsemane— divine blood replaced by our own shivering teeth. Today, I awoke remembering our apartment’s tired face still weeping at the sight of empty rooms. My father was determined to leave this land clean, so we’d scrubbed every wall with lemon-scented ammonia. The truth is, the apartment smelled like spring in the bright, polished hall leading to my third-grade classroom where I watched the movie about the massacre of monarch butterflies killed by a harsh winter. I thought I could worry about nothing but the frost, or how those monarchs fell from trees like tears or spit from the movie’s aerial view. I thought I could worry only about leaving the school library armed with books and stickers, not how much longer we could stay. This is the price we paid: our startled childhoods awoke suddenly, hearing the vacuum next door before we suffocated under clean cotton sheets tasting nothing like America. O land of the free, O home of the brave, that day I resolved to leave with a head unbowed and defiant, but failed: I could not say goodbye without remembering those quiet eyes looking away, or those monarchs’ faint wings buried under snow. The day we left, the sunlight spooled into more overweight carry-ons. The truth is, the smell of lemon-scented ammonia clings to my poetry long after we left. And, O God— I could freeze in this light.
Yvanna Vien Tica is a Filipina writer with a hearing impairment who grew up in Manila and a suburb near Chicago. A high school senior, her poetry appears or is forthcoming in Verse Daily, Poet Lore, and Salt Hill, among others, and has been performed virtually in a COP26 event. She reads for Muzzle Magazine and tweets @yvannavien. In her spare time, she can be found thanking God for another day.