In the Waiting Room of the County Jail

My stepdad is fiddling with his keys & mumbling—do you know if he was taking his meds because we probably should have brought a sedative if not—& I’m looking up at the ceiling’s lights & I’m pretending it’s the sun & I’m a child once more, fingers sticky & wrapped around the chains of the swings. You are a child too, swinging next to me with glasses crooked & your shoelaces flowing loose. Here, you smile at me. Here, you still smell like mom’s handmade butter soap. I can reach out & hold on to your sleeve without you pulling away &—lucky he just grabbed a butter knife cuz he would have smoked that fool—when you jump off the swing & run, I run too & catch you. I make you laugh uneven hiccups. Your eyes are round & fat. I reach to readjust the plastic frames that mom tied a cord to so they’d go around your neck & your voice is gentle when you say my name—he’s going to be released soon, let me go call your mom, mija—my stepdad notices my quiet: don’t worry, he will be fine—& I am not worried. I’m with my brother. I turn back to the overhead lights & straighten out the glasses on his face.

Maria Martinez is a Latinx poet and perpetual student living in El Paso, Texas. “In the Waiting Room of the County Jail” is her debuting piece.