Prompt: Ephemeral

Prompt: Ephemeral
Life, ephemeral. Grief, perpetual.
How deep her knees burrow
into soil. A thumb of tallow,
a gasping candle, swallowed by gusts
of ramming winds. From the gravel,
handless arms rise, and tremble.
Endless sorrow, its cries guttural.
Those left after death face pain, insurmountable.

Art by FallanDark

Mama’s Favorite Flavor is Grape

Mama’s Favorite Flavor is Grape
Mama’s favorite beans when cooking are black beans.
Jade Seneca, the Chinese place a block up, and around the corner,
she orders chicken and broccoli. When someone’s sick, we order 
chicken and rice soup. Sometimes she makes Lipton 
with a packet of Sazon and sofrito, a cube or two.

Breakfast on the go is a cherry danish from the coffee stall in the city.
Hot chocolate all winter long. 
In New York, the winters are long.
If you stop by here when it’s winter, guess what you’re getting?
Quiere chocolaté? We’ve got plenty.

At the Japanese place downtown, by Chambers, I think?
She orders lemon chicken. Never sushi.
She doesn’t like mochi ice cream, so she lets me take it.
She doesn’t drink. Only a pina colada. It has to be virgin.

While we’re shopping on Myrtle, to cool off on a hot summer day,
there’s a pidaqua stand on the same block as Payless. 
Her pidaqua is either grape or cherry flavored.
When we’re buying candy for the theater or at home, her favorites 
are Mary Janes, Peanut Chews, and Snow Caps. Random days my dad will come back 
from the bodega with Sno Balls to surprise her.

She hates olives. She uses her fork to take them off her plate, and drop them onto my father’s.
At the dollar store, she grabs a pack of jelly rings, chocolate covered cherries,
and when it’s Easter, it’s Peeps, and chocolate covered marshmallow eggs.

Whenever I visit, and I’m homesick, she makes fricassee de pollo for lunch.
At the all you can eat Chinese buffet, my mother likes crab legs.
Ice cream from the Mr. Softie truck, always vanilla.

Grape juice, cranberry juice, apple juice — always juice in the fridge. And iced tea.
My mother bought the frozen kind, concentrate. 
Where she mixed it with water and stirred it in a pitcher.

She doesn’t like spicy. She buys Franciso Rinaldi
pasta sauce. Meat flavored. So she doesn’t get heart burn.
Always Tums in the house. Heart burn is something she always has.

She expects nothing less than Whitman’s chocolate for Valentines Day.
If we’re making a trip to the bodega for munchies, honey BBQ chips it is.
Come church events, she’s bringing potato salad.
Sunflower seeds on the train, we spit our shells in the plastic bag.
She’d always tell me, when your father and I were dating, 
he took me to Outback’s.

Burgers and steaks, always well done.
Applebees for birthdays.
McDonalds: Big Mac, Burger King: Whopper, Wendy’s: 
Either a taco salad, chicken sandwich or baked potato with cheese and broccoli.
I know all her favorites, and all her orders like the back of my hand,
even though I don’t remember what I ate for dinner yesterday.

I’d do anything to cook for her. She doesn’t have to cook for me.
I’d do anything to eat with her again. 
I’d do anything to treat her again. 
To meet her for lunch during my work break.

I’d do anything anything anything
	everything
to just share that last piece of cake 
we baked together from the box
always white cake mix
always vanilla frosting or cool whip on the top.
But I can’t, because it’s four years later,
and my mama’s still gone.

And I still use present tense because these things I know about her
still are.
Just like she still is.
In my memory, in my dreams,
even if not physically. 
Here
with me. 
She’s in my heart.

I hear Jade Seneca closed. It was our go to Chinese restaurant ever since I was a kid. The place was probably as old as, if not older, than me. I think the pandemic must’ve hit it hard. Was sad to hear it’s gone now.

The Roads Our Hearts Know

The Roads Our Hearts Know
We know all the avenues, and all the roads.
I can walk to Mrytle, Wyckoff, or Knickerbocker 
with my eyes closed.
And I do. 
More than you can imagine.

The way to the post office, the supermarket, the cuchifrito.
Street fairs, and flea markets.
All across Brooklyn and Queens. 
Times Square, 34th Street, and Broadway.
All the bus lines, all the trains.

My soul aches 

the way people’s broken bones ache
on rainy days. Except for me
it’s every day
when my eyes are open.

We roam Bellevue, Memorial Sloan Kettering,
the dollar stores, and the parks.
All the places I don’t visit anymore
in New York. We’re like ghosts 
replaying records new and old. Except one of us
is alive, 
and alone.

All the time,
I hang out with my mother.

Nowhere fancy. Nowhere grand.
Just a mother and her daughter buying groceries together
every night
since she passed.
I dream, and I long
for the roads our hearts know.
And for the life mama, and I
no longer have.

Ice Chips

Ice Chips
Ice chips.

I gasp from a night’s fog.
Ghosts came home with me from the 9th floor.

Ice chips.
None of the nurses said anything to me 
whenever I entered the employee only pantry 
with a styrofoam cup to get

ice chips.

Unstrapping the bi-pap mask feels like
apologizing for plunging my mother’s head into water.
If we’re lucky,
I can slip a third ice chip into her mouth before
I re-strap what must feel like a bear trap 
of air wrapped around her head.

She points out the window.
She flicks invisible shackles 
off her legs before trying to swing them over the side of the bed.

I ask her where she’s going every time,
knowing that she can’t answer until
finally 
I ask:
“Do you want to go home? Is that where you’re trying to go?”

She nods yes —
delirious.

I clutch my heart,
clutch her hand
and, tell her,
“Yes, you can go home if you want. Don’t worry about me and daddy. We will meet you there.”

Every hour I flinch now.
Ice chips.
Bed up.
Bed down.

Mama there’s nothing behind the curtains what are you pointing at oh my God.
Whatever ghosts were at her bedside followed me, 
and jolt me awake as my leaden body 
moves to get 

ice chips.
Except I’m already home.
Without her.

I wrote this is in December 2018 when my mother was rushed to the ER, and she spent one night admitted on a regular hospital floor until her ICU admission the following morning. Only one person was allowed to stay with her. No one else volunteered. I wasn’t going to leave her alone.

I didn’t sleep that night. Was not at all prepared physically or mentally. Every time I was about to drift off, I jolted awake for one reason or another.

Oxygen deprivation makes you hallucinate. So does sleep deprivation.

It was traumatic. No one else, but my therapist, know the details of that night. I had nightmares about it after where I’d wake up in my own bed, and swear I was still in the hospital, already halfway up to get my mom some ice, or fix her blankets, or move her bed, or keep her from trying to leave the bed, or or or or…

I know it’d hurt her to know how much pain this memory caused me. And at the same time, I would do it all over again. When faced with the hard stuff, you see just how much effort people are willing to put in. In the months leading up to her passing, I did the hard stuff when no one else was willing.

Why? Because I was an asthmatic, hard of hearing, anemic, colic, preemie, and my mother took care of me all her life. Surgeries. Hospital admissions. Doctor’s appointments. Chicken pox – twice! Cracked my skull open once. Ear infections so bad, I would literally scream like someone was stabbing knives in my ears. I remember her breaking nights to slip the nebulizer mask over my face or to give me some nasty medicine. Even after I was an adult, and lived on my own, sometimes if I had a doctor’s appointment, she’d go with me just because. And when she got cancer, I tried to return the favor. My efforts definitely pale in comparison compared to the years she put into me, but I still did it because I loved my mama.

And while the pain has… become more of a scar that aches really bad on some days. A limb I was forced to live without, but life has never the same. I don’t regret being there for her. I’d do it again.

Covid-19 in NY

Covid-19 in NY

Photo from “13 photos of New York City looking deserted as the city tries to limit the spread of the coronavirus

Trigger Warning: This poem is about how Covid-19 is affecting our current way of life. There are some graphic images described in this piece. Please proceed with caution if you choose to read this poem. Be safe and healthy everyone.

Covid-19 in NY

New York was the city that never slept —

until February 2020.

Two hundred thousand ill, three thousand dead.

Only the children are safe from drowning.

 

No showtime on Broadway, nor on the trains.

Rockefeller! Fifth Avenue! Times Square!

All shuttered. Abandoned. Still — like a wake.

The planes are grounded. Poison in the air.

 

More unemployed since the Great Recession.

The future unclear. The future unsure.

How long until they start welding our doors?

Disinfect and bleach the trains! Bleach the floors!

 

In China, the infected dragged away,

captured with the same nets they use for strays.

All day long, we sing Happy Birthday.

Italy keeps their residents at bay

 

with flamethrowers while they sing from the windows.

All we see are eyes. Windows to the soul.

 

Shelves are empty, and the price gougers fat.

Our mothers are sewing surgical masks.

 

There aren’t enough vents, nor are there beds.

Our grandparents, dying alone in their beds.

CPR denied to cardiac arrests.

 

Central Park, Jacob Javits, Navy ships —

temporary hospitals for the sick.

Bodies are being cradled by fork lifts

instead of loving hands, loving arms.

 

We’ve gone through March.

We’re going through April.

Social distancing has banned funerals.

 

We pray the summer burns away the plague.

The number of cases swell with the days.

 

– Rachel R. Vasquez, March/April 2020

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Never have I wished to be farther from New York than now. I’ve lived here all of my life. 9/11 happened when I was in high school. This? I’ve never experienced anything like it in my lifetime. Some days I’m not sure how to cope, some days I’m inside trying to pretend this is just a really long staycation. The only thing I can do is take it day by day, and write. Hoping everyone stays safe out there.

I Die

I Die

I die

over and over.

 

I used to think I wanted to.

I used to flirt with death using the same razors

mama used to shave calluses from her

hard working heels

but now I know better

 

when walking feels like

dry heaving my broken insides

when it feels like vomiting

the pieces of me

of her

that have loosened in me

since she left

 

pieces trying to force themselves out of my body

 

but I hang onto them

no matter how sharp

 

and I die

from doing this.

 

I die when I remember her face

turn blue

 

I die when I can feel how soft her hand was in mine

in my mind and

I realize

I can never feel it again.

I die.

– Rachel R. Vasquez, June 2018

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I wrote this around 4 months after my mama died. Grief feels very surreal in the beginning. Our culture truly does not give grievers enough time before they have to throw themselves back into the daily grind.

I went back to work about a week and a half after her passing. I remember walking in the streets, physically straining to hold myself back from what felt like dry heaving. I can’t describe it. It wasn’t necessarily about being nauseous all the time. It was like, being a water balloon ready to burst and with any poke, gentle or otherwise, the balloon will splatter into a mess. I felt like I was literally hanging on by a hair, trying to keep myself from literally collapsing in the streets in pure agony.

Sometimes it did feel like “Fuck, I’m going to throw up,” because the horror of loss and witnessing death feels that way. Sometimes it was more like an unfathomable sorrow and pain that I could barely contain within myself in silence.

It’s like being punched in the gut multiple times. There’s only so many times you can let yourself get punched without ever making a sound. Sometimes the pain is so great, the only relief is to make a sound – to cry, to scream, to release.

There were many times I couldn’t hold it back, and I had to pull myself into a restroom stall or even face a wall in the subway to just break down. Let some of the tsunami out just enough so that I could return to appearing “normal” and walk that fine line between sanity and the insanity that is grief.

There were mornings I didn’t make it to work, and the mornings I did, it felt like a drunken haze, an alternate reality I was being forced to live in. How do people laugh? Go to work? Keep going about their lives when this life is missing from this earth? When this life has been snuffed? How does no one notice when the sun is blotted from the sky?

I wrote this back then. It’s been a year and 4 months since she passed now. While it’s no longer a physical strain on a daily basis to hold back my grief, it still comes in waves. Ever since, I’ve been following only a single line of advice. Take it one day at a time.

Brink of War

Brink of War

With news of escalating tensions with Iran, and Russia already being a worry for me, combined with my own personal life stressors – my anxiety is off the chain tonight. I haven’t been this anxious, or in what I like to refer to as “OMG I’m gonna die” mode, in a long time. So in an effort to feel better somehow, I thought to myself, if I never achieve all the things I wanted to achieve in life, you know, because of possibilities like war, what will I have left behind?

It was then that I decided to share a very vivid dream I had, days before I went to visit my mother in the hospital, and it truly hit me that she was going to die. This was three or four months before the fact, but until this day, I haven’t forgotten that dream.

I’ve decided that, if for some reason I don’t get to live out my life until I’m a sassy, salsa bopping, viejita, this was the story I wanted to share.

In the dream, I was in the city. It was Manhattan probably, and I was standing in the middle of the street during the day.

Just like an apocalyptic movie, the skyscrapers are collapsing around me, the ground beneath my feet, is cracking to inevitably swallow people and everyone is running for their lives. For me, the moment is in slow motion. I know there’s no point in running because there is nowhere safe to go.

A few feet ahead of me, both of my parents are holding onto each other and looking at me.

I glance at the buildings and know that I only have seconds to act before we all die. Surprisingly, my first thought isn’t that I’m scared, or that I don’t want to die. I don’t despair over the multitude of unanswered questions regarding the Christian faith I abandoned in my late teens and what that means now that this is the end.

Instead, I only have one thought. To get to my parents in time.

So I ran to them. And when I reached them, I grabbed both of their hands in mine. While breaking down in tears and trying to keep my eyes on them, probably even try to smile at them one last time, I only tell them this:

“I love you. Thank you for giving me life.”

I woke up after that.

I’ve always thought this dream was metaphorical – a bad omen of things to come. I don’t normally remember my dreams or nightmares, unless they really strike a cord. If I remember them, I feel like they must have a purpose.

At the time, I thought, well, my parents are my world and I am theirs. So seeing as I was in the process of losing one when I had this dream, this dream could’ve been a metaphor for how that felt to me.

Today, in my anxious state and the state of our country, this same dream could have a different meaning.

I feel like it shows how much I love my parents. I was their “miracle” baby, a premie born at seven months who was sickly ever since. Asthmatic, hearing loss, anemia – while I became stronger health wise as an adult, they always prayed and worried about me. While it’s just my father now, I’m sure he still does it just the same.

And despite that I have so many things on my mind now, with my anxiety shooting through the roof, remembering this dream gives me perspective.

In the end, nothing else really matters, except family and those we love.

I just want to be with my family. My heart has never been the same since I lost my mama, and I ache with worry that someday, my father will go meet her. I know it’s inevitable we all leave this life, whether it’s through aging, a freak accident, or God forbid, war. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, or if I’ll ever get to do all the things I wanted to do.

But for tonight, I’m going to hold onto that dream. I’m going to remember that, when I thought that life was over, how grateful I was to have been given life. How blessed, as ironic as that word feels coming from me, I felt to have the parents that I did. How fortunate I was to be loved and to have parents to love in return.

The life I leave behind may not be the legacy I intended; Maybe due to my own procrastination, or events beyond my control.  However, regardless of what remains when I’m no longer of this world, know that I was a girl, who’s parents were her heart and home. A girl – who hopes that someday when her time comes, she can have them both again, and be together.

– Rachel R. Vasquez, June 2019

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The picture on this post is of me as a little girl, holding onto my mama and my daddy. Holding on always…

 

Mama’s Heaven

Mama’s Heaven

I hope mama’s  heaven is

The Spring

 

trees with cotton candy tufts

pink because

what other color would love be?

bundles of pom poms

like they were dipped into clouds

yellow suns sprout among

the green thickets beneath her bare feet

leaves like canopies,

like baby angels

holding a million tiny umbrellas to shelter

her from a drizzle

heart shaped greens, they wave

like toddler hellos

like butterflies fluttering along

cloister walls

I hope mama’s heaven is

The Spring

so with every flower I see

 

there’s mama

smiling back at me

 

– Rachel R. Vasquez, May 2018

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I wrote this the weekend before mama’s birthday on May 8th. Her first birthday without her. I saw a movie with the in-laws the Sunday before and as we were driving home, I couldn’t help, but be in awe of all the flowers in the trees – it was beautiful. I started writing this – hoping that wherever my mama is, that it was a place full of flowers. I bring flowers home every 20th, she passed on Feb. 20th, and for me, the flowers connect us. Her name is Rosalina, Rosa, like the flower. She loved flowers, and by keeping flowers close to me, I hope that in some way, she’s just as close.

Agony

Agony

Oh God! Oh agony!

Throb that has been cast on me!

Oh silent searing

in my soul!

This violent breaking

of my home!

My womb, my mother

from where I was born.

My roof, my shelter

from this life’s storms.

Hacked off from me

like limb from body.

Hands gone from me,

like wind not breathing.

Meandering, I’m grounded

to this earth.

Wandering unfounded,

still I search.

Her laughter, her being,

my ears bleed with strain,

to hear her tell me

she loves me again.

But an empty cold hearth

I receive.

Her safety and warmth,

I feel only in dreams.

 

– Rachel R. Vasquez, April 2018

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2 months later and still hurts like no other. It’s hard to put this kind of despair into words, but I tried to any way.

Candles

Candles

My mother never liked candles.

Twice they were responsible

for a childhood blaze.

Now, like a candle,

her life wanes.

 

Her lips form soundless shapes

on January 9th,

“Happy Birthday.”

She smiles bright and sleepily

even when she’s held me to

her swelling belly

after I cried to “You are my sunshine,” on the guitar.

She mouths, “I love you, “

as if she’s drifting.

 

Sailing on the lip of a parting boat

and I am her shore.

The ocean between us grows by the hour.

 

Her glow extinguishes

with every breath,

her soul relinquished,

lying dazed, unfocused, silent –

she becomes far.

 

Her body rancid,

we count the days,

her wick dims placid.

 

A piece of my heart,

a piece of her goes.

I pray God carries her

afloat like music notes,

as she slowly sets like a sun,

into a gentle wisp of smoke.

 

Tallow lessened into rest

until her time has run.

Ended to infinite slumber,

from ember to ashes,

a votive that has un-mothered.

 

– Rachel R. Vasquez, February 2018

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I wrote this in February within the weeks my mother was becoming less like herself. By then she was in a nursing home, intubated via tracheotomy, and Pleurx catheters in her lungs and stomach. Although she survived a bout of pneumonia in December and January appeared hopeful, as February rolled in, I noticed she was sleeping more, becoming less focused, and forgetting things you told her minutes before. The cancer was progressing fast. A church friend of hers sat with me and said it reminded her of her father, who, like a candle, dimmed each day until he wasn’t there anymore. I wrote this praying that if I could not keep her, that God at least take her peacefully, without pain.