Hallowed Be Thy Name
The smell started gradually, then began to permeate the room with such force I felt I had been slapped across the face. I didn’t dare mention it out loud for fear of embarrassing my grandmother. After a few minutes, my mother chuckled and said it was time to change her diaper. She went out into the hallway to fetch the first two employees she saw, young Black women in white shoes and scrubs who looked like they definitely didn’t want to deal with changing another geriatric. They entered and I politely left the room with my sister. The last thing I wanted to see was someone wipe my grandmother’s ass while she was on her death bed.
Riss and I stood awkwardly in the hallway, glancing around at the other doors. Some had names on them and some didn’t. There were pictures of flowers in vases on the cream-colored walls. The carpet looked like vomited pea soup. From my grandmother’s room I could hear her speak coherently for the first time that night. She was screaming for help. My mother, a nurse, did not look up from her paperwork as she told her to calm down, that it would be over in a minute. She was used to this sort of thing–changing diapers, dying old people, Alzheimer’s, dementia, whatever—and it was almost as if she wasn’t aware of what was happening. I was, and I allowed myself to look in despite the stench.
My mother had told me earlier that my grandmother’s system was shutting down. Her blood pressure was so high she couldn’t sit up without fainting. Her stomach had stopped working, which was why she burped frequently. And she was shitting blood.
“Help!” she screamed. “Oh, God!” “Frances!” scolded one of the nurses. “Calm down.”
“Relax Mom,” my mother said without looking up. “It’ll be over in a minute.”
As they changed her, the smell drifted out into the hallway. My sister was the first to mention it, rolling her eyes and muttering, “Jesus Christ.”
I laughed to mask my horror. The smell would stay with me until the next time I saw my grandmother, wrapped up in a bargain-bin coffin.
* * *
My uncle was the first to notice. It seemed fitting; he had been my grandmother’s best friend. When she was too sick to understand, she carried a picture of him in her wallet and said he was her husband. When she finally left, he was the only one in the room with her.
“This isn’t right,” he said, eyeing the casket. “This isn’t what we picked out.”
My aunt Kathy, who had arrived from Florida shortly after the passing, sat clutching a tissue to her chest. “What do you mean it’s not right?” she asked.
“It’s not right,” my uncle repeated.
“This isn’t what Laura and I picked out.”
Laura was my mother. This registered somewhere in my mind as I sat, staring. I could have looked at my grandmother all day long, lying in the pink dress I hadn’t seen her wear in years. Occasionally, if I left my eyes out of focus, it looked like her chest was moving. I felt nothing aside from a growing irritation toward the Irish family across the hall in the bigger room. Another woman had died, and her family was larger and rowdier than mine. I wanted to slam the door on their laughter and stupid orange hair.
Later, after the wakes were over, my mother told me they’d put her in the wrong casket.
“The casket they put her in was a thousand dollars more expensive,” she said in the car. “The funeral director said, ‘Well, what do you want to do? It’s up to you.’ I said I didn’t want to move her. He said he wouldn’t charge me the extra.”
My grandmother loved sales. I remembered the countless Sundays I spent with her in the flea market, overwhelmed by the variety of people there. I told her once that I saw a nun, and she said it was only a Muslim.
“She did love a bargain,” I told my mother off-handedly. It was an attempt at humor, but she didn’t laugh. Our grieving processes weren’t synched. Humor had always been my defense mechanism, an attempt to lighten the worst situations. My mother had remained stoic ever since my uncle called an hour after we left my grandmother at Somerset Gardens, the assisted living home.
* * *
After we got the call, my mother left me in the den with my girlfriend Amy and made the forty-five minute drive back to Somerset Gardens. We weren’t sure what was going on. I put my head in Amy’s lap and waited. The phone rang close to an hour later, and my mother told me she was gone.
I hung up and laughed. The more I felt like sobbing, the harder the laughter came.
“Are you all right?” Amy asked.
“It’s over,” I said, giggling and feeling light-headed.
Amy said nothing, patiently waiting for my moment of grief. The laughter stopped. I squinted at the TV.
“I wonder where she is right now,” I said.
I didn’t cry at the wakes or funeral. I accepted the hugs of friends and pretended I didn’t feel like throwing myself off a building. I kept thinking I could only cry when I was alone, but even then the tears never came.
* * *
Aunt Kathy used to own a condo in the mountains of Pennsylvania that we would visit in the summertime up until I was twelve. When I found myself missing my grandmother during these trips, I could quell my separation anxiety by sniffing the pink fuzzy bathrobe she had hanging in the closet of her room at the condo. It smelled just like her.
The bathrobe was the only thing I asked for of hers after she died, but I was told my aunt had discarded it a long time ago.
* * *
A few weeks after my grandmother was buried, I went with my mother and sister to clean out her apartment. She had lived upstairs, with Aunt Kathy and her husband on the ground floor. I asked to go up alone, knowing that being around other people would only make me uncomfortable.
I sat on the spotless kitchen floor and stared at her decorative sewing wheel I used to play with when I was little. I fiddled with the pedal and thought about the funeral. The Indian priest had referred to my grandmother as a “devoted wife,” despite the fact that she had raised her three children on her own after her alcoholic husband took off. Had he ever seen this sewing wheel?
As I willed myself to enter her bedroom, the Lord’s Prayer began playing through my head.
Our Father, who art in Heaven… The floor was lined with bags of her clothing. I pawed through her personal belongings, keeping the bottles of old perfume that smelled the most like her. I carefully picked through the clothing and found the old gray sweatshirt she used to wear. I touched it gingerly with my fingers as though it were made of silk instead of cotton, paused, and then held it to my nose.
Hallowed be Thy name…
I imagine it must have been a ridiculous sight to see—a twenty-year-old crumpled up over a sweatshirt, sobbing.
* * *
I got home from college around midnight for Thanksgiving break and dropped my bags on the floor of my room. I saw the clothing I had collected from her apartment folded over my desk chair, and the pink blanket decorated with gray dogs. She had died under that blanket, and the image of it was even more haunting than the last time I saw it at the end of the summer. My gray schnauzer Gizmo had been put to sleep in October and the dog pattern looked eerily like him.
As I unpacked, the depression creeping over my body only got worse. I was used to this sensation. After she died, I felt it every single day until my therapist suggested Lexapro.
I snatched the pink blanket off my chair and curled up in bed with it. I thought about how my grandmother had looked underneath it, and about how my mother had wrapped Gizmo in a purple blanket before she took him to the vet to be put down. Purple had been my grandmother’s favorite color, and my mother said the blanket would make it easier for her to find him in Heaven.
I felt uneasy about the first holiday my family would spend without her, but I seemed to be the only one. The following day, everyone acted as if nothing was different. The minute the last family member stepped out my door, however, all the depression came flooding back. I spent the night hiding in my room.
“Are you all right?” my mother asked. I looked up from the book I was reading.
“Oh, you know,” I said. “Yeah. Fine. I mean, my dog is dead. And my grandmother is dead. But I’m fine.”
She sighed. I looked away, afraid that she would begin to cry, but she approached me and put her hand on my cheek.
“I’m very grateful God took Grandma when He did,” she said slowly. “The worst was yet to come, and it would have been a horror for us all. Grandma lived a very long life and she left a beautiful legacy behind.”
I felt a lump growing in my throat and forced it down, staring at the pink blanket hanging on my chair.
“We all miss Gizmo too,” my mother continued, and the lump came back. “He was very sick, just like Grandma.” She kissed me goodnight and went to her room. I put on my coat and walked out to my car to have a cigarette. I watched the smoke curl up around the rosary beads hanging on my rearview mirror. They had belonged to her once.
Hallowed be thy name…
I am not one
I become painfully aware
of this solitary existence
as the crust of three-day old snow
crunches underfoot, the sound
in decibels, almost deafening.
Boots invade the criss-cross markings
pledged by rabbits, bits of fur and excrement
strewn on a trail not meant for humans.
Today, I am not one, but brethren
of the hare, seekers of green.
Fallen Sumac berries burst up
under light snow, red confetti
for eating in lean, gray months,
pawed and nuzzled with ears pricked
and pink eyes frightened wide.
The mind succumbs to darkness,
its thick shroud pulled close to mouth,
covering steam created by inner workings.
Fires dampen easily
if not for chilled bone friction
that keeps legs moving.
Mother wore her boots on the ground
Mother wore her boots on the ground,
without self-deception she stared at the sky
grilling the interior of clouds with intensity,
the aim of their falling, with ridged nonconformity.
Mother wore her collar high at her neck,
playing with dementia as if it was not there
under her breath, but so we could hear, “please,
don’t eat me”; “Be quiet tablet, suffer your fate”.
Mother wore silver clips in black hair,
she cherished the bible but scorned its hope,
her left eye did not know what the other was doing,
quiet in re-focus she turned the dough of Sunday.
“The gnat is of more ancient lineage than man.”
said the turn of her mischievous lips when news
and current affairs were blue and buzzing in corner,
rolling pin a yard arm for justice.
Mother would always get hold of my hand
when the thorn forests took grip on my throat
in midnight’s broken arm my breath was scarce
and all through the night she would whisper
to dream of honeyed horses and the green train
and although I could only see the skull of a bird
turning into shadow and light, into dust and hurt,
I felt a certain accord, safe in the clutch of her hand.
The grass is green in her gardens today,
pot bellied bees circle slipstreams of time,
sound and vision, in fanatical nostalgia.
I always copied her, loved what she loved.
I will always wear my boots on the ground.
“The gnat is of more ancient lineage than man.” – Proverbs
Robert Louis Henry
Hazel Loretta is the Light and the Warmth
There is a blanket where my blinds used to be.
I had blinds, and on these blinds, I painted a large, black cross.
I twisted the stick, and the blinds changed from vertical to horizontal
And the large black cross would disappear, so I usually left them shut.
This large, black cross had its purpose.
It was an artistic expression of my devotion
That became a transforming symbol to me.
When my blinds were closed, and the cross visible,
It signified my resistance against the secular world.
My blinds were very thin, almost translucent,
And light came into my window around the cross,
And there was then a cross on either side of me,
With the light of the world around each half.
It occurred to me that if I could stand between the two crosses,
Then the heat and warmth of sin could not touch me,
I tried to stay perfectly balanced with my arms opened wide,
Between the black crosses, and just out of reach,
Just out of reach of the warmth and the light.
This would continue for the next three years, everyday,
Until finally, tired and sick, I collapsed onto my floor one morning,
And the warmth seeped into my skin all that afternoon.
I tore down the blinds the following week and replaced them with a blanket,
I bought this blanket from a booth at the flea market selling authentic Mexican goods,
This blanket was knitted by a starving senorita named Hazel Loretta.
The blanket is thick, and forestry green with skinny red lines that intersect,
And when these skinny red lines intersect, a little sunlight comes through.
I think of Hazel’s bony fingers, and when I touch the blanket it is warm with sin.
There is a rosary that I leave hanging behind the blanket,
This rosary is plastic with little metal links between the beads,
The rosary is glow in the dark green, which is why it is in the window.
I leave just after sunset; beads are glowing, and the Jesus is glowing.
And sin has been absorbed by the rosary, and by the blanket.
I was ordained to work as a television evangelist,
But radio was my forte, so I pursued that instead.
For ten dollars, I would dip my finger in holy water,
Brush my finger across the face of George Washington,
Whisper a prayer, and the lower class would have holy money.
This service became very popular, and I earned quickly,
Once I’d received enough, I funded a new project.
There are, in this town, several pornography shops,
And as I continued to collect funds, I bought property,
I would pay ridiculous sums of money, and the exploitive men,
Well, the exploitive men thought they’d gotten the deal!
And in these properties near pornography shops,
Mexicans were paid, and erected large white crosses,
Crosses made of thin frames and aluminum siding,
And their shadows are cast across the pornography shops.
The lawsuit ended and the judge made his conclusions,
And I had at least as much right to erect the crosses,
As the storekeepers had right to do their business of erecting.
In the mornings, I press my face against the blanket.
In the evenings, I suck on the glowing crucifix.
Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal
THE ANGRY MAN
The angry man
goes to bed
of his rage,
he does not know
what to do.
In his bed he
peace. A thousand
wars go off
in his head. He
The angry man
in his heart, but
find a soft spot
for his rage
The blackout lasted longer than anyone thought. From my fifth story window, the whole city seemed to shut down. I heard noises above me. How could it be? The tenant who lived over me, an elderly woman, was found frozen to death in her apartment. According to rumors, she hadn’t paid her gas and heat for months. Many of us shrugged off the guilt. We just didn’t know. At night, with the brain’s light bulb powered off, I dreamed who this woman, only one floor up, might have been.
But now footsteps over the ceiling and a voice coming from the far wall, or perhaps inside it where pipes formed a geometry of intersections.
In the dark, I stumbled towards the sound. It was the voice of an old woman: cracking, tinny. Open the hatch, she said, there’s a a dumbwaiter. My hands groped along the walls. There. I opened it.
What now, I asked. I’m cold, she said, do you have any old sweaters you can send up? Wait there, I said. I fumbled for my flashlight. The batteries were dead. I hadn’t changed them in months. I lit some old candles. The light was weak, but enough to allow me to make my way between rooms. I stacked several sweaters on the dumbwaiter and pulled the cord.
You’re so kind, she said, you could freeze in this winter.
I didn’t know anyone lived upstairs, I said, when did you move in? She said she couldn’t hear me. I repeated myself. No answer. I became worried. Honey, she said, my feet are cold. I have no shoes. Could you send up some socks, anything?
I searched for some woollen ones I never wore. I sent them up. You’re a life-saver, she said. And just one more thing, she said. Some blankets. I have none. Just some sheets. No wonder I’m always catching colds.
I sent up some thick blankets. And a pillow. Maybe goose feather. We had a conversation near the pipes. She said as soon as the lights come on she would make herself some tea. Only she had no sugar. I said I have plenty. You do? she said. There was silence. I heard something pacing above me.
It’s the longest blackout I’ve experienced, I said. I wanted to make sure she was still there. Finally, she answered. She said, just one more favor. Send me up my son. What? I said. My son, she said, I know he’s down there. It’s past his bedtime. Your son isn’t here, I said. No? she said, well, where could he be?
A few minutes passed. The power came back on. Outside the window, traffic began to move. I stared at the empty dumbwaiter. It did not speak back. Not a sound. I was cold. The room swelled. I felt small, helpless. I wanted those blankets back.
Time-lapse film shows a cicada
emerge from the dirt,
heat darkened classroom
smells of natural gas, chalk,
butter painted lunch rolls.
I stare from the back
of the room
near the supply closet at
beings like me.
In thirteen year cycles
we push up from black earth
drunk on Cottonwood sap.
Nail bitten fingers skitter under
and over my unhooked
bra, and get tangled
in my collar
where new teenagers
seek safety, a place to shed
clunky brown skin.
Under jean skirt and translucent
red veined panties that read
two boys shove their preying
mantid forelegs, dipping
into mother’s milk
of pupal manhood.
Later they will raise cupped
hands to the faces of
prophets spreading good
news, and the smell
of humiliated flesh.
I sit next to my husk
under the tin roof awning
outside the cafeteria
like electric shocked rattlesnakes
a shaken gourd full of
The Truth of It
Over the years, he’d given me many presents. Mainly, objects made of glass. Dollar store gifts, thrift store gifts, garage sale discards. Even something he’d treasured since boyhood, something plucked from the depths of the pickpocket lady’s apron at the school fair so many years ago. A panda bear, black and white blown glass. The colors had melted together. It reminded me of vanilla liquorice, and I placed my tongue on it and closed my eyes. He laughed at that, told me there was no one like me. I placed each object in a box, which comforted me. Once in a while, I would slide the box out from the depths of the bed where I slept wrapped in unease. I handled each of the gifts like a prayer. Before he left, he gave me a turtle, larger in size than any other thing I’d received. It’s shell swirled orange and green glass, it’s neck unnaturally elongated, it’s face formed with the pinch of the tongs, by a Venetian I conjured in my mind, who might have had a story to tell. When I turned it over, I was surprised to see that it had a hole in its centre. I placed my finger there filling the emptiness. Turtles represent truth and longevity, he told me his eyes focused on something far beyond me. I chose to believe him. After he was gone, I stuffed the small hole with cotton. I made a place for it in the box and slid it under my bed. There was nothing else I could trust anymore.