Ana Garza G'z
AT THE CHINESE KITCHEN
For audio version click here.
They raise their glasses,
then laughing, announce
the toast. "To the house,"
he says; "To the two of us,"
I take their orders:
Szechuan Chicken for her, and moo shu
pork for him:
lots of counter space, a patio
for the herbs (giggling,
'the herbs!' a kick
under the table), upgraded appliances,
everywhere. Black rice, tea.
The lord and lady of the manor clink their glasses yet again,
above the cup of hoisin now. They smile.
The check, the bonus cookie goes
under his hand. "A thirty-year mortgage."
He grins. "Who says sucking up to the boss don't pay?"
They pucker into suck-up noises. She palms the mint and tips
an extra dollar to have me read
ahead: "Accept gifts
from a stranger." "Take
risks today." "Count on your eyes, not
your heart." They laugh, standing
up, in front of each a white cane spreading
from segments into lines, like scepters
or like magic wands . A little puff
of silence as a dozen pairs of eyes lift
up, then drop
again to chow mein noodles,
talk, and cups and plates and cutlery.
The man and woman move
away to let me bus
their feast. I straighten,
and it's there, a setting on a stage:
the open door,
the shadow of a woman propped against its metal frame,
her handbag hanging from her elbow like a peach,
a red mushroom umbrella, its stem behind her neck.
Across a dragon screen, their shoulders bob.
She bows, a fumbling
double reach, her hand from bag
to him, to her, their shoulders jerking
into rope, the flutter of a paper strip,
a different kind of fortune, crisp
and green and solid as a bank.
in a whisk of headlights: their shoes,
her gift, the stillness
of two worlds at odds.
The paper strip shivers
in a cough of wind. Their feet swing
forward all at once, stepping
past the figure in the moonlight
glow and the twenty kindnesses denied.
* * *
AFTER TWENTY YEARS OF BLINDNESS
For audio version click here
The visual memory is dead,
except for the odd ghost that rises
from&hellp; Who knows
what startles a ghost.
The phenomenon is called Charles Bonnet Syndrome:
visual hallucinations in the blind.
images–often born from the physical
in a scratched wood floor, a bookshelf
on a study wall, a person
on a crowded street–the visual cortex slipping
into habit, or reflex trapped
inside the visual cortex. Who knows?
When I was six, my sister and I walked
across an empty lot at sunset. The sky was deep
blue, with pink and yellow layers
of clouds, like the folds in a bed sheet
crumpled under a dull orange sun,
the size and shape of a grapefruit.
My sister must have been as drawn to that sun as I was
because she said that,
when she and my father walked across the lot at dusk, he pointed
at the little circle dangling in the sky and told her
it was a ball.
one he'd tossed
up there himself, for her to catch.
He raised her
into his arms and had her reach high
and higher till her knees were on his shoulders
and only his toes were on the ground–
the two of them balanced like dancers.
I didn't understand how the sun could be,
even in its shrunken state, mistaken
for a child's toy, until I saw a ball arc
up from my father's hand into the sky, where it rested
for a long, long moment, as if set on the topmost shelf
of a pink and yellow bookcase. "Look!" he called
to my brother. "It's stuck," before the ball tumbled
back to earth, back to his son's flailing, leaping form.
It was an image
in, kicking from a swing, stretching
my legs and ankles, pumping
myself higher, into the clouded blue, lifting
one foot in what dancers call a developpé,
covering the ball of the sun with the ball of my shoe,
never quite touching
it, never tipping
that orange ball off its perch to roll
into my lap,
where my sister could reach it from my father's shoulders
and my brother could catch it from my father's hands.
It is unsafe to look
into the sun during a solar eclipse.
The lens of the eye refracts
its light, concentrating
it on the retina, creating
enough energy to burn
the back of the eye like leaves
under a magnifying glass, causing blindness.
This is especially dangerous
because the retina has no pain sensors
to protect the viewer.
But I can walk into eclipses
because I have no retinas
left. I have led
frightened schoolchildren down sidewalks while they squeezed
their fragile eyes closed, gripping
my elbows and one another's to keep from falling
over or behind.
My first memory of my father and the little sun came
twelve years later, when the next-door neighbors slaughtered
a pig, and I was blind
even in my dreams. What led up to it is unclear.
What I remember is the kitchen table
we sat around, the squealing pig
in the driveway next door, my father's voice conversational,
spontaneous, half of it lost under the animal's scream,
unhesitating when I asked for repetition:
"You're blind. You wont ever amount to anything."
It was as simple and as plain as that.
And as simply, the tight orange ball drifted
into the nothing where colors had ceased. It hung
on the pleats of something collapsed, dangled
beyond the tip of a patent leather shoe, as the neighbor called
for a bucket to catch the blood.
The eyes do more for the body than see.
They provide a point of reference
to walk a straight line,
to stand on one leg,
to track the finer movements of another body.
They make the mirroring
of another person's movements
an ordinary thing. They signal arousal to whomever looks
into the pupils. Their openness
and their directness makes others think
the person they're with is
listening. is responding, is able.
These are All components of a dance,
an act of love, or a field sobriety test.
For most of my twenties, I wished
I could dance. I tried
all kinds of things: stepping
without drifting, sliding
without teetering, squatting
without dropping, shaking
my booty without jerking
my shoulders, paddling
my arms like a swimmer, like a traffic cop,
like an athlete pushing
her chin up past a bar.
I even read an article on tangos and moved
around the house for a week with my spine straight,
my knees bent high, advancing
solely on the balls of my feet in hopes of summoning
my "inner cat" until my friends asked
how I'd pulled my back.
I don't know why
I wanted to dance. I had no partners,
save my white cane. I winced
at ballrooms and dance floors, the close quarters
the smells of all the bodies, the blaring
sound system and the thought of conversation afterward.
I can't say why it was such a need.
It just was,
and I didn't get it
right until hellip;
I was twenty-seven and slipped
on a puddle at the head of a flight of stairs
in a public building. Someone must have left
a window open or shaken
an umbrella out to pool so much water on the tile.
I don't know.
The floor was very wet, and the moment I stepped
into the slick, the water propelled
me forward, fast, over
the lip of the first step.
So in a strictly rational universe, I should have fallen
There and then, hard on my ass,
spine and neck jolting
and whipping back, or rolled
onto my side, breaking
a wrist or an ankle as I tried to stop myself,
or flipped like a playing card onto my shoulder (dislocating
it), onto my head (cracking
it), onto my neck (damaging
the fragile contents inside). In a different universe,
I should not have fallen down eleven stairs
without straining or tearing or fracturing something.
But I did. As my foot slid
past that first step, the arm with the white cane pointed,
angled down, refined to form an arc,
which my spine and shoulders completed.
I was fully airborne , only vaguely aware
of movement, of terror, of the clatter
of my cane against the divider below,
of momentum and the alien freedom
from gravity, from reason, from time.
Then all at once, I was at the bottom,
both feet on the landing, both hands
on the fourth step behind me, my body still,
the perfect arc, light and steady as a covenant.
In one fluid motion, I stood,
soles flat, arms down,
muscles relaxed—a true recovery
into parallel position. That is the term
for it: recovery. I had just done something… performed
a trick… Dancers and stunt doubles train years to master:
a ball change, a chassé, an inadvertent elevé or relevé, maybe
even a petite body wave, melding
into a plié, leading to a double stag–
total hyperextension, superbe port de bras, suspension,
sustained locomotor–the grand daddy of all grand jumps finally
punctuated by a ponte connecting
the body that had longed to dance with the person who could
assemblé in Alicia Alonso's toe shoes.
It could be
no one else, but her in me:
the prima ballerina, recovering
from eye surgery, learning the steps
and floor patterns from the movement of her husband's fingers
on her hands, dancing in her mind, guided
on the stage by partner after partner, whom she trusted
to catch her through twirls, lifts,
and leaps into perfect…yes,
recoveries…and coupés for more
and still more. And it was there
on the landing
of a public building with a wet floor, that I saw
it again, so near that I could touch,
it, the phantom image of an orange sun balanced
on splayed pink and yellow fingers with the grace
of the dance I'd really wanted, the nimbleness
of movement that makes all things
valued enough to hand down,
into the palm, like a Host or a child's toy
from a father's imagination.
My body was light
with it, as light as if I'd drifted
to the bottom of the stairs on a drop of rain, as light
as if I had been the rain. In that airiness of movement,
I was what I was,
arms relaxed, feet forward,
soles solidly on the tile: standing
as straight and relaxed and solid as anyone
who'd been pedestrian enough to walk down
I patted my pockets for keys
and bus change, bowed
to pick up my white cane, and glided
out the door, with my inner cat and its newest life
weaving down the sidewalk, the sky
and its bodies curving in my bones.