First, you must wake up, walk past the 7-11, into the outskirts, blow past the toll booths and jump the line at the airport, and when it is time to board, board the plane, fly as long as the day will take you, to where the night is day and the day is night, to where everything around you is something you can’t pronounce, vowels next to more vowels, teeming with markets whose fruits are hot pink dragon eggs, and when you bite down on one of them, let the juice stream down your chin. Bite again and know how it feels to stumble in a tongue that is not yours.
You must be able to think back to waves as high as cliffs, with hands and fingers that could easily grab you into their palm, to stretches of road that did know time, and to the last time you looked into someone’s face; to days of childhood where the pebbles in the backyard had faces that came alive, to the mid-afternoon sun and to the parents who napped beside you, read and sang the same story over and over (the one that even included the garage cats); to the fevers brought down by ice and the shadows that tangoed on the ceiling, to days in quiet rooms where you were hypnotized by the sun peeking through the leaves, and to the sea, say yes, to all the seas whose edges you’ve walked, over rocks that still remember the war, or over sand as soft as flour, the emerald sea, the night sea, cloaked and toothless, escaping around the corner just as you yell Wait!, to the sea with water so clear you see your feet wavered by their caress, where you see a version of yourself reincarnated, looking back from some other world whose life you have left to live. It still is not enough to think of all of that.
You must have first throbbed with love, been greedy for it and grieved for it, lovers and letters later, known the drum beating between your thighs, where his heat pushed your back into the wall, your legs enlacing, and every reach is love remade. You must also have known love’s calm, how it feels to have someone look into your wounds without flinching, your sleep doubled by the sound of their breathing, feet touching at the edge of the bed.
You must be unafraid of the dying, of your mother intubated, tubes tangled, eyes closed and bulbous, and when the machines are turned off as her chest rises and falls, take the hand she’ll squeeze for the last time and hold it until the warmth drains from her hands and leaves you with flesh cold as wax.
It is not enough to have memories. You must be able to forget them, to have them later float to the surface, unaccompanied. You must take out a few from the curio cabinet and see how the dust has changed them. For the memories themselves are not enough. Only when they have seeped into your skin, down to bone into your marrow, and have blended together like water lilies, into water, into bridge, into sky, when you have lived alongside the crows and the swans and the hawks, with the robins that looked like every other robin, and listened to their songs, that in some very rare hour, when you are alone, and whole, a first line reveals its palms to you, takes your hand like a grandmother you’ve just met, both of you leaping blindly into the well.
Published as a part of Bolder Writers Warehouse‘s guest curation of Punch Drunk Press, November 2018.
Allison Albino studied creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and has an M.A. in French literature from NYU. Her poems have appeared in Poetry Northwest and the Apeiron Review, and she has a personal essay on the craft of writing in The Critical Flame. Her poem, “Advice From My Immigrant Father,” was a finalist for the 2017 Joy Harjo Poetry Award. She has received scholarships from the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, The Fine Arts Work Center and Tin House. She was also selected for the AWP Writer-to-Writer mentorship program and has twice been a poetry contributor at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She teaches French at The Dalton School in Manhattan.