from West Trade Review, Spring 2018, Vol. 9
Luz Aguirre graduated with a B.A. in English and creative writing from the University of Southern California. Her short story, “Entropy: A Brief History of the Undoing of the Universe,” won the Virginia C. Middleton prize for best fiction in her graduating class. She is currently a lawyer and lives in Los Angeles with her wife (Susan), their daughter (Eva), and their dog (Pablo Pavlov).
By Luz Aguirre
“Is it a boy or a girl?”
they asked so they could assign
the proper agent to frisk you.
A miniature metal detector passed
over your miniature body, scanned
for tiny guns and tiny box cutters.
You were eight months old,
getting tested for explosives,
and swabs of your hands, diaper, and bottles
dropped into a machine that mulled over
an unthinkable possibility: what if
you are a baby terrorist? Or a baby mule,
smuggling, scheming, paid in black market
breastmilk. What’s the going rate?
What are you hiding? Funny story,
the world you were born into.
I am trying to adopt you. The clerk wants me to explain,
in some bullshit declaration, your paternity, why
your mothers didn’t use a clinic to have you.
What is there to explain? You were conceived in love,
the space between suffering and joy, the unthinkable
thing machines cannot calculate and no doctor gave us.
How can I explain father-shaped silhouettes,
how I am your mother, too?
My eyes witnessed my wife, your mother, shuddering,
with all the pain creation demands, my hands
distracted her, calmed her, danced her, drove
her, held her, every day for a decade through
every dream and dread and as they had never
held anyone else before, woman about to fall
out of the world, caught you, girl falling into it,
cut you loose, named and bathed and dressed you—
not his eyes, not his hands, not his wife.
Yet you have, perhaps, his eyes, kind and free,
perhaps his gentle hands, unfurled easily, hiding
nothing. Perhaps they are your mother’s,
or perhaps even mine, mystery of a nurtured
likeness. I can’t tell any more
than I can tell by looking at a cloud
which mountains gave it wisp.
My family used to say “Blood
is thicker than water.” I am afraid: am I water
to you? When the world sees you with me, does it see water?
Does it want blood? Most days I know: you are my daughter.
Most days are whole days we believe in things,
warm shocks and echoes, wedding days suddenly
ours, or your birthday—you, suddenly ours!—days
holding live wires in tangled bundles, as many
as our arms could carry, no place to put them,
their natural containers plastered over long ago .
This is the deepest secret: blood isn’t the measure.
When you are old enough to weather heartbreak,
I will tell you how it felt, at last, to tire of denying
the moon, which dares remain even when no one
looks at it, then, after all that, to be asked why
not? over and over, and still not know how
to answer. When you are old enough
to weather heartbreak, I will show you
a YouTube video, in a museum,
where our country gurgles:
“Fuck you, fag-gots!”
“Jews will not replace us!” and “White
lives matter!” As if they don’t already.
Smiling and chanting and burning. So funny.
Today the sun was completely eclipsed.
We gawked at something we see every day
hiding furiously behind the other thing we see every day.
It is enough to sear corneas, to drive a seeing person mad.
Now that you are here I’m better at applying sunblock.
I never really had to use it. I burned once,
when I was eight years old, and spent a whole day in water
and desert sun. Once, your mother and I went to Mexico
and she asked me to help her with her back. Broken
windshield wipers would have done better. She was seared,
badly, other than the outline of my lazy hand, in negative.
I didn’t know what it was like to have white skin. I still don’t.
With you I won’t take any chances.
When we leave the house you are smeared,
every square inch, in sunblock. I wait. Let it absorb.
Cover. It is the only invisible shield I can give you.
Let it be thick. Let it work. Skin is a sorry shield. Beyond
sunburns I wonder: will you know the world as a white person
or not? Either way I hope you know you’re always enough.
Nobody has to burn, nothing has to bleed, to make that true.
Months ago all of Los Angeles and New York
shouted into an open wound: “Love, not hate,
makes America great!!!” The wound is:
hate made America, which was conceived in a bucket
of sick and avarice, in the space between suffering
and worse suffering, dark unthinkable machinations,
pain no doctor takes away. The wound is a place
where pastors forget what they were about to say.
When I was a baby my parents made a bronze
cast of my foot: fat, severed, out of context,
like a ghastly enclosure to a ransom note,
except heavy, resistant to time, memento
of the least important part of me. It looks dirtier
every year. They keep it in a box next to a dry black stone
in a ziplock bag that was my cord, another strange fossil.
Perhaps I’m being unfair—this means something
to them, but I have always hated bronze statues,
especially that one. First I think they are real people
then I realize they are not people and non-people
are so terrifying. The day after Charlottesville
your mother and I watched a musical.
Each of us in the audience that day was trying
to relearn something honest and obscure,
that we used to know how to do, that our bodies
might still know in spite of us. Each of us
was fumbling in the dark for something
that fell somewhere, trying to imagine
what it looked like and what it was called,
privately thumbing along shallow grooves
of memories, like being called “improbable,”
a word I didn’t know I needed, like the hour
I first believed, when history seemed an unbroken
record—when all of time was fresh pressed vinyl, ours
to remix at leisure—when everything alive was a beating
expanse, a pastel horizon, ours to conquer at will.
Leaving I thought about the future
when this musical goes the way of all before it
performed in homogenous high schools, recast
awkwardly, back into alabaster, marble, plaster,
when whole belief systems break down
into insipid memes, and tweets shrink
to grunts and farts. Somebody sing
to us. Somebody sing Amazing Grace
or Get Ur Freak On to us. Oh my darling —
Can you blame us for that dark, bronze ache?
This is the real America, we sobbed and sighed,
remember, remember, the fourth of
Was the cruellest month.
But you were born, a lilac.
I’ll put that in my declaration.
A prayer for the broken hearted:
Please—banish all the bronze
to museums! Take them all down
in the streets. Hide them!
Behind a wall that gets ten feet higher
every time we get mad, behind a moat
of molten glass, stew of detritus, stocked
chock full of crocodiles; lock them
up behind barbed wire and columns
of looming Klan robes nobody
dares touch; circle them with all
the semiautomatics we can afford;
give them hell and lash and threat
and death, and more blood, for good
measure; papier-mâché them with spit
and ticker tape, phony arrest warrants,
torn up holy books salted from neglect
and abuse; make them futile piñatas,
filled with bronze and more stupid
bronze, that we can hit forever and never beat;
bomb them til they glow; bomb them some more;
cover them with diseased blankets; make them listen
to talk radio while water drips on their heads;
dump them beneath dead barely-buzzing
neon, toxic trash bags of shorn hair,
and stacks of bodies we were so afraid of.
Next to a dumb blank bronze plaque to explain.
And extraordinary people like you
will say, after they have become ordinary
people like me (people with one gray hair
and too many emails): what happened?
The non-people smirk: nothing
Please lock our wild phobias in cases
in a place where children go on bleak
field trips and politicians can whisper solemnly
into microphones NEVER AGAIN.
May the world NEVER FORGET
how to forget. May President Barabbas
get his due. May the full moon never come
to bring out our beast selves against our will.
May our will triumph and triumph and triumph
and triumph until we are so fucking tired of triumph.
May the world know the old Roman peace
of shouting into open wounds. May the world
go back to where it came from!
May the world fuck all the way off.
As if it won’t already.
I have 1,778 photos and 134 videos on my phone,
from the last five months alone. Nearly all
are of you. I took them so that I won’t forget
what happened — But I also took them to capture
all I see in you I’d already forgotten:
how to be shameless and unafraid,
how to find joy in water and mud,
how not to care whether people like you
or are like you, how to laugh
at mistakes, eat when you are hungry,
how to let yourself want, let
yourself everything, let time
fold into itself, and forgive
space for turning into ether
against your will. I want
to remember those things.
The other night I put you to bed,
and you held my fingers while you fell asleep.
When I started to pull away you held on tighter
so I stayed. Your mother also does this —
when we hold hands like no one is looking
and I start to pull away, because somebody
looks, or it is time to get up for the day,
or from fear, or shame, or for no reason,
she holds on tighter, even asleep, until I stay.
It is the most reassuring reflex.
We can’t always hold on, little cloud,
we can’t always be holdable. But to try
not to pull away or hide, not to live
dying, and do the hard
lonely work of holding —
I want to remember those things.
I have no videos or photos of when
you learned how to play peek-a-boo.
You watched me hide and disappear, reappear
just as suddenly, from behind lazy hands
that can’t shield you from a goddamn
thing, eclipsing, closeting, closing, opening.
Before you knew how to play, I think you used to forget
I was there. Now you remember. And once you learned
how doubt could recede and return
like a wave, pushed and pulled by a paper moon,
leaving behind fresh mud of hope,
which remains, improbably, after
centuries of constant lash
by an apathetic tide, anticipating
the next return of the sun, of God,
You laughed so hard.
It is a very funny story
one I want to remember.