“Lillac” by Luz Aguirre

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

November 2008.

November 2016

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.