Yesterday we bought a bookshelf
from a woman who had Ziploc bags
strapped to her waist: some full
of water and some full of blood,
and a bag with a gel that looked
like the kind I would use
to do my hair as a boy, the flip,
which was like making a forehead
above your forehead. The bookshelf
is called Mission style, as in the style
of those who erase people and places.
It’s brown with wood slats and the small
TV my mother bought us now sits
on the third shelf. It’s a Coby,
which is a brand sold only at K-mart
or one of the other marts and has
a Consumer Affairs 1 star out of 5.
Its speakers don’t work very well
so we have to turn everything
off in the room, all the fans,
just to make out the phrase
that’s how we do things ’round here,
on the show with the couple in Waco
and all their innumerable children.
The gel was called LA Looks.
It was blue like the eyes of dogs
and even after washing your hands
it stuck to your hands—
what did I think, each morning,
after doing, and undoing my hair,
as if the right touch of a finger
could get it the cool way,
where it sort of stood straight up,
and who knew you needed a blow-dryer
or lots of time and money?
I made my mother park, once,
in the wrong lot of the school
so no one would see the trash bag
we had for a window. Driving home
it opened and closed like the gill of a fish.
I am three thousand miles away
and the hills, here, roll like limbs
under sheets. I want to show her
the many ways that I am thankful,
I even bought a card with the phrase
Thank you spelled out in many languages.
I haven’t mailed it yet, but I call
more often than usual. Mostly,
she sounds tired and worried
about my brothers. When I call
on Sundays, I get to hear her
complain about the Jets. The woman
we bought the bookshelf from
spoke to us through a small crack,
not because she was afraid,
but because she didn’t have the strength
to open the door. There were several marks
on her cheeks like the bruises fruit get,
and her father helped us carry
the shelf to the car. She lived in a place
called Mar Vista, though it still seemed
like a long way to the sea.
James Ciano holds an MFA from New York University, and has received support from the Vermont Studio Center and The Community of Writers. His poems have recently appeared in Southern Humanities Review, Quarterly West, and Nashville Review. He lives in Los Angeles, California where he is currently a Provost Fellow at the University of Southern California, pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing and Literature.