2010s · Poetry

All The Ways I Love You

I was excited to meet you.
You would be more like me.
All those years being yanked
from one place to the next,
being pulled out of school early
means I wasn’t coming back.
I can’t remember the names
of my teachers, but I can recite
cities like family members.

Then I met you, Long Beach,
the city of everything,
of Cambodia and Mexico,
of apartments spilling bodies
in the streets, spilling ranchero melodies
and clicking tongues full of Vietnam.
My color was a minority.
My clothes from donated boxes
did not flinch you—
you with your narrow alleyways
and grubby-cheeked children.

I was at home before I knew
how long I’d stay. I knew you
were like me, born of struggle
and sitting on windowsills staring
out at distant city lights.

Even when we got a new father
and lived among your riverside homes,
it was all wrong like me.
Concrete banks dressed in graffiti.

Wilderness trails where teenage boys
played war around stained mattresses
left by public refugees.

I became a woman in your sunlight.
I never had to deserve you.

You knew all my names,
even when I left you.
I tried to be the golden boardwalks
of Hermosa and Redondo
but they pushed me out
to the gum-stained sidewalks
of Lawndale, where train tracks
drew lines between me and him,
where girls like me paid their own way
through city college.

Then he left me for Westwood,
a place I could never see
my own stark reflection,
so I came home to you,
and the best skin of you.

I wore my new clothes here
on all your borders north
and south, and east and west.
All your contradictions sang
like love songs, even when for years
I was only your mistress.

Other cities have soccer moms
and radio-friendly punk rock,
winter tans and French manicures,

but I know, even they find a place
in your diagonals, your Wardlows
that cross both apartment projects
and gated communities.

I will grow old here, far from your shore.
Even though I bought a house
next to the tracks again, your tracks
comfort me—not division but connection,
a literal line of how close we are,
side-by-side, lying in the lap of you.

First published in Cadence Collective.