2010s · Poetry · The Unnamed Algorithm

Child of the Alleyway

We were five, sometimes more,
in a one-bedroom duplex
with its back turned away
from the street. We made
it work, split the space

with my brother in the laundry,
and a cloth foldout couch.
We had two dogs and two cats
so the house was never empty.
I knew well the back ends

of other people’s houses,
apartments and wood fences,
gardens and add-on porches.
Telephone poles like redwoods
stood in a forest of garage doors

and parking spaces, while
sunlight and shadows played
hide-and-seek across the sky.
On holidays like Thanksgiving,
food drive cans of green beans,

cranberries and yellow corn,
and boxes of instant mashed potatoes
landed on our back-front porch,
three brown steps, peeling paint
peeling wood from white washed walls.

We painted the kitchen red
with forest green trim, so
it always felt like Christmas
underneath the long wires
across much taller buildings.

Originally appeared in Ishaan Literary Review.

2010s · Poetry

Seventy-Five Hours

Holding Barbie up to me, you said
“My mommy’s in jail”
and broke the strong girl face
that walked through my door.
I pulled Barbie up while you
cried in your thick five-year-old legs
dressed in pink four-year-old pants.
In two weeks you’d be six
starting first grade. You knew
your letters and how to write your name.
How to write “I love you, Mommy”.

You said you were mad at her
for going to jail, for doing bad things.
In my foreign home, you laughed
at SpongeBob and played
with unfamiliar toys. You should
have been in Santa Barbara
buying new school clothes—
instead you were with strangers
in Lakewood Mall Target
buying clothes for a six-year-old,
guessing your size underwear.

I took you to a fair at the beach
but forgot to bring cash,
so we stared at the things
that neither of us could have.
We danced in my backyard,
blew bubbles for the dog,
and sang the song, “Whooooo
lives in a pineapple under the sea?”

They found the man you called
Daddy One—or maybe Two—
but you called him a number.
You cried when I told you
he was on his way. His name
was on your birth certificate,
so he drove from Santa Barbara
over two long hours.
He cried when he saw you—
you did not cry when you saw him.

I kissed you on your forehead.
You left with Daddy One
and bags of new school clothes,
back to Santa Barbara.
In less than five minutes,
I returned to my own house empty
of your laughter, SpongeBob still
on the Netflix queue.

Originally published on Ishaan Literary Review