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Susan Michele Coronel

A Long Needle Was Inserted into My Belly to Extract the Truth

Dear Son,

It took a week to know your gender & a week more

to find out if you were affected by the genetic mutation

that took my brother at nineteen

A bouquet of flowers was delivered

to my fourth grade classroom, with a card announcing

It’s a Boy! & I was horrified

It’ll be a healthy boy, your dad announced,

My genes so strong, they’ll overpower yours

Anything else is a figment of your fears

What did he know about my fears:

Fear of you collapsing like a tin can

fear of your calves becoming as fat as drumsticks

fear of you crossing a balance beam with braces

My fate—& yours—lay in the undeniable accuracy

of a Punnett square:

25% affected boy 25% non-affected boy

25% carrier girl 25% non-carrier girl

I hoped for the improbability of probability,

thought of my mother’s cousin Robert, melting

velvet puddle in a wheelchair He lived until thirty-three

the longest of any family member with the disease

Waiting for the doctor’s call, I watched my brother

spin through time like a cocoon’s threads unraveling,

our parents constantly yelling at each other

when he became too heavy to carry

The dizzying freight of inheritance loosed

missing letters & links upon the world,

but Son, you & I luted together for a new sound

of affirmation, a drop of autumn plum,

& the extraction of liquid notes

formed a music that recalibrated ,

affirmed you were safe,

the unafflicted one

Daughter As Guardian of the Tomb, Age 50

Mother tells Daughter she misses her husband

but can’t make herself cry, no matter how hard

she tries, her throat tight & coiled.

Sometimes she speaks about Dad on his birthday

or when she’s trying to recall the name

of his ophthalmologist. She’s thinking

of the time he pressed the gas instead of the brake,

smashing the Mercedes into a brick wall

that turned to ghost smoke.

Mother will not describe her husband as a humorous

guy who imitated Dr. Frankenstein’s monster —

hands outstretched, tongue askew—or taught Daughter

how to play chess. Mother remarks that the suit

Dad was buried in was a good suit. Someone else

could have worn it. Clothes make the man,

even when dead. Mother forgets how Dad wanted

to go camping when Daughter was a child,

crickets & clover by a crackling fire,

but they never went because Mother wouldn’t sleep

on the ground. Daughter reminds Mother

that Dad sleeps in the ground now,

in a cage absent of breath. Indifference

cannot shred the past. Daughter is the guardian,

brushes the tomb. She glimpses a reflection

of herself & Mother in a mirror, illuminated by

a swollen, half-eaten sun. She wishes she could

hold the light as it bleeds through glass.

Cooking Was a Form of Saying Stay

Grandma Betty stuffed cabbage & layered noodles

as a form of art, to connect hands & heart

to sweeten our burdens, comfort bellies

longing for connection. Bits of food often caught

in her gums & on the trim of her button-down housecoat

as she slid spoons & garlic cloves into pockets,

crumbled sweaty tissues in cap sleeves.

For her there was no point in living

without communing with her blood relations.

For entertainment she read comic strips, collected

knock-knock jokes, & frequented Key Food supermarket

but it was nothing compared to concocting kugel

& chocolate pudding, its skin hardening in the fridge

to a glistening brown. At ninety-two, she’d bring comestibles

to the table with trembling elbows & knees, refuse

assistance during the presentation of her masterwork.

Sitting on her worn, yellow-bellied couch, my father

wanted to wrap up, return home. But I anticipated

mounds of vanilla ice cream in scalloped dishes,

clinking as they arrived on a corkboard tray.

Is your father here because he’s doing his duty,

or because he wants to spend time with me?

He did not link to her as I did, sprawled

on her green & purple quilt waiting for stories.

As she lathered plates & pots with a surfeit of suds,

I helped her dry & stack them on the shelves

she could not reach. To catch her breath, she lay

on her bedspread, size five slippers dangling

over the edge. My father was the first to the elevator

but I lingered with her in the hallway.

Her presence mingled with my breath, raw eggs

on my chin, her spittle moist on my cheek.

Susan Michele Coronel is from New York City. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in journals including MOM Egg Review, Redivider, One Art, North Dakota Quarterly, Anti-Heroin Chic, and Plainsongs, among others. In the spring of 2023, she won the Massachusetts Poetry Festival’s First Poem Award, and in 2021 and 2022 she received two Pushcart nominations. In 2021 one of her poems was runner-up for the Beacon Street Poetry Prize, and another was a finalist in the Millennium Writing Awards. In 2021 and 2023, she was longlisted for the Sappho Prize, and was a finalist for Harbor Editions’ 2021 Laureate Prize.


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