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