Therí Pickens

PALIMPSESTINA

Listen to the audio version.

That's Suzanne's daughter. You know she's about your age now.
Suzanne's wedding was so glorious: Alenšon lace, silk chiffon.
Where are we, honey? Am I going back to Baltimore?
Of course, I know. It's 1963. They just shot the President.
On account of my arthritis, I can't move them. These old hands.
I didn't put the kettle on. How is there water everywhere?

Did you forget you put the kettle on? It sputters everywhere.
Remember Suzanne's daughter passed. 10 years ago, now.
But you don't have arthritis. You don't know what happened to your hands?
You always said Suzanne's wedding was tacky: velveteen, polyester chiffon.
You can't go back in time just because you don't like the President.
We live in New Jersey. You don't live in Baltimore.

I love that crime show, Law & Order. Dun-dun. It's in Baltimore.
Cups for afternoon tea? This kitchen! Everything is everywhere!
Of course, I know. It's 1981. They just shot at the President.
I know you. You're Evan's youngest. So grown up now.
You'll want to hem that skirt. That petticoat is lightweight chiffon.
I don't want to see a doctor. Just need some aspirin for my hands.

Your fingers are bleeding. You don't know what happened to your hands?
Law & Order takes place in NY. The Wire is in Baltimore.
This skirt doesn't drag with heels. See? No petticoat. No chiffon.
Forty years of making afternoon tea. And, you look for cups everywhere.
Evan's youngest is Jill. That's Sophie. About six now.
You can't go back in time just because you don't like the President.

Of course, I know. It's 1994. They just shot at the President.
I don't know what happened last night. A pot crushed my hands?
My husband should be back from the grocer any minute now.
Billie Holiday is from here. She sang "Strange Fruit." Storms come out of Baltimore.
I need to make myself some tea. Things feel off, everywhere.
You'll be a beautiful bride. No mermaid mess. Just A-line, Chantilly lace, chiffon.

I've already gotten married. My dress had tulle. Mom, I hate chiffon.
You can't go back in time just because you don't like the President.
Some tea would be good. My mind is nowhere and everywhere.
Can you tell me where you were last night when the pot fell on your hands?
Yes, Billie Holiday. Frederick Douglass. "The Star Spangled Banner." All Baltimore.
That's right. Daddy said he wanted to get ice cream. Back any minute now.

All this about chiffon sharpens the limit of a single pair of hands.
What to do about presidents who could give a fuck about Baltimore?
And we are thinking every where, every why is a "What now?"

* * *

Here's the thing: Bats aren't actually blind,

Listen to the audio version.

he says casually while stretching his wrists
and I wonder about the way his own eyes remain
unfocused on his own calisthenics as we sit
supposedly eating there will have been several
meals like this where we pontificate
over shrimp and squid ink pasta
or some other Food&Wine approved dish
I have been inspired to
bus the table and he comes to his elbows against
the dark wood lost in my movements
the straight way the plate
swiftly disappears from underneath his forearms
and a small platter of fruit takes its place
we continue our conversation as though
nothing has happened
and I think nothing ever will
if we keep going like this but I am sure
I understand what he is saying about bats
and the impossibility of really making
that metaphor stick after all
what does it mean if we really mean
as blind as one can see
especially since bats don't just see
but they echolocate
a perception of depth and space
that might actually be superior to rods and cones
since his vitreous humor has had floaters
for a while now I wonder
what he thinks about the unfailing investment
in sight as insight
and I ask him so
and he doesn't respond
and he blinks hard
as if to tell me my question is stupid
but refuse to see what might be flesh and bone
I linger in the thought
that my question might actually be
too profound for immediate answer
and I am asking him
to think really think about bats
and somehow the silence turns to superheroes
and I feel the keen loss of space
when I arch my brow.

 

Therí Pickens authored two monographs, New Body Politics (Routledge, 2014) and Black Madness :: Mad Blackness (Duke UP 2019), and edited two collections, a special issue of African American Review (2017) and Arab American Aesthetics (Routledge 2018). Her poetry has appeared in Squaw Valley Journal, Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noire, Save the Date, and Disability Studies Quarterly. Her drama has been performed at the NJ State Theater. She is a novice aquarist, below average bowler, and superb (if messy) home chef.