reflecting pools, bay windows, modernist, victorian, san bavón, san francisco, i know what a cage looks like. a pretty thing stuck in a pretty place that changes, forgetting you are there, closing in on you. i know metaphors, and in central america, eventually a beautiful, tropical bird, a scarlet macaw for sure, should show up in señor ortega’s condo, to tell me how pretty i am. but instead, i unbox a white toy swan, floating, staring vacantly into shrubbery.
he likes it when i leave all the lights on and faucets running. i imagine running my index and middle finger from the bottom of the switch and. slowly pressing. it on, hearing a sigh from a man i’ve never met. i couldn’t do this at first, california’s in a drought, my hands clench whenever the utilities bill comes in, my rent just went up. it took us so long to get close, because i let him find himself in the dark and without the soundtrack of fountains. when i gave in, lighting up all his artwork, the desk lamp, the stairs, it was like he could see love for the first time. a familiarity: i remember a time when i expected men to turn on their own lights, to take initiative to see, and, well, i was waiting a long time. it isn’t until i take their face between my palms and turn their gaze down do, well, they finally understand i am real.
toiling, with paint and plants, creating a home for someone who doesn’t live there. it is, rather, cycling through grief, applying my lipstick to the mouth of a skeleton. he tells me, in notes, not to my face, of course, how he enjoys the home-making, the domesticity, that he never witnesses, never looks in the face. i wonder if he feels a rush as i run my hands up new wallpaper. i arrange his news clippings and photos as he stays with another woman. like clockwork, like a clockwork dollhouse I glide from the foyer to the kitchen to the bedroom, where, in notes, you wish to find me lying there, not following our business deal, and back off to reality, so you can live in dreams.
i have a mirror right next to my bookcase, where i sometimes spot how my face looks watching something on my computer screen or notice the litheness of my legs and the angles they form. without much thought i adjust, like in front of a photographer’s lens, ready for my shoot, or in front of his eyes, to keep his attention from wandering. señor ortega must wish me to be some futurist mannequin, ascending the stairs, only to find large panes of glass blocking my way. i stare into my reflection, trying to see the other side, to get something done, to finally stay over, only to eventually fix my hair.
when i left the place in the dark, after my chores, i would sit, reflect, and contextualize my service to gabriel. i shop at the magazine store now, picking out fashion advertisements, cutting out the figures, pasting them in cut-out rooms where they don’t belong. i don’t belong. but now that i turn on every light and faucet, foyer, office, wintergarden, dining room, living room, game room, bar, upstairs, after all of the art, i don’t have time to think. i start to write and the sun has set, and it is time to put me away. gabriel leaves open his book on magdalene, and all i can think about are the orchids my father grew when he became distant.
one day he openly mocks my brother, defacing his portrait on a magazine cover, and the next, an homage, an altar in his bedroom closet. no matter what, the rich and the white don’t want to believe, that violence is never needed to move things along. mostly because they don’t often witness violence, the kinds in our homes, on the street, in our progress reports, over vietnamese dinner on valencia street. my pain is fictional until you can become the hero to stop it. you could solve all my problems, if you were to talk with me, face to face. why must it take a war for you to spend the night with me?
i shouldn’t have hidden your queen playing telephone chess. you did me one worse, crates filling up the house, forgetting that a human walks and breathes here. i press myself against the wall, sliding, reaching, grazing my fingers up your light switches. it was like the walls were closing in, blocking the windows, any view of the outside world, boxing me in. for you to save the world, i have to make some sacrifices, i guess. i never picked up the change you left on the counter for me, like a test, or a bribe, or a shame. though the sun sets at the same hour, every day gets darker. it doesn’t really matter if i come anymore, i am already your muse, and soon your tragedy. you wrote “protect precious items,” and it was never crossed off the to-do list, so i accept that, because i survived, i am alive, i am not what you are talking about, that i’m not precious enough of an item, even, worth remembering to keep.
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