August 18, 2020 – from answering an old question asked again and again lately

elementary school
porter

Everyone is still staying far away where I am.

 

I’ve been taking walks when I can, usually in the evenings, and that’s when I see them all out and still knowing each other. Neighbors yelling across streets named Garden and Locust and Boylston while their children make shapes of stars apart but still speak in sounds they all understand.

 

The sky still blasts open with sunset on some days, somehow.

 

A couple nights ago I saw a mother and her daughter arrive to a house carrying a birthday present, a big and bright gift bag catching some last light between them as they walked up the front lawn. They looked so earnest in their approach, and so happy, that I could see how everything is different. But that there are still summers and birthdays and that we don’t get a redo of any of this.

 

The kitten I got is growing at a pace that hurts me, remarkably and expectedly, and we’ve all been sleeping a lot—the kitten and Peter and I. We take turns between the twin bed and a pile of blankets on the floor of Peter’s childhood bedroom, and that’s one of the reasons these days get so blurry. Our bodies got stiff so we moved the mattress from his parents’ foldout and both tried fitting in it.

 

When we turned the lights out we weren’t sure if the kitten would pick us or sleep somewhere else or default to his spot on the actual bed. Then we laughed until we cried when he found his way to the small of my back—just slinked up against us like of course he knew who we were, after only a few moments of circling the dark.

 

The kitten stayed put as we bellowed, sleeping the whole night there between us.

August 13, 2020 – from the other side of the graveyard that looks like a park

abandoned
queens

I want you to know that the air got lighter when we drove out of Garden City toward Queens, where I wanted to feel like I could be at home—that I could make one—but never quite have. It’s too many people per tree and I when I feel alone on those streets I start to miss you more than usual.

 

I think about how you would’ve had to say what you wanted to make it in a place like that. The big and anonymous and closed in all at once. How you might’ve learned to but we can never know for sure. That you’re so bad at new situations but always found your stride with the challenging ones.

 

I asked Peter while we walked whether we were lost down in it. But he knew where all the cardinal directions were and that we were walking east because Queens Boulevard ran parallel. I only had to follow him. I'd written my own notes of names and addresses and a phone number, held tight in my hands because we were looking for a new apartment in Sunnyside and we saw three that night.

 

What we can afford are inside those giant elevator buildings though, which is where you’d put me to snuff me out. The only reason I’m not already is for the few people who reflect me back, having not looked in my own mirror for six months now. Not knowing where I’ll go next. Not knowing where my mother and father are in the state of Kentucky, in relation to one another, or for the sake of their two children trying their best not to fizz out.

 

You know this already: How you landed me here in an astronaut helmet and now home only feels like where the air can get in. Except I know how to measure its pressure now. I know how to tell a pushy real estate agent no (that the apartment felt again like trying). We don’t have to settle. We don’t have to decide now. I can cry on the way back.

 

Peter and I start walking in opposite directions so we can meet each other in the middle again, where he tells me what the worst thing wouldn’t be and I tell him there wasn’t any sky from the best apartment we saw. He says he couldn’t look out and see people because though the windows there were long and many, they only looked upon more brick.

Joan Didion was right about how we keep ourselves alive so I make stories like everyone else.

My poetry, at least to this point, only ever tells what happened. My photos are the lucky consequence of an impulse to remember this life in 'real' time.

I don't know what my work is about, but I know I'm most interested in the forces—both visible and not—that make it feel true. I hope my writing and photography practices help reveal the impossibility of understanding that which is ephemeral and the important paradox of trying to anyway.

@alexiso_brien

alexisob4@gmail.com

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