playing at death

it was like this: i hear five-year old footsteps
and drape myself off the edge of the bed
eyes rolled like white marbles for his discovery.
he walks into the room. first he says kiyoko
i know you are ok get up ‘yoko helloooo
then he says kiyoko? you okay?
and pokes me in the cheek. it is hard
not to laugh but that would ruin it, this joke
we are sharing. his voice rises
and i can hear the crying building
in his throat. ‘yoko stop it get up. please.
get up. it is amazing how young
children recognize death. it is just the two of us
in this big house and he can’t reach the phone.
i am still holding my breath. it hurts
but it is worth it. this is not a joke
this is about power, about being older
and smarter and able to be so still.
he is crying now, really crying
the kind that only little kids do. it takes
their whole bodies working at the grief.
suddenly it’s over, the thrill of the whole thing;
it’s just the two of us in this big house
and i ruined it. i unroll my eyes and get up,
hugging his boy shoulders saying sorry
i’m sorry i don’t know why i did that but i know
i’ll do it again and he isn’t mad.
he’s just happy that i am okay
and that is the worst part.

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Cornrows

the day before they found her baby tucked
into the crawlspace beneath her home for safekeeping,
I sat on the floor in front of her:
knobbed bones of her knees dimpling my back
while she tugged my hair into cornrows,
racing stripes down my little girl skull.
I gnawed my nails to nothing
trying to keep silent with the ouch in my scalp.
sometimes it overflowed out of my mouth.
she laughed like the sound of a coke can cracking,
told me it shouldn’t hurt – she has a daughter,
and mothers understand gentleness.