a family portrait

i.

 

my father is an electric guitar.

he spends most of his time displayed on the wall,

shining when the light hits him just so,

hovering in the perfect spot.

he is not new, but neither is he old–

used so rarely, he would gather dust

if he were not kept so pristine.

the only music i’ve ever heard him play is

carefully rehearsed,

read off a page of inky black notes,

perfectly following the italicized instructions,

 

con amore

bruscamente

diminuendo.

 

i never understood the words,

but they nestled in my psyche anyway.

 

i always thought he would be better if the instructions

were tossed away

and he was played instead of displayed,

his strings singing the wordless tune

of a mouth that knew what it would say

if it only had a voice.

 

ii.

 

my mother is a little black book,

filled cover to cover with tiny, illegible handwriting.

there are notes scribbled in her margins,

lists of wishes both practical and fantastic placed in columns,

some crossed off, some forever untouched.

she has handmade calendars scrawled across her,

dates for travel to far-off places marked carefully in royal blue ink,

trips to be prepared for post-haste.

she is made up of half-formed sentences

and dreams that are yet to be

and knowledge that is hidden between her pages,

next to the wisdom

that the i ching gave her.

 

iii.

 

i am the mirror that sits in the downtown train station.

silver and smudged, with handprints and graffiti around my edges,

i reflect the frazzled glances and unconscious preening

of the people who scurry by, tickets and suitcases in hand.

i explain to the shadowed boy that he should sleep on the train;

his travels have made him too tired for words, and everyone can see it.

i mention to the girl with sixteen bracelets and a scar on her throat that

there are still traces of her mother in her face, connections that she thought

she’d lost.

a little girl giggles

when i point out the chocolate on her lips.

i play back the little wonders that i see every day,

but i have no voice to add to them,

no lungs to scream my passions,

no thoughts that can take an idea and twist it into something new

to touch the minds of those who hear it.

i am a reflection of what you already know

and i am as beautiful and as hideous as my surroundings

 

and when the station empties and the lights go dim,

i am nothing at all.

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