the artist is gone, part II

the artist is gone, part II

a year since my grandmother’s passing

these mercenary words cannot hold

all of the feelings that I contain about this date

they do not carry the weight of my grandfather’s tears

my brother’s sobs.

they cannot hold all of my guilt and grief,

the lifting of a great burden off of my father’s face.

The artist is gone,

but I know what she would think about the mercenary words

that I repeatedly have to sputter out and sell to my friends and professors,

words that are like swords, for defense against enemies that are unseen

but unemotional.

The artist is gone,

but I know she is inside of me,

and it is the oddest feeling,

tracing her handwriting,

learning from the words she wrote years and years before,

when she is sitting in front of me in an urn.

The artist is gone,

but her paintings,

her prolific collection remain in our homes,

on the wall of my apartment next year, in my future showroom.

The artist is gone,

but I look like her,

in a way that is uncanny,

my face is a tessellation of hers at my age.

Her clothes quietly exist in my closet,

and I wear them feeling my grandmother’s hands on my shoulders

guiding me with our shared fashion sense.

Her thoughts about being an artist,

tracing her handwriting,

tell me how to be my own artist,

because she was truly her own.

I love you, Grandma Judy.

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the artist is gone.

the artist is gone.

she did it,

she finally died

in her sleep, in the night,

like we always hoped.

It doesn’t feel real yet,

that the artist,

the survivor,

the women who struggled so hard to fight

such a savage disease,

is now gone

gone

gone.

Thank god, we labeled the paintings

before she left.

Why didn’t I capitalize that?

Maybe, because she never did…

The artist is gone,

she left while her cat was still in her bed,

and her family was around her,

and my grandfather told her she could go.

The artist is gone.

Houston

Houston

warmer here than Atlanta,

no one is surprised.

I forgot how much I missed this place

where I was not born

but where I was molded.

Houston, yes,

the things that I have missed were so unexpected.

man selling colored ices on the corner, no habla ingles.

flat as peta bread, no hills or curves.

crowded hallways of people who do not look like me

or speak like me

or feel like me

or eat like me,

but are living like me.

sprawling cracked sidewalks, make you fall on your face when you try rollerskating.

small anecdotes litter this place that I call home in this heat.

This is where I grew up.

Passover/ “Dayenu”

Passover/ “Dayenu”

A long table,

end to end with friends.

We all read from the haggadah

when it’s our turn.

My brother,

the youngest,

reads the 4 questions.

“Why is this night different from all other nights?”

Dayenu.

“Why on this night do we dip twice, when most nights we don’t dip at all?”

Dayenu.

“Why on this night do we recline?”

Dayenu.

“Why on this night do we only eat matzah?”

Dayenu.

Questions, questions.

Dayenu.

unafraid.

unafraid.

“Helen! Helen! A pipe burst! The cabin flooded! We have to move all of our stuff!” my roommate, Cassie, shouted from our porch. I can see that she’s already moved some of our belongings to the front porch. I cross the porch and step through the narrow doorway. There’s barely an 2 inches of water, but the soaked sheets and books are already sending me spiraling back into my memories.

I’m now six years old, not seventeen. My dad just woke me up in the middle of the night, and I don’t know why. He lifts me out of bed and when I’m pressed to his shoulder, I see my dresser is floating. It’s only then that I realize that Dad is walking through a lot of water. I’m really scared. Dad carries me into my parent’s room, and drops me onto the floating bed where Mom is lying. Mommy is very, very pregnant. I can tell she’s scared too. I cuddle with Mom while Dad gathers our most important belongings, using my plastic toy chest as a ferry. Money; passports; my birth certificate; my favorite stuffed animal, a green dinosaur named Dino, that played “You are My Sunshine” when wound up; an emergency lantern with some batteries; and probably more things that I don’t remember. It’s still raining outside, the water is rising in our apartment. Mom and I count the batteries for the lantern and put them in. Dad goes to sleep, but Mom and I stay up. We’re too scared. Eventually, someone comes to get us. One of the front desk ladies. The water is lower, so it’s okay to open the door. It’s summer time, and last week Mom got me new yellow swimming shoes as a present. They’re still in their bag, floating around. I put them on, and then we’re outside our apartment, walking. Mom is holding my hand as we walk up the stairs. I don’t remember where we sleep. We’re in a higher floor of the apartment complex. When we wake up, it’s sunny. The lady gives me some cereal to have for breakfast, but no milk. It starts getting really fuzzy here. We go back to the apartment. There are a lot of people in our apartment. There are wet, yucky mattresses stacked up all over the sidewalk. It smells bad. Our carpet is soaking wet, and when I step on it, the water is brown. Our neat, happy apartment looks horrible. Piles of dirt and our belongings are everywhere. My dad’s books are soaked. I never saw our piano again. The armchair in the living room that Daddy and I would pretend was a pirate ship: gone. I wasn’t allowed in my room, but I know that all of my stuffed animals and toys were soaked. Mommy cried when she saw that all of her beautiful scrapbooks and photos were ruined. The white table that Grandpa made, with all of the pretty butterflies and fairies and flowers stencils painted on it in pink: gone. Many of our favorite, most precious things: gone, taken by the flood.

“Helen!” I start. Lynzi, my other roommate, has been asking me to take the squeegee. I push the water from under our bunk beds while she moves our luggage onto the porch. Revelle and Leora won’t be back till ten, so we have to save their stuff for them. “Don’t forget the ukelele,” I remind Lynzi. There’s water everywhere. Our porch is a mess of shoes, luggage and instruments. I have to focus on the task at hand, I have to be unafraid.