It seems, these days,
like I am always folding the bedsheets in slow motion
Tucking in corners
Cutting the elastic of the fitted sheet
stripping it of utility
Holding open the empty pillowcases for the novelty
of their hollowness
So often we are told to appreciate things when they are full
Like a mouth
Or a palm
A fitted sheet
Its purpose: to be stretched over a mattress
to be imposed upon
In these seven years of living in America
I have learned how to be imposed upon.
Learned that I was more useful as a question mark
than an explanation for things America would rather forget
That being exotic made you pretty
But being foreign made you a public threat.
I am a question America would prefer to leave
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” I say
as my grandmother’s ghost billows the fabric.
The smallest suggestion of hands
before the white sheet drifts down to lay
flat as an unmarked grave.
At night, before tucking myself in
I count all the syllables in all the names of the family members
I could have had, if only she had survived the war
starting with the baby in her belly when she died
the one that could have been my father
But in such brief moments
It is becoming less and less useful to try to rewrite history
In such brief moments
Explaining the past is about as useful as naming people
who never existed
So instead I am trying to explain how
my language makes no distinction between grandmother and grandmother’s sister
that the boundaries of family grow distant when the words
used to address all women of a certain age are the same.
Grandmother. Aunt. Sister.
Which is to say
I am trying to explain to you how someone can be
two things at once
Grandmother and not grandmother
Both alive and yet never living to see her twenty-third birthday
Like how loving someone will not stop you from being cruel to them
in fact, when you hurt them,
it only makes their heart break louder
Like how a country that feels like home can just as easily spit you out
And that this is why I do everything now in slow motion
This is what it means to love someone with two homes
or no home
But two hands, clasped
Both the flesh
and the atom-wide space between them
It is difficult to know
when they made contact
in the first place.