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Leaving

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Wahiawa is still
a red dirt town
where the sticky smell
of pineapples
being lopped off
in the low-lying fields
rises to mix
with the minty leaves
of eucalyptus
in the bordering gulch.

We lived there
near the edge
where the orchids grew huge
as lanterns overnight
and the passion fruits rotted
on the vines
before they could be picked.

We grew there
in the steady rain
that fell like a gray curtain
through which my mother peered:
patches of depression.
She kept the children under cover.
We built houses within houses,
stripping our parents’ bed
of pillows and sheets,
erecting walls out of
The National Geographic
which my father had subscribed to
for years. We feasted
on those pictures of the world,
while the mud oozed
past the windows
knocking over the drab green leaves
of palm fronds
as we ate our spinach.
The mildew grew in rings
around the sink
where centipedes came
swimming up the pipes
on multiple feet
and the mold grew
around our small fingers
making everything slippery
to touch.
We were squeamish and pale.

I remember one night
my sister screamed.
All the lights blinked on
in the house.
In the sudden brightness,
we rushed to her room
and found her crumpled
in the far corner of the bed,
her nightgown twisted in a strange shape;
her eyes were as huge as mine,
staring into the eyes of the bat
that clung to the screen.
Its rodent fingers
finally letting go
as my father jabbed its furry body
with the end of a broom.

Cathy Song, “Leaving” from Picture Bride. Copyright © 1983 by Cathy Song. Reprinted with the permission of Yale University Press.
Source: Picture Bride (Yale University Press, 1983)
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Leaving

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