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A Question

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The woman in the building across from me
hauls onto the fire escape a yucca plant
and squeezes it between a crate
of herbs and a sapling fern tree.
She looks a lot like me from twenty feet away.
A forelock lies sweaty against her cheek
as if she’s forgotten to fix herself.
I put my thumbs and forefingers
to my eye and frame her. I am reminded
of those Chinese boxes made of red paper,
inside one is another holding another,
until at the center sits the tiniest mockery
and celebration of the cell itself.
She looks haggard but happy here, five flights
up, bending over a fat leaf as if admiring herself
in the waxy surface. Then she opens up
the jewel-case of her voice,
and I remember how once my sister asked
my mother which one of us sang better.
My mother paused from sewing as if adding
seventeen to seventy-five and said we sounded
the same. Good or bad, who knows.
Each of us now watches the empty,
open mouth of the other.

Xochiquetzal Candelaria, “A Question” from Empire. Copyright © 2011 by Xochiquetzal Candelaria. Reprinted by permission of University of Arizona Press.
Source: Empire (University of Arizona Press, 2011)
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A Question

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