Tape

I
When the hurricanes came, my mother would tape
the windows, criss-cross with big Xs and fill
the bathtub full of water. We'd pack the white VW
and head for the Travelodge with the sleepy bear
overlooking the parking lot. I was ten and eating
blueberry pancakes at the diner was fun until one
time we came back to Pensacola Beach and found
the concrete block house three doors down gone.
It exploded from pressure when the tornadoes
hit
, said my mother. They forgot to leave a window
open
. I made a note: huge storms carry smaller calamities
around with them. And it was true about Vietnam.

II
Every A-6 ordinance aimed, my father dropping in a nose
dive and every napalm bomb released, my stepfather
cruising in his F-4, exploded at home as my mother,
like Ruby in "Don't Take Your Love to Town," rolled
black fishnets over her thighs and drove away over the
speed bumps in our blue station wagon.

Waging a personal war on me, my blonde mother Scotch
taped my brown hair in a curl against my cheek at night.
At the beach, she told me I looked like a tank and grabbed
the flesh of my leg to show me. As Christmas tears
fell into her rum and coke, I opened my presents slowly,
savoring the tiny happiness. My little brother cried because
he'd opened all his. My mother glared with her blank blue
stare, said I didn't deserve Christmas presents. I ran to my
room and wouldn't come out.

A regular ritual: sitting on her flowered bedspread, listening
to cassettes tapes sent from strange addresses — NAVACTS, NY, NY —
recorded in cockpits by our broken stepdad. The recorder spindles
turned on the bed as she begged me to sing "Noche de Paz," in Spanish
and, against my loud protests, tell him I'd had my first period.
When the war ended, everything would go back to how it used to be.

III
I left her
at fourteen and sojourned fifteen years, seeking
the quarry of my heart: stealing Slicker lipstick, playing
Joni, steel strings digging grooves into my fingertips,
flaring femme fatale, just like my mother, and
hating her for it. I arched my back through lover after lover,
pyroclastic blasts that left no trace.

On metamorphic rock, erupted by volcanic explosions,
I discovered hidden petroglyphs and studied one pictograph
for years: the hunter on the wall. A stick figure aiming his tiny
arrow at a mastodon, about to mow him down —
was I the hunter or the target?

IV
I justified loose margins with Transcendentalism, Sufism, Taoism,
spinning A Love Supreme — a scholarly nature girl, onyx nose, tripping
to "Waltz of the Flowers" in Fern Canyon at the San Diego Zoo,
frolicking in white-gold surf of the Pacific. Once, at a Rajneesh meditation,
my docile saxophone lover and I jumped blindfolded for an hour to a tape
of mad drums to ignite primal feelings until I heard his voice scream Fuck you, Bitch!!
I kept hearing the old Tex Ritter song,"I hate you one and all, oh blast your eyes!"

Words fell from my ordered page; I went two-stepping to Nortena
music in East Oakland with my mojado novio, a former boxer
with a scar in his belly from a gunshot wound. You are for everybody, mi Reina!
He was a sorcerer who taught me to fight. After I fled him, I took up
charanga with a Venezuelan charmer; he taped my mouth closed,
opening me only when needed. Thanks to him,
I began to punch my father out when I danced alone.

In time, I located the blue eye of the hurricane,
suffered the three marriages: self, true companion, vocation.
When the lab report came, I let the hunters cut me
and bind my chest with tape.
It blew over,
like a cyclone might,
if you leave a window open.

The poem, "Tape" is published on the San Miguel de Allende Writers' Conference Website as First Place Winner for Poetry, 2016.