California Was Never Kansas Poetry of Place

I can’t tell anymore
where this valley ends and where my body begins

driving the length of california
I am shedding potentialities,
rejecting visions,
brushing off hallucinations from my lips and my waist.
not long until
skin ripping
from the contours of the buttes,
from this canyon like a womb

what they don’t know is that
my body
is malleable, transplantable
and what they don’t know is that
my body
absorbed this landscape,
acorn soup and antibodies,
poison oak immunity —
you would think I am native,
you would think I am what you are

they called me Mulan, asked if I am Puerto Rican,
but I am my mother’s little brown Indian,
and I am told I can pass
even 6,000 miles away

our postman asked if I will be wearing only black.
the athletic goods store owner shouted that the problem is that all the Arabs have 10 children.
her husband told me the goddamn Arabs would never respect a Western woman.
he said, “You won’t be in Kansas anymore, honey.”

I cannot tell when I became from this place,
I cannot tell how many epithelial layers I share with these frightened men
who don’t know that California was never Kansas.
these fearful men who don’t know about sixteen years old and
“Wanna fuck?”
from a white man with a shaved head who thrust his penis at me and followed me in his car.
these threatened men who don’t know about early June,
a grin and a hand on my upper thigh as I walked a street in Hollywood in shorts

these men who cannot know
the relief of remembering that
my body will be a secret, for once —
I will bring with me
sycamores in a dancer’s arched back,
the branches of oaks in the angles of flamenco arms,
creek water in my veins

but the men on the street will see only a castle tumbling into the sand,
honey eyes
coffee and cream skin

in a hammam,
a Moroccan woman will scrub every inch of me,
the caked and damaged cells
will drift down the plumbing of Rabat.
I will be raw and new.
I will tell my hair, “Listen! You cannot speak in that tone to the air.”
at night, we will whisper to each other
about the things we’ve seen while hidden
and the things we’ve heard while quiet

© 2011 Tania Flores
Read the previous poem in this series, “Indian Dice.”
Tania Flores authors the blog, “pitaya and parachute sketches.”

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