[ToC]

 

HEIRLOOMS

Gina Alexandra

 

 

     The word chakatageer is translated as that which is written on your forehead. That which is written on your forehead is destiny. Destiny is the sound you hear while you're dreaming. The sound of waves in your dream could be rain in your waking.
     To gain access to this new land, my grandmother gave her gold teeth. Now, I have a 24- karat bracelet from the roots of all the stories she has ever told.
     We are a people of heirlooms.
     In dreams, to take a gift from the dead is to awaken in them the need to possess you. To save a dying bird you must exchange your life. There is a bluebird that knocks at our window every morning because it reflects the outside. If I go near it, my grandmother cries.
     Heirlooms can be photographs, can be gold teeth, can be clocks. I will remember my grandmother by the countless buttons I always mistook for cookies in a tin box. I will remember my grandmother by how she warned against my first heartbreak, my first regret, my first great mistake, said, If you miss one button, every button goes in the wrong hole.
     The ancestors of sharks were built like bagpipes. Their cartilage was there only to sustain their airwaves. Then the cartilage moved lower, elongated, petrified. If the ridge of their nose was once their backbone, the cords of their neck became teeth. Now their skin is microscopic incisors.
     They cut like diamonds.
     Akanget ogh ara means make these words an earring. Remember them as if they hang from the lobe. Every year on Christmas my grandmother buys me a set to cement her into my future. If your mind is an open window with a thousand burning pictures behind it, your ear is an aqueduct.
     When I was young, I kept telling my mother about a fire that never happened. Do you remember, I began, when they filled the apartment with water? Do you remember, I continued, a thousand burning pictures behind us, a tarp held a dozen feet below?
     No matter how many times she reminded me I was born in this home I continued. One day, no longer laughing at the strangeness but staring deep inside of it, she said yes. She says I looked at her alien and old, said: Do you remember what happened after the fall?
     Tatemae is the pretense of what you believe, while honne is what you believe but will not say. There is no positive or negative connotation to either. If the things you need to forget are hundreds of buttons in tin a box, you must sift through them for the one button without which all the buttons go wrong.
     When I was a child, I buttoned the first button of my shirt in the hole for the second. Things became hard in the lap of a man where I expected only soft and I learned what naked was by the reaction, not the experience.
     Here, he said, undressing me, someday you'll be something to love.
     There were sharks before there were trees. They were sharks even before they had teeth. They were beasts before they arrived at beasts: before any predator comes the precursor.
     In my culture, genocide is called jart, or break. I learned this word before I knew how to count to the number it would take to quantify the loss it came from. If destiny is the million voices that came before you, destiny is a thing you forget after your fall.
     In my culture, your eye freezing over is a sign of an incoming guest. Other indicators of arrivals are a broom falling down, a fork being dropped. Iktsuarpok is translated to the act of going outside in search of a person who may be coming, without any indication that they will ever arrive.
     The things that were destroyed in the '94 earthquake are as follows: 25 crystal cognac glasses, the brick wall between neighbors, my father's record collection, the good china, the things they brought from their lives before. In the middle of the rubble stood my grandfather's golden clock (twelve inches high and ornate with small ticking hands) that stopped from that day on. It was the only thing left of him. Twenty years later my mother called me into a darkened room and shushed me when I asked her what was wrong. Do you hear? she asked hopefully and there it was: the ticking of a bluebird trying to return to a place it does not belong.
     Ilunga is a person who is willing to forget twice but not a third time. I have fractured my wrist 13 times and fractured my tailbone once. I knew the earthquake was coming because the ghost in my dream told me. I knew my room would collapse over me in my sleep if I didn't wake up.
     How bout now? I asked, after he unbuttoned my buttons.
     How bout now? I asked, am I something to love?
     As a child, my mother would hide small gifts around the house for me to find, wrapped in notes that read different iterations of love. With a hand-drawn map, I'd search by discerning clues from our daily quiz games made up of the capitals of European countries, important events in history, the kitchen drawer in Russian, your bedroom in Spanish, phrases in languages that I've forgotten I ever knew. Also forgotten are the gifts, now, though at the time they'd fill hours of seeking.
     All I can recall are the notes in scraps, a dustpan, a broom.
     My mother says the first picture I ever drew was that of a wolf. She carries it in her wallet because it was the first miracle she witnessed outside of my birth. I drew the wolf when I was two from the bedtime stories she told. The wolf is pointed star shapes without the last two roots. In its open mouth, I drew teeth made of inverted triangles, too big for it to ever close its jaws.
     My mother said, it must be howling, it must be calling its cubs.
     To gain access to new teeth, a shark must lose the dull on the carcass of seals. A shark can have 45 functioning teeth at a time and go through 30,000 teeth before it dies. When one tooth falls out, the other slides up by the skin of their jaw to replace the loss. We know sharks by their teeth because it is the only parts of them that are fossilized.
     To gain access to a new body, I have followed maps under bed sheets, in parked cars, movie theaters, and the bathrooms in bars. Sometimes I have found a note and sometimes I have written my own. Each word is an heirloom that holds within it its own electric pulse.
     The phrase three sheets to the wind comes from sailors who were drunkards. Sailors who are drunkards are in danger of loosening the sail. The sail being loose can cause the boat to sway like drunkards while the sharks are at the ready twelve feet below.
     Once, I woke up next to someone I loved and I was note they wouldn't open. Once, I woke up next to someone who loved me and couldn't be read. We waited, the someone who loved me, and me, for the someone I loved, until our ghosts grew agitated and replaced buttons with teeth instead. The first time I don't remember but the third time I do because the ghosts didn't come to me in dreams after that. The first time was forgiven but the third time I knew, I unbuttoned my own buttons before he reached out.
     How bout now? they asked me, as I ripped through my buttons.
     How bout now? they asked me, how bout now?
     When sharks become agitated they unlatch their jaws. Whatever they pushed in to staunch their hunger, tangles out, all guts, until sometimes they can no longer reclaim their parts.
     If this story is a bluebird, it bangs against a window it mistakes for sky.
     When I was nine, it took three days to find my grandfather when he died. I met him once when I hurtled my infant body into his, out of my mother's arms. Years later, his room emptied of family and frames and filled with books and booze and booze. His lungs filled with regret until his guts spilled out in bright yellow suns. It took three days to reclaim my grandfather.
     The only thing left of him: inside his shirt pocket, a picture of me when I was first born.
     For months before I drew the wolf, I must have drawn stars. I must have learned triangles; I must have known the parts. All the parts were beasts before they arrived at beast.
     It must be howling, said my mother, it must be calling its cubs to eat.
     But I had drawn the wolf by stretching out my palms and measuring the ridge of my nose, the length of my brows. I drew the wolf from memory and the ghosts were called.
     Sharks can camouflage in sunlight because their skin is liquid diamond. They can sense their prey by their electric pulse. I don't want to be a wolf and I don't want to be a séance. I do not like the dark although I know its parts.
     Sometimes my mother appears on the other side of the bathroom door, her voice a disembodied ghost asking whether I'm drunk or crying or both. The lilt of my mother's voice is almost a howl.
     Have you eaten anything? she asks into the void.
     If a dead relative asks for food in a dream you must make their favorite meal the next morning. You must ask their relatives and friends to eat. When a gust of wind blows the curtains wide, the French doors opening, they have come to interpret your dreams.
     In a dream, I am not a wolf or a séance but a shark. I am also a crewman on my grandfather's ship. I am swimming and I am rowing and the sails are loosened from above. The drunken sailors falter and the crew abandon ship. We laugh our shark laugh because we can't close our jaws.
     We eat ourselves alive, my grandfather and I.
     Cafuné is translated to the act of running your hands through someone's hair as if the strands are their destiny, as if you know that you alone will ever see the spread of their follicles on the pillow just this way, this morning, this light barely touching the ridge of their nose.
     You may never be this warm again without a blanket, says someone who loved me, you may never be able to speak again without words.
     How bout now?
     How bout now?
     How bout now?
     This is the sound of my teeth falling out. In dreams, the back row of your teeth is reserved for the death of a relative.
     The front row is reserved for infants.

 

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A collection of buttons looking for eyelets: please thread. [link]