Birthday Presents as Red as Thread
When I wrap and pack
the birthday presents that I will
then take to the post office,
with the fact that you are soon to be thirteen.
And I stop to remember myself then too,
back through time,
unraveling the years,
like shedding clothes
as one walks through their house
and it all comes undone this way.
And for a moment I can see myself
as I once was
holding the necklace that your mother
gave to me.
I imaging giving it to you.
The sentiment. The power.
Entrusting you with the only thing I have of hers.
It would be a sort of un-doing. Severing the lingering red thread.
I cannot think of love as a constant.
It must, for me, wax and wane,
the way a wave comes to the shore but is still always part of the deep.
I have to think of it this way – as something I can touch
once or twice but not hold. Otherwise
I can feel my fingers locking
and I know I will choke it to death.
What’s It Worth To Ya?
What’s it worth to ya?
He asks, his Scottish accent heavy.
He’s older, squinting in the violent
San Francisco sun
the same sun I’ve been baking under
for 8 miles of walking.
What’s it worth to ya?
and I laugh
because I don’t know how to bargain.
we walked from North Beach down to the Golden Gate Bridge
and the whole time,
my husband kept saying
and then he’d sigh, that bridge
and I’m thinking
Yeah it’s beautiful,
look at us baby, walking over the Golden Gate bridge
And he sighs again and says,
That bridge, goddamnit
it just isn’t getting any closer is it?
And he’s right because we’ve been walking
following older women in yoga pants
who seem like the type
of spry ladies who walk this bridge all the time, just for fun.
But after the first 5 miles,
they got into their cars, laughing
we knew we were on our own.
And still that red rust goliath is just swinging out there in the bay taunting us.
I walk five miles a day back in Brooklyn
but we’ve got clouds back there and here, over San Francisco
it’s just so much open sky, so much blazing sun
you could go dizzy staring into all that blue
So that by the time we got to Sausalito and realized,
there was no way back but to turn around and do those 8 miles all over again,
not in these shoes
not after driving the pacific coast highway
And walked right up to the old guy sitting on the brick wall
next to the parked sightseeing trolley
and said, pointing to the thing, is this yours?
How much to get a lift back over the bridge?
The company charges $35 a piece.
Steep, I say.
And he nods. Steep, he says.
What’s it worth to ya? he asks
and I laugh
because, I’m not good at this.
But we settle on 15 for both of us, and my husband hands him the money
and we slip down into those hard wooden seats
that held so many fat lady asses
so many old men with their bum knees
and Chinese tourists with ipads
and he drives us over the bridge
and I think to myself,
my god, there isn’t a prettier city in America
than San Francisco.
Look at her shine
from this wooden seat
the wind blowing my hair crazy
and the ocean
just laying out
waiting for you
like a beautiful woman
lying in your bed,
and right now,
I’m as golden as the coast
I’m driving over
thanks to this wooden trolley
and my Scottish hero
pulling her home.
I have to drive
I have my reasons
even with this Dodge Charger
and its big front end sticking
out that seems to go on forever.
and there’s no 01 on the side
and I can’t imagine this damn thing
jumping over anything
because with my hands on the wheel
it feels like steering an elephant.
You want me to drive, he asks,
as we pull out of the motel
in Long Beach.
No I got it,
I tell him.
I tease him about his driving,
about how uncomfortable he gets
when other cars
come too close to our lane
and besides Highway 1
is a long windy haul and I know it
because I picked it
from Long Beach to Monterrey
and then maybe from Monterrey
to San Francisco
We don’t know yet
because we don’t have an atlas
another thing we left at home.
It’s just one road he tells me,
how hard can it be?
So here I am in the cool California
morning with the mist rising off the road
because I have to drive
because I have my reasons
just like when we traveled
and I drove
through the long
lonely stretches of Texas
looking for bighorns
and stopping at the Cadillac Ranch
after we left the sweet heat of New Orleans.
We argued, tired from putting
half the country under those wheels
and ate lunch in the car in silence.
You drove in Utah
through the Basin
and I tried to sleep then
in the passenger seat
of our little Rocinante
as we called the Ford Escort
named after Steinbeck’s truck
that took us from New York City
to the west coast
and back again
But that was six years ago
and right now we’re quiet
and a little sleepy
and you put Bruce on the radio
and he’s singing softly
along with the rumble of the road
under these tires
and I joke that I would have to be Neal
in this story
as you snap pictures of the mountains
rising out of the sea
and I glance in the rear view
which is filled
with everything I drove away from
and the faces of the people I left behind
ghostly and golden in the early
It’s everything that’s going to be waiting
for me when that
goddamn plane touches down
and I know it but
I have to drive.
I have my reasons,
Ally Malinenko is the author of the poetry collection The Wanting Bone (Six Gallery Press), the children's novel Lizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb (Antenna Books). Her novel This is Sarah is forthcoming from BookFish Books in June. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband.