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“I write because I cannot paint” – Bhanu Kapil, The Vertical Interrogation of StrangersImage

I think and try to remember. I write and remember. Writing is an act of memory, the art of living a moment again and again from impossible angles and imagined perspectives. It is the art of believing in the possibility of what has already passed, has already lapsed into history. 

It is my mother’s birthday today. I tell myself to write it. Not it, but an image that I know of my mother and for my mother. 

There is a list of what I need to write. It begins with the house my father built for us. It ends with her back turned to me. Her body submerged from her waist down beneath the waves. Her hair is swept over her right shoulder. Her  neck is arched as is her spine. The sun sets and casts a black shadow. The waves are purple, growing darker, like oil against her skin. The world is black and white, golden at its edges. And the weight of it centers upon her, expanding out in a series of desperate ripples towards the artificial lights of the city and the cracked hull of my great grandfather’s fishing boat.

This is how I know my mother, how I remember her. This is how I will remember her, regardless of the new memories that we create. This is the story that I try and am trying to remember and that in remembering, am writing over and over again. 201 pages. And a prologue.

I hope that it is worthy of her.

I tell myself to write it. Where I sat. Reading words as though they were lines, sketching the light out.


Write the cracked counters and the stained and gnawed cushions my mother covered with sheets and blankets.

Write the stripped floors, the broken cabinets and the mismatched plates my mother purchased, one at a time, one a week from the department store down the road.

Write the impassable oak table surrounded by folding chairs.

Write the dampness of the basement, the constant swelling of the air at morning when night sank into the earth, staining the concrete purple and blue.

Write the smell of the dying magnolia masked by the sound of wilting paper and the steady pacing of my mother, still walking from side to side, her finger prints left on the wall.   

Write the photographs and the desk.

Write the light and the stairs.

Write the oak clusters, the gravel, the dust and wind.

Write your father, bent towards the paper screen, ink stains etched into his hands and face.

Write your mother, her hair draped over her chest, her bare back pale and open to the sun, her jaw and neck outlined in the water, streaming against the shore of her uncle’s cabin on an island somewhere I can’t remember.