703: A Thousand Cardinals
703: A Thousand Cardinals
I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.
Today’s poem honors our own personal mythology and how the imagination can transform our reality, into one where we can be our whole selves.
A Thousand Cardinals
by Julian Randall
Imagine my first moon wasn’t a moon at all but a crescent incision in my mother Imagine my disappointment when I realized no light would ever be so full as the gore I passed through just to be born If I am ever as successful at leaving as I aspire to be I suppose it would go like this I decide to stay and then a bloom of cardinals peel themselves from my back I splinter into a thousand dead relatives just like that I’m my mother’s son all over again What was the last thing you loved enough to open something that was not a border I was born and the scar makes my mother exactly the island that her parents fled Every sacrifice begets a question What would you give to never have to flee again? I mean my father asked my mother to not teach me Spanish So I would not be confused my mother traded her tongue and I sound as if I am only his son What sacrifice to say allegiance to my small dark mouth and not be understood on purpose wash the moon clean of crimson until I was barely born at all In order for me to exist somebody has to have had sex In order for me to exist one thing has to be at the gate rattling until answer At the end of sex a sacrifice has to be made unless a sacrifice was made during I do both just to be safe I give and give my tongue and I am my mother’s son because the tongue keeps showing up in my mouth I want to stop being this way I ask what it would take to be a sacrifice worthy of the sacrifices that precede me a trail of wings through which the sun appears to always be in retreat I am placed in a school that costs my parents so much The nature of sacrifice is recursive we give up home after home a child is left at the brink of what is known and we trust an illogical love that I could bring myself back I want to know when enough has been given I want to know when I’m allowed to stop I ask my birth to forgive me when I cannot ask my mother I leave a child at the edge of my mouth dare anyone Wash the moon clean of the child and this too is sacrifice and lineage this too an incision that made me possible There’s the kind of person who gives their life for something There’s the kind of person who gives their life to prove there was a life Despite my best efforts I keep growing back Suppose to wash my mother clean I freed my tongue of my own teeth and nearly leapt in front of a train to save my parents the shame of knowing I am not as strong as my father Suppose my mother called right before as I worked my knees loose from old transgressions to jump Suppose only sacrifice staves off sacrifice What other love is there Suppose the alternate ending the train curves a long moon I split I bouquet I stay a thousand stains a thousand cardinals
"A THOUSAND CARDINALS" by Julian Randall from REFUSE copyright © 2018 Julian Randall. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.