My grandmother’s house was painted a dark, graying eggshell blue
and was very near the southern border of the Catskill Mountains.
After the death of my grandfather she sold the house, the barn, the many
acres of field and forest. No one was surprised.
Death contaminates the heavy rivers of our bodies
and we must move on.
Bound as we are, even as a hidden culture,
her family has spread out from that place—
a daughter in California,
a son in the Carolinas,
a son in Massachusetts,
a daughter in Wyoming
a daughter who never left
a daughter who never settled down—
like seeds on the wind,
only growing shallow roots in acidic soils.
My mother, head of black curls,
once told me that we are like the rhododendron,
which blooms large, bright, and heavy in the woods,
belonging to the far place where the sun rises, even if everyone has forgotten.
She does not mention that Romani, this mark of the burned, torture, and shamed, is but one gleaming link in the chain of who I am.
I remember the day she let me shop in the men’s’ section. I bought
one yellow shirt. Yellow.
I am not pink or blue or purple. I am the lone place where light reaches,
splintering and splitting.
Hardly anyone knows what it means to be non-binary. Isn’t queer a slur? I thought there
were only two genders. In each and every space
I have entered I must bare the weight of femininity,
and know that it is an illusion. Hardly anyone knows, or wants to believe that these everyday assumptions crack spines and burn minds.
Hardly anyone knows
what it means to be Romani, that even today my people
are persecuted, that we have suffered genocide, that we have been wrongly
labeled as thieves and witches. No one trusts a wanderer.
Although the road calls out to me, and I find myself twisting
through long fields and behind bushes and shrubs. But it does not help.
Everything about this existence of mine is wrong.
My eyes too wide and bright, my voice too high.
In my dream I am whole again, wandering and alone,
a caravan of lightning bugs dotting the early evening sky in the labyrinth.
the light hangs strange there; it hovers,
suspended the way a heavy wet cloth drying in a summer storm hangs,
uncomfortable and wavering. The air is thick
and earthy with golden dust. The wood path coils
carefully around trees and stones, and when
I try to follow it with my eyes it darts and disappears
into the brush like a hunting viper.
The past is this way too.
Pushed out of sight and haunting, just on the edge of my vision.
None of my family wants to be reminded of our heritage, although
we each are marked, heavy in the center of our faces with the Romani nose. Dark hair dyed blonde,
seventy SPF all winter long, we hide, here where we
can be as white as anyone else, and no one will question our wanderlust.
Romani isn’t the only thing I hide. Deep in the tree of my back,
I carve out a phantom limb, like an Old Testament god, I try
to make two of one.
Turn me out wretched; I cannot be the one in my dream,
I can not be of two, an Adam and an Eve,
instead I am in halves and burning for a body that I can reason with.
Ela Thompson is a current MFA poetry student at George Mason University and the assistant poetry editor at the feminist literary journal, So to Speak. Their honors include: finalist of the 2016 Jane Lumley Prize, the 2015 Marion Zulaf Poetry Prize, and a short fiction prize of the 2011 Missouri Literary Festival. Their work has been featured or is forthcoming in The Mercury, Hermeneutic Chaos, and Voicemail Poems.