THE ARC OF THE SUN
for my mother
Here is what you have revealed: At eighteen,
you rode a Greyhound from New Jersey
all the way down to the border and beyond,
into Mexico, where you spent a summer
wrapped in a “novio’s” serenades and
the tortillas of a kind family.
You say you don’t remember the rest.
But there are some things I know.
It was 1965, you were
a young woman breaking out
from the shelter of aunts and uncles,
from kugels and Yiddish jokes, to take
the only route to Mexico:
three days through the Deep South, where
segregation was shaking at the seams,
separate water fountains smashed
to pieces. Remember, the South was heaving,
“colored only” signs yanked from walls,
Jews considered a separate race.
Buses cranked nervously through states
where Freedom Riders were torched and beaten.
Were you ever afraid? You deny memory
and live only in the present,
placing your faith in the arc of the sun
at each hour. Whatever happened that summer,
you came home with the private tongue
of Spanish, a pocketful of tales
you could tell, but chose not to.
Maybe the ride back was easier,
reversing the journey from South to North.
Maybe you were no longer white,
having absorbed the Aztec sun.
Maybe you had shed fear.
Somewhere on the outskirts
of Santa Cruz, down a side road
out of town, gravity is reversed.
I’m not making this up.
In someone’s backyard,
all we knew to be true
was turned upside down:
put a metal ball
at the bottom of a ramp,
and it rolled up.
What magnets hung
in the air—or magic—
to make every object tilt upwards,
gravity now pulling everything
toward the sky?
I believed it all.
I still do.
Every road home somehow bent
toward Lombard Street,
the red snake curve, wheels rolling
over each brick, and our father would say
I think I’ll comb my hair
and take his hands off the wheel
as my sister and I shrieked in the back seat
and the world opened up, didn’t it—
sunshine, baskets of flowers
pouring out their colors
at every turn,
the road twisting and twisting.
Hungry for color, for touch.
For the rough skin of nuts
and the sweetness of pear.
For the wildness
of wild animals, raw
and gritty, teeth and dirt.
For sticky summer heat,
groove and clutch,
lick and steep.
For the opening of flowers,
the complete softness of petals.
How they turn their insides out,
their deepest colors in every shade.
When they are ready,
nothing is hidden.
Could I be that brazen,
that vulnerable. Could I be
that soft all the time.
Yvette Neisser is the author of two poetry collections: “Iron into Flower“(forthcoming in 2022 from Finishing Line Press) and “Grip” (2011 Gival Press Poetry Award). Her translations from Spanish include “South Pole/Polo Sur” by María Teresa Ogliastri and “Difficult Beauty: Selected Poems by Luis Alberto Ambroggio.” Her poems, translations, and essays have appeared in Foreign Policy in Focus, Palestine-Israel Journal, Virginia Quarterly Review, 101 Jewish Poems for the Third Millennium (anthology), and Split This Rock’s The Quarry, among others. She has taught writing at George Washington University and The Writer’s Center (Bethesda, MD), and has worked in international development and research for 20+ years. For more about Yvette, see https://www.yvetteneisser.net/.
Image: Chenspec, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons. Author photo by Mark Kokkoros.