01 Jan 2019

Before the animal sanctuary
where I hugged a turkey, feathered angel
nuzzling under my chin, before I knew
turkeys love to be hugged, before I was
old enough to volunteer to serve
meals at the church, before I heard
the preacher’s wife scold a man
without a home for not being grateful enough,
before I was queer enough to notice
my name left out of a prayer,
before I got the scoop on what really happened
at Plymouth Rock, before I learned the word
genocide, before I knew enough
to be devastated that I’d once asked my friend
how her family celebrated Thanksgiving
on the reservation, before we marched
the streets closed, before I’d held hands
with a crying 5-year-old running from riot cops
throwing tear gas, before we shut down the parade anyway carrying signs
that said Thankstaking, it was my favorite holiday-
I cut paper bags into pilgrim clothes
and put on Mayflower living rooms shows,
I grabbed the wishbone with both hands
and won the wish every year, I ate potatoes,
my favorite, from morning until midnight-
I don’t remember another day
my family was so happy;
my mother could still stand
on her head back then
and I’d laugh the stuffing out of my nose,
her feet shooting toward the sky like a toy arrow,
her face red as beet – I hated beets and I never had
to eat them on Thanksgiving – it was the best day,
I was thinking last summer, roasting marshmallows
the flames like arms reaching to beckon us closer
to each other, when my mother, casually,
like it was nothing, said her father – who I knew
she’d loved more than life, who I knew had died
when she was still a kid – had died on Thanksgiving,
a fact I’d never all those years,
what I’d called the best day had been the anniversary
of her very worst day, my god, I thought,
how many times did she sneak into her bedroom
to take his photo out of the drawer, how many times
did she try to catch her reflection in the window
to make sure her mascara wasn’t bleeding
down her cheeks, have I ever since and will I ever again
know a generosity so wide as her smile
all those years, how wildly she clapped
for my joy, the whole slaughter of a day,
a day she gave to me – her tiny pilgrim
giddy with having no idea what I had
to be grateful for.

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