Jen Gupta, Things I Know Now

June in Our Home Forever or Immigration Finally Calls

I dream of bacon, a sweet maple scent
tickles his nostrils, releases a hungry grin.
Our room is an oven so we lie, sticking
to each other like syrup. The lovebirds whisper
to us, tell us they have never seen a happier pair.
They bring stolen pastries in their tiny beaks.
I am on vacation and the calendar shows
next month is more June and more June
and more June, more savory mornings
in our one bedroom sanctuary. His phone rings

and it is Immigration calling to say they are sorry
that they have taken so long, and for your troubles,
here is your permit to work,
and here is your green card,
and here is fifty thousand dollars
to cover that unnecessary degree
you earned so you could stay
in this bed forever, and here
is the wedding your parents watched
from their phone so you could stay in this bed forever.

He lets out a ten month sigh and they say,
Here is more. Here is a ticket to India.
Here is permission to leave
and come back. He hands me the phone
and I hear, Here is your first hug.
Here is the exact smell of your father-in-law.
Here are all the meals your mother-in-law
has picture fed you. Here are their
resentments sealed in a silent jar.
Here is forgiveness for stealing
their only son, leaving your dutiful bedroom
empty. Actually, here is a vacuum
that sucks up the ocean between you,
here is a way to have it all.

We wake to the smell of bacon, a sweet
maple trickle from the café downstairs.
If I stare only at the ceiling, I can’t see
boxes or empty walls. I can forget
the bank account, the phone
sleeping silent next to our bed.

I am Voted Most Delicate in 8th Grade

praised for my giraffe neck,
enrolled in ballet
for the swan of me.
I am assumed pond,
neatly manicured.
A boy says I look
like I don’t go
in the woods. He wants
it to be a compliment.
I don’t tell him, but
my body is woods.
There are a thousand
unearthed stones
beneath the tender
parts of my flesh.
I cover them
with astroturf.
He doesn’t notice
my nails, but they
are dirt. I have buried
their holes with polish.
My cave mouth
is constantly pecked
away by the cliffs
of my teeth. The long
sticks of my fingers
poke at the embers
burning in my throat.
I make lava.

Home as All Places

(Imagine there’s no countries. — John Lennon)

Imagine no countries
just unowned beauty, rows of hopeful
mountains, silky lakes with no one to say

mine, to say for our eyes only,
go get your own. No own just come
as you crave, go as you like.

Imagine living with the sweetness
of goodbye always at the tips of you,
soaking in the fleeting joy found

on the underside of a rock
and knowing it will be for someone else
tomorrow, the globe just a giant taste

test for the eyes. Imagine we take
better care knowing each tree can be
ours if just for an undisturbed moment,

each threatened creature cared for
as our pet, if we were allowed to fall
in love every time we turned a corner.

Imagine home meaning all places,
meaning we’re already there,
meaning welcome.

Things I Know Now:

I told my third grade teacher math was my favorite subject.
It was because I liked the math book pictures best.
She would hand us figurines to count and I’d give them names and voices.
I have always been bad at math.
I don’t know how my mind was able to hold all those numbers.
I shouldn’t tell you about the things I counted.
I will never forget: 80 in a small banana, 120 in a large, a stick of gum = 210 jumping jacks.
The grocery store used to be so heavy with digits.
Counting your ribs can distract from the hunger.
I know how to lie to the therapist.
She’d never have found out about the empty lunchbox.
It’s been four years.
I no longer wake up dizzy.
My stomach folds into a smile when I bend.
The mirror is not so scary, but the scale still is.
I worry there is still a hungry corner in my brain.
These poems will always be just an echo of splashing water.
I know my teeth will always wear these scars.
The dentist was just pretending not to notice.
It was because he knows my parents too well.
It wouldn’t matter if he had.
My sister told them once.
They pretended not to hear.

Barbie’s Defense

I love it when kids leave me naked,
strip my gown inside out and forget to dress
me back. Nothing makes me happier
than letting my impossible proportions
drop the jaws of brothers who stumble upon
the cloth carnage in their sister’s bedroom.

As for the girls, well I’ve grown used
to pre-pubescent fingers roaming curious
across the smooth of my stomach. You want me
to feel guilty when they land on their own
and wonder about all the squish? I’m not
your ditzy dream girl. It’s not my fault
they made me this way. Not my fault I have the best

cars, best clothes, best tits they’ve ever seen—
first tits they’ve ever seen, well, aside from
the mothers’ but those never look so great
once they are milk defeated and shriveled
like the belly button I don’t have. Smooth
is just my thing. Nothing wrinkled
between my thighs, thighs so smooth,

so long, they are perfect
for shoving down your throat. Yeah,
I’ve toe touched a few uvulas, watched girls strip
their dinner inside out and refuse to dress
it back up. Anyway, these things are not my fault.
I’m just a girl, made the way I was made,
all bubblegum pink perfection.

I didn’t make myself ideal, you did,
all of you, turned me into plastic expectation.
You think I’m the problem, but look
at yourselves, working a job, making money
so you can buy me for your children. So you can
stare into your own sad mirrors and wonder
why you are not so impossible.

Jen Gupta is a teacher, avid hiker, and horse lover. She is currently on the run from responsibility, living nowhere at all with her husband and their dog. Her work has been published in Anti-Heroin Chic, Bandit Fiction, Capsule Stories, Olney, Sledgehammer, and others. You can find her on Instagram: @jengaydagupta

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