Family Portrait #3

Chiyuma Elliott

I would wander. After school, before anything much
was expected of me, through the scrub oaks
on the hills. So the smell of dirt clods
and dry grass, the ocean sound of stalks
rubbing against each other means something.

This is my hand. This is my ring on my middle finger.
This is what love will convince you to do—buy rings for yourself
and sit still in the shade of an old oak
to think about it.
The sound of the grass is like the white noise
of ocean on my stereo. And this one patch of light
is like my bedside lamp
when the rest of the house is dark.

I love the way some floors change color
when they get wet. I used to hike through the trees
to an exposed spot on the ridge—
a chunk of rock jutting up out of the grass
like a space ship. I'd scramble to the top and pour
the contents of my thermos over it,

watch the dried lichen go acid yellow, acid green,
and the rock itself turn into wood or blood,
leaf or obsidian. I'd trace the outlines
of fossil fish, their delicate ribs and fins,
the whorls of shells, the whorls of plants.
And the grass kept saying
this was all ocean and I'd say I know, I know.
Blood tastes like the ocean. I tried to imagine
everything under water, myself under water.

When I got the phone call I felt smaller.
I watched my hand shake, the pencil
try to make letters and numbers.
I thought of my ribs held fast in rock, my kneecaps
locked like shells. I thought of the red spatter
on the curtains by the bed. What would they do
with the curtains?

Put everything in water.
Look at the ring glinting on your hand
as if through murky water. Hike to the top of a hill
and lie down under an oak tree in dirt that's
soft as water. The grass says everything was once
under water. It is again.