Marissa Bell lives in Berkeley, CA. She has an MFA in Writing from
California College of the Arts (CCA). The Allegheny Review, Monday
, and Beeswax Magazine have published her poems.

Personal Tropics

The subject's eyes or the composition
allows emotion through—green hills
of Kashmir backdrop, my dad shows off the line
of rainbow trout granddad caught,
pant legs rolled up. There's a black and white

of grandma sitting in a garden yard, facing away,
dark hair swept off neck in a bun—I wonder
at what point she knew

of granddad's sneaking on the side
with men. Ends of conversations; I soaked up
our family tree, been floating on my own branch
upriver. No guidance for when to cut loose,
head for the bank. When to find a knot, hold tight?

My sister and I came between my parents;
we embody what's between them. Where's
a compass when a girl needs one? In the keepsake

box I never troll through. I know, I've seen
the slideshow: Jersey lake where mom life-guarded,
dad a boy amid the dust and scorch of Pakistan, both
in the Central African Republic on the porch
of a wooden house on stilts. The literal radius of my life

felt bottle cap-sized, strains against me
as I wrap my arms around the warping
radius of lineage. And it's that easy—I appropriate

a place. In the word have
is ownership less forceful more possessive
than know. Given and taken, the pull between us all.
Just like that—bloodlines
categorized. A branch on the tree,

chosen. I haul myself up
into lives that aren't mine,
happen to intersect.

Only English Now

Night already outside. Empty tables. Rene smokes a cigarette, tells me of his wife and sons—almost a month they've been gone to Mexico. Sons' first time there. His youngest son will speak only English now. I picture my mother's classroom with space for fourteen different languages. His older boy, mastering English and Spanish, romances father with corrections of his English words and grammar. Nobody will tease his boys the way they do my mother's students. Rene is halfway through another double shift. My eyes follow his hand holding the cigarette and my mouth doesn't open to mention how my mother's students come over before Thanksgiving to bake pumpkin pies, or how we tutor them after school, high-schoolers reading all the fifth grade favorites again. I don't tell him about the thirteen year old girl from India who doesn't read well and probably has a learning disability that has gone unnoticed because she's such a nice young girl who doesn't ever disrupt the class and isn't that long hair of hers absolutely beautiful? In level four French and above my class was no longer allowed to use English. Stripped down to only the basics of language, I learned to speak with gestures. When I ask if he has a picture he hands me his wallet. There stands Rene with both boys, soccer jerseys on, muddied park in the back and a ball at their feet. They could be anywhere with their carbon copy lopsided smiles. Boys American now. Says he wouldn't change it and gazes across the patio.

Marco's African Place
2005 Cape Town, South Africa

Painted festively on its outer wall, chunky white letters outlined in black scream Marco's African Place. The entrance opens into a fireplace nook, bar in the background, cozy up close. A man in a black leather jacket saunters up to the bartender, hand outstretched. They shake hands and hug, leaning over the bar. This is the bongo drummer from the Congo who will open the entertainment. At first, diners sit calmly, politely eating torn chunks of the homemade steamed bread Marco's Place serves. The drummer's hands move faster than the eye can follow. His whole body catching the beat as he plays, people's knees bounce with him. When the late night band starts up tables are cleared to sides, opening a dance floor. Marco happens to be out of the kitchen, at the reception desk wearing his white chef's coat and hat. He smiles warm and wide, a slight pink flush heats his dark cheeks as regulars introduce their guests on the way inside. Young women occupy the dance floor. As each song closes the band's back-up singer comes to the floor grooving, taking over, her whole body displaying who owns the moves, the stage. And she is good, really good, man. Her hips work the bass notes, her body rolls rivet watchers. As sound fills the lower level of the restaurant, carries to the mezzanine, diners stop eating their kudu steak, clap in synch. As the waiters and waitresses carry platters, reset place settings, take drink orders, they are be-bopping along. One waitress dances with a blonde man who passes her en route to his table. They smile, laugh with their shoulders, her headdress scarf loosens as she moves.

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