THE BOOK OF WISHES
The man in the next room wouldn’t stop coughing.
All night, terrible hacking bursts. “God,” I said,
“I wish he’d stop.” My mother and I
lay awake in a motel room in San Ysidro
stretched out, side by side, in separate beds
like coffins in which we couldn’t stop turning.
Each morning a shuttle picked us all up,
supermarket doughnuts open on the counter
in the glazed lobby, and glided us across
the border to the experimental clinic
in Tijuana. Around four, it brought us back.
Engines idling for hours to enter America;
women and children lining the stalled highway,
selling Mexican blankets, dolls, noisemakers.
When we reached the front of the line, all we had
to say was Yes. Each night, the same coughing,
machine gun spitfire broken by a lobbed grenade.
Each day, three rooms, patients like a ball of gnats
whirling in slow motion, pushing metal crosses
like coat racks on wheels, weaving through each other
from the dining room to the waiting room and back,
a yellow liquid dripping into their arms.
One day at lunch—I still remember the sickly taste
of unripe papaya; shaving the green-orange flesh down
with my spoon, trying to eat—my mother
told me she heard someone had died in the night.
That night, we listened to the ice machine
churning down the hall, the highway trembling beyond.
Two days later, my mother left for Catalina Island,
spent her last navigable days watching dolphins,
their sleek muscular pulses of mercury,
a thousand half-moon arcs out to the horizon.
Originally published in New Letters.