A Poem from Michelle Penaloza

The following poem was shared by Michelle Peñaloza at the #RenterSummit. It’s published here with her permission.

 

michelle penaloza

WE WALK A HEART AROUND LAKE UNION

by Michelle Peñaloza

and you point to buildings and streets
that bear the scars around your own:
the elementary school that taught you
difference and its consequences; the law
firm where twenty-five years later your daily
prayer and hijab reinforced the lesson.
There, the bus stop where you last saw
your brother, out of his mind and out of your
reach, his mouth an open sore.
We’ve talked many times before about
what it means to be noticed, to be
threatening and invisible at the same time.
In this way, we are sisters. We stay close,
two brown women walking together.
This city’s always been very segregated
and it’s true that when you walk north
the prices rise and the faces pale.
We touch the Scotch broom and lilacs
erupted in spring, notice the renegade ferns
growing upon the stumps of old docks.
All along the water’s edge, we note the glorious blue
made bluer by the hulls of gleaming white boats;
upon a hillside suffuse in green, amid artifacts of rust,
people fly kites, edging out over the skyline.
On your left! Bikers zoom past us, their spandex,
the shine of their helmets, rejoicing.
It’s true that people here are different
when exposed to the sun; they crowd
the sidewalks with strollers and wagging dogs.
Sunglasses, then. Smiles and hellos.
We pass condo after condo, clustered houseboats,
marinas of artisan sailboats, luxury yachts.
Who are these people, we ask, looking in.
All day you’ve spoken the landscape of your life
as we walk among places that no longer exist —
neighborhoods reconceptualized and fenced off.
This city does not want me.
What do we do when the ground we claim
as home changes beneath our feet?
Landscape, layered. You can look back,
remember the stories beneath all this shine.
We part ways upon a freshly paved greenspace.
In the shadow of History and Industry, people
play bocce on gravel among orange café seating.
Beneath an awning along the water,
a man carves a canoe from salvaged cedar.

 

From landscape / heartbreak

Republished in The Seattle Review of Books