by Tara Isabel Zambrano
Before, my mother settled my twin sister and me every morning in a neighbor’s front yard and boarded a bus to a local bottling plant, in her powder blue uniform, her hair pulled back so hard her veins showed. We read comics with missing pages, stripped our dolls to the sun.
At the filling station, my mother watched the slosh of juices into empty bottles, her nails rubbed raw working labels, the glue peeling the skin of her finger pads. No windows, stark lights. Sealed cans holding the fruit piss. Before my mother understood the difference between acids, caustics, living and suffering, she was moved to the water treatment center where she cleaned the vents, scrubbed the floors, the chlorine, settled on her skin, in her eyes, and in her hair, made her sterile. Before the factory swallowed her each day and spit out at night, a dry seed, my mother was glass, my mother was an orange wreathed in luscious peels, my mother was sun’s magma. Before, my mother’s name was Anna, and the payment slips called her Lee, the last name of my father who fled to Florida with his girlfriend, his memory a blooming wound at the back of her throat. She pushed her fingers inside to pluck it, puked blood.
Before, my mother untangled the kinks in our bone black hair, kept locks of it in her purse. Before, she smelled us and scrutinized our faces, knowing how each of us looked from the day of our birth, rooted to her dowager womb by our breath placenta. Before she hibernated, before she milked tears that couldn’t fix her chlorinated lungs. Before she became our child, her lips pressed against the wall, her mouth plastered. Before she crumbled into ash without a trail of soot.