Hanging Heart 3
By Sarah Thursday

I was excited to meet you,
you would be more like me.
All the years being yanked
from one place to the next,
being pulled out of school early
means I wasn’t coming back.
I can’t even remember the names
of my teachers, but I can recite
the cities like family members.

Then I met you, Long Beach,
the city of everything,
of Cambodia and Mexico,
of apartments spilling bodies
in the streets, spilling ranchero melodies
and clicking tongues full of Vietnam.
My color was a minority.
My clothes from donated boxes
did not flinch you—
you with your narrow alleyways
and grubby cheeked children.
I was at home before
I knew how long I’d stay.

I knew you were like me
born of struggle and sitting
on window sills staring out
at distant city lights.
Even when we got a new father
and lived among your riverside homes,
it was all wrong like me.
Concrete banks dressed in graffiti
and wilderness trails where
teenage boys played war
around the stained mattresses
left by public refugees.
I became a woman in your sunlight,
I never had to deserve you.

You knew all my names
even when I left you,
I tried to be Hermosa and Redondo—
they pushed out to Lawndale
where train tracks drew lines
between me and him, where girls
like me paid their own way
through city college.
Then he left me for Westwood,
a place I could never see
my own stark reflection,
so I came home to you
and the best skin of you.

I wore my new clothes here
on all your borders north
and south, and east and west.
All your contradictions sang
like love songs even when
for years I was only your mistress.
Other cities have soccer moms
and radio friendly punk rock,
winter tans and French manicures,
but I know how even they
find a place in your diagonals
and your Wardlows that touch
the very poor and the fairly well-off.

I will grow old here far from your shore.
Even though I bought a house
next to the tracks again, your tracks
comfort me, unlike division,
but a literal line of how close we are
side-by-side lying in the lap of you.

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