Pietà | Tim Gomez

**I. Sand Fire**

I point towards the Foothills in the distance, an expanse of grey reaching toward the blue above, painting the sky an envelope yellow. *That must be fire,* I tell you, and move my hand from the shifter to your knee. *No, no,* you say. *I think it’s just clouds.*

You put your hand on my shoulder and run your nails along the blade, then gently squeeze the back of my neck.

I know that this is fire, though. I’ve seen that blotted portion of the sky from this vantage point a thousand times, seen every configuration of clouds, of liquid blue, of stars, of moon. I’ve seen it from every other vantage point as well. And I’ve seen those mountains ablaze before, hot and loud above my mother’s house. The same fire that would force me out of high school multiple times, the administration fearing the ash that would rain down. The same fire. Or a similar fire. But fire nonetheless.

And I know that clouds gather. Smoke collects. That you can see the weight of water in the clouds. Can feel the light of ember in the smoke.

I decide not to tell you this. I rub your knee and move my hand back to the shifter. I speed up when the road clears.

**II. Curious, The Hands of Guadalupe: Pt. 1**

The first thing the Virgin desires is to be known. You are poor and your limbs tired. You have seen these rolling hills before, their surprising slush in winter. She presents herself to you as the song of birds, a frame of light and diamonds. A voice like the cool of pavement. *My littlest son,* she calls you. She spreads her arms beside her, as though summoning a symphony.

*I want you to believe, my son,* she tells you. *That I am perfect.*

She lifts her shining fingers to her temple.

*That I am who I claim to be.*

**III. I Wonder How Fire Sounds to Trees**

A whiteboard reads, *Today’s Goal is: Comfort*.

*The bench pulls out,* my grandmother says. *But I’ll probably sleep on the chair; that’s what I did last night.*

Gramps sits up and speaks in grunts.

*I think he needs to go to the bathroom.* He shakes his head. No.

*He’s uncomfortable. He wants the bed up.* No.

*He wants the bed down.* No.

*Does he need the nurse?* No. 

*It’s his gown,* my sister says, decoding the sickly, hissing language. *It’s tangled around his arm.* Yes. 

She stands on a small stool and pulls the cloth out from beneath his body, then tucks it to his side.

The first thing I notice are his cheeks. Or what little is left of them. They sag beside his chin. He is clean-shaven, a limp and white mustache below his nose and his skin, blotched.

*I shaved him and left it,* my grandmother says about the mustache. *Like he had when we first met.* She glides her cracked hand, like paper, across his clean face.

In the hallway, my mother talks on the phone. *He’s worse than he was yesterday,* she says. She rubs my back as I walk back into the room.

My niece smiles when I kiss her forehead.

Besides the beeping machinery. Besides the plastic pull-out couches. Besides the cafeteria trays. The gowns. The white boards with Doctor so-and-so and Nurse such-and-such. Besides the smell of fluoride, the tubing, the catheters. Besides the woman weeping in Room 462. Besides grandpa’s heaving breath. Besides his swelling belly,


the room proceeds as normal. My mother talks to her mother about a sale at Kohl’s. Pillows with modern patterns. A living room end table to replace one she bought six months ago. It ends today, and she has a coupon. My niece takes pictures of herself on her phone; she lip syncs to pop songs. Two French Fries on a white plate with leftover ketchup beside her. My sister brings up the comforter she left in the dryer at home.

*I just hope it’s not wrinkled,* she says to our mother.

**IV. Valerie**

I feel the weight of your heart like the brittle foundation of the US Bank building, risen above Grand, above Flower, above Fig. I run wild along these empty streets. I feel your heart like this city. Like this park. Like the tired of your sandbag eyes deep in the marrow of my crooked bones. I feel your sore knees as you climb along this unbeaten gravel. A bishop asks more of you. I feel your browned liver as though it were my own. Or I drink enough to keep up, enough to dig deep into the leather creases of the living room couch, my skin bent from sleeping wrong, sweat all along the lines in my hands.

I forget what words to call you by, the sound your mother invented for you. I forget the shape of your lips when you asked me not to smear them, when you turned your cheek towards mine. I forget the look you stuck against your eyelids and whether or not it stayed there through morning. I forget your voice, the hum of it when you show your teeth. I forget the feel of your cushioned hips, the webbing between your small fingers, the unraveling of your hair when I twist it around my index finger.

I felt the pulsing rhythm of my open wounds, and yet I slapped your hand away when you reached for them. I felt the pulling of a string, the unwinding of a suture.

I felt the break of California along the San Fernando plates, the ground cracked cleanly at Highland Park. I wave as you pull away and I can’t tell in the blur of distance if you do the same, or if you’re calling out for help.

**III. If a Fire Eats a Home**

If a fire eats a home, what would be its teeth?

Its belly? Its salmon tongue? Its stomach lining?

Would its intestines crash through windows and door frames, wrap around and through?

Break dining room tables apart for minerals, nutrients?

Push together floorboard? Pull apart linoleum?

Would it shit out digested dressers, particle board book shelves,

A bed that once held bodies?

**VI. Alternatively**

In some other life, I would have built houses made of wet cement and hand-laid brick. The scratching of metal against rock. I would have slapped the extras against the walls of wheelbarrows, clean lines perpendicular to red. In some other life, I would have cared for landscaping, snipped the edges off blades of grass, purchased a rectangle cushion to support my knees. In some other life, these houses would be rowed on numbered avenues. Across those streets a mile-long park, children falling on their hands, their parents, still together, warm on green benches.

In some other life, I maybe would have built these families, maybe would know the mechanics of their love. In that life, I maybe would have never thought of such mechanics, would have let it all sit within me, dormant but alive. Healthy. Like white blood cells when a cold is weeks away. We would meet when we were young, and I would sleep well and through the night. I would see my dad as admirable, my mother as foundation. In that other life, I would have built bank accounts and good credit, a better name for myself.

**VII. Curious, The Hands of Guadalupe: Pt. 5**

Mother, am I doomed to save the meek as well? But what shall I
inherit, if anything?

I believed that you were perfect, mother.

Mother, why didn’t you see this falling coming?

Why, while I lied punctured and cold, did your hands not heal it all? My ribs. My torso. My heart?

Mother, did I maybe expect too much of you?

**VIII. The Sound of Jazz**

Down the driveway, I can’t tell if a body is approaching or retreating. The way its legs heave like lumber against the solid cement.

I am unnerved by silhouettes. I remember that you left on a Friday. That you left on a Thursday. That you left on a Sunday. You wore a dress with pockets and looked down at my hands. Or else I didn’t see you in the correct lighting.

*You pull down on your shirt when you’re anxious,* is the last thing you say.

In a study, Harvard graduates were asked about the way seasons work. They remember incorrectly.

It’s not the looping distance that creates the cold. Instead, it’s the tilt of the planet. The Earth tilts towards the sun to create the hotter months, tilts away to make snow.

*I’m not happy; I’m just coping,* you say as you leave, your body leaning out of orbit.

I am unnerved by silhouettes. Outlines and shapes. The way the moon covers the sun once in a while. I think once I saw you lean in, but I mistook the warmth for burning and caught myself in the drying of the maples.

Here is the honest to God truth: I wanted to fold you into the dirt of my ribs. I wanted to grow something whole from a broken part of me, a shattered piece I pulled from my gut. I am unnerved by silhouettes. Outlines and shapes. The way the moon covers the sun once in a while. And the way you totter and evade in the black the light creates. The way my Lady of Guadalupe sets her hands out as though to ask for roses, as though to ask for brick and mortar, as though to say that maybe I *could* be enough. If I could just dig my feet into dirt and climb a little bit higher. The way I feel the burn of the fire even from safety’s footing.

The way it’s impossible to see if you are coming or if you are going. If you are facing me or away, out towards that crooked expanse. How I can’t fathom how either might look, how either could make me whole.

Timothy Gomez holds an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. His work has appeared in Connotation Press, Epiphany, No Tokens and others. He currently lives in Whittier, CA and teaches High School English at Aspire Ollin University Prep Academy in Southeast Los Angeles. He also co-hosts an occasional podcast about friendship and feelings entitled Fairweather and writes at his website timfinite.me.