San Francisco Strong

Jordan Wilson-Dalzell

I come from a line of women who twist as they walk.
We inherit wild eyes,
become centurion trees,
generations strong.
I belong to the green limbs
who raised me to believe
that crooked trunks don’t fall easily.

Summers looked like
rooting myself to my grandmother’s kitchen table,
kneading dough for recipes
carried by matrilineal memory.
It was there I learned to mold myself
in the family value of growing,
despite bad weather.

By the time I turned nine,
I was taller than my grandma.
How could a branch reach higher sky than the tree?
Despite a world trying to call her tongue a weed
she spit out the chemicals of sexism,
refused to let their pesticides
push her back into the ground.
They expected her to burn.
Instead, her bark toughened
with a generation of women
she raised to believe questions are holy—
our minds a temple of ideas—
salvation surviving to be heard tomorrow.

I pray for the right words to measure how fast
the nightmares fled my mother—
termites, too afraid to bite at our family forest.
She carved herself into a bridge
between our fears and sleep,
but there is not enough infinity
to count the hours her eyes stayed awake,
just so we’d feel protected.

My relationship with the woman who made me
is a receipt stretching forever,
that she will never let me pay.

When my dad and I fight,
she puts each blaze to rest.
After the smoke clears,
she teaches us to plant again.

I still cannot find the lines of sorry
to open the closing of her eyes
when sleep returns her
to the double yellow lines that fractured her spine,
and today my hands are too fragile
to dig her out of her mother’s grave.
Long before I was a bud beginning to grow,
she buried her own seeds beside her mama’s casket.
The caretaker who didn’t have anyone left to care for—

when we were little,
my brother and I dug up her smile.
We gave her a flag to fight for, an anthem to hear.

There’s a tradition in my family
of the future saving the past;
the barren wilderness of depression is mine now.
Hide-and-seek with my baby cousin helped me
uncover the pieces of myself I liked.
She held my hand until
I was brave enough to want to hold my own.

Childhood can be contagious;
you can always catch yours again.

I owe too many apologies, too many poems
to the woman who built me,
but I don’t know how to say them,
how to straighten her question-mark back,
thinking she is to blame,
because I have been bending my whole life.

I cannot convince her my trauma
doesn’t also belong to her closed eyes
when I don’t always believe that.

She wields her guilt like an axe
when she thinks she’s holding a shovel.
Even when I’m breaking,
I am her daughter.

First published in Resuscitate.