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  • Mandala of the Soapy Water, and: Arrangements
  • Chloe Martinez (bio)

Mandala of the Soapy Water

A few photos: sharp cheekbones, deep-set eyes, bothbequeathed to his son, my father. Grandma remarried,erased him so thoroughly he turned into smoke rings,

the stock story she told: went out for cigarettes one day . . .and drifted away. My father, fathered by a cloud, becamea painter, someone who could turn anything beautiful.

Martinez our name, our mystery, mispronounced by meuntil college. Then the apologetic MARtin in my mouth,the ez tacked on quietly, as if to escape notice, was corrected.

Over and over MarTINez came back to me, the only wayNew Yorkers knew how to say it. So his name, at least,returned. Later, I searched databases for him. No trace. As if he never

was in the first place. Where a story of him would go is the sentence,He was a dishwasher—that odd formulation, as if washing disheswere a vocation, instead of a poorly paid, backbreaking job

that he must have hoped to trade for something better.Instead of a story, the vague notion that he was Puerto Rican.Or "mixed": a little Spanish and Irish too. No story of who

his people were. The story is that he disappeared, butno story is told of where he went, or why, or what happened to him.He simply fades from family memory, in the murky middle of the 1950s. [End Page 156]

Families gather around something, telling stories. What is thereat the center? Ring of smoke. In the absence of story, image:soapy water, the white moons of plates coming up for air, sinking again.

Late night, hot restaurant kitchen, summer in the city. His rumpled whiteapron, wet against the clank and spray of the sink. His sore back. His shiningsoapy arms, circling. Ancestor. I want to imagine you another life.


Because the lilies aren't ready to bloomthe women of the wedding party fan out

across the reception hall, lean closeto each cluster of green and with two fingers

unlock the petals from one another,nudge them apart enough to let light

slip in—flowers don't know what moves them,they find themselves falling open,

one after another imperceptibly slow explosion,awake, awake, they cry silently,

all around them the silverwarein formation, the wide-open faces of plates, expectant

white expanses of tablecloth, quiet now,for the women have gone to pin white jasmine

in their hair, and the men pace on the lawnin Sunday suits, squinting upward,

reading the sky for signs of rain. [End Page 157]

Chloe Martinez

Chloe Martinez's poems have appeared or are forthcoming in publications including Waxwing, the Normal School, the Collagist, PANK, and the Common. She is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, a semifinalist for the 2018 Perugia Prize, a book reviewer for RHINO and a reader for Adroit. She is the program coordinator for the Center for Writing and Public Discourse at Claremont McKenna College as well as Lecturer in Religious Studies. Visit



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