Excerpt from 'Father of the Four Passages'

father-four_passages.jpgFather of the Four Passages

By Lois-Ann Yamanaka

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2001 Lois-Ann Yamanaka. All rights reserved.
ISBN: 0-374-15387-6

Chapter One

The Keeper

Sonny Boy, son of Sonia, the only one I did not kill. Three, I killed. Number One in cartilaged pieces on a surgical tray. #2, like a dead feeder fish, flushed out and down. A third, buried in a jar behind my mother's house, fetal marsupial, naked pink.

    Sonny Boy, son of Sonia, stop your crying on this bed, your purple wail without breath. Feel the squinting of my eyes, the gritting of my teeth, the closing of my fists. Here is my hand to cover your mouth. Here are my fists to crush your skull. Do you want to die?

    They're smoking and drinking to your birth downstairs. And I'm the single artist mother, breast-feeding lounge singer mother, earth righteous minority mother. But I can't make you stop. Shh, they can hear you, godfuckingdammit.

    Your body stiffens. Fists clench. You cry without sound. A blue boy. Let me bounce you, let me slap you, let me sing to you, let me choke you, let me throw you out the window.

    I blow on your face. And in one long draw, you breathe me in.

    I am the keeper of words. This is your word to keep: God/the/son.

* * *

    Dear Number One,


You are nay first dead baby, a baby boy.


I am on the green bed in Granny Alma's Kalihi house. Alone, so Alone. My face is puffy and flushed. Scared, I'm scared. My belly is a round ellipsis. I don't know who to tell. About: you.


Your aunt Celeste comes into the room and stares at me. My mouth opens, but no words come out. And then she knows.


You are in me.


And you need to come out.


She turns without a word from the doorway of the green room. You are four months old, she tells Granny Alma. Call Dr. Wee, who sits two pews in front of Granny at church every Sunday.

He will suck you out of me.


But you want to stay.


Salamander fingers, you cling to my wet walls until your body rips apart. You are the color of tendon in my sweet stew, little pod, with eyes, black beads, like a rat's. Your aunt Celeste's lovely eyes.


Your mother, Sonia Kurisu, age 17

* * *

    I hate my sister Celeste. Celeste who always reminds me that she raised me the best she could. Poor thing. Poor her. The kind of girl who's forced into substitute mommydom too early. Lots of sad stories about girls like her.

    She found our mother wedged between her bed and the wall, an empty vial of Seconal, bent spoon, lighter, and small syringe on the floor. Celeste was ten. I was nine.

    Grace was fading out, eyes rolling slowly, a groan, a mutter. We walked her dragging feet to the living room couch. Celeste put herself between Grace's legs and held her body up against the picture window. Head floating on a neck made of rubber. "Call 911, you moron. Don't just stand there."

    Grace took several short gasps for air.

    Purple mommy.

    So I blew in her face. A long breath that she held, her head falling.

    "She's leaving," Celeste screamed. I dropped the phone, the cord spinning the receiver. And she was still.

    I saw the couch indent beside Grace. I smelled the rotting carcass of goat, a maggot-filled belly, the explosion of flies wet with intestinal fluid and excrement. Her head slid in the direction of the Specter. Celeste covered her nose and mouth.

    "Get up, Mommy, the Devil's come to get you. Stand up, Mommy. Grace!" I screamed at her.

    I witnessed the summoning of the Seraphim as my mother willed her body to rise. She stumbled to the front door and leaned her body over the porch railing, her arms and head hanging. Breathing, breathing, until the ambulance rushed up our driveway and drove us all away.

    Who the fuck knows why the police called our aunty Effie, who wasn't even a real aunt, to take us to her house. Our stay would be indefinite. I heard her calling the church's prayer tree late into the night.

    "Grace. That's what I said. Grace Kurisu. The waitress at the 19th Hole. Painkillers and alcohol. She has that good-for-nothing husband. Oh, the big girl, Celeste's, all right. She's a strong Christian. Sonia, the little one, keeps talking about the Devil. The poor thing's screwed up, I tell you. I'll call Frannie and all the deacons."

    She told the story of my mother over and over again to anyone and everyone who wanted to know every goddamn detail of our lives and the Appearance of the Angel of Death, in Hilo of all places.

    At eleven o'clock, the phone went still. I heard Aunty Effie brushing her dentures and a short time later, a muffled snore from behind her bedroom door. Celeste nudged me, motioning me to follow her. We left through the front door into the cool Hilo night and walked home.

    It was Celeste who walked me to school every day, fed me canned goods and rice for breakfast, and told me what to say when the CPS social worker came looking for us. She got me on the sampan bus after school, down the icy corridors of the hospital, and into the room where Grace spent the next six nights. Every night, we were deposited at Aunty Effie's. And every night by twelve, Celeste made sure we slept in our own beds.

    Sister/Mother, it all sounds so loving.

    But she of the iron-fisted mommydom became the Sadist.

    And I of the get-the-shit/mind/soul-beaten-out-of-me-or-else became the Masochist.

    So your word, Celeste Kurisu-Infantino, twenty years later, I still fucking hate you, wife of Sicilian not Portagee, Michael Infantino; mother of Tiffany, fat and full of acne, and Heather who draws cat's claws in God's eyes, keep it for me, my: Sister/sadist.

* * *

    Dear Number One,


So who am I to blame a substitute mother for your death by suction? She raised me the best she could, right?


Your Mom, Sonia, age now

* * *


    I am on a black futon in a wet, warm room, red scarves over dusty lamps. Windows closed, curtains drawn, no sound but heartbeat and breath. Sonny Boy is asleep beside me.

    When will I stop fucking up?

    The pregnancy attention was what I wanted. I loved it. All of them giving me the best chair in the house. All of them putting pillows under my feet. All of them rubbing my belly for good luck. Feeding me, indulging me, venerating the earth mother. O, the possibility of bringing forth life from your body! they marveled.

    When will I wash my hair?

    Mark promised to buy a bottle of Prell, the fucking flake. My best, childhood forever friend, my little Markie, digging out on me every time I fuck somebody not to his liking. I miss him, I need him, I call him. But he's gone.

    When will I stop fucking up?

    I'm too selfish to do this mommy shit. Mark could do it. Mark who mothered me over the years. Mark who fathered me over the years. Mark who brothered me over the years. Come back and take care of this fucking screaming baby. Come back and take care of me.

    When will the bleeding stop?

    This afterbirth blood smells rancid and old.

    When will I stop fucking up?

    This isn't a dog I can tie up in the rain. Watch it shiver on a blanket soaked with urine and shit. Starve it, no money for dog food. Give it one kind pat a day. Beat the howling out of him. Watch him die. Bury him in the backyard. No more dog. Was tired of him anyway.

    When will I rest?

    My body aches from rocking, carrying, strolling, bouncing this boy who cries in steady, staccato bursts until he's blue:

    Four to six in the evening, nonstop, he's fucking shrieking.

    Ten to twelve, shut the fuck up, I put my hand over his mouth, dig my nails into his cheeks.

    Four to six in the morning, nauseated, I weave my fingers into his hair and squeeze.

    Ten to twelve, crying, I fall to the floor, watch him drop off the bed headfirst.

    And in between, he sleeps. Maybe.

    Overstim, they tell me. Darken the room. Talk in hushed tones.

    Colic, they tell me. Turn him on his belly. Turn him on his back. Don't eat cabbage or refried beans.

    These days and nights that blur in a myopic haze. And no one to talk to but this horrible pod my body made.

    I hear somebody leaving next door. Lucky you.

    They're all leaving Las Vegas. They write songs and movies about this phenomenon. Leaving Las Vegas with empty pockets, and the eternal struggle:

    Should I use my last dollar to eat a hot dog or put it in this slot machine? Dumb fuck, you should've eaten.

    I hear somebody moving in next door.

    And the mailman's shoving envelopes under my door.

    A letter from my father, a man who knows about leaving. Lucky him. Never looked back. Never wanted to look back.


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