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Upon Rereading Island of the Blue Dolphins


I remember the ache—
to hunt for devilfish
and live among the sea elephants;
to gather abalone
and sharpen my arrows and hooks
by the light of tiny, slow-burning silver fish;
to weave yucca and tend to my own home
of kelp and whale bones.
I wanted my own wilderness,
a blanket to wrap around myself.
The relief of solitude,
the salve of animals as my only company.
I learned an otter would not withhold its affection,
would only offer its belly
to your offers of fish.
I wanted to be the last of my people,
a girl without
mother, father, sister, brother—
a girl belonging to no one,
my only belongings a cormorant skirt
and a cage of tiny birds.
My only family the wild dog
that killed my brother—
the wild dog I could not kill
and so fed and tamed and named.




Nostalgia is a Dangerous Thing


If you’re an immigrant child,
nostalgia is your sibling.
I am an only child and still
this must be true.
Phantom sister, brother specter:
my mother gave birth to you a million times.
Each time she answered the question,
“Where are you from?”
Each of my mispronunciations inherited, each forgotten word,
each that was a long time ago.
My mother used to kill chickens.
The oldest girl, she was tasked with slicing open
each de-feathered neck, carefully and slowly,
collecting all the blood to season the rice they’d eat for dinner.
My mother has never asked me to kill a chicken.
Not once. My mother, in the scheme of things, asks for little.
At most, I am tasked with simply coming home
and even then I fail.
Nostalgia makes home hard
to find. I have grown so far from the stories my mother tells
that movies are closer nostalgias,
movies like A League of Their Own or Don’t Tell Mom
The Babysitter’s Dead
, movies I watch over and over again,
not on purpose but because they’re on
and even though I’ve seen them a million times, I cannot
bring myself to change the channel.
I could sing their scripts in my sleep.
If only I could screen my mother’s plotlines
like they’re fiction,
created and produced by some studio,
recorded with the swelling music and golden lighting
of wistful remembrance made to make me
feel like I could feel them.
To make me feel
like they could be mine.


Michelle Peñaloza is the author of two chapbooks: landscape/heartbreak (Two Sylvias Press) and Last Night I Dreamt of Volcanoes (Organic Weapon Arts). Her poetry and essays can be found in places like New England Review, Okey-Pankey, Pleiades, and Off Paper, with work forthcoming in Waxwing and Vinyl. Michelle is a Kundiman fellow and the recipient of awards from the University of Oregon, Literary Arts, Artist Trust, and 4Culture, as well as scholarships from VONA, Vermont Studio Center, and the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, among others. Michelle lives in Seattle.

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