Naranja Way; Ralston Street; Lexington Avenue

Naranja Way

I learned to swim in my grandpa’s pool 
with softball sounds from the nearby field 
floating in. The happy roar of it. Imagined 
dirt and green. The chain-link fence of evening. 

At night, underwater lights. The pool waterfall 
was like the one in the picture of them in Hawaii 
in the hall. My step-grandma was a widow with 
four children. He too was a widower with four. 
They said that’s us when The Brady Bunch 
came on TV. 
I’d stay some weekends and when my mom 
was hospitalized. He treated her like an adult 
though she called him daddy. 

My stays at their house were filled 
with prayer before bedtime, grandma 
writing my name on a piece of tape and sticking it
on a brown or green Tupperware cup 
so I would only use one per day. 

The days burst with the joy of camping in an RV, 
seeing the little green tree move on the Christmas 
countdown calendar, hand sewn with yarn, 
The Lawrence Welk Show softly playing. 
When I asked Papo to split a bowl of dry roasted 
peanuts or for a scoop of ice cream, he said yes. 

Waking up there I’d run into the kitchen and see 
them at the table. Sometimes grandma would be 
cutting his hair, each of them in a type of apron. 
Her thumb pressed to the comb. Their curling laughs. 

After breakfast he’d go out through the sliding glass door 
to tend his orchard of peaches and no one was invited. 
I was at grandma’s hip in the kitchen, curious about 
her plans, asking when I could swim. New plants. 
Hardware stores. Recipes in a box on a high shelf. 

Friends dropped by and spoke in tones 
in which I sensed the goodness of church. 
Every type of powerlessness, especially
over other people, was expressed at the table. 
I heard the adult world in women’s voices 
when their voices went lower as hands
folded corners of placemats then placed them 
back nicely.

All day grandpa would be in the garage making 
small repairs or out checking on a property. 
Then he would walk into the kitchen like a character 
we waited for but never worried about. Singing, 
he’d take grandma’s hand and start two-stepping. 
Ralston Street

I was living in San Francisco by my eighteenth birthday
with my sister in a studio apartment where the M-line 
train winds up the hill past SF State University. 
We shared food she selected and prepared. 
I copied her sandwiches when she wasn’t home. 

At night we drank wine and wrote poems.
Then she’d go for a walk to the liquor store 
for cigarettes or something more to drink.

She painted brown stripes in watercolor. 
Someone was always calling long distance 
on the landline. Her ex or new boyfriend, 
both named Chris. Our mom called. 
Or our other sister, back home from group homes. 

Some mornings I’d find her sleeping by the toilet. 
When I found a pipe made from a baby food jar
in the laundry basket, I believed it wasn’t hers. 

Belief was a separate thing from knowing.
By our barred window my cigarette smoke winnowed away,
then wafted back, like more personality 
beneath my personality coming to save me. 
Lexington Avenue

I loved the alley bar noise in the Mission district. 
Sunday mornings our downstairs neighbor played 
gospel so loud all three roommates left the house. 
On my mirrored closet I wrote a two-line poem 
in eyeliner by Alicia Portnoy translated from the Spanish 
I am talking to you about poetry / and you say / 
when do we eat. / The worst of it is / I’m hungry too. 

That was the apartment of having my first boyfriend. 
We both went to community college, but he took 
classes seriously. He was one of those quiet guys who, 
when they talk, are irresistible. And funny.

When he traveled to Africa and New Zealand, 
in one of his long letters written on legal paper, 
he reported a caption on a museum painting that read 
Her absence filled the world. 

I’d burn a single candle every night, intent 
on missing him. I went to his house and slept 
in his bed, took his little sister to a wedding. 

I drove his ’89 Volvo to my grandpa’s funeral. 
Afterwards, my mom fell asleep over her soup. 
Saying goodbye she put five hundred-dollar bills 
in my hand. On my way home I stopped at the Target 
by the old cemetery and bought a TV. It was silver, 
which made it look like the future and past at the same time.


Photography Credit: Jason Rice

Brooke Harries’ work has appeared in Sixth Finch, Breakwater Review, Hoot Review, and FishFood Magazine. She was awarded the Academy of American Poets Harold Taylor Prize, the Dorothy and Donald Strauss Endowed Dissertation & Thesis Fellowship, and the UC Irvine Graduate Award for Excellence in Poetry. She is currently pursuing a PhD in creative writing at the University of Southern Mississippi.