Wild Medicine

by Jennifer Cayer

July, Minnesota

Gigi picks up speed as we wander into the woods. I could listen to the self-named “ditch witch,” medicine woman, and Herbalist Without Borders say lobelia, damiana and comfrey all day. She’s about sixty years-old, violet tunic over leggings. A presumably powerful green stone hangs on a cord over her heart.

“Ah, a fringe!” she bubbles. She’s asked us to bring comfortable hiking shoes for the plant-identification part of the wild medicine course, but she wears only black flip-flops between her cracked heels and the forest floor. “See,” she points to a distinctively taller area of growth along a field. “A lot of action happens here—borders are plant life’s El Pasos, Juarez.” And where so-called native and invasive species intertwine, Gigi finds the best medicines.

Before the small Lake Superior harbor town conducts a ‘purge and burn’ of some plentiful yellow flowers, Gigi suggests a harvest. Rather than asserting who belongs, and who burns, she urges us to ask of plants: Why are you here? And how are you changing the soil?

 

May, New York City

Unexpectedly, our landlord writes: “I thought I would let you know that I will not be renewing your lease at the end of its term.” She explains: “I anticipate that your family, perhaps soon expanding, will quickly outgrow the apartment and neighborhood.”

She can’t know the years of trying to conceive, the implausibility of spontaneous pregnancy, the invisible losses preceding the birth of our son.

Graham plays a game these days called “Bye, bye Mama.” He packs up his baby in the stroller, or his trucks in a bag, waves to me and sets off on a short, minute-long journey before returning; “Hi! Mama!” he says, in his raspy toddler voice.

I can’t help but wonder what he’s innately practicing for. Even though I wave him away, it breaks my heart a little bit each time I play along.

I begin to imagine the sheer physical labor of moving. Hefting the dozen or so file boxes hidden beneath furniture and camouflaged in corners. In one I’m cleaning out, I find every saved draft of that one grad school paper written over and over, trying to make sense of my fascination with Cuban-born performance artist Ana Mendieta. These repeat essays culminated in a rambling thesis that never found a published home. Now, as I envision moving those boxes again, my fixation with her short life’s work returns: ephemeral performances and bodily sculptures merged in landscapes, molded in sand, etched into wood and rock, exploded into the ground with gunpowder.

In my favorite, Untitled, Silueta Series, Mexico (1976) Mendieta leaves a life-sized imprint of a body in coastal sand. She documents the moments after an imagined person has emerged from the beach. Waves wash into the empty cavity of her signature female form, a curvy goddess with extended arms. In a photographic triptych, the red-tempera dyed trench becomes filled in, blurred, and finally overcome by the ocean.

Up until the landlord’s blunt reminder of its precariousness, we enjoyed the necessary illusion of our apartment as our home. The place where I labored to birth our now two-year old son. Where David shaped Graham’s initials in new concrete.

The landlord, tiny dictator over four 19th century brownstone apartments, claims to know so much about who we are, and what we need, even as she refuses to answer our panicked phone calls or identify us by the names she knows, addressing us only as “Dear Tenants.”

My anxiety feels miniscule against the global scope of others’ displacements. And yet, the security of my small world is shaken; I’m disoriented by the force of a move.

She’s not kicking us out for the usual reasons like renovations or a rent hike. Everyone else in her mini-empire can stay. This is veiled retaliation for asking her to replace a broken refrigerator, stove, and reimbursement for stopping a gas leak. But we don’t want to move, so we apologize for our “missteps,” pay her back the $100, offer more rent, promise future compliance.

“Can she do that?” friends empathetically ask. They know the low probability, with social worker and teacher salaries, of finding an affordable two-bedroom in the city with stable rent. And while her threat to kick us out feels invasive, if not illegal, of course she can.

What’s more, she masks her punishment with presumptuous, oddly ecological language: “I believe I am acting in the best interest for all: as a family, your nest needs to be some place more permanent than a rental space.” So, there’s the fact of her making us leave our home, and the troubling fiction that she’s doing it for us.

It’s better for us, she says, if we leave the historic block in Brooklyn, leave the apartment we vowed would be the last one before becoming the official cliché of out-priced-out-paced New Yorkers in search of greener pastures and Target parking lots. It’s better, she suggests, if we find a more permanent nest.

 

June, Brooklyn

In a brief, stunning film, Anima, Alma/Soul, (1976), Mendieta ignites a larger-than-life bamboo armature of her signature female form with fireworks. The structure blazes against the Mexican sky at blue dusk until it eventually burns out, a striking symbol of the transience of bodies and their ultimate dissolution as smoke and ash into the deepening night.

Mendieta obsessively united her body, and its versions made of dirt, grass, and wood, with the earth in three-dimensional self-portraits. Often found smoldering or eroding in abandoned landscapes, the contact points between her bodies and these spaces are at turns volatile and serene. She exposes that no matter how settled we may feel, we live at the capricious mercy of others.

The landlord announces a walk-through of the building on Father’s Day. She doesn’t tell us when, so we rush back from a weekend with our dads and listen for the edge of her voice in the hallway.

Fiftyish, slight, she stands and surveys her territory. While our future depends on this meeting, her inattention to us, as bodies in the space, make it clear that we are an inconsequential stop. I sit at the foot of the bed and follow her narrow gaze as it lands on a new window crack, an old water stain, the cheap carpet where Graham first rolled over, sat up, took three wobbly steps. We take our shoes off in the apartment, but she marches around with dirty green sport sandals, notebook, a plastic hairclip attached koala-like to a travel purse. I zoom-in on this hairclip, tiny plastic evidence of her humanity; the quotidian desire to pull back oily strands of hair somehow incongruous with the irrational person who refuses to meet my eyes.

Heart hammering, I begin my prepared apology, “We were shocked by your note. We understand we may not have handled things in the best way, but can we please—”

“No,” she says. A doctor, she interrupts with hurried authority and states with the aphoristic force: “Action, reaction. That’s life. You can’t go back.”

I immediately disagree, resist the koan-like wisdom of her words because I’m begging to stay. You can’t go back; she spits me back to myself. And, what’s more, that’s life, as if, almost 40, I’m naïve to some basic mechanism of living. No, that’s precisely not the nature of life, I silently insist. We have to be able to go back: to regret, apologize, forgive, re-make, revise.

Pleading, we ask for at least a few more months. To finish out the school year, to not have to move in December, to hope she changes her mind. “I’ll think about it,” she says.

Weeks later and over one-thousand miles away from Greenpoint, we wait for the landlord’s final decision on Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior where I continue to hear her words on loop, now woven into the constant song of seagulls: “Action, reaction. That’s life. You can’t go back.”

 

July, Minnesota

A mound of mud outlined by red-pigmented sand floats above a pool of brown water in Mendieta’s Untitled, Iowa (1978). ‘She’ slowly sinks, becoming an imperceptible part of the surrounding natural detritus.

On the edge of a parking lot ridge that drops toward the deep blue shores of Lake Superior, Gigi points to an abundance of golden-yellow flowers: St. John’s Wort. A slow-working serotonin booster, it’s surprisingly classified as an “invasive” rather than “native” species. Gardeners and governments are quick with this binary language. Progressive-seeming ecotypes at festivals tell us that natives need saving from behind tables adorned with ugly invasive eel species in cubes and fun temporary tattoos for the kids.

Gigi calls invasives “joyful growers.” Aggressive? Sure. But if we listen, they may have something to tell us in their flourishing.

Like Gigi, but in University labs, ethnobotanists search for antibiotic alternatives in ancient plant remedies; in a 2016 New York Times Magazine piece Ferris Jabr writes, “If a plant finds itself in an unfavorable situation…it cannot kick up its roots and relocate. Instead plants regulate the chemistry of their environment, perpetually suffusing to the ground, air, and their own tissues with molecular cocktails and bouquets intended to increase their chances of survival and reproduction.”

Plants cleverly obscure where they end, and the land begins.

 

In the shallow waters of an Iowa swamp, Mendieta sculpts a corpse-like human form without her signature arms extending out of mud. In Isla (1981) the outline uncannily resembles both a human body and the island of Cuba. As the water erodes the boundaries of her figure, in a moment preserved in a photograph, the sculptural art has already receded into the murky landscape of Mendieta’s own exile.

Because of her childhood exile from Cuba to Iowa, and the contested circumstances of her premature death at the age of 36— from a fall, or push, out of a 34th floor window of her Greenwich Village apartment— critics tend to treat Mendieta’s works as mere melancholic symptoms of an exiled or martyred woman’s consciousness.

But, as carvings in a rock face, figurative trenches, and burning pyres, her work does not simply celebrate the mutual union of body and earth, a gentle interdependence or facile desire for home. Her image is at once constituted and effaced by those spaces— through relentless waves, a slow erosion of borders, and a sinking into porous ground. And she leaves behind only the ruins and sediments of private ritual acts that few ever witnessed.

As I re-sift through her photographic and filmic remains, I’m struck again by the sheer variety of bodies imaged and imagined, and what they reveal about the nature of home and belonging, of reckoning with visible and invisible power structures at play in the act of self-constitution, and where we find provisional senses of self between the spaces we occupy, and those we must newly learn to call home.

In Minnesota, David and I rehearse possible moves at breakfast, over beers, in bed. But every now and again I feel optimistic. We said the right thing, reimbursed the landlord the right amount, stayed quiet. Maybe she needs to punish us but we’ll return to our New York lives, intact.

 

July, Grand Marais

In Image from Yaagul (1973) Mendieta lies naked against a rock surface within an ancient Zapotec tomb in Oaxaca, Mexico. And yet, bunches of white flowers ‘grow’ from between her legs, out of her chest, and over her face. She is at once part ruin, part garden.

Although we planned to sublet our apartment, the landlord refused. So, we’re paying rent there, even though we’ve fled to Minnesota. We move into David’s Grandma Ethel’s house, two blocks up the hill from Lake Superior. David’s great-great-grandparents built the modest white house on the corner, across from the art colony and the Congregational church. We live for the moment in a Minnesota harbor town called Grand Marais: population 1,351.

I think a lot about that “1,” dangling on the edge of a small rural populace that might fill three New York City blocks. Here, the Dairy Queen can only offer chocolate ice cream on weekends. And, if pregnant, expect to travel two hours by ambulance to reach the closest birth-ready medical facility.

Away from the city, Graham discovers a love of doors, the possibilities of lingering in the moveable spaces between inside and outside: automatic airport sliders, the screen door that slammed shut on his pinky, barely reachable doorknobs.

Last year, a few days into our short visit, Grandma Ethel gazed at a bald one-year old Graham and asked calmly, curiously over breakfast: “Who does this baby belong to?” Suffering with dementia and living alone in a place where residents take vitamin D year-round to survive the winter, she struggled to place us. Sometimes we belonged with her at the table, other times we were benign strangers, feeding her meals of baked lake trout, salty rice pilaf, and red wine.

At 99, she routinely walked herself to Johnson’s Grocery. Fortunately, someone would drive her, and her small bag of canned soups and cinnamon toast safely back up the hill.

This year, a few months before our arrival, and just before her 100th birthday, Ethel moved into the local Care Center.

Invasive offspring, we relocate pots and pans in her kitchen, replace corroded pipes, push twin beds together.

Because the house belongs in the community, sometimes, we feel like we do too.

 

I finally approach Gigi with my bewilderment over the simplified language of native and invasive, “I’m struck by this stark dichotomy between those who supposedly ‘naturally’ belong, and those who don’t. The rhetoric seems tied to some really outmoded ways that we once thought about people and cultures.”

Gigi nods, “Take a look at Timothy Lee Scott’s The Paradox of Invasive Plants.”

Scott, a stringy goateed legend in plant medicine, reminds us that, like people, “All plants have been on the move for hundreds of millions of years with numerous factors helping them along into areas in which they did not previously inhabit.” Weeds, Scott reminds us, are merely the categorical opposite of crops, more dualistic terminology that grossly reduces the diversity and dynamics of the plant world.

 

#gonenative

#gonenative

We haven’t cut Graham’s hair yet. Dry, it’s still short on the top and sides, but curls in erratic tendrils down his back. Slicked down in the bathtub, he resembles a horseshoe crab.

A week in, I post a photograph of him to social media, shirtless along a creek, peeking out from behind a patch of daisies: #gonenative. Later, I wonder about this phrasing and my unwitting complicity in the reductive colonial vocabulary of space and belonging. And the lie of how easy it is to become part of a place.

Borderlands, feminist writer Gloria Anzaldúa reminds us, are “physically present wherever two or more cultures edge each other, where people of different races occupy the same territory, where under, lower, middle and upper classes touch, where the space between two individuals shrinks with intimacy.” Shrinks with intimacy. The woman who once existed as an invisible monthly transfer of funds, standing above me in my, no her bedroom, telling me how life works. Telling me that my family can’t go back.

 

At the local Grand Marais laundromat, a tobacco-voiced woman spends the day washing sheets and towels. “I’m gonna sit down, my shoulder hurts,” she chuckle-grunts as she plops herself in front of our pile of warm wrinkled clothes. “You from here?” Neither of us answers right away. In a place this small, we get asked this question a lot. Eyeing Graham’s small pile of socks, she leans in, “You have kids, huh?”

We nod, don’t correct her (yes, one), and keep folding. David and I are in the middle of one of those periodic fights that erupt because of the constant tension of not knowing where we’re going to live, or what we might do for work. Sometimes this kind of uncertainty feels liberating and I say hippy-dippy things like “We’re receptive and open to the next thing.” It’s easy to feel okay with radical uncertainty while we’re living in an old home that’s belonged in the town, and to the family, for over one hundred years.

Ethel and Earl owned and ran “Leng’s Fountain,” a beloved local establishment where town leaders gathered over coffee and newspapers, and, at one time you could get a Banana Split for 70 cents. So says an old sign now crookedly hanging in the garage. Cones: .15 – .25 – .35. Today, the fountain, no longer in the family, is a store filled with junky tee-shirts that say things like “Got Moose?” and “Where the Middle of Nowhere is Somewhere: Boundary Waters Canoe Area.”

Last summer we found some old fountain glassware with two and three wells for concoctions like Triple Treats. Alyce ran a version of the fountain after Ethel and Earl; she preserved pieces of it in a cramped antique shop behind her pulled-pork truck. We buy all of Alyce’s glasses. Grateful, she throws in an old framed group photo from the fountain.

We excitedly unpack the box onto Ethel’s kitchen table. Never quite sure who we were, she knew the specific, sweet purpose for each glass. And the names of the eleven people in the 8×10, “That’s the governor. It was his birthday.”

We wrap the seven glasses in newspaper and ship them back to Brooklyn. They arrive weeks later in a beat-up box; only three make the trip in one piece.

Other remains of the fountain: low round stools, Formica countertops, a big black-and-white sign, we learn, are tucked into garages, homes, and backyards all over town. One of the keepers, a distant relative, said we can have the big sign for free— if we stay and re-open the fountain. Last summer, as unknown visitors, the price tag was $400.

 

Gigi says to start with what grows in our gardens. I picture our third-floor fire escape filled with stacks of cracked and empty pots, unintentional growth sprouting through crumbly soil. We didn’t plant anything this year. I realize this might have been a pre-requisite for medicine mixing 101.

Among the other students: brothers who share homemade bottles of berry wine with us, a Twin Cities nurse with an active herbal pantry, two nineteen-year old sisters already making yarrow tinctures with the fun aunt who drove them from Milwaukee in a pumpkin-orange Mini Cooper, and a shy Canadian park ranger, hoping to heal herself from an undisclosed illness.

I don’t intend to become an herbalist, but my imagined self loves popping wild edibles, picking mushrooms, looking up into the birch branches for chaga, the popular new cure-all that’s enjoying some YouTube celebrity. I quickly tire, though, of tromping through the woods, bug-bitten and hot. I’d rather be back at the Folk School along with the deep magenta and earthy green-brown jars of herbal sun teas basking on the classroom window sill.

I’ll never become as proficient as Gigi in plant-identification. Not because it’s not possible. I’m too entrenched in nature as other, as so completely diverse and unknown, to ever imagine such a knowledge. Another yellow flower, the poisonous wild parsnip looks like dill or Queen Anne’s lace. But with one touch it burns, blisters, and breaks down skin tissue, leaving an open wound. We can be leveled by a leaf.

 

August, Lake Superior

In Untitled Old Man’s Creek Iowa (1977) Mendieta covers her body in a camouflaging coat of mud and grass and stands against an enormous tree trunk. Each point of her miniscule body touches, and is fused to the tree. She creates an image of herself that is undeniably her— her corporeal body, although at the same time, a negation of herself. Her body is inanimate, its surface uniform, and she appears lifeless. It is unclear whether the tree is lending or draining transformative power.

I look out at the oceanic horizon of Lake Superior, to the optical illusion of visible land across its vast expanse. Embarking on another New York City apartment hunt is not an option for my family. I can’t repeat the frantic survey of treeless blocks and dismal rooms with views of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway that fit our budget. We don’t make enough money to live in a neighborhood we like with a kid and, and…

Before we moved to Greenpoint, we escaped a different Brooklyn landlady, a sour hoarder living between walls of Diet Pepsi boxes, who told us she wanted the rent in cash, looked down at my abdomen as I held the pen to sign the lease, and, as if seeing through me, asked, “You’re not expecting, are you?”

I didn’t know it yet. But, I miscarried a month later before swiftly breaking the lease and her dark spell.

Your family soon expanding. The unnerving echo of our current landlord pretending to see something so intimate, desired, and yet so absent reverberates through me again. Along with a rage-tinged disgust for what she claims a right to see, and to use against us.

 

In a series of eight color photos from 1973, Mendieta stands facing the camera as if she’s an ethnographic specimen: female human. The reproductive system, lungs, bones, nerves, and muscles are projected onto her nude body. A medical rendering of internal organs, as if posted in a doctor’s office or a middle school science lab, is painted upon her exposed flesh.

Mendieta helps us see the strange difference between the lived and the perceived, the contested space between our internal self and the one flickered back through the refracted mirrors of others. She depicts her body images as burning pyres, watery recesses, and floating flowers, eloquently revealing tentative, yet stunning identities forged in the ambivalent, often unforgiving borderlands between self and space.

Our neighbors in the Brooklyn building, many we consider friends, quietly pledge allegiance to the landlord. From miles away, I can feel the couple downstairs with an eight-month old calculating the convenience of our layout with a small kid room versus their dishwasher and back porch. David went to college with our upstairs neighbor, an old friend who stood up in our wedding and got us into this apartment.

Before living here, we spent Sunday afternoons in Danny’s sunlit top floor apartment listening to Ahmad Jamal records and eating cheap take-out burritos. “Uncle Dan” was among the first to meet our newborn son.

Now, only two years later, he seems to care less and tells us so when he’s not avoiding us. “You still don’t get it,” he insists. “You didn’t listen to me” he bosses. We were supposed to be quiet, not ask for much, if anything. Belatedly, I get it.

Dan tells me on Mother’s Day that the landlord “doesn’t like us.” He goes on, in tacit agreement. Our ‘vibe,’ he says, has been off. A dj, he measures the quality of life in things like vibes. He’s tired of having to consider the volume of his beats above our son’s crib. And even though he has a long-standing relationship with the landlord, and with us, he refuses to say another word on our behalf. She’s unpredictable, defensive, and he’s afraid it would jeopardize his own standing in the space.

He can’t believe we’d even ask him to do such a thing. We can’t believe that he won’t.

 

August, Boundary Waters

In the color, silent film, Untitled, San Felipe Mexico (1974) a nude Mendieta lies face down in a shallow streambed. Over the course of three long minutes her agonizingly still body offers a sense of resilience, duration, and permanence. It is as if the body will remain there, inert, and yet physically re-membering an imaginary, elemental, and nostalgic link between the body and space.

Our first picnic at Durfee Creek, which runs into the Big Lake, David lays himself face down in the stream, arms reach-floating away from his head. I make a bad Mendieta joke. But I can see how good it feels to give our bodies over to something colder, bigger, more enduring than we will ever be.

Mendieta tells us we are all invasive, all exiles nostalgic for some ur-sense of long lost belonging as we plant ourselves in new grounds again and again.

Gigi asks us, aspiring, amateur medicine people, to anticipate what our partners, families, kids, our tribe—she uses this kind of language—will need. She brings a first-aid kit from Herbalists Without Borders International, devoted alternative practitioners who travel to post-trauma sites like Orlando, Nice, Baton Rouge. I wonder who’s in my tribe. I think I might want a tribe, but I’m also wary of tribal thinking. This sort of basis for social life leads to real trouble. Aren’t sociologists noting how narrow our communities are becoming, the algorithms of “friends” and “likes” creating tinier and tinier insular tribes of the like-minded?

In Minnesota, I’m surprised by how easily I’ve forgotten about our life and people back in New York. My immersion in harbor life, in cooler nights and crafting wild medicines has required a kind of easy amnesia, a welcome suspension.

A week away from leaving, I think back to the dark wood floors of our Brooklyn apartment: the tall, cracked windows letting in dusty light, the classic if grimy black and white bathroom tile. My mind begins to empty the rooms of us.

When we return to Brooklyn, there will likely be bars on all of our windows. The landlord bought too many ill-fitting child window guards. Before we left for Minnesota she insisted that every single one be installed, even if the law states that we need to leave one open, to access the fire escape— to get outside. I hold Graham as she references the viral calamity of the gorilla and the four-year old at the zoo: “You can’t hold him all the time” she chastises me.

 

At the end of Gigi’s weekend class, I run to an art talk on “Spirituality, Myth and the Feminine” at a Grand Marais gallery. Jars of newly made tinctures, salts, and oils gently jostle in my backpack. Ninety-year-old painter Hazel Belvo talks through painting after painting of a single tree that reaches over the Native American shores of Lake Superior. Like Mendieta, there is learning embedded in these repeat encounters she renders in vibrant swaths of color.

Hazel shares a new slide from a different series, an image of twins in utero. She tells us, her son was diagnosed with leukemia at age thirteen; he died five years later. During his last twenty-one days, spent by his side, she happened upon a verse in the hospital waiting area which went something like, ‘our children do not come from us, they come through us.’ She found solace in these words.

I look them up and find that they are from a poem by Kahlil Gibran, the famous émigré Lebanese writer of The Prophet who eventually settled in New York City. Long before motherhood and moving I casually read his work. But, as I re-encounter his words, they reverberate in a new way: “And though they are with you yet they belong not to you […] For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.”

I hear Graham’s song, “Bye, Mama!”

I wave, he returns, and once again we’re that much further away from when I held his kidney bean body inside of mine.

I hear my landlord’s harsh pronouncement again: Action, reaction. That’s life. You can’t go back. And I think, for the first time, maybe she’s right.

Gigi teaches us that tinctures take time: six weeks to marry herbs in a solution of brandy, vodka, or apple cider vinegar. Shake daily, strain, bottle and dose. A new catalytic possibility with each new herbal element, with each passing day.

I now see action, reaction through the cobalt-blue and brown lenses of apothecary glass. Like plants confounding the cellular borders of leaf and land, each contact point between ourselves and our spaces vibrates with the nearly imperceptible, yet fundamental possibility to redefine both.

 

Initially, I dread going back to New York, not only because we may have to move, but for all of the predictable August reasons anyone with a school or harvest schedule somewhere in their blood recognizes. Gigi gives seasonal sense to this particular strain of grief: plants go to seed, days shorten, temperatures fluctuate. Early autumn means it’s time to eat herbs and foods that grow low to the ground: squash, carrots, nuts.

Imbolc: an ancient word Gigi cites for an unstable, between season; alleged etymologies include the Celtic phrase for pregnancy, ‘in the belly,’ and an Indo-European root meaning both ‘milk’ and ‘cleansing.’ A period of unrest that brings unexpected wisdom.

Gigi asks: What do I need to compost in my life? How can I lighten my load for the winnowing daylight and resources of winter? I like this question. My apprehension to gather up the spread of our life on the North Shore— clothes on the line, library books, borrowed bikes and tools— is now coupled with a genuine curiosity. How will it feel to go back? Where is home, now?

I return to that warm July afternoon on the ridge in Grand Marais. With Gigi, the woman who encouraged us to talk to plants: how are you changing the soil? At first bemused, as I clipped bunches of that invasive, yet curative yellow flower, I now understand how its wild thriving changes the very ground upon which the fraught and tenuous categories of native and invasive rest.

 

September, Brooklyn

In one of Mendieta’s last sculptural works, Totem-Grove (1983-85), the artist’s physical body is gone; all that is left are the positive and negative spaces that her body has made while presumably flying in motion through the space. Unlike the use of her actual body or its botanical surrogates in earlier performances, these blackened traces of her— oddly both more amorphous, and more permanent— are burnt into a grove of four trees. She’s neither there, nor here, anymore.

Once back in Brooklyn, I resist reviling the late-summer haze, the muted industrial and acrid garbage odors. I also resist loving the unexpected exhalation of arriving back in our space, the sleep I find in our bed.

A few weeks later, no greeting, not even a “Dear Tenants” this time, the landlord’s response finally arrives: “I regret not being able to accommodate your request. You will need to move out.”

“Bye, Mama!” Graham sings out.

I pause, look at him. Before he rounds the corner and momentarily disappears. We’re neither there, nor here, anymore.

 

 

Jennifer Cayer teaches at New York University where she received a Ph.D. in comparative literature.