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You Don’t Have a Father and He Likes Cheese
A Selected Text from Conjunctions:70, Sanctuary: The Preservation Issue
Take him, Alma wrote almost ten years ago, when she was still a senior in high school and her English teacher, Mr. Poland, tried to teach her and her retrograde classmates how to craft compelling opening sentences for their college admissions essays, emphasizing the word craft as if the components at their disposal weren’t words in English but crayons and glitter and whatever else preschool children are given to pass the time before they die—now children, Dr. Sueño says, today we’re going to craft an ark—can we call it a Seal?—ark ark ark—today we’ll work on crafting compelling opening sentences, Mr. Poland said in that placid voice of his that reminded her of those ridiculous people who try to console mourners at funerals—leave them alone, Mr. Poland—Mr. Poland I’m from Poland, a classmate of hers had often repeated as if it were the funniest joke, and I did laugh almost every time, Alma says, that squalid girl from El Salvador claiming she was from Poland, take him, Alma wrote, crossing out her words because she knew she shouldn’t have written them based on a number of reasons that were probably not clear to her then but that she has been able to consider in the last ten years, especially in the last five since she has had to drive to and from work, an hour each way, Alma the architect driving back to her apartment from her architect office as she’s doing now, what a joke, although during these long drives she has tried to fool herself away from the unpleasant past (the so-called immigration enforcers capturing her father, keeping him at a detention center for months, deporting him) by listening to lectures on metaphysics, pataphysics, Polish poetry, dreams, her favorite lectures not lectures but oneiric monologues by Dr. Sueño, Mr. Sueño I’m from Sueño, Alma says to the windshield, to the road, to the sun coming down, unconcerned others might think she’s talking to herself because they’ll probably think she’s talking on the phone or giving instructions to her car, take him, Alma wrote, and the reasons, according to her, that she crossed out her words were that (1) if she wrote them down they might reactivate an irreversible process against her father that would have otherwise remained dormant—I’m not superstitious, Alma would reply if someone asked her, but if you write down, for instance, I would like to die and be reincarnated as a buzzard, and you read that out loud every day, wouldn’t that disturb the course of your life?—you mean wouldn’t that buzz / ard the course of your—don’t sting a bee don’t get eaten by a bear, Dad—don’t ever let your mind near a palm reader because if she says to you I see Poland in your future, Alma says, even if you don’t believe in palm reading because, say, you have no palms—ark ark ark—the idea that Poland’s in your future might be enough to alter the course of your life even if you don’t end up ever flying to Poland, do you understand?—one day I will fly to Poland and picnic at the Zydowski cemetery and cry like an eagle—they used to pour millet on graves or poppy seeds to feed the dead who would come disguised as birds, Milosz says, I put this book here for you, who once lived, so that you should visit us no more—cry like an eagle, her father used to sing whenever something was amiss at home—my father had a knack for singing songs that contained words my sister and I had just said—oh no a B+ in math I’m going to cry—cry like an eagle / to the sea—quit it, Dad—not the course of your life that’s too melodramatic, Alma thinks, the course of subpathways of life, which she imagines as the pathways across the Zydowski cemetery in Warsaw as seen from above, (2) if placid Poland asked her to read her opening sentence out loud, he would have to strain himself to remain placid and polite and say very good, Alma, quite compelling, but she didn’t want him to strain for her, although sometimes over the years when she returns to Mr. Poland’s classroom she thinks why not have him strain for me for a change, eh?, (3) if placid Poland asked her to read her opening sentence out loud, her classmates would assume it was autobiographical and pity her, poor Alma still stuck in that moment when the so-called immigration enforcers captured her father as he was driving her and her sister to school, which she recorded on her phone when she was thirteen years old, a moment everyone in her classroom had probably already watched online, yes, but she’s not going to think about that now so she says to her car shuffle and play please and Dr. Sueño says hypnagogic hallucinations, not now, Doctor, Alma says, a universe composed of exceptions implies an equivalence between imaginary solutions, an Alfred Jarry impersonator says, nope, out with you, you have a father and he likes cheese, Dr. Sueño says, that’s physics, if you have a father, he likes cheese, that’s metaphysics, you don’t have a father and he likes cheese, that’s you, Alma, but my father didn’t like cheese as much as squid ceviche, lomo saltado, words that lose their resonance in translation—say urraca in English—magpie—see?—(4) everyone would think she was so mean—I am so mean so what?—(5) everyone would think she was inadvertently confessing a shameful family secret, of which there was none, (6) Mr. Poland would detain her after class and send her to the placid principal, who would send her to the placid psychologist, who would send her to the placid psychiatrist, who would unveil her rendition of Schumann’s “Träumerei” and mouth the words trauma, posttrauma, disorderly trauma, and so on—do I have the Harry Trauman, ma’am?—excuse me?—and, yes, you can still find her video and the variations on her video online—want to watch Alma sob like the sea? click now!—and what she remembers more than her video of so-called immigrant enforcers capturing her father while he was driving her and her sister to school is all the asinine interviews she had to give to try to save him—yes I miss my father—yes I want him back—sob to the nth power is that enough?—the false but reassuring slogans that were expected of her—we are stronger than the racist in chief—I have to be strong for my dad—and so on, as if someone had pressed the deportation button on the American narrative machine and a whole cast of characters had come alive, including Esteban Ramos from Univision, who thought it would be a fantastic idea to replicate on camera our drive to the location where the so-called immigrant enforcers had captured my father and ask me how does it feel to return to this location—bad?—yes that’s it!—we could feel the weight of what had transpired, Esteban Ramos says in a video you can still find online, so we quickly decided to leave—every location can be negated by an imaginary opposite location, Dr. Sueño said, do you understand?—what is the opposite of Mission and Twenty-Third Street?—a location that, according to the so-called immigration enforcement manual, was considered a sensitive location because it was half a mile from a school, my school—sensitive locations should generally be avoided, the manual says, and require prior approval from an appropriate supervisory official—and so in an agency building someone had to call or message a supervisory official who called or messaged his supervisory official who was probably on vacation in Cancun or Cabo please hold for a week/ten days eventually a supervisory official chancing upon the memo entitled Antonio Jose Rodriguez Deportation Proceedings, and perhaps because the name reminded the supervisory official of some kid in high school who had outpaced him at soccer and/or mathematics, he stamped it and said out with him, and later, after her father had been captured and millions of people around the world were watching her video of her father asking what have I done, Officer, the supervisory official probably watched it too and left an anonymous comment below it that said ice ice baby great job ICE, illegal is illegal and wrong is wrong bye bye you forgot the crybaby in the back seat, for years Alma arguing in her mind with the thousands of messages berating her and her father, even after she discovered some of the comments had been manufactured by bots controlled by a Racist American in Salt Lake City—twelve million to go please continue to remove the illegal alien infestation—except the comments by Dr. Sueño, of course, which made no sense to anyone but her, just as it made no sense to anyone but her to feel, for no more than a few seconds, proud that the supervisory official of the supervisory official of the supervisory official in an agency building had taken time out of his busy schedule to concentrate on her father—if enough time passes, Dr. Sueño says, even the most preposterous possibilities will navigate across the sea of your mind—cry like an eagle / to the sea—just as it made no sense to anyone but her to laugh at some of the videos her video had spawned, for instance the video of her video but with sappy music instead of her sister politely asking the so-called immigration enforcers where were they taking her father, as if someone figured hey no one’s going to feel sorry enough for you people let me add sad violin music to the video of your father saying I’ve done nothing wrong, Officer, or how about the video from a self-proclaimed irreverent news organization from China that, via computer animation as if from an obsolete video game, replicated the trajectory from her house to the sensitive location as if it were a car chase, the agents rushing to drag her father out of the car as if it were a drug bust, the video game representation of Alma recording her father’s capture with her phone from the back seat of the car, short haired and excessively dark, torrents of water like waterfalls surging from her eyes, no not like waterfalls like someone’s comical representation of lawn sprinklers superimposed on the eyes of the video game representation of me, or how about the video by Dr. Sueño that had removed the original images of three so-called immigration enforcers handcuffing her father and taking him away from her in a black unmarked sedan with tinted windows so no one in the placid neighborhoods of San Francisco would be disturbed by the images of my father shackled on his way to a detention facility—where was I?—ah, yes, or the video by Dr. Sueño that had removed all the original images and replaced them with images of American skyscrapers as seen from above but had kept the original sound of her sobbing for the whole two minutes and fourteen seconds she’d held her phone to record her father’s capture—listen to this video every night before going to sleep, Dr. Sueño says, and I guarantee you placid dreams—let the sounds of Alma’s sobbing soothe you, Dr. Sueño says, let your mind wander to faraway galaxies, etc.—but if you zoom above the Zydowski cemetery on a map online, Alma thinks, as she had done one evening five or three or however many years ago, soon after hearing Edward Hirsch’s lecture on Polish poetry while driving to work (one evening at a narrow church she heard Edward Hirsch read about a black rhinoceros at the Brookfield Zoo that reminded him of his uncle’s extended family—what does it feel like to have two horns, Edward Hirsch said, tilting up on a huge head?—and afterward, when only two or three lanky poets and a widow remained by Edward Hirsch, she approached him and held his hands, this poet with a Chicago accent who had the benevolent look of someone she hopes to see on her deathbed, and said to him my father, and he understood—you didn’t approach him, didn’t hold his hands, didn’t plead with him you watched him from afar and afterward you read his poems out loud in your kitchen every night for weeks—), you won’t find real pathways on the map of the Zydowski cemetery but green bushes and dashed pathways superimposed by some software engineer—there must be a grid here, the software engineer probably said to his cat, otherwise how else to know where the dead people are?—miauczeć?—and as Alma drives back to her apartment in El Cerrito, irrationally thinking that once she arrives to her apartment her sister will finally pick up her phone, she calls her sister again (her sister who had been in the car when the so-called immigration enforcers captured her father, who had attended the rallies before and after Dad was deported back to Guayaquil even though he had a Permanent Resident Alien card and no criminal record, who, soon after graduating from Stanford, as Dad had done, sold all her belongings and said to hell with this racist American country and flew back to be with Dad—why didn’t you, Alma?—I waited too long I thought I wanted my own life here we’re here to stay everyone said the newest replica of the racist in chief ordered the borders to be shut both ways for all Latin American immigrants and the descendants of all Latin American immigrants for the good of the nation I’m so sorry—her sister who had called her today, early in the morning while she was in a meeting and left a message saying Dad had a heart attack he’s not going to, I don’t know how long he’ll, call me please, and as her car continues to ring a so-called immigration enforcement patrol approaches her on the Bay Bridge, staying level with her, and as the officer on the passenger side assesses her with what looks like a periscope on his hand and apparently clears her because the patrol car is speeding away, and as her sister in Guayaquil continues to not answer her phone, and as Dr. Sueño says teleport the contents of your mind by holding still—where was I?—ah, yes, she’s glad she purchased the black market window tincture programmed to pale her skin, a window tincture with an input network that accounts for meteorological conditions like too much sun, for instance, which might otherwise pale her into looking like a ghost—bad ghosts are our removal priority number two thank you for asking—a window tincture that wouldn’t have helped my father ten years ago, Alma says, take him, Alma wrote, Mr. Poland I’m from Poland, that squalid girl from El Salvador said, and perhaps I found her refrain funny because I associated Poland with potatoes, Alma says, with pale plump Polish people eating bowls of potatoes whereas Eva from El Salvador looked as if she hadn’t eaten in weeks, I’ve never been separated from him, Alma said at a rally in front of hundreds of immigrants who would soon be deported too—sana sana colita de rana—I don’t want to be separated from you, Alma says—don’t cry we have to be strong, her sister said and still says in Alma’s video of her father’s capture—not in my version, Dr. Sueño says—learn to cry in English ha ha—take him, Alma said after Mr. Poland asked her to read her opening statement out loud, activating options (2) (3) (6), yes, but before these options were activated I was at home having jam and toast in a kitchen wallpapered with my childhood paintings—please photograph each of your paintings for me, her father had written to her from Guayaquil, or even better invent a few of them for me?—here’s a drawing of me smiling next to the word Lilttutobpg, Alma wrote, which obviously means I don’t have horns—you lumber around in your skin of armor, Edward Hirsch said, like an exiled general or a grounded unicorn—and nothing memorable happened during breakfast and nothing memorable was said on our way to school before we heard the sirens, although of course in retrospect I’ve rescanned those moments for memorable words and alternatives—a stomachache due to too much strawberry jam on my morning toast we have to stay home, Dad—a rhinoceros has escaped from the zoo we have to stay home, Dad—at first we heard the sirens behind us and we thought oh no the police, Alma says, we thought an ambulance has materialized to take my father away before the so-called immigration enforcers can capture him, what have I done, Officer, my father said, shut up we have a removal order for you, the whatever you want to call that individual said, don’t cry we have to be strong, her sister said, we’re going to take him here’s the phone number give us a couple of hours we still need to process him, that piece of shit said, take him, Alma said after Mr. Poland asked her to read her opening sentence out loud, who needs a father anyway?

Mauro Javier Cardenas is the author of the novels The Revolutionaries Try Again (Coffee House) and Aphasia (FSG). The Hay Festival included him in Bogotá39, a selection of the best young Latin American novelists.