I was twelve before I realized my father wasn’t white,
until then I thought nothing
of his clay colored skin, eyes dripping
like honey or ropes of black licorice hair
snaking alive and furious down his back.
My breasts sprung early, hips splayed
wide as an overeager invitation
with bones pushing unforgiving
against my own skin, pale and quiet
as the illness. You took me to Radio Shack,
your syrupy southern drawl wrapping like a shy gift
around the simple words,
My wife put something on hold,
and the young clerk, not a decade older than me,
looked at both of us with blatant disgust,
loathing and a shot of envy
even I could sniff out, like a dog
or a wild thing.
“Is this your wife?” he asked, and my chest
was in a painful awakening of an instant
freakishly large, my hips
unable to slam shut, and you
too stunned to be ashamed or angered just whispered,
“That’s my daughter,” before walking out, the snakes gone still,
but for the years I’m too sorry to take back,
the years until the cancer sucked you dry,
I felt it for both of us,
felt it in my thighs built like a horse
and my lips too ripe for a child,
in every year after labor-heavy year
I refused to be seen with you, I’m so sorry
that I saw you gut punched and ugly as a man.
First appeared in Off the Coast
Jessica Tyner Mehta, born and raised in Oregon, is the author of The Last Exotic Petting Zoo which was shortlisted for a Pulitzer Prize and What Makes an Always, both published by Tayen Lane Publishing. She is the founder of MehtaFor, a writing company which serves a variety of clients including Fortune 500 enterprises and major media outlets. As a member of the Cherokee Nation, Jessica offers complimentary writing and editing services through her company to Native American students as well as non-profits based in the Pacific Northwest and/or serving Native communities.
She received her master’s in writing from Portland State University and established The Jessica Tyner Scholarship Fund in 2013. It is the only scholarship for students with a Native American connection pursuing an advanced degree in writing or a related field. An extensive traveler, she has lived in England, South Korea and Costa Rica.
Jessica currently lives in Portland, Oregon where she writes, runs and practices yoga.