Black flies conspire in the dust
       of windowsills
       in Birmingham, Alabama.
       Sweet tea, stagnant
       and pooling in the cracks of the driveway
       there is broken glass and ants
       squirming in tar
       and my mother running away
       into echoes of daylight.
       Black flies in Birmingham, Alabama
       know secrets
       in the rotted railing at Nana’s house.
       Tornado sirens whine, my mother
       shakes, grabs her pills
       my father sits at the edge
       of the bed, rips at his cheeks and says
       I can’t
       tell if I’m
       alive or dead.
       I shift on a black ottoman
       arms crossed, untouchable.

       July in Alabama is a fluttered panic
       of tiny wings trying to beat the heat
       buzzing and biting and hovering.
       Batting them away, I expect
       I won’t talk to
       shadows when it’s
       my turn
       to bring the kids to Alabama
       for the summer.
       July recedes and I know
       I ought to shut the door
       so bugs don’t get in
       among shattered things at supper
       acute catastrophes
       my father’s
       calloused hand on my wrist
       when he asked if he was crazy and I couldn’t
       say no and my mother was barefoot and gone.

Cai Yoke is a New York-based poet writing what they know. Their work has previously appeared in The Louisville Review and The Wellesley Review.