This Is Why

At dusk, we pulled and shoved
a patio table beneath cousin’s bedroom
window, then yawned a lot as we sat
on the couch with her dad pretending
to nod off to the evening news.
I almost said, “It’s been a long day,”
but realized that would be too much
17-year-old-going-on-50 for uncle to believe.

We snuck off to bed where we changed
into patched Levi’s, Marijuana Pickers
Local No. 13 t-shirts, and Earth shoes.
I slid out the window first almost toppling
the table with my clumsy landing,
cousin behind me already laughing.
To the park for our weekly search, crossing
fingers that someone had dropped
their bag of weed or flicked their fat joint
when the cops circled for the second time.

Of course, we never found the goods
lying in the grass, but we found friends
with pocketsful of other secrets
that we hid beneath our tongues
until they melted. Later, when adults ask
“Why, why would you be so reckless?”
I describe the ease of pulling myself
back up to the window ledge, gently
tumbling into bed, pulling the blanket
up to my chin as a bluster rustled
dry leaves in the sill. I explain
how I watched three pair of orange
and pink tinged maple leaves swirl
to my feet. How they unwrinkled themselves,
stood up tall, one in each couple bowing
before they raised their hands, touched
fingertips, and began to waltz to Tchaikovsky,
tangerine skirts twirling into yellow. How
elegant the soiree I witnessed at my feet.
“Why would you miss that?” I ask.

Brenda Cárdenas, “This is Why” from Trace. Copyright © 2023 by Brenda Cárdenas. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Red Hen Press.