Nostalgia is a Dangerous Thing

by Michelle Peñaloza

If you’re an immigrant child,
nostalgia is your sibling.
I am an only child and still
this must be true.
Phantom sister, brother specter:
my mother gave birth to you a million times.
Each time she answered the question,
“Where are you from?”
Each of my mispronunciations inherited, each forgotten word,
each that was a long time ago.
My mother used to kill chickens.
The oldest girl, she was tasked with slicing open
each de-feathered neck, carefully and slowly,
collecting all the blood to season the rice they’d eat for dinner.
My mother has never asked me to kill a chicken.
Not once. My mother, in the scheme of things, asks for little.
At most, I am tasked with simply coming home
and even then I fail.
Nostalgia makes home hard
to find. I have grown so far from the stories my mother tells
that movies are closer nostalgias,
movies like A League of Their Own or Don’t Tell Mom
The Babysitter’s Dead, movies I watch over and over again,
not on purpose but because they’re on
and even though I’ve seen them a million times, I cannot
bring myself to change the channel.
I could sing their scripts in my sleep.
If only I could screen my mother’s plotlines
like they’re fiction,
created and produced by some studio,
recorded with the swelling music and golden lighting
of wistful remembrance made to make me
feel like I could feel them.
To make me feel
like they could be mine.

Last updated December 17, 2022