on the island, there is no water.
whatever does not sink into the ground is held in cisterns.
once we have enough we cannot save the rest.
the water must be extracted from the earth,
begrudgingly given in measurements.
i know this.
i watch my mother go to the island every year.
she plants the roses. the roses are the thirstiest.
my grandmother accepts the roses and puts them in vases
and photographs them in the sunlight.
she begrudges the water that is spent on them.
the island is remote. it does not want to be found.
my mother does not measure the distance to the island.
she does not want to be found.
she is the one who is always there
in the garden, or sitting on the beach,
or gone out for the morning swim,
with or without me.
she thinks only of the roses.
my grandmother boils the water that i get from the well.
she worries about germs. my mother hates it.
she boils it only to make tea.
my grandmother pours the tea into her mug
and wraps her hands around it.
they are cold. they have no feeling in them.
this is hereditary.
the roses stand on the table.
my grandmother counts out one by one the almonds
that she will eat for her snack.
this is hereditary, too.
we are measuring cups all nestled in each other.
mothers and daughters,
the meter on the well,
the roses on the table,
the tang of salt water.
it is time for the morning swim.
my grandmother signs “i love you” and “be careful” when i go out.
she says, walk out and swim back.
i don’t listen.
the chill calm reaches its fingers through me.
my hands glow pale under the water.
i reach and pull, reach and pull,
gathering what i can never hold.