To Arizona

by sabrina hicks

I never felt right claiming your sun-bleached hair and sunset eyes, but that didn’t stop Mama in the delivery room the night I was born. Only a 16-year-old would have the nerve to gift her fatherless child an entire state. The staff joked she was too young to understand the questions.

“What’s her name?” the head nurse asked. “Not her place of birth, or where she was conceived.”

“Arizona,” Mama repeated, biting through a pain that had aged and stunted her.

To this day, I’m not sure if Mama had planned it that way, or if she held on to my name – our name — to spite them. Either way, you wrapped me in a coat of dust and gave me skin that held the heat. I grew a crown of thorns, anchored by a tap root Mama fastened tight to her heart, the same heart she gave too easily to men running wild in your veins. At 15 I came home to find one above Mama. His fists struck her cheekbones like thunder, when you turned my hands into lightning, cracking a skillet across his temple. He slumped onto the bed Mama and I shared in the mobile home, wheezing along with the pines combed through your mountains. The paramedics kept asking him his name. One turned to me looking for help.

I stood with my chin held high, my knuckles knotted like juniper. A wind tore through the opened door, sweeping away the smell of iron and alcohol, erasing the small space, and I relaxed, watching with my sunset eyes, brushing back my sun-bleached hair.

“His name don’t matter,” I said.

We drove that night skimming the curves of your waist, feeling the pull of tides. But California was just another lover with liquid coasts and horizons that didn’t stay put.

“I ain’t going, Mama.”

She didn’t argue, knowing firsthand how hard it was to leave. I drove until you pushed the sun straight into the cerulean sky, guiding me deep in the Coconino Forest to a copse of trees, swallowing light and time. You threw a blanket over us in the evening until we woke with sweat, basking in a lightness you filtered through leaves, creating a new shade of green.

“It’s time, Arizona,” Mama said, nodding, her head staring up at the aspens and ponderosa pines, her face as fresh and young as my own.

I didn’t know if she was speaking to you, me, or the face of God, but we left that day with our bones made of sunlight, heading south, carving through your army of saguaros.

 

Sabrina Hicks lives in Arizona. Her work has appeared in Writer’s Digest, Literary Mama, Gyroscope Review, Panoply, Rat’s Ass Review, Spelk Fiction, and Toasted Cheese Literary Journal. More of her work can be found at sabrinahicks.com.