Portrait of my Mother with Landscape of Madrid Airbnb



For two weeks we’ve scattered
a thin layer of our memories
over someone else’s. My ties
rest their points
on a boy’s cartoon comforter.
Shedding spine,
Dad’s battered guidebook flakes
into the cracks of a couch molded by strange arms.
Against the unknown family
albums you’ve leaned fresh postcards:
facsimile paintings from the Prado,
a dizzying zoom-in on a pan
of paella, the words “Madrid by Night”
on a black background, captioning nothing.


I ask what you’ve been looking out at
every sunset. “There,” you say:
A mother feeds an adult son who can’t speak,
a man smokes alone, carving windows
for a vast dollhouse,
a handsome woman under lamplight
fills her plastic sack from the trash,
turns to a sidewalk ginkgo and makes
three signs of the cross. Shelf by shelf
of light, the avenue opens its inscrutable cabinet
of reasons to live, “like looking over,”
you say, “into the next lane on the highway
and remembering there’s a person”—a pair of hands—
“driving every car. I forgot what that was like.” You say you’ve loved
sitting at the sill, watching the people blink on.


I follow your hand
to your wrist. Up your forearm,
your shoulder, above your nose and across
the brown room curving
in your contact lenses I can barely see
the backlit silhouette of a girl
scrubbing her father’s East-Side stoop,
the murmur of her mother’s Spanish growing
foreign, a first husband, the held note
of a traffic-muffled violin and further in
back inside outlines
and outlines.




JP Allen is an MFA candidate at Johns Hopkins University. His poems in English have appeared in Cactus Heart and After the Pause. A series of his bilingual micro-stories was published in Minificción y Nanofilología (Iberoamericana-Vervuert 2016).