No Obstacles by Susan Niz

Stories of Home Series: 

No Obstacles Will Stand in Your Way This Week

For years he dreamed that he was late getting his soccer gear on, the game already tumbling down the field before him. Then he was pardoned by a judge and would return to Guatemala after two decades. He dreamed that he was playing, at last geared up and running the field with childhood playmates, volcanoes like stadium seats on the horizon, distant plumes of smoke cheering them on.

In the church, on Guadalupe Day—also my birthday—we huddled in the pews, chatting in casual whispers as if we were in a theater. Our girls lowered and raised the kneelers. We took photos of the hundreds of roses, petaled cups, red like love and sangre. We stared at the vacant altar, at Guadalupe’s extended, plaster hands, her expectant, glazed expression.

A man passed us with a loud clearing of his throat. He lowered himself onto knee at the step of the altar, setting his soiled hat on the white marble. A silent conversation ensued, and we watched him speaking with Nuestra Señoraand thought of all those in this cold place on their own. And all those who are here in this world on their own. A pain we all know: not migrant or foreign, but new, alone, old, alone. When he rose, he stumbled back a step, a dance with disloyal joints. His hand went through his graying hair, erasing the move, and his cap went to his belly, as if his vulnerability might spill him open.

My dream the week before, we were night swimming. Cooler than the day, moonlight glistening on your legs. Whispers of a lunar eclipse buzzed around us. The moon, we could only see from one corner of the fenced-in patio. Huddled, we marveled, as the shadow crept across the moon, a darkness which included us. This celestial event was a thing already, a chance circumstance to witness below disappearing moon glow. But then the moon folded open like a compact mirror, a lion emerged and delivered a divine forecast. I was terrified, and held my daughters close, dripping swimsuit tears onto the concrete. The lion was out of place. A jaguar would have been a better reference to the jungles of the Yucatán. I woke, and the moon lion words were forgotten, but it didn’t matter. It spoke a fate and the rest was happening beyond our control.

After the church, I chose Vietnamese, and Jasmine tea warmed us into such a cheery state we could almost forget the gray grime outside, the wind, the collar of the thin, tired coat the man at the altar wore. We shared all around, soups and stirfrys and sweet and sour. Fragrant steam rose all around and Buddha smiled from behind the cash register. His hands may fit in Guadalupe’s. My fortune cookie read No obstacles will stand in your way this week. We knew the final paperwork would come in from the judge and a plane ticket would be purchased. There was nothing in our way, accept it or not.

When he shows you how to clean clogs from the sink and shower so you wouldn’t have to call a plumber when he’s gone. When you’re the only parent and you hold their hands yourself, squeezed so tight to cross the street. You wash every dish and don’t leave the kids alone. You check the doors are locked. You do laundry, the clothes he left dirty, his bath towels, and you hope they’ll be clean and familiar when he returns. You hope he returns.

The little one says, “Will youplay Candyland with me?” And you answer yes, definitively, but not tonight, definitively. He lets her cheat and you might not. When the dog thinks he hears the garage door, but you know no one’s coming in. When you’re in the bathroom alone or in the dark and you’re scared as hell, for a second, at the aloneness of it. You make less coffee. You throw food away. Lights are always as you leave them, off or on. At night, when the little one falls asleep on you the bigger one can bring you the bottle of wine from the fridge as the movie flickers away.

The ending for immigrants isn’t a return. The ending is an endless crossing, a forever mismatch, a forever missing you. A bag that is always packed or unpacked, a bed that is always vacant, a grainy FaceTime picture and less to say but more to feel, like a cenote, the sacred well that runs deep, ever present, even when you didn’t know. The lion’s not real, the moon is. The prophecy is unspoken and the moon goes round. The dreams are here with you now, fading and fading, like a thin coat, like a Minnesota winter sky.

There, far: an egg from the chicken on the patio, the hot steam from the comal, tortillas and black beans. Like the steam of Jasmine tea, and ginger and lemongrass. The statue of a diety and jade are cold to the touch and that’s how you know they’re real, stone, cold like the moon. The altar candles are warm, the belly of the man, too, covered with a hat, like a bowl, like a moon, like a bag to pack.

BIO: Susan Niz‘s chapbook is “Beyond this Amniotic Dream,” Beard Poetry, Minneapolis. Her short work has appeared in Typishly, Tipton Poetry Journal, Carnival Literary Magazine, Crack the Spine, Blue Bonnet Review, Two Words For, Belleville Park Pages, Ginosko, Cezanne’s Carrot, Flashquake, Opium Magazine, and Summerset Review. She has been featured in live poetry shows in Minneapolis. Susan’s novel Kara, Lost (North Star Press, 2011) was a finalist for a Midwest Book Award (MIPA) for Literary Fiction. She teaches, raises kids, has been a grassroots community organizer, and conserves Monarchs.

Photo by Sarah Leamy Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, 2008.


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