Survival Mode – Sabrina Small

Apple Picking Season


I’m finished with my apple.
The mealy flesh still in my teeth

The core before me
as insignificant as a business card.

Casual birth of civilization
millions of rinds and peels and seeds, egging me on.

There are three more apples in the bowl
and I can’t remember if they’re different varieties.

Every week I collect fruit that has no business
mingling with one another. A pineapple! 

A fucking pineapple with its spikes and golden armor
in my house, next to the bills and the earbuds.

My grandmother came from a wealthy family 
in Prague. They sold exotic fruit. Import export.

She had a governess and porcelain dolls. She knew 
the taste of a mango when no one else did.

This is not about the war, but it’s not lost on me 
that she went from silk petticoats to a chicken factory 

in Pittsburgh by the time she was 15.
She taught herself to like cigarettes and coffee 

because it was an acceptable break
and she needed a break.

How many evolutions do we have in us?
How many mutations are beneficial?

My dad is dying of brain cancer 
in the warm California sun.

He will forgo new treatment.
He is ready for a break.

It will take too long to bury him. A Shanda to wait so long.
But maybe in September, he will go underground

food for the worms
nutrient for the apples.


Fictional Motherhood


Imagine if all of Julie Delpy’s fictional children
were suddenly real and hers to raise.

The twins from Before Midnight
and the son from On the Verge
every Zoe, Darvulia, and Albertine
nestled at her feet, awaiting comfort.

My friend Laura is ready to work 
as an extra now that her twins are older.
She is getting headshots done 
to create her professional image
as the mother in the background.

Once a mother, always a mother.

Start too early and you’ll struggle 
to create stability but still have a bikini
bod when they’re grown.
Start too late and you’ll have your
memories but constantly face your ghost
in the eyes of your child.

Terry Gross told Annette Bening thank you
for letting your face age naturally. 
Annette has four children with Warren Beatty
and received a Critic’s Choice award nomination
for playing the aging single mother 
of a 14 year old son in 20th Century Women. 

It was a stand-out performance that defied
convention. She lets chaos into her life and
mother and son are better for it. 

Julie Delpy has one son, Leo, age 12
and currently plays a version of this mother, 
Justine, with her fictional son, Albert. 
So she has written and directed herself as mother
while, one supposes, catering to the actual
needs of her actual son. 
The new stories cannot escape 
the theme of parenting, or the lost 
ingenue who had the potential to change everything.


Excuse me? Are you sad, crazy or drunk?


  1. I came back to America with my daughters after three years without visits. There were elevator doors closing between two waves of the pandemic and we hopped on just in time. By then, both my parents had died. We missed that elevator. But Leelee was there and she has a daughter of her own now. In my apocalyptic mindset, I booked almost three weeks in Portland. One week for every year we missed. The moment after we settled in, I knew it was a mistake. We were an unruly stain on the new Target furniture of their lives. 
  2. No one wanted to say we were overstaying our welcome but nobody said the opposite. Brad inserted himself into the conversation and harped on about planning and clearly defined activities. I said this is not easy stuff to navigate; I’m feeling out the situation and it’s only day one. He kept repeating that he was trying to be supportive and he wanted Leelee and me to have time together, and it all sounded like the things a supportive person would say, but there was an edge to his voice. The kids can’t be controlled. Sometimes they are adamant about ordering burritos but when the burritos come, they don’t want them and everyone feels put out. My instinct is to buy more leniency through generous purchases and, at the same time, to coldly book an Airbnb and make them regret confronting me. 
  3. The girls and I are sleeping till 5:30 now and I think we’ll crest 6 am tomorrow, if we can push bedtime back a little. I’m spending a lot of money. I spent 711 dollars on groceries and then spent 80 dollars throughout the day on ice cream, coffee, Ubers, and books. It’s not like this is our real life though. It’s survival mode spending to keep everyone satisfied and moods high. Speaking of high-moods, the edibles are helping as long as I don’t think about the amount of time we have left here. I took the kids to a national forest absurdly close to suburbia and pretended there was a dried up sea monster stuck in the mountain. 
  4. On top of the mountain, a man in his early 30s with emo hair was crying and singing Adele in his parked car with the windows down. He was so loud I could still hear him in the meadow below. I picked wild blackberries and fed them to the kids and all the while we listened to the cry-singing man, rolling in the deep. The kids said, why is he doing that? I said, I don’t know. Maybe he’s really sad. Maybe he’s crazy. Maybe he’s drunk. Maybe all three. And there’s no way to know for sure because you can’t just roll up to the car and ask someone that.