No matter how much I turn this bed the
earth continues to produce small gifts:
rusted spikes and finishing nails, bottle tops
and walnut halves. And when, impossibly,
the last stone is sifted and picked from the fine soil,
it draws from the neighbor’s yard a matchbox car,
a cat’s-eye shooter, the remnant of a sneaker lace
still threaded through a metal eyelet, as if
it is pulling forth from a quick and source-less
underground river of object permanence.
Like my own bed, often turned, yields baby
after baby, both born and yet unborn.
So many I must be mining other women’s
daydreams for their honey necked lovers
or surfacing small rag-dolls of poverty and
poor timing from the nightmares of the
young girl who lives down the street.
The moment before what I assume could have been my enlightenment, I sat on the edge of our bed, my feet squared with the seam of a dirty floorboard that had been painted over green and then black over that, again and again. The bedding was draped around my sleeping husband’s sinewy form like David’s painting of the Death of Marat with the crisp, pale linens and the dark paint, the shadowy valleys of his triceps brachii, that lolling exquisite head. I watched him over my shoulder, breathing deeply. He was a surely a thing of beauty, an artistically rendered object serving no other purpose in this story but to pivot me to that moment in time before my consciousness expanded toward an unsafe and unmanageable infinity. I could see before me an electrified net extending forever in all directions (but the sink was full of dishes that needed doing) and each seemingly disconnected bit of information I’d ever acquired rose like fish blown bubbles to the intersections within the grid (though I had to work in the morning), sending currents along pathways until the whole thing was lit up and everything was interconnected (still, I needed a shower. I needed to go get some food). I’d been reading a lot about the Sephirotic Tree in the main branch of the Multnomah County Library. Back then there was a cafe right in the building. Can you imagine? All the pastry crumbs drawing ants and roaches and mice to a space housing volumes and volumes of delicate paper bound up in spines full of book glue. It felt like a sacrilege. It felt like the handful of times I’d found myself in the church pews wearing pants just like a man. I’d always assumed if understanding ever did descend upon me it would look more like something that grew out of the earth, organic and rangy, not this disappointing neon geometry.
A week ago, I startled a large crow into dropping the baby bunny he’d rooted from its warren into a raspberry bramble near the train tracks and I knew my life would unravel a bit going forward. Not all at once, and not inelegantly perhaps, but like a skein of something fine I wanted to keep tidy. Something I intended to use at a later date and hoped to keep in order. I’d made an uneasy peace with these particular crows. We shared space occasionally and it had taken weeks to assure them they needn’t scatter noisily when I arrived, sounding alarums for their nesting kin. The moment before, I knew it was an affront. But the tiny creature was making a terrible, squealing din that sounded enough like a human baby and I thought her wild eyes had looked into mine. I sprang into action even as I understood it was the wrong thing to do. And then, the moment before was over. And now I’m anthropomorphizing again.
Every moment before is the same moment as the moment before my almost enlightenment, all those years ago when I turned my back toward what happens next. Every moment before, suspended in something sticky and endogenous. The moment before my bare toes depress the pedal on Mrs. Greer’s upright piano is the moment before my daughter sings a tune down the short hallway, the soft click of her tongue dropping from the roof of her mouth, that moment before her voice, which is finer than mine but with a coarse enough warp and weft. The moment before I left the field yesterday, where I’ve yet to save a rabbit and starve a crow, I palm a plump ball of hydrangeas and find its seemingly solid mass comprised of hundreds of fragile petals so remarkable, that a thing can be many and one. The way months ago there is still a moment before I open a letter that gently reminds me I may one day soon have a risky cluster of rogue cells igniting like a Fourth of July sparkler in the very space that, years ago, joy still multiplies at an exponential rate in the moment before a human. In the very space where, before that, an anticipated thing that doesn’t happen creates a permanent hunger in me that I mistake for a solid longing and never see that it is really a thousand particles of moments after that will not come to pass.
You are not your father and I am not my father.
You will not be an alcoholic and I will refuse to get cancer.
I know the shape each mistake must
take before I make it, and also I know
the larger shape I’ll foist upon it. Left
justified with thick cotton margins
for the cushioning of the blow. I wish
it could look more elegant and less
intended, like the Kufic script of geese
flying into a heavy wind. But being who
I am, I’ve fenced off a square parcel of
land where I’ll fret every day while the
only tree on the skyline grows brittle
and loses her leaves. Each time you
see I might rob something good in the
telling of it, will you give me a gentle nudge
or lend my wreckage a wide berth? I
am missing something. That something
is a miss. Tonight, looking forward to the
joyful noise of children playing brass
instruments poorly, is not the right time
to walk grounds we’ve already covered
but we’re renting houses once occupied
by others and their fingerprints are
everywhere. They’ve broken out the
basement windows, made a mess of all
the wiring and every door jamb swells
shut when it rains. What I wanted to say
was something as breathtaking in its
forward motion as the train rolling
by on its tracks. Something as certain
and useful as its metal grind. But I was
not on it and it moved away, peopled
with its own mysterious vocabulary.
“I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if ye find
my beloved, that ye tell him that I am sick of love”
He might sleep like a bear hunting salmon, all
patience and muscled determination, and you
may bank on the promise of breakfast. His
sternum is a banquet table broad enough
for armies. His bones you’ll want to get at. All this
gathering and stitching you’ve worked for along the
hem of the field where you watched a lone blue
heron watch you sideways, slowly mark your sewing
each day, rotating this royal tunnel of vision, these
concentric coins of seeing. And you will love him
the way space wants to close around a shape.
You won’t be able to help it after all this
gathering and stitching along the hem of
the field. You are clever enough, with your
slow gaze that might break into a thousand rapid
directions of flight. You are lasting enough to
survive it though your hollow bones will be
crushed by the staying. You’ll not relish being bruised
as if you existed, as if you were every other
living thing. Like the fish that he’ll tear from the
river. Turn it over and it’s an invocation. Turn it
over and it looks likes a trap. Turn it over and
find it breathless in its need. Turn it over and
know how it feeds you. Turn it over and it is
procreation, glinting in a slant of autumn light.
Turn it over and it will knock you out of your
writing brain and back down into your cunt.
Which is your heavy handed coin and no one
else’s. Your existence has always been seed.
You have sewn every bit, spent every possible
cent. And now you, poor girl, are spent.
In a matter of seconds the ants will
wreck this new jar of honey, left open on
the stove beside a half eaten rhubarb pie.
A moment of distraction while I imagine you
dead in Phoenix and struggle to recall the
song you insisted you’d shown me. Though
I was certain it had always been mine.
Nothing about ghost you will scare me
more than that night I watched you play
cards, betting cloves against percocets,
and I felt an untested knot of longing
tighten across my throat; the unique
panic of spinning in the wake of your
list. Now you have fallen backwards
into the soft and permanent yonder,
your tired heart rounding its bend. You
have loosened to slack your lanky limbs
and soon the eddies will settle. Tomorrow
I’ll wake up in my hot skin and, likely, the
day after, and the day after that again
to ponder how I scar each finished
moment with a piece of tape and a
name scrawled across it in pen. Which,
honestly, eases the worry of your quick exit.
The event of you growing anecdotal and the
tangle of you combed smooth. Your albino
dingo. The specter in the corner of your
room. You beer thief. You lazy lover. You
once said I could never get the genius of a
particular lick and, boy, were you right.
But in the violently silent aftermath I
stretched into my bare curves like a
patient river. Like a river full of purpose
and potential. Before I let the music in my
mouth be replaced by the prayer of your people.
Before I began to measure my grace on a scale that
was not my own, that song I was shown became just
another indelible thumbprint. A dime sized bruise
left behind one afternoon made of clumsy grips and
stripping while the record played out and the breeze
picked up and the day’s fever was finally broken.
My grandpa and his second wife cheated at cards against my father, his middle son, and my mother, who regarded them all with a coolness I could never replicate. Cool the way the linoleum was cool in some kitchen in Alabama where my grandfather’s second wife was a girl. She said she would lie bare-skinned there, seeking reprieve from the long southern heat. She repeated that anecdote until the word ‘linoleum’ sounded like poverty to me and I studied our kitchen floor and wondered if we were also poor. Though I’d started to sense there was a lot of difference between our little, which we spread thin, and her having nothing.
In the winter, reading comic strips and standing on heat vents, I was such a lonely goat. Slow to rouse in the summer, wearing a bathing suit I’d begged for but felt shy in. I was prone to languor. Every day of my teens spent inventorying the things I’d lost or misplaced while all those things I’d maintained just sat there hoping to be numbered. Until one day it dawned on me, if one of the things I’d lost had been my ability to number the things I had not lost then surely all would have been lost. Yet it wasn’t. And I woke up a little. Maybe not all the way. Maybe not yet. But something stirred in me and stretched lazily towards actual gratitude
My grandpa’s second wife looked like she was from Alabama. She had that knife-like prettiness dulled only slightly by need and watchful silence. So my mother condemned her dry pork chops and burnt bread. Before she’d send us out to their trailer in Concho she’d wonder out loud how we’d survive with nothing to eat. That woman was the only grown up I was allowed to call by her first name and every time I used it my belly knotted up a bit, complicit in her condemnation. Before I could put it to words I felt all the blame for my grandmother’s pain falling like rotten petals exclusively on her shoulders and at her feet. Beautiful but putrid. As if my grandfather had not also been a cheat.
As I grew I started to wonder. Do we just lie here and take it then? Is that our lot, like Lot’s wife or his daughters? Like Eve with that dolt, Adam. Is it always our fault? And I got it. I got it. It’s not like I didn’t love my father’s mother fearfully, with her thimble pie and pear butter and brittle rage. With her house that smelled like it was about to fall down, smelled like perm solution and wet adobe. The concept of loyalty was driven early into me. But now that there’s a flower covered cross in the bend of the first treacherous hairpin turn of each love I’ve been in, I’m starting to think perhaps we could have been kinder.
If a person cheats at cards, they’ll cheat at this life. I learned this young, watching my grandpa and his second wife with their series of complicated tics and gestures, all memorized to lead trumps and take tricks. We are what we are and only as much as we are capable of imagining ourselves seen. Predictable. Isn’t this how God came into being, simultaneously awe inspiring and tedious, yawning arrogantly like an author whose characters never take him by surprise? Much later, while I struggled to remain unaware of the arc of my own narrative, my grandfather’s wife stole money from her dying sister. So my granddad left her, too, and lived for a while in his truck by the river.