When you are late getting home from work. When you text at 4:36 that you will be home in twenty and then it is 5:23, I slowly but at lightening speed think, “Is this the day that I will lose her?” I seize up like an epileptic, which is something that I’m not. My bones assemble into the steel silhouette of a building that will soon be selling chicken fried rice and pretty cranberry colored but quite itchy sweaters. I sing a little to myself, not at all like a dirge but more like the kind of song I might listen to in the morning while I’m brushing my teeth before work, “So these things happen. Carry on. Pull your muscles out of your pockets.” I will honor your memory and a life beautifully, really, just beautifully lived, and I will make sure sprays of flowers adorn your coffin. I will ask people, please, please don’t speak of her in the past tense. I will push open the screen door into a porch busy with blustery wind, like I am trudging and pushing through a desert- which I am- and I will take glass dishes holding wet piles of chicken and vegetables cut into tiny logs, all mixed up with gelatinous canned soup. I will hold the dishes like sleeping babies and smile graciously. People will ask how I am holding up. I will try not to hand the well wishers a blue lipped smile- you knew my blue lips and they made you worry that I was dead but it is you who is dead- and eyeballs caught up in fine red nets. I will accept hugs from people wearing knee length, loosely belted sweaters. They know how hard this must be. Tears hang off our eyelids like perched skydivers. In the middle of the night, I will vomit into a white toilet bowl. I will leave the lights off because this makes the retching more poignant. The smell of vomit will bloom over the ceramic tiles, and I will think somewhere in my body, look at you. You are grieving. Look at how well you’re doing this. I will crawl across the carpet on my knees, wasted, a snazzy skeleton. I will liken myself to some biblical creature. I will lift myself into our bed like I am a truck bed of cargo, and I will peel away my clothes like shells. I will hear birds in the black trees and I will ride their backs, humping their thin spines to urge them on, away from my frame of bones spread over the sheets that have grown furry without washing since you died three plus weeks ago. By which I mean two months. Four months. We never had it together, but how we turned like one animal in our dirt.
A tree trunk is the wooden bloom of a yellow leaf. You want to eat the leaf, to put it on your tongue and let it dissolve like a tab of acid or the body of Christ. These things are the same really, and in either case, you want to run the color down your throat and through your bowels. This is selfish and you simply can’t do such things.
In winter, squirrels act as suspenders and use their fine toenails to pull up the trees. You don’t believe me because you’re the kind of person who doesn’t believe things. If all squirrels got selfish at once, like we do, and jumped from the trees in a flash mob to grab at nuts rolling in gutters, every single tree would fall at once. I would like to hold a squirrel’s hand, his tiny mitt on the pad of my finger. The trees would crash noiselessly because big things don’t have soundtracks. Anything funereal is strangely quiet, a quiet entirely void of comfort, the quiet of leaving a church on a cold morning lit yellow. You wad a shredded tissue into a hard ball in your damp palm and you do not know where the casket has been taken and the sun is too bright. We are silent soundtracks, preserving wails on mute and snot and tears in amber stones that we finger on dusty summer mornings when the heady smell of cut grass makes our throat ache.
Find something finer than a squirrel’s toenail with its bleeding quick encased in a curved shell. God unfolded me over a map of the Vitruvian man and shot me through with bleeding quicks. I bleed from anywhere and it’s startling.
Another thing to know is that my body is hooked to my bowel, and it’s my ears that keep me standing. Otherwise, well. It would be a noiseless thing. And a ferris wheel, the whole wheel and all the colored carts of it, all of it swings from just one broken lightbulb, its broken quick pinging when the bulb is shaken. It’s the thick black sky that lights up the bulbs that aren’t broken. You think it’s the other way but you’re mistaken. Hang your face in shame, and mean it. This isn’t just for effect. Hole yourself into the dry corner of a library and study things. It’s one line in one book on a plain old blonde haired, blue eyed shelf that keeps the entire library from blowing apart like a flower gone to seed.
Slide your arms into a squeaky raincoat and kneel in your chilly garden while rain turns to snow and back to rain and back to snow. The trees are still held by brown and yellow leaves. It’s that kind of afternoon. Listen to me: your world is full of surprises and you are lucky you can’t see its beauty at once. If you did, your back would split in two and loll in the wet grass, your quick wrinkling like a peach pit. So much is lost on you. You’re not big enough to hold it, and you can certainly not make yourself small enough to protect it. You spend your life scouring your tongue and teeth with sand, rinsing your eyes with bleach, scrubbing out your groin with steel wool. Your fingers are a terribly boring ball in your lap. They are aging into peeling sticks.
Get down in the goddamn garden on your knees. Blink at the icy raindrops shattering across your fat face like birdshot. Your knees are heavy metal saucers. You delight in the cold metal. You could kneel and rock and probably sing Turkish prayers and Icelandic hymns. Turn over wet and heavy clumps of soil with a friendly spade. Lift breaking clods of earth. Dump them. Lift more. Mind the living things. Watch the black earth break into big pieces, like cracked dinner plates. This is how you come to life. [You didn’t forget seeds. Don’t be so ridiculous. You are always so ridiculous, always fretting. No one asked you to plant anything.] It’s already been done. It was done before anyone talked about aspirin in waxy cups at bedtime or fruit cups for train rides. Your naivety makes my fingers flutter, and I could just pinch your round heiney, split like a ripe fruit. You delight me. Etch a locket to say something important, like, for example, You haven’t the foggiest. Wear it. Don’t strangle yourself with it. Just only wear it. It’s meant to make you pretty, not breathlessly dead.
You are so wet inside. Take off your useless raincoat. Toss it to the side. Your quick runs the length of you, and you are longer than you can imagine. You are the Vitruvian man. Lay on your back like an egg. Roll in the snow and make yourself a cold nest. Unfold your legs. Spread your knees. Lift your chin. Open your eyes. The world, the entire wet world, is hanging from your fingertips. You are slick and fine and icy. You are smooth and long and wet. Don’t you dare shake your fingers. You are so wet, and I’ve not ever seen anything so broken open, so fresh and fragrant, so shot through with blood and life.
Rework into something separate: God unfolded me over a map of the Vitruvian man and shot me through with bleeding quicks.
Tree trunk, squirrel, ferris wheel, library, gardening
She knew shit was bad when lines from poems kept popping in to her head when she waited in line at the grocery store or shaved her left knee without shaving cream. Snippets of heartbreaking poems woke her like bad dreams. She felt like an aluminum popcorn popper shaken over the stover burner, bursting with sadness and apathy and anxiety. She was tired of herself.
She quit drinking on a Thursday. She woke up after being awake since 2:00 AM which is what always happened when she drank too much. She was, as she always was, disgusted with herself and reeling and thinking about how much she sucked at life. She stood in front of the bathroom mirror after she showered, and her skin looked pinker and fresher than it had for years. Her teeth were whiter and her eyes clearer and her hair was drying in a kind of wavy, fancy way instead of hanging limp. This was strange because she had not slept and was still likely drunk and all around, she was hating herself and this day pretty intensely considering that it was only 6:45 AM.
His house was the size of a postage stamp. This is a true story. The roof was even edged with scallops, just like old fashioned stamps were. The kind you had to lick.
When Noreen touched her, she felt like she was being prayed over. And under and through and into. Noreen wrote prayers along her arms and across her stomach and she wrote prayers in the air around her and pulled her hair into long, shiny prayers that were very heavy and very light at the same time. Noreen filled her like water tipped into a vase so that things could begin blooming and the air hummed with yellow and prayers and flowers breaking open in the morning air when the sun burned off the last parts of the night.
It wasn’t so much that she was bossy, although it’s true that the was bossy. It’s more that she was what her grandmother would call a Nervous Nellie. She could work conversations in a certain way, building up interactions and breaking down others. She pulled this string and that leg kicked. She pulled that string and this hand raised.
Title? Prayers, Puppets, and Pumpernickel
She lived in an apartment above a liquor store. All windows to the liquor store had been boarded up years ago. Her attic apartment had to windows at either end, and beams of sunlight met in the middle of the floor.
She sat at her desk going through unimportant emails and she reached down beside her hips to grab two ends of a seatbelt.
I knew the potatoes weren’t soft enough. I knew they should cook longer. I knew I didn’t need another beer. I knew things were getting worse.
She kept biding her time, waiting until something came along that was a joy. She kept waiting for joy. I told her over and over that that wasn’t how joy worked. Joy wasn’t going to come along and sit its fat ass in her lap and let loose a bouquet of balloons into a sky washed with a paintbrush dipped in blue. Joy didn’t work that way.
She didn’t listen. She didn’t ever listen. It didn’t matter. I was desperately in love with her. I wanted to name each curl that sprung from her scalp. I wanted to give them middle names and throw each curl a bat mitzvah and a confirmation party and a sweet sixteen. I was at all times twisting garlands of paper streamers and breaking broccoli trees into manageable little bushes to roost beside bowls of dip. She was the party of my life.
I met her in an economics class. It was the second time I’d taken the class. I failed the first time. It was a hard class, but really I failed because I stopped going. That whole experience taught me the importance of failing. Failing will sit you in a plush seat in an ampitheater and raise a red velvet curtain with a fluorish. The curtains will part like the seas and there’s no need for Moses because she will be standing there in the wake, her curls snapping, her eyes flashing.
I haven’t seen her in years. I’ve bought three houses and sold two and cleaned my fridge maybe two hundred times and shaken out clean sheets over a quilted mattress maybe seven hundred times. I’ve made love over and over and slipped my head in to the laps of a parade of women. She still sits in my lap with a carboard book of matches, lighting one match after another and giggling while they fizzle. She still sits her fat ass in my heart, building bonfires and pumping the billows. I smell like sulphur and have spent years in the burn unit.
To contemplate: a story about someone who fell in love with you, instead of a story about you falling in love.