Thursday, November 18, 2010

Map of Lost Souls: Islands

The hour passed with me looking for
photographs of my husband that
caught his face in just the right light
and shadow, for a face that needed painting.

I did not find one. I realized instead,
grief humiliates me.

I cannot still myself long enough to
dip brush to water, touch pigment,
lay a wash.

The faces I draw are alien, Barbie, pixie dust...
I realize, the shapes of poems are unbeautiful
to me.

The poems I am missing are made of typewriter.

Nothing startles and satisfies me more
than the sharp text of the typewriter,
but it is
about immediacy.

Cold stone, cold smooth stone, creek moss
and water. Swimmer. Stay.

You might have been. She.
A swimmer.
Of course I would have taught you
to swim. But,
what if
you hadn't liked the water?

The eyes are enormous almonds
devouring the face.
Who would ever want to see
that much?
And the nose, oh the nose!

In the book I have borrowed from
the library, where I go as though in
mourning (I am in mourning),
I learn, nothing is exact about the face.

As though in mourning, the book dies
in its covers, the art lost to text.

As though in mourning,
I will never see your face.
Touch the soft bottom of your tiny foot.
Call your name.
You never had any of these things.

I ridicule others and feel genuinely better.

I watch a girl play piano, sing, and run away.
She drags her broken wings behind her, unaware.

I know, I know. And how awful it is to know.

These things happen, the doctor reports.
Normal, normal, everything about it.

I don't want this lesson
I don't want to learn.
My mind closes like a photograph
takes light and shadow from the world
then stills.

You might have been.
A singer, like your father.
With my lips and his lashes.
And no one's patience, that
would have been your own.

I stood at the sink over the dishes
and followed the lines of bare bows
in the window, all pointing, one direction.

Warm water of soap suds, slips
through fingers, a comfort there in
the grip.

All night dreams came.
We woke together in the mist of dawn.

My husband dreamed of
a horse that was a bike he rode.
Someone shot the bike out from under him,
it lay there on the ground suffering.

I imagine the limp rubber tires,
the eyes of horses, more lovely
than human's, blinking.
He takes out his gun and shoots
the bike dead.

In the photo we are laughing.
Our mouths are enormous monsters of joy.

These things happen. I say.
Quietly, quietly, almost silent.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Map of Lost Souls: Forgo the Shadow

There is a park across the street
with a bench where I go to sit,
and sitting, I smoke a rolled cigarette
and smoking I watch the sea that is not sea
but lake.

The water never looks the same.
The sky always means something different.
So much has to do with seeing,
which is not seeing, but an emptying
of the soul into the otherness of light.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

On the Life of Objects

A piece of yarn drapes, coiled over the stone shaped like an egg on the window sill of the bedroom. We collected rocks as children. Sold them at our store along with braided grass necklaces, friendship bracelets made of colored string, and once a fish caught from the lake. I collect stones from the places I go when I'm away from home. I keep them in cloth pouches, wooden boxes, on the sills of windows, the kitchen counter, the rim of the bath. Smooth stones are best, the eye lingers pleasuring, on the surface. Bumpy rocks, rocks with holes from the sea, from creatures, from magic, scare me. I do not like to swim places where I cannot see the bottom. But, I will. I do not like to look at surfaces that lack congruence of shape. Certain patches of gravely excess, of bumpiness, I find grotesque and terrifying. Once, a rash on my brother's chin, dried blood, elicited this in me. I had to stop looking at him for awhile, which wasn't nice, since he was just a little boy.

I discover postcards sent years ago from a friend. A picture of the manger scene, of Beijing nightlife, of mountains. As children, we pressed autumn leaves between wax paper with my mother. I still find her wildflowers flattened between the pages of heavy books. My mother does not collect things. Her jewelery boxes are messy, always missing earrings, silver chains knotted, unusable. Sometimes I have found small rocks there, she must have absentmindedly slipped them into her pocket. She would have found them months later, not remembering where they'd come from, laying them among the disarray of her accessories.

A tiny vase filled with stone, birch bark, dried heather and ash, a wooden bird bending towards the ground, legs of wire mounted on carved wood, painted brown.

My grandfather's war photos, the newspaper clippings he kept. I touch these objects thinking only that he too touched them. A picture of an old woman with her hands in prayer, on the back in my grandfather's hand, “woman begging for a smoke.” Is it meant to be funny or sad?

What exists in objects that draw us to them? What powers are theirs? My favorite childhood book was about a donkey that turned into a stone. It involved a tiny red wishing pebble, a hungry lion in the woods, a sudden wish of panic: Make me a stone.

History is filled with missing objects. Seeking lost objects sets its plot, the journey, and its end, found object.

Objects are used to solve mysteries, crimes, and to make guilty; objects are used to ward off evil, to protect, and to destroy. Objects promise love as in the union of marriage, rings exchanged, or in the common practice of giving objects as gifts.

My husband collects baseball cards and toy figurines. This, he does compulsively, lovingly, expectant. He likes to order these objects, stack them, touch them, line them up to be seen by him alone. These objects are not for sharing, though on occasion, when children visit, he allows them to play with certain figurines. I used to become angry with him for wasting money on his collections. Though baseball cards could be sold for money, and he stated this in his defense, this is not his intention. The collecting of objects provides a sense of safety. A pleasure in having more, and yet, never enough, his collecting wards off ending. His objects refuse to let the past slink away, to let childhood dim into memory, which would then be known as something fixed, unchanging, and real.

I gave my sister a Celtic Cross for a graduation gift. She lost it in the woods near the sauna. Sometimes we still look for it. My mother lost her wedding diamond while cleaning the toilet, my father lost his wedding band because he never wore it. Last he saw it hanging with a safety pin from the green leaf of a house plant. We do not worry about the lost objects that represent living bonds we feel remain intact, though, should we doubt our marriage, our friendship, our sisterhood, we worry, losing an object of sentiment might be a bad omen.


Jen and I are walking through the flower garden, late October, picking what is left of the crop. I ask her about the life of objects. We bend low over the Black Eyed Susans, she with the clippers, me with can.
“What objects?” She asks.
“Not useful ones, like toothbrush, bed, and slipper.” I say.

We are clipping flowers to bring to a memorial outside a woman's home. Jen calls to me each time she finds a pretty bloom, amazed that anything still survives. I walk down the row, I have never learned the names of flowers except those my mother taught me. We make flowers into objects by clipping. In her book of flowers, my mother writes the date and location of seen flower. Sometimes I flip through her book, looking for the oldest date, but why? Time has its talon's in me.

The October sky is luscious, gorged and wrapped in thick cloud, colored and dreamlike, deep and lonely. The sky is not object. Does the sky object?

Jen says, “Objects are symbolic, they give meaning, so, even the objects that don't seem to have a purpose, have one, if they bring meaning to our life. Meaning is a purpose.”

I say, “It's too complex, because then you have to think about language, animal's don't have objects for meaning.”

“If you had a picture of your grandfather, it would mean something to you, but if someone else saw it, it might mean something to them too, a memory of another era. But, if you have a stone, it only means something to you.” She tells me.

Is this true? I wonder. We walk on. I realize the fall colors are at peak brilliance right now. That I love being on this farm land in the place we call the Intervale, the low land beside the Winooski River. None of the pictures I've taken of beauty, of moments that filled me with longing, of seeing, remain true, became true. The pictures I love, are those of accidental genius, happenstance. The wind and chill of fall pinks our cheeks, and I am thankful for this feeling of cold and the heat of my body.

Is it simply that objects remind us, remember, hold symbolic something other than what they are? Do we use objects like language, to represent what is absent? There are stones all over my bedroom and bath, but neither I nor my husband collected them. They are left by the woman who owns the house we're staying in. The stones are objects, having been removed from nature; they fill me with a sense of calm beauty, a pleasure in the presence of the outer world within. They mean something to me, but not perhaps what they had meant to her.

I have entered many houses filled with the world of nature: rocks, stones, leaves, sticks, dried flowers, antler, bird's nest. I feel instantly at home. I realize this: sentimental objects like ceramic cats, are not what I'm thinking about. Nicknacks are not the topic of interest here. When I sit in a room filled with nicknacks, I am estranged, dislocated, filled with heavy regret. But should someone tack a slice of birch bark, frayed and curling pink, to the wall, I am comforted. I admit, this is because my childhood was filled with Birch Trees. In my memory bubble, Birch shoot up and thrive.

Outside the house where a woman died, a memorial is raised. It consists of objects. Flowers, plastic butterflies, prayer flags, a stuffed animal, a cup of coffee, a tin with a piece of Wriggly's Spearmint gum and a square of dark chocolate, crosses, notes, pictures of the woman in her garden smiling. Jen and I bend down to sit on the wool blanket someone has left for kneeling. We look at the collection of objects. She places our cup of flowers. The objects distract us from thinking or speaking. They remind us of the woman, when she was still alive.

Jen and I stand in the backyard of her house. We should not be here, really. I say, do you think she is still here? Jen is quiet, sensing.
“Yes, she's here, she's going to be here for a little while, I think.”


Objects remind us. Remember and call forth. Each one calling something different to each of us. We live simultaneously in this moment and the last, any moment from before could enter this one. But, the past has safely passed, its re-entry now, something other than consciousness. What then, we can't say, as we will all disagree on what has safely passed and what has not, or on the meaning of an object and where it should live.

Once on an open air train, as a child, I stood beside my mother. She held my small sister in her arms. And in the arms of my sister, a teddy bear. It might have been Tennessee, or some state near West Virginia, we were on a day trip, seeing autumn. The woods deep below us in a ravine, colored of fall, far off, away. The bear slipped from the hands of my sister, tumbled down, and was gone. My sister was not old enough to understand her loss. She clapped her hands together, her hair short blond curls, she had tiny eyes. This began my wishing and imagining game, which would last to adulthood, perhaps into.

How I imagined that bear! Toppled down. Into a forest, dark and misty. Sad, the bear, lost, the bear. I wished, imagined, over and over, silently, never aloud—as though I knew the triviality of my game—my hand reaching out, just as the bear slipped, clasping on, saving the bear. Mother's eyes, kindly, thankful. Good. Sometime later, in my bed at night, in the dark, I wished for the bear. If only I could set him upright, against a tree, he would feel less awful about being lost. If I could tell him, it was an accidental loss. He was not a lost object to me then.

Some objects we keep hidden but can't abolish. Every time I move I have to deal with them. Many of mine are sentimental gifts from my mother like books meant to inspire. Anything trying to inspire me, fails. Sometimes, I wish she would simply send me a pine cone.

I prefer the life of objects remain mysterious and giddy. I almost always prefer mystery to fixed understanding. I like to remember the childhood objects so well loved by my sisters and I. A red purse, Hannah once filled with army worms, a cheep jewelery box with a spinning ballerina that required winding, a scrap of baby blanket my sister still sleeps with at age 29, stones, leaves, sticks, braided grass, and birch bark. They enter and retreat, sometimes laughing, sometimes silent. I admit, I give them human qualities, like laughter and sorrow.

As a child, Jen tells me, our world is so small that whatever is in front of us is of the utmost importance. But, when we grow older, a larger world unfolds, we have to choose what will be of value and what will not.

Still I fantasize about the life of so-called useless objects. The stone with yarn coiled round sits, and I suppose it is true it reminds me, calls meaning to me. I made the yarn on a windy fall day at a farm where I worked. The stone is not mine, nor is this piece of yarn made of sheep's wool and dye, of fingers twisting, fingers holding the twist, of fingers letting loose.

This is what I decide, then. Objects are the antithesis to letting go. “No,” they call out, “sit with, let be, remain.”

Friday, September 3, 2010

A List of Wants and Directives

I want to go down to the stream and collect smooth stones
lay them in my bathtub and swim there.

I want to make food with many colors because good food must also please the eye and beautiful food will be red and green and purple.

I want the storm to come and the heat to break only after I have worked four days in the sun beside the sheep in the field and my hands are worn dry from picking weeds, from milking goats, from the feel of animal grain and the sound of it in an old coffee can, jingling, the sound that the sheep and the goats in the farmyard know by heart to follow.

I want to see only beautiful things for one whole day,
and the next, to cry
because I will never live long enough to see the cottonwoods I planted in the yard grow to their full magnificence.

I want to make you understand there is another way, a slower way, that I promise will bring more joy. Yes, I want to force you.

The mind's fluid powers are sensory, wrought with emotion.

To see clearly you must look outside of form, you must enter unknowing, and be surprised when a letter is a book and a book a manifesto, when a novel is a poem and a song the longest story in the world.

You will never want to hurry here.
You will never again tell me how quickly you read it, how many you've read,
how long your shelf of books has grown.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Meeting--what is "networking" anyway?

So, I return from my meeting of local youth professionals. I am uncertain why I attend these, though I recognize that I do find some sense of fulfillment in them. From what, I am uncertain. Maybe it is my vice of nostalgia, the yearning for the past, complete in all its beauty. For the past is only an image and we all know the persuasiveness of the image on the human mind. Being surrounded by people near my age in an aging community lets me imagine that I was born fifty years before in the glory days of the Range, where jobs and youth and hope were plenty.

If I were more of an optimistic, I would fathom that the prospect of building a better community or rebuilding the glory of days past compels my attendance. But I am not. However, nor am I a pessimist. Like most things in life, I am neither extreme. Fifty percent pessimist, fifty percent optimistic, and ah ha, I guess my glass is always half full with optimism.

As much as I would deny being an optimist, I do plafind great comfort in hope. However, I don't fathom is to be a source of sustenance for my daily exisitence, as so many quotes would love you to believe, but rather a source of much entertainment as it allows you to imagine the prospects of your future.

And I know the future is only that, a prospect-- the great denier of the present. But again, it presents itself to you in the form of an image, and like all images, it is compelling.

I don't have anything more to say of the meeting. We eat, we talk, we plan events. I think I go because it has been so innundated into my generation that to be successful in careers, life, etc... you should network. And that terrible word has become an empty substitute for a whole array of positive human behaviors: talking, comforting, encouraging, listening, laughing, planning, working together...

So, now we taken lovely things that we do for ourself and others and tried to make them trendy by calling it networking-- something like so much else, you do solely for yourself and self-advancement.

The point being is that I go to talk, comfort, listen, laugh, plan and work with others. I contemplate my attendance solely because I need to reclaim these verbs from under the umbrella of such a negative word.

War Photos

My mother's father served in WW2; he was in the Navy and at the time he entered (1943) the government offered seventeen year old high school students a HS diploma if they dropped out rather than finishing their senior year, and entered the military. He spent a year following land combat, his job was to collect the dead bodies of fellow troops and the dog tags to be returned to the family of the dead.

A letter from my grandpa's oldest brother Earle reports to the family the day he and their father said good-bye to Ray. He hopes to work in the mess kitchen on the Island of Hawaii, Earle writes home, or at least get some more training before he is shipped.

The one picture in the box of old war memorabilia that strikes me most is the picture of an older Japanese woman sitting on her knees with her hands in prayer position, her body tiny, her face sunken inward. On the back of the photo my grandpa wrote "Japanese woman begging for a smoke." It seems like he too felt a sense of desperation towards the woman. Hers and his own. Wouldn't he also beg for a smoke if he had none? I don't know that he thought this, but its the only picture in the bunch where he's written something other than a date and place on the back. It is also a picture my aunt refers to most when she talks about the box of old stuff. For some reason my aunt didn't want the box; when I came to borrow it she told me to keep it. I brought it to my mother's house where she and my brother spread its contents over the carpet in the living room. My brother only one year younger than my grandfather was when he left for war.

My brother wants to see the dog tag my grandfather wore and I agree, silently, that this object captures the imagination and sentiment most. As the object my grandfather wore as well as its purpose--to identify his dead body should he be killed--the dog tag which is only named after the obvious, the ID tag dogs wear, fascinates us all. I suppose, in us we realize that this tag could have been used for its true purpose, wiping our existence from time in an instant. But, I don't we think of that when we want to see it. Rather, there is something mysterious about objects of the past--the ring a grandmother wore for fifty years, the gold band worn down to a sliver, or a bowl a great-grandmother used to make bread.

We are all drawn to the story of our origins, to the story of the past. The details of a daily existence, the glory of a story in which something odd occurs. We want to recognize a past different from someone else's past. We want a history that is uniquely ours.

I don't understand how this desire arises, but I relate to it, see it as my own.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bess's Mushrooms

I've always found the love affairs of my four sisters important. Bess is collecting mushrooms this summer, tending the garden, taking the dog for jogs. When her love comes to visit he is so pale we all stare too long and make him blush. What will you do in September, I ask her. And she says she doesn't know. But, I can't decide if she is in love or he is in love with her and she has put a hand out to keep love at bay. When she tells me her love is going away without her, I worry. Her love leaves and hugs me good-bye, he must be the one in love. Where are you going in September, I ask Bess. Maybe to teach somewhere, she says. She puts all her mushrooms on the table and with the book her love has left, she looks for the names of her collection. In the picture of the mushrooms on the open page of the book from her pale love, the mushrooms whirl or is it whorl, dizzying me. I worry about these loves, the lost ones and then found. Bess says if you cut the mushroom right, it'll grow back, not to worry. She keeps finding them, picking them, bringing them home. In the garden her beans grow and yesterday I saw two red tomatoes, the first of the season.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Jenny Boully: [one love affair]*

[The Book as a Living System] : Thoughts on Jenny Boully

I have only lifted the cover of her book of poetry/open text titled [one love affair]* and I am already in love with the concept of Jenny Boully. But, this isn't about Jenny Boully, rather my/our strange love of books as living objects, the idea of things as entities, worlds, unto themselves, and the way a book lives its own life, loves and hates and holds and rejects its readers, regardless of their particular creeds.

I think about the book I want to make within the context of a publishing industry itching to catch up with the music industry digital sounds and words with gadgets like the I pad, Kindle, E books... Words dangle there in the outer realms of unnamed space, intangible, tangled, untouchable. What is a book if it isn't a physical object? If a book is only text and not the white space, the color, smell, touch of its page, art of its jacket, what is the thing that is the book, what then homes "book"? Here, I pause and think, Art Objects!, the book must live in a home, the book must exist as an object (its own physical entity taking up real space) or it will lose its essence, its soul, its body, and we understand in this world of the twenty-first century that the erasure of the “body” and the loss of home equates to the destruction of the spirit and the soul, whatever that means to each one of us.

Last semester I sat in a lecture on the new digital age of publishing; I remember little from this lecture except for the odor of winter sweat and body, the dry heat, the gray sunlight through thrifty blinds, and this sentence on the handout: Make shorter paragraphs, people want a quick read.

As a sometimes researcher, I understand the convenience of the I pad when it comes to portability, isn't it easier to carry all that info, pages marked and highlighted ready to be cut and pasted, in one thin screen? Yes.

What do you lose? What happens to information? To art? To the text? The book is a work of art.


I spent a week water color painting images from old science books, each little drawing of amoeba, bone, bird, tree, shell was done by hand in these books. Someone carefully scribed the images. As I copied them with my own eye, I began to feel a certain magic. The birds are not real birds, but the imagined images of stasis; like a book, life is not real life, but imagined stasis, the cavern of reflection and recollection, the home of the imagination, and thus of magic. All good things come from what I am here calling “magic” it is the realm of the pretend, the imagined, the possible. We dream of utopias, not because we want to create utopias (though we try) but because unless we pause and throw all the known pieces of the world to the wind, let them scatter across counties, countries, continents, and look again at what might be possible, we are unable to image _________. We are unable to see beyond. The old bird sketches, skeletal system sketches, drawings of life systems brought me closer to this imagined world of science, where stasis on the page makes the idea of things possible. Where the idea of things can be represented and thus known, not as they actually are, we cannot know this, but as we imagine, as all knowledge occurs.

I want to make a book. To write it, yes, but "to make" is equally important. I need it to occupy real space, to live its own life like a child put out into the world as a physical being. To love its readers as it chooses. To find its own life journey through cities, countries, languages. To find an untimely dumpster death only to be resurrected by some dirty kid trying to make life her own way, to get sold to a book dealer, and bought by an old man who holds the book tenderly, falling to sleep with the book on his chest, waking to her pages crinkled by his body in the morning. Smiling.

The "living system of the book" or the book as [living system]*, refers to the home, the body, and the life of the book. Asks what space means in terms of art, and whether writing and making books exist together, whether the book desires or requires a home, a body, a physical life of its own.

Friday, July 16, 2010

एवेर्य्थिंग इस स्टोरी

Everything is story:
The yellow finch at the bird feeder.
Sister with her lips red, mother in the wine.
Father keeps the seed in the little house where
the finch returns.

I am all poet and it ruins my scope.
The storm washes over the lake
the dog's feet sound like bird claws
on the wooden floor, he turns up
to rest his head in my lap. No love
better than dog love, early this summer morning.

Against a sea of pine green the white birch
trunk charts—severe in manner—the distance between
the white hips of memory
swing, and she, mother, lover, sister, dream,
retreats or returns, a bowl of water in her hands
urging you to wash the tips of your fingers clean
and enter with her, the dream. I remember.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Story of Rachel


It had been a hard year for the farm. Daddy was breading the lambs for slaughter, the wheat crop was coming in late, and he was older, needed more help. Rachel loved those lambs. She hated the rooster though, Custard, she threw rocks at that old biddy when he tried to hop on the chickens. Didn’t harm the eggs any though, when he fertilized them. Iris told the story, not my mother, Rachel’s only daughter. Iris in her kitchen of cornflower blue, the plates drying on the rack beside the sink, a tiny window over the southern street, with her mug of coffee, told me Rachel had a bird claw arm, a limp, and a lazy eye.
My sister wasn’t much to look at, she said, I guess I got the good genes.
All my life I had heard the story of Rachel without knowing what had really happened. I scrunched up my nose. My glasses had slipped down again; it was a way to avoid being that girl who pushed her glasses back up her nose. I knew I looked like Rachel even more than my mother did. Iris kept a picture album in the dining room hutch. She let me pull it out now and then. Pictures stained yellow with time, white rimmed and cold eyed. Zetta with her stern face beside her husband, tall and able or Iris and Rachel in white bonnets standing in the muddy yard looked back at me, soulless and stubborn.
Rachel was Zetta’s first daughter, born without enough oxygen, her left arm hung limp with fingers curled into her palm, permanently grasping. She grew enormous, awkward, didn’t speak in turn, and her socks fell down around her thick ankles where she let them lay. By the time Rachel was a teenager she developed a limp. From her perch in the branches of a Sycamore, Iris watched her sister drag her leg through the mud of the road with her bird-arm clutched to her side as she made her way from house to barn. Iris thought she looked like a freak, with her auburn hair cut in short chunks and her one wandering eye that seemed to watch Iris no matter where she stood.
The last thing Iris said to Rachel before she left with her husband and children for a job in Northern Minnesota: You know Daddy’s going to sell the babies this year. Rachel was on her knees rubbing a lamb behind the ears that would have been a ewe had it lived. Rachel ignored her. Iris watched the light shifting through the rafters, there was so much space up there, a kingdom of air, she thought, of light and air. Rachel, she pleaded.
I know you’re leaving, Iris, its fine, these babies’ll be fine.
Rachel. Her sister’s name felt like a mantra. Rachel, those babies are going to be meat.
Shut your face, Iris.
Iris knelt down and picked up one of the tiny lambs. Sweet little mouths that opened pink, new, like her two babies’ mouths had looked.
She kissed her sister’s sweaty forehead. Bye then.

The new life of Iris felt colder than the old, a landscape of North Dakota prairie wheat and deep skies, replaced by the red mining towns of Minnesota, with all the Swedes and Norwegians speaking funny English. Her children would learn to speak that way, her grandchildren.
They found a house on Hemlock Street. It was a corner house which made Andy proud. The lawn in the back stretched out into an open field, not yet developed. The town of Hibbing would at its peak have a population of 17,000, land swept out around it into woods, wilderness, lakes, places where wolves and deer roamed and were hunted. Yet, those houses were built so close together in some parts hardly a foot between them. They built like it was the old country and space was limited, or maybe they thought they needed proximity to survive, the heat of closeness keeping them all through the longest winters in the country.
The rooms of the new house, sturdy with young wood, were small and closed off, compartmentalized spaces so each member of the family could cozy into their own hole. But, Iris missed the old farm house, big and open, echoing footfalls, creaking stairs, large drafty windows because her people would rather be chilled then miss the short light of winter. Her children would play out on the lawn with the neighbor kids, they’d form a gang, ride their bikes up to the Iron Ore pits, left to fill with sea green water like oceans, return with stained red socks she’d never get clean.
She daydreamed about Rachel: twelve-thirty she’d be giving the lambs a bottle, four, she’d be brushing out Myrtle, checking her hooves for cracks. Iris fixed a dinner of chicken and potatoes, thought of her mother making stew, her daddy sitting to supper in the same chair year after year. Ivan, the farm hand they’d grown up following around like a big brother, sitting across from Rachel, his soft, dark eyes and shiny strait hair that grew too fast.
My mother Ruth was Rachel’s daughter, raised by Iris. Mother never knew Rachel. I always sensed that there was something to be ashamed of in Rachel. She was stubborn, unyielding, less than fetching, but these seemed okay things to me. We are in the backyard when Iris starts in again with her Rachel stories.
Your grandfather would’ve loved to see you all grown up. She tells me.
I am only half listening; these visits to Iris have become more of a duty. More and more she forgets where she is, what she was doing, even how old I am. I had to trick her into believing she quit smoking because she kept burning holes in the rug beside her bed. But, Iris remembers easily her old life on the farm and Rachel.
Grandma, I say, what really happened with Rachel? Why’d her husband run off?
Her husband, good lord, she never had a husband. I always hoped she’d marry someone. Thought maybe if she went to church she’d find a man. She wouldn’t hear of it. Laughed at me any time I brought it up. Ain’t no man going to marry me Iris! It was a shame, a real shame, but Mama Zetta kept the whole thing quiet, couldn’t bear a rotten reputation in those parts, hell she had a hard enough time with Ivan being half Indian. He worked for the family thirty years, then just up in left in the middle of the night. You got his shiny black hair you know.

It was fall on the farm. Rachel stood with heaviness in her belly, watching the boys bring in the crop. Her favorite lamb, Tipsy, at her side. She bent over the baby and nuzzled its nose with her own. Tipsy smelled of hay and milk mixed with the oily scent of wool. Zetta came out into the yard.
Rachel, get in here and help with dinner, Jesus child. Zetta started fanning her face with her hand. I can’t believe you just sit out here in the heat watching those men. People will start talking you know Rachel.
Rachel stood up and led the lamb to the barn. Her stomach churned as she walked up to the house. For a moment she waited on the porch looking out over the field at Ivan. He was forty five, still had a thick head of dark hair. She’d known Ivan all her life. She rested her good hand on her belly and counted again the months. No one knew, not even Ivan.
That fall, Rachel begged her daddy not to send Tipsy to slaughter. Please let me keep just this one. Her father, tired, agreed.
Rachel took Tipsy on a leash for a walk in the woods. The little lamb was bashful at first, uncertain about the new terrain of sparse forest. But then she leapt and her two hind legs turned in the air, making Rachel laugh.
You funny little girl, she said. Rachel sat down beside the stream, with Tipsy in her arms and for a long time thought about the baby in her belly. Did she think it would be a new life for her, a new start? Would Rachel and Ivan take over the farm eventually, have more babies to help with work, boys, though she wanted a girl all her own too?
She stroked the lamb’s ears, pressed her nose to the top of its head. Her heart felt warm and fragile.
Daddy wasn’t there when they came for the lambs. Ivan and the boys loaded them up. Rachel was asleep in her bed, tired from pregnancy. They took all the lambs, unaware of her father’s promise. When she found out, Rachel ran through the yard to Ivan’s room, pounded on the door. He opened it, surprised. What, what is it Rachel. She made him nervous. He loved her.
You killed her, you killed her! I hate you Ivan. And then she fell in a heap on his bed sobbing. Ivan had never seen a woman cry like that, didn’t know what to do, couldn’t comfort a woman in tears. He sat on the edge of the bed beside her. Then he put his hand out, it was a dark wrinkled hand, a work hand, rough and callused. The hand went to Rachel’s matted head of auburn hair and lay there.
Please don’t cry Rachel, tell me what is wrong, I promise I’ll fix it.
No, you can’t fix it Ivan, you can’t fix it.
About a month later Ivan packed up his room, he left most of his belongings behind as he’d have to go on foot, and in the dark cover of a November night he walked away from the farm he’d worked for thirty years, his home since he was fifteen. There was a letter for Rachel and nothing else. Zetta handed it to her. When she read it, Rachel knew she was all alone now. Her sister, Tipsy, and now Ivan had all left her. Now Zetta would kill her, never forgive her for humiliating the family with a child out of wedlock.
Did she plan to leave?
Rachel came to term at the end of December, just before Christmas. Her belly was enormous but the rest of her was big. Zetta kept telling her not to eat so much. Rachel you’re as big as house, quit wolfing all that food down, you look a disgrace.
I always look a disgrace Mama. She waved her bird arm in the air, her fingers curling into her palm.
Stop that, stop that right now, Zetta howled.
Three days before Christmas, Rachel lay in bed, suffering contractions. She must have wondered if she’d have a boy or a girl, she must have had a name picked out for the little baby like she’d named all her lambs. Maybe she was filled with joy for the first time in her life, she’d have something truly her own, something she’d made, she’d grown. The house was quiet, the wind rattled the old windows bringing a chill to her room. In the sky the moon hung fuzzy, glowing soft through the sapphire curtains. Iris’s empty bed was still there. The quilt tucked tight under the pillow, then over, the special way Zetta made beds. An old rag doll sat propped up against the pillow. Sometimes Rachel would pick the doll up and hold it in her good arm. She’d stroke its linen forehead and whisper to it.
We’re going to be just fine, aren’t we, me and you.

She got up and put on her coat, snuck down the stairs and slipped into her winter boots. She had some towels and a quilt with her. The pains were coming fast and water had leaked out from between her legs onto the sheets.
The snow crunched under her feet. It was terribly cold out. Too cold to be in the barn. She went in, hardly able to walk now, she hobbled to the empty lamb stall, all of them gone, all of them dead and eaten. Rachel laid the quilt down and then the towels. She took her boots off and then her long underwear. She thought she heard Ivan, but he had left weeks and she would never know if he had been aware of her condition.

Iris looks at me. I don’t look like her other grandchildren (the boys) they all have blond hair and stone blue eyes, lengthy bodies and tan skin like grandpa. I have dark auburn hair and short legs.
She had that baby girl out there in the barn three days before Christmas. I can’t imagine how she did it on her own like that, but Rachel was a tough girl. Stubborn as a mule just like your mama.
I watch my grandmother as she says this, her eyes squinting through her glasses, there is only an empty street past the yard. It can’t be what she sees.
I don’t want to disturb this moment with Iris drifting between me and the other lives she’s known. My mother wants Iris in a home where someone can keep a constant eye on her. But I know what that will do, how it will ruin her. How can a person learn to live in the cold rooms where the dead have expired, where we go to die when our luck runs out?
What happened to them, keep going Grandma? I touch her arm. The skin sags off the bone, freckled with age.
I’ve got to get down for a nap, I’m plum tuckered out. She says.
I go to see my mother, drive the five blocks to her tiny bungalow. When I open the door I can tell she’s been smoking again so I yell out: I thought you quit Ma!
She’s in the kitchen washing dishes an open beer on the counter beside her.
Grandma’s telling me stories about Rachel again, I say.
Full of shit that woman. Always telling stories, I learned not to believe that shit a long time ago honey.
I watch my mother’s back, she slouches in her shoulders, they are broad and rigid. Her thick hair streaked with gray is pulled back in a snarled bun. She’s wearing that old sweatshirt from the one trip she took out of state: Arizona, it says in neon pink letters.
In the weeks that follow I return to Iris every Monday after work. I drive to the Short Stop and buy her a pie or sweet buns. I don’t think she eats much anymore, maybe she forgets, but I like the way she smiles when I hand her a treat. She talks about the weather, her television shows, asks after my mother.
Your mother can’t get over a thing, that’s her problem, she never could move on. You know when I told her that I wasn’t her birth mother she ran away across the street and stayed at the neighbor’s house for a week.
Well when Dad died Mom changed, Gram.
Death changes us all, when I lost my sister I thought I would die, but I had your mother and the boys to look after, I had to keep moving.
I sensed my chance. How did she die Grandma?
She lost too much blood I reckon. Giving birth.
For some reason my mother got up in the middle of the night, couple hours past midnight and looked in on Rachel, when she discovered she was gone, Zetta went out to the barn because that was the only other place Rachel went. My mother probably thought she was brushing Myrtle, she liked to do that, Rachel did.
Zetta walked through the snow, the sky was clear now, the stars bright pin pricks in the sky. Cold winter skies always seem crystal clear, surreal almost. She opened the door, she went in. It was dark. I see her lighting the lantern that hung near the entrance of the door. She takes her time, doesn’t worry. Her daughter’s body would still be warm and soft. Her cheeks rosy from the cold and from the sweat of her labor.
Zetta knelt down beside her, called her name, Rachel, Rachel, before she saw the little girl still attached to her mother’s body by the long purple cord, wrapped in the ends of the bloody quilt. Zetta didn’t scream, didn’t howl over her lost child. It suddenly made sense to her: Ivan leaving after all those years on the farm with the family, Rachel’s body growing bigger. Was she in shock as she stood up and searched the barn for a knife? It was a dirty tool, should’ve caused infection, but it didn’t. Zetta cut that little baby free with one heavy lop of the lambing knife. I want her to lie down over the dead body of her child, to kiss her sweet cheeks, touch her eyelids. I want her to cry, to howl, to sob like she never has before.
Zetta left her daughter untouched, dead in the barn and carried her baby into the house where she washed it clean, warmed a little milk, and with a bottle they used for the lambs, fed her. Zetta named her granddaughter Ruth. And Ruth would someday be my mother.

In the spring Iris and Andy left the children with friends and drove across the state of Minnesota, over the Red River into Grand Forks, then north to the farm. Iris stepped out of the car, she’d been away for a year, but if felt like ten.
Go on in, I’ll be there in a minute. She told Andy.
Iris walked over the dirt, out behind the house, past the sycamore that still had a couple of boards nailed in it from when she used to climb it. There beside her grandparent’s headstone, and the tiny headstone marking the grave of a baby that would have been her mother’s only brother, was a new grave. On the headstone it said: Rachel Rosetta Weed born. April 5, 1923 died. December 22, 1952. She stood there in the muddy ground, the grass not yet grown in. She sat down, put her palms on the soil, dug her fingers into the dirt. She didn’t cry.
Rachel, Rachel, Rachel.
In the house she kissed her daddy on the cheek. Her mother had her back to her, fixing a bottle for Ruth.
Mom. She whispered. Mama, please.
Her mother turned but wouldn’t look at her daughter, couldn’t. Oh, Iris the baby’s fine, just perfect. Come see.
But, Iris couldn’t move, she stood there and heard the wind rolling over the prairie wheat fields, it all was the same, Rachel would come trudging down the stairs, her loud voice would fill the room. She wanted her mother for once, to hold her.
Iris picked up the baby and put the bottle to her tiny pink lips.
Ivan gone then? She asked.
That rat bastard up and left last November.
Zetta, her father warned, none of that now, its all said and done. Her father poured Andy a cup of whiskey, and the two men drank in silence.
Where are her things Mama, did you get her things together?
They’re upstairs Iris, you leaving right away?
The children are with the neighbor we can’t stay. Iris handed the baby to her mother.
She walked up the stairs, taking her time, smelling the dusty wood, seeing the curling yellow wallpaper. The room was tidy, nothing changed. She sat down on her bed and looked at Rachel’s bed. Her tiny rag doll sat propped against the pillow. She picked it up and held it in her hands.

They drove little Ruth back to Minnesota. Iris held her on her lap the whole way. Cooing at her, wrapping the baby’s tiny fingers around her finger. Andy smiled as he drove, he reached over and patted Iris’s knee.
It’s going to be alright now Iris.
I know that Andy, I know that.

Iris smiles, but she doesn’t look at me, it’s like she’s looking at something else. She’s looking through time and the crack is disappearing now, the dirt gone. Iris smells the prairie wind, the wheat, and hears the old Nakota horse in the barn. Rachel throws a stone at Custard, hisses under her breath. In her lap a tiny lamb sucks her fingers. Zetta kneads bread in the kitchen through the window the robins dip and glide. Up above Iris in the barn there is so much space, a kingdom of light and air rises. She sits beside her sister, tickles the lamb’s pink nose.
Rachel, she says, Rachel.

Ivan watches Rachel. Her profile lit up with the shadow of the sun moving through the barn window.
Come Ivan, come see this little one. She calls without turning her head. She has known him all her life. She is nearly thirty years old. He walks to her, his work boots fall softly over the hay swathed ground.
He kneels beside her. He can smell her hair, the scent of her unwashed skin. Her breath still milky as a child’s.
Hold him like this Ivan. She looks at him now, her funny eye fading west. He lifts the lamb in his tan, roughened hands, tucks it to him. He’s held a hundred lambs, but not like this, never like this. Rachel brushes her hair from her face, tucks it behind her tiny ear.
She looks at him. She isn’t a child anymore, he thinks. But he still loves her like when she was a half-pint tagging after him around the farm.
How did they get here? He wonders. He kisses her forehead. They are in his bed, in his room beside the barn, the lamb nosing at the legs of his dressing chair. Rachel’s dress spread out over her bare legs. He touches her belly. She is warm.
Kiss me, Ivan.
He does.
They slide easily together, this muscled middle aged man, still young, and the girl with the bird clam arm, the setting eye like a sun in her face. He kisses her fingers, the lamb crying softly for its mother.

Friday, May 14, 2010

A Conversation With My Father

My brother writes something about bitches on his facebook page the same day my father and I get into a argument-light about women's bodies. The idea of arguing with one's father about how women's bodys should or should not be viewed, about what is "natural" and a necessary perspective in order for the propigation of the species, seems preposterous to me.

"How would the race continue if men were interested in women's brains?"

If he read this, all typed out in a nice quote, would it sound as insane to him as it does to me?

Mother steps in to take my side, something about violence against women. Dad says, you women are the ones who buy those magazines and I lower my head. I don't want to argue with him, but it feels like an affront against me, an attack. My body reacts
it shuts down, turns inward, unflowers. Who are you? What are you afraid of? But, I can't seem to look him in the eye.

The hot fudge is in a pan of water boiling, it takes forever to boil it in its jar in the pan of water, and if you leave the lid on it will explode, my father says. Big deal. Well it is a big deal when you get a chunk of glass in the eye.

I wrote him a card the day after I got married. I told him how much I loved him
how he better take good care, because he needs to last a long time. I love him regardless. I love him whether or not he is weak or a fool, shameful, a disgrace, terribly afraid, lost, caught in the dark sick on an airplane with his mouth breathing heavily into a paper bag. The idea of his fragility terrifies me.

My brother gets home. What the F, I say? Why are you trashing women like that? It's from a song he says. My father at my tails, is this inappropriate? I say, No Dad. My mother knows it is, but when Aden says, it's from a song she seems to drop it. All I can come up with is, that's rude Aden. Don't be like that. I know almost all of his five sisters made a comment on his facebook page in regards to his use of the word bitch, he knows that it isn't appropriate. But, isn't that why he did it? Maybe his girlfriend broke up with him. I can't imagine how pissed I'd be if I had five
older sisters in my buisness the way he does. Aden is quiet, he knows he's overpowered by these women, he retreats.

I want to know what his inner life is, I want to talk to him seriously, I want to tell him everything will be okay, high school is weird, life changes. I say, tell me about your life and he is silent. We're in the kitchen. Dad has recoiled to the basement, mother is sitting at the counter bar, I'm putting dishes into the dishwasher. Tell me. Aden bows his head and says nothing, he freezes there in the kitchen, the tiniest smirk twinkles over his lips. My mother interprets. Oh no, he's fallen asleep while standing up! Seriously, I think, seriously?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Your Love is Safe with Me

I couldn’t have known that it would happen this way. There is a feeling we get about certain people, as though they walk in a cloud of peculiar loss and around them manifests disgust, the things they do repulse. Little things, the way they butter the toast or brush the stray hairs from their face, mark them. When the feeling is there I walk, I shut my eyes and walk. I cross my fingers and walk. But how could I have known this then? Getting off an airplane near midnight in a snow storm, meeting a man I hadn’t seen since we were kids catching crayfish off the northern islands in the upper Midwest, finding myself the next morning drinking coffee in the bar below his apartment, he must have thought me crazy. But, he liked crazy. He needed crazy if only to feel the pulse of pulling back from it once he’d gone deep within. Like a drug, you had to go deeper every time. You didn’t know, eventually, if you’d pulled yourself out, or if you were treading in the shallows of it. But, it wasn’t him, I could see him, he would only interfere.

All these weeks here in rehab, I’ve thought of nothing. I have walked out along the row of pines in the yard, smoking cigarettes, which for some reason are allowed, thinking of my body as a disgusting hole, a rotten apple, a fleshy mushroom growing in the bush. There is so much self-hatred in this disease, your mind, the ability to calm yourself, to care for yourself, is destroyed. Then they give you drugs, and the drugs provide a simulation of salvation, and you sit in your plastic seat and draw pictures of what you fear, write words on a white board, try not to take your will back. But, he doesn’t call and having called him once, leaving the number, I wait. The thought of him makes me sick because it is the thought of me and what I’ve become. He is just there in the shadows of it all trying to stop me, holding me, keeping me for a little while as best he could. But, he doesn’t call, so I know he has shut his eyes and walked, just as I would, just as I have, only it doesn’t work to walk away from yourself.

That is what I was trying to do when I came here. Not to this facility, but to the city to work for my cousin. I thought a new place would make me change. Only in a foreign city, ‘you’ becomes all the more itself against the backdrop of the otherness that surrounds it. If you stay long enough, which I have, you change only because we all change if we stay in ourselves long enough. But, you can’t really change if all that time you stay is spent sucking hose, snorting pills, waking up in the morning with a feeling of death all over your skin and getting out of bed only because you know there’s a quart of vodka in the kitchen with which you’ll fix a cocktail. But don’t kid yourself, if you have the disease, even a single glass of wine each night will eventually get you to where I am.

I imagined myself a writer, that’s what I told others, I was a poet. And, I did write, I wrote nearly everyday, but it was all garbage. Geo thought it was good. Geo thought if I went strait I’d never write anything good again. That’s his name, Geo. And, he won’t call. I’ve been three weeks here, he won’t call now. When I came to this city, I had beaten myself so low I felt wrecked; I came here to be an artist. It wasn’t even about the art or the poems; it was a way of life I wanted. I had been working in politics for two years after college and I was good at it, I was fierce but calm and constructive, I understood what was at stake and since all I did outside of work happened in bars, work meant something good to me. But of course we lost the election; I remember my boss saying, we have to start fighting like them, we have to play dirty now. But, I honestly, back then believed in democracy, so to me, it was like, well this is what the people want. My boss would say they want anything that will keep them from being reminded of what they are. That was how we saw the world. Mostly people were slaves. Sure, there was joy in it, the joy of children, of a backyard in the suburbs, vacations to Mexico or Florida. But what they really were, they no longer knew, so they had to keep doing what they had done to keep from feeling the pity of what they’d destroyed.

Well, that is a lot of hubbub, no one can see into another person’s soul, so I don’t know exactly what the others want. You see, there is a flower garden here that I walk out to and along the side of it a row of tomatoes grows. I put my cig out before I get close to the tomatoes because I heard once that cigarette smoke gets into the tomatoes. I like to pick one or two cherry tomatoes and pop them into my mouth. They’re sweet and tangy as you might expect. Then I walk to the stone wall where there is a bench and sit with my tiny red notebook and write words I remember. Mostly I don’t remember words, I can talk, I can tell people what I want or need, but most words aren’t there anymore. So, writing a story would be impossible. But then, I don’t write stories. Today I write the colors I remember: sea-green, aqua marine, sanguine, violet. Each moves from an association with the former, nothing comes on its own. If I look at a word, if I really see it, each letter’s curve, tuck, jump, I remember something, but it is only another word.

My stomach is enormous now from the baby, they let me smoke though. They don’t understand that smoking lets us all remain half-way in the former world, it keeps a little of us there so that we’re never really free of it. And if the door hasn’t closed I expect re-entry’s possible. I’ve already signed the papers for the baby to be given to someone else. I know that I can’t care for it. A part of me feels sour about giving away this part of me that I have to toil so hard for, but I understand, I want the baby to have a good life. I want it to live. Geo doesn’t care, either. He doesn’t believe me when I tell him it’s his baby. He signed the papers. He said he knew it wasn’t his but for my sake he’d sign. That was before I came here. By then he wouldn’t see me except to sign the papers. Afterward, we stood in the street together and he looked at me, but I could tell he wouldn’t let himself see me. “I love you baby, you can do this, you can take care of yourself now.” Was he even talking to me, or was he looking through me at some woman in the street, walking her dog with a paper cup of coffee in her slender hand. A hand that he would take into his own with such care that the hand would reach for him without knowing its own thirst, it would reach and reach until it needed him, and then, he would crush that hand. He would throw that hand to the wind as though there were a thousands hands with a thousand paper cups just like it.

Now, you’re really not going to believe me. But, trust me. I swear I didn’t know it was going to happen like this. I’m a nice girl, a woman, I come from a good home, though I hated it there, they still love me, they write to me, and say they’re going to visit. They want me to come home. But, I can’t.

It was so awful in the end; it’s what you’d expect. I had to go to this apartment building. It was the ugliest building. I didn’t think anyone should live in it. I would press the button. It was a square button with a number six taped beside it. Someone had written the six with a Bic pen, in blue ink. I know that ink, I have used every pen ever made. I was a connoisseur of pens back then. I would stare at the blue number under the shiny yellow tape until I heard his voice. Then I’d press it and say my name and this buzzing noise would happen and I’d push the door open. The halls were yellow. Not painted that way, yellow from smoke. As I walked over the brown carpet with all the stains, I’d think about the wall and it would remind me of an old man’s greasy head, no, not the head, but the grease mark against the bed or in the pillow. It would make me sad. I think I wanted to feel sad, but I was so anxious, filled with adrenalin, I couldn’t feel sad. Now I know it was because I was always sad and the sadness hardened me so that I no longer knew it as emotion, but as my constitution.
I’d knock on the door, a soft rapping noise. He’d open it, never wearing a shirt. His hair was black and greasy and I think maybe his mother had been Italian. There was a scar on his chest, a tiny purple line. I’d look at that when he fucked me. But, he always, I swear, he always used a condom. He’d get me high first, then we’d do it, then I’d leave. I’d go home and lie on the floor until I fell asleep. You’d think a person would get tired of it.

I did. And when I did, Geo left. It had been years we were together at that point. Three years almost. But, time didn’t occur to him. He cleaned the room we lived in, bought me groceries, and then laid a long silky green scarf on the table as a gift to me. The scarf is with me now. At night I lay it over my pillow and press my cheek to it. There was a note. I could see where he’d scratched out the heart and made a star. I could see him writing it with the heart out of habit and then scratching it out.
I would call him, crying, he would come over at first, but he was closed. He had closed himself up, nice and tight, no leaks. Just the word, No. No, no, no, no, no. I’d opened myself to him, given myself to him as I never had another, loved him, so how could he leave? I hated him, with a rage I’d never felt before. He was so stupid and smug every time I accidentally ran into him on the street. He’d grown his hair out a little and it looked good. I didn’t know what to say, my whole body was filled with rage that iced my pain. Once I screamed at him on the street and he just stood there, looking at me, like I was a dog he wanted to kick but knew better. No, I couldn’t have seen the way Geo was, he didn’t wear it on him, it wasn’t in anything he did, it was so deep in him that I never once got a glimpse of it until the end, then I knew what he really was, who he was. But, it was too late for me.

I want you to know this, because you’ll never see me again. And I know you’ll remember me, even if you’re so fucked up on whatever cocktail you’ve mixed for yourself, weed to sleep, pills to party, booze like water all through the night. You’ll remember me some morning and it’ll hurt. You’ll say my love wasn’t safe. You’ll turn over, away from whatever twenty-something harlot you’ve got snoring beside you, look at the wall of your ugly room, a white wall, not the robin’s egg blue of our room, and you’ll think of me. But, our baby will be gone then, and I won’t be here. I’ll be in another city, far away. With a name you’ll never guess. I’ll be a story to you; a long winded story that reads like a poem, because it bursts and thrusts and shimmers, finally. I’ll be better then. But, you won’t see.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

from the short story, Icarus Went Missing

The night Icarus went missing, she told Akiva she would never fly again. Julia knew Icarus from her brother’s high school basketball games. He came alone and sat with the other kids from school who made it clear they were only tolerating him—the boy with overgrown arms and duck lips. When Icarus got angry at a shitty call, he’d stand and swing his enormous arms at the referee. He’d rub his avocado shaped head with thick hair growing in the wrong direction, up and not down, amazed by the grievances of the game. If Icarus grew irate, unable to refrain from shouting obscenities while lunging at the crowd or the court, the gym supervisor took him aside for a private consultation. Icarus would leave the gym rubbing his head, looking at the ground, his hair growing to the end of his neck like a weasel’s mane, disappearing under his jacket into the unknown regions of his spectacularly massive back.