I. The Trouble With Language
Last night I went to bed thinking that old, endless, quiet thought: I don’t want to ever die. Then, in the deep of night my husband shuddered a little, put his hand on my arm, bolted onto his elbow and looked at me. It was dark. I could only see the shape of him. He said with strange conviction, “I love you.”
He said it like he had just remembered how deeply he could love. Like he had just discovered what love is really. I kissed him on his forehead, then his shoulder. I thought he must be feeling something important.
The final dream I had last night was about my mother. I bumped into her at the grocery store deli counter. She was trying desperately to place her order, stuttering her words. On the other side of the counter two middle-aged women clad in hairnets and aprons did a mocking, eye rolling thing.
“I don’t know. I’ll take. Wait. I don’t know,” my mother said. She did not know what she wanted to say, or she did not know how to say it.
One of the women scowled and said, “You’re giving us a lesson in patience and endurance.”
“Yes,” my mother said and looked at the floor. She walked away with nothing. It seemed to me that the trouble was not my mother’s lack of language, but the women’s lack of compassion.
When I woke, it was summer in the north. The sun lit the sky softly, like a film of jelly over dark toast, orange in the underbelly of the clouds. All was very quiet except the cat. I fed him and then let him out the back door. He stood on the rusty fire escape and mewed, mewed into the sky, and woke my husband.
My husband walked through the kitchen, slow and heavy-lidded. “Come on,” he said to the cat, and carried it back to bed. There weren’t any dreams or mewing after that. Just a sleeping man and a sleeping cat.
The apartment grew still and strange and empty.
II. Getting To The Diner
I have left a man in bed with the idea of myself. Without him, I wander through the town. Everyone is sleeping or else dancing where the forest meets the street.
Here, the drunks are singing their songs, bonding over let’s not change tonight. I watch them like a photographer watches the slow twitch of her subject. There, a line of blind girls, single file, snaking to the river. They have tied weights to the knots of their ankles. One step. Two step. One-by-one. I watch them the way a morning person hears the birds.
If you keep walking, you could go all the way to your end. But walking is also a kind of birth. Considering the intensity of the way we enter into the whole of the world, pushed out, squeezed around our skin, no wonder we crave such massive feeling. War strategies. Highs so high. Sorrow about someone else’s sorrow. Neither the girls nor the drunks have eaten in three days.
It is hunger or worry that keeps me twist-tied to the town, though sometimes I say it is love. I enter the diner when I mean to just keep walking. I have five dollars. A quiet appetite. A bright grey vision. I have just so many days and so many eyes. I will eat, circle, hunger, eat, the way I will go on loving anything I do not fear.
All the tiniest girls in the world live here. I notice them, sometimes, as they crawl through the old gray cracks between the wooden floorboards. I notice them from my bed when I am lying there, too tired to pick up any devices, too tired to even be waiting.
But usually I am waiting. Waiting at the kitchen table for the coffee pot to fill. Waiting for my husband’s head and mine to merge like I know they are supposed to. Waiting until I am finally old. Waiting until I change my mind, or don’t.
The tiny girls, all the while, are marching to and fro, on some kind of mission assigned by some kind of angel, or devil, or antique genetic code. They are moving by instinct, that old pulse some men don’t take seriously.
They move, I imagine, in kaleidoscopic patterns. If you zoom close, the cells in their bodies make the same repeating shapes. If you zoom out, to outer space, the stars in all the universes move the same way, too.
I wait so long that I become angry. I wait so long that I question the validity of my anger. I wait so long that I question my waiting.
My husband is washing the dishes. I am near him at the kitchen table, waiting for the coffee, feeling the girls’ tiny bodies patter beneath my hand as though it were a roof. But my husband drops a dish, and I flinch. I flatten the roof to the ground.
IV: What We Bury
Sometimes the birds are floating in an imperfect V, the birches bloom, and beyond them, blue. The sun threads gold into the waving sheets on the laundry line. In this moment, there is so much beauty in the world that death must also be beautiful. This is when I love so much I can’t believe it. This is when I love so much I can’t breathe.
My grandfather stopped breathing a year before he died. We sat in a park, held hands. He ripped out a page of his sketchbook, gave it to me. We drew one of the strange imported trees they put in the center of all the landscaping, the kind of tangled tree that looks like it’s strangling itself. After working a while, I looked down at my grandfather’s page. I had expected to find a masterpiece. I was told he had been a brilliant artist, or wanted to be, or should have been. I was disappointed with the sparse, light lines on his page, because I didn’t understand beginnings.
I was afraid of death and I knew my grandfather was very old. I told myself I had better make sure he knows I love him. The sun had stopped refracting shades of gold the year I told him I love you a million times.
Before he died, he hollowed out a space for me in his chest that I could fit into if I crouched. But I had already done for him all I could. We buried other things inside him, instead. A flower petal pawed free by a longhaired cat. Paint painted over wallpaper. A covered bridge over a dried-up river. Slippers that make feet sweat. A third-floor fire escape, with rust. Two girls riding bikes, one popping a wheelie. A brass wrist cuff and a tiger’s eye ring. Drawing paper and a charcoal stick. A shovel scraping ice. An unfolded blanket left on a beige couch. The knot in a plank of the scuffed wood floor. A pair of world wars. A fully occupied strip of power outlets. Power outlets plugged into power outlets late at night. A night light. A hammer left under the porch. A child’s bathrobe. A bee’s torso on a window sill. A pair of antique mirrors that reflect each other just as far as space and time.