She knew little of poetry, nothing of Sappho, other than a book she had found on a shelf in the used bookstore. Walking as she did every morning to the hotel in the small town she lived in to do a morning shift before school she said you burn me, and frequently and for those, marvelling at the space all around the words. For those who? For those what? Words creating small, benign gaps, openings she might crawl through. But I to you of a white goat, she repeated to herself walking, and the man who lived under the abandoned station, made a yummying sound.
Monday to Friday she worked from 6 to 8:30 prepping and bussing for the older waitresses who had little patience for her, spindly as she was and completely disinterested in the loggers and miners and businessmen who came through, hard hats in tow. On the weekends she worked full shifts and her mother told her soon she could expect to be a waitress, never mind high school. There was more money in waitressing. And the shorter the skirt the more! Money that is, which interested her only tangentially, the folded notes like tiny keys. Where she would go she had no idea but each dollar was a mile, each mile a word, and so on.
I loved you, Atthis, once long ago/ a little child you seemed to me and graceless. You seemed to me, she repeated. And graceless, she said to the newsmen who sat longer than anyone else fuming over the latest attempt at the conservative government to dismantle some something, and the changing technology they could no longer keep up with, the way it demanded sentences take other shapes. How can a sentence work like that? How can it turn? How can it do back flips?
The newsmen, downing coffee, went on to describe the basics of sentencing, a straightforward affair, about getting to the nub of things quickly, without excess, without much flair. The oldest newsman, retired now, but returning for weekly editorial reviews went on in his dusty way to recount his buried favourites: Premier bends over for profit, one read if you took the first letter of every sentence in the editorial of May 9, or Union members screwed. Every word in this article is a lie, a younger newsman offered. Premier C. sucks—
I think she gets the idea. Martin, slicking the few remaining strands of hair back, spilled the coffee as he got up. He was an addict, slipping out every ten minutes to light up.
Everything is tightening, the old man said, shrinking.
Someone will remember us/ I say/ even in another time. Even she thinks, scooping eggs off of plates, why does she say even? And how can one, small, dull word change so much?
More? She says now, instead of Would you like more coffee? Dancing eggs, eggs pirouette, she says, thinking of them rolling in the bowl. Yellow orb milky sliding. Slices, dry, slices glistening, slices dark and dry… This continues until the manager takes her aside and says, Enough. Very simply, very calmly: Enough.
It’s hard to have poetic license in the real world, her English teacher tells her. And mind these are translations. She is padding beside him after class to the faculty lounge. You understand that you aren’t reading her in the original; we don’t know what the original was in any case, these were scrolls, parchment, things faded, worn away. Yes, she says, but time. Echoes. And though she can’t articulate it, the idea of translation ripples before her.
She looks out at the mountain-ringed town with its ridiculous, inappropriate buildings and thinks that there is not one romantic bone in the entire undertaking. And then she squints. And then she covers one eye, and then one ear, and then in her head a kind of roaring. And that is when she understands the nature of fragments. Makeup bag/ holder/ crossable/ I might go/ downrushing. In no way is that a poem, her mother says, scrubbing out the meatloaf pan, it doesn’t even rhyme! But she lets each word roll around on her tongue and is content.
The world is opening, she thinks, managing to climb over the greasy train hitches without so much as a scuff on her baby blue cords. The sun just up, burning through the fog, coastal ravens gathering for the annual tadpole feast on Ferry Island, bits of yellowish flowers along the tracks; the town’s main street glutted with empty buildings on one side, and the hotel—well, it has seen better days. Still it is her town and she feels affection. Tangerine, she thinks, woodpecker. Words exploding all around her. Like a shutter clicking. In here, she might say, refilling the miner’s coffee, I conversed with you in a place of lilac and persimmon; I walked all night on cedar bark thinking of olives and the smell of the sea.