experiment

(1) After the others have gone to their beds, I sit at the bar, waiting. I drink tea, listen to the conversations of the men at the table nearby. They are talking about sugar. They are talking about art. There is a low buzz in my head, at the base of my skull. It radiates white heat.

(2) In my dream, I wander a garden, overgrown now, neglected. An iron gate around which vines have wrapped tendrils. The great oak trees are dying branch by branch. You are standing at the gate. You say: Who will tend this garden, these trees? How will the birds know where to land? 

(3) I think I will shut myself up in a faraway place. I think I will wrap myself in blankets and watch the world swirl by from my window. I think I have had enough of this - collecting stones, mowing lawns, stacking the dead branches of trees. I will let my hair grow long. I will furrow my brow. I will compile a glossary of all words and phrases related to the sea. I will let my eyesight grow weak. Write letters that I will never send. 

(4) A finch at the feeder. The curtains on the window in my sister’s house parted. Her son taps at the glass and the bird flies off but returns. White curtains yellowed by the sun. Flies off, returns. 

(5) The hotel mirror exaggerates my form. I fall exhausted to my bed but do not sleep. I smell bleach and citrus. I hold myself and exhale loudly, just to hear the sound of my own breathing.

(6) Night, in its insistent stillness, astonishes. In darkness, waking from a dream in which I wandered a dense maze of overgrowth, I bring my hands to my face, press my fingertips against my skin. I reach for water, bring the cup to my lips. It is sweet. 

(7) I think when I awake, these days will have been a dream. I will rise, begin again, as one year slides into the next. I think of what I have seen and felt, the breadth of it. Of all that I have yet to see. Won’t a flock of birds wake me with their chatter? Won’t I make my way home to you, this tired heart a map on which nothing else is marked.

the nature of the panic, 1

We know how this will end. How the heart will slow, then stop. 

I stand at the entrance to the park in darkness, the trees creating a black curtain and I pause for a moment, fearful of being alone. But the streetlamps just beyond the gate beckon and I see that there are paths near the roadside.

I enter. I walk deliberately. I look up at the moon, shrouded by clouds. I stay on the well-lit paths. I avoid the tunnels. I scan the ground for shadows approaching from behind.

The year we flew over Borneo. The smoke hanging motionless over the forest canopy, which from above resembled moss. He said: Imagine the fires, which sometimes burned for months. Imagine these fires and what they have left in their wake. 

What waking. What urgent dream draws us from one state to another. We stood agitated by the roadside, blackness behind us and before us, far below the bottom of a gorge, the fire was whipped up by the wind - racing, leaping, and already climbing the deep slopes.

Several times, we were forced to retrace long stretches in that bewildering terrain. Several times, we pressed forward only to discover we were where we had begun. 

In exhaustion, I lay my head down on his lap. He tugged at the shoulder of my jacket, which was torn there. He stroked my hair. He told me I was beautiful. He told me I was incapable of acting with restraint. 

I left the hotel in the early morning in the dark. I walked the wide avenue, quiet. A man was spraying the sidewalk with a heavy coil of garden hose. As I approached, he stepped aside so that I could pass. I walked gingerly across the wet pavement. 

Once he asked me why I was petty, so possessive, so like a child. I took his finger into my mouth and bit down on it gently until he pulled away. 

Ask yourself: What is the color of a jacaranda tree? And what of it now, engulfed in flames?

Coaxing the ground into submission by fire, by burning whatever will burn. The making of a fish-hook, manufacture of a tea cup, we march across the earth reducing all that stands to embers. 

Like our bodies and like our desires, all that we create has a heart that burns. Who is to say for how long? Who is to say with what heat? For now, for this moment, still alight through the long cold nights. 

For a time, there was another woman. I saw a photograph of her, taken from the distance. She was looking away. Was she wearing sunglasses? Was she shielding her eyes from the sun? Was she smiling? I can no longer remember. 

In front of a row of benches, I can see the outlines of children’s chalk drawings on the ground. Even in the dark, I can see that there are pinks and blues and yellows. I stand on this site where hours before, children played and squatted here to draw. While their fathers looked on. While their mothers held out their arms. 

If he asked me again, now after all these years, I would say: Perhaps it is different for orphans. Perhaps we are still waiting to be chosen. 

We will meet at the park, before the sun goes down. We will meet at the lighthouse in winter. We will meet by the roadside ten years from now, or more. Say anything you need to say. My only defense is silence. 

On the way back, I stop in a little grocer’s shop. I stand there, bewildered like I have arrived from another time. 

I see the shelves and aisles through a wash of color, like through a veil of jacaranda blossoms, from pale lilac to deepest purple. I hear the distant spray of water as it splashes on the pavement. I see his form as he disappears into the black curtain of trees. 

All those trees he planted, burning now. Burning. 

I suppose we have always known how this would end.

invisible horse

“It often happens that we count our days, as if the act of measurement made us some kind of promise. But really, this is like hoisting a harness onto an invisible horse.”
 – Maggie Nelson, Bluets


Well then: Take what you must. 

The rain clouds have dispersed and so we walk after dinner as darkness falls. 

Only the lighthouse with its shining glass cabin still catches the luminous rays that slice in from the western horizon. 

Take this: The minaret rising from the courtyard of the building into the azure evening sky. 

The truth is we did not come out here to talk of battle. Of the so-called fields of honor. 

Or of glass beads strung on a necklace – one and another and another.

Or the house next door, abandoned for so long now inhabited. A dog, kept in the basement, barking late into the night. 

We count the days. We speak by telephone. 

A string of pearls. A silver bracelet.

I wept until I aged myself. 

We stood on the rocks and looked out over the water: How great a distance from where we began – thousands of miles – through ravines, gorges, and valleys; across ridges and slopes and drifts; along the edges of great forests and wastes of rock and shale and snow.

Apricot sky. Shading our eyes with our hands against a dazzling sun. Take this: There is nothing I would withhold. 

Though I am told I can be distant. Though I am told I pull away when I fear I have come too close.

A ridge of bone on the back of my skull, an aching there. I don’t remember striking it but when I press it feels bruised, as if the memory held there is tender, the vision of the men who went down with their ship, gesticulating on the afterdeck as the flames encircled them. 

There are times when I sense quite clearly, the earth’s slow turning into the dark.   

Take me if you must: Take rooftop and crossbeam. Take copper pipe and bone. Take bird and canvas bag. Take this blue. This deepest blue.

When we reached the beach at last, you spread a blue tarp and we knelt on it. We thought we saw people in the distance, approaching, but the truth is, we could not possibly have made out human figures this far from where we began. 

At the 95 North S-Curve, 6:05 AM

You already know about the bridge being built: the drone of construction night after night, the trucks speeding by, moving lawn mowers and great boxes of whalebone corsets and crinolines.

I wake early to the noise, to the yellow lights blinking out their warnings, their abstractions: conceits with a certain sense of irony, that when I emerge from the cocoon of my bed, ascend the staircase to the small apartment now empty, I sit on the carpeted floor, alert and observant like I am intercepting messages through time.  

From this perch, transported to gardens, spacious halls and verandahs. A corridor might end in magnificence. In chandelier and minuet. 

But now, the scene is Klieg light and flat-bed truck bearing squat concrete slabs, stump-like as if cut from giant concrete trees. A crane with a dangling arm hovers, brushed by the soundless wing of a bird gliding by.

It turns. A steady, high-pitched sound of alert. Four men in orange vests and yellow helmets. Occasionally, one will raise an arm, gesture with it. 

*

The apartment is empty, has been for years. Inhabited once by a squirrelly woman who came and went noiselessly, back when the intoxicating scent of linden blossoms wafted up from the manicured grounds. 

Now, they are building and re-building the on-ramps to the highway. The road itself blockaded, a staging area for the trucks and the concrete slabs and the ubiquitous orange traffic cones.

The truck idles all night. The drone of the engine provides the soundtrack to my dreams.

A police car, its lights flashing, backs up the roadway. When it is alongside the truck, it stops. 

It is light now. Indigo sky gives way to transitional blues and grays. An orange-vested man raises a small orange flag, waves it at no one in particular. 

*

I am the kind of person who will always cross the room for you. I am the one who will rush to the door when I hear your footsteps on the porch stairs. I will slide over to where you are sleeping, press my body into the curve of you. 

You are the one who stands still, in the center. I orbit you. 

*

In the time since I first rose to now - remembering that August afternoon, amidst a throng of visitors who occasionally called out with one large voice in chant, child-like, incantatory - an hour has passed. Several slabs of concrete have been placed. The yellow lights have delivered their coded messages unceasingly and I have accepted what my limitations would allow. 

The truck engine still running. The shadow of a bird in flight passes above me. The air holds the slightest chill of approaching autumn. 

I had nearly forgotten about the birds. They build their nests in the gutters and in the eaves. They leave their deposits on the steps, on the walkway, and the sense I am left with is of one defiled. A sickness, like the blight of a particular tree spreading across the country, just as concentric circles ripple. This blighted forest in which I am completely lost that I cannot find the way out again until I see the blinking lights just over the crest of the hill, the yellow arm of the crane hovering, rising up over this enigmatic land. 

Time and again, I study the regions along this highway, along our bodies - you and me, and our place in it - beneath the path of the insistent birds that circle overhead, season upon season, in summer and again in the bright spring air, till their wing tips touch as they bank. 

elegy

In August 1992, when the dog days were drawing to an end, and the grass its brittle conscience scoring the landscape crosswise dry cornfields dry earth a radiant heat: Gone are the days of hydrant and hose. Gone the soft sand and the lake water lapping at the feet. The aluminum walker propped near the back door, by the ramp on the ready and that, too: gone. 

summer had now shrunk once and for all to a single, blind grief. Coffee and wine and coffee and the soft whir of the blades of the ceiling fan as they chased the dense air. I am three years old cradled in the hammock slung low in the backyard between mighty trees and his sleeves rolled up to his elbows as he gathers newspapers for the fire. Whistling. Can she bake a cherry pie, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?

or a field of rubble, from which the tenebrous masses of multi-level parking lots rose up. We walked between the long rows of cars one after the other, my hand gripped in his and his fierce low whispers as each row ended. Didn’t he return there, all those years later to lean against the round concrete pillar the painted number 2 yellow and faded and slumped down against it. It is where in the morning, he was found. 

dark hours of the night. The shock that went through us at this discovery. How long was he there? I am seven years old and we are sitting on the wooden dock that juts out into the murky lake. His pale freckled legs and mine. He points out the flicks and flutters beneath do you see them there’s another one but I am looking at his feet and considering the smallness of my own they are just pieces of him but I want the entirety.

presented in reality a perfect kind of order, or an order at which axis bisects object in one rotational symmetry. It is so much later. My hands on his rounded fallen shoulders parsimonious bone wrapped in flesh so thin I can nearly hear their scraping. His skin so dry. He rises slowly. Seventeen steps to the kitchen sink. Eighteen steps back. Eyes dark and red-rimmed and watery. A thin trickle. His yellow hair in my open palm. 

like a glacier when it reaches the sea, it had broken off at the edges and drifted like a dream that foretold of needles puncturing fragile skin. We collapse. We break off in pieces. We place cool rocks beneath our eyes to keep the swelling down. After August, September and its merciful breezes through the garden of stones where he waits. Beneath mighty trees. Amid the rubble. There is not time for what we might one day discuss: Trumpet music or his time in the war. 

all the inauspicious days

[things that bring shame] - Mostly, she was ashamed of her preoccupations; that she could dwell on one topic or another to the near exclusion of all else, pushing from her mind even the most necessary or essential of the day’s tasks and leave herself to worrying some useless thing. She believed this to be weakness. She believed this to be failure. She spent sleepless nights blinking in the dark.

Usually, although not always, it was about love - or anger or hate or revenge, which are themselves a part of love.

[things that fall] - Rain, sleet, snow, hail. Summer rains, more often than not, bring delight. After many hot days when the air is heavy and stifling, a cool rain that breaks the heat can bring such pleasure. Rain in the winter is often cruel. Cold, driving rains that can chill you to the bone. A long, soaking rain can bring a feeling of relief. As if the rain itself might cleanse you of your shame.

[terrifying things] - Wildfires. A volcano erupting. A thief breaking into your house. The feeling that you are being watched. The feeling that something terrible is about to happen.

Being chased in a dream and falling. You are running through a wooded area and it is autumn. A thick blanket of fallen leaves on the ground. You can hear them underfoot and you can hear the footfalls of your pursuer, who is not far.

The circling of birds of prey. Their beaks and their talons.

[things now useless that recall a glorious past] - A finely-woven tapestry that has become threadbare.

A stately house that stands empty and uncared for, its occupants having come to some shameful circumstance.

A forest, decimated by fire.

Gardens that once grew lush around a pond, on the surface of which once floated waterlilies - white and purple and blue. The pond is still there, stagnant and the garden is overrun with weeds and choking vines.

[things that keep passing by] - The seasons, one after the other in continuous succession.

Sailboats on the water. Wispy clouds moving across a blue sky.

The time to have certain important conversations. You find yourself in a quiet moment and begin to speak, but are interrupted. A child wanders into the room, or a red-breasted robin lands on the branch of a tree and you stop to gaze at it. The person you are with looks away. Or coughs into his hand. Or makes a joke and you laugh, but the laugh rings out in a false-sounding way and you both know at that moment that the time to speak of important things has passed.

[things that no one notices] - All the inauspicious days. The aging of our mothers.

a sparrow with her nestlings

things that induce half-heartedness - Long periods of seclusion. Preparations for something still far into the future. Attempting conversation with someone who speaks so softly that in order to hear every word, you would have to strain against the hum and chatter of the room. Rising early in the morning to a day that is dreary. 

things people despise - The speeches made by men of a particular disposition, for whom a podium or microphone or raised platform seems an invitation to announce their puffed and waterlogged opinions on topics about which they hold limited wisdom. 

Being made to stand for long periods of time without rest. Being cheated at certain types of games. 

When something - or someone - gives the appearance of being steadfast, reliable, unchanging and then suddenly fails you, it reminds you that nothing lasts. 

infuriating things - A guest who arrives too early, while you are still making urgent preparations, and who hovers near you, chattering. You are walking quickly down the street on your way to an important appointment and you remember you have left a letter that you wanted to mail at home on your desk and now it will be another day before you can send it. 

You are working in your garden on your knees and a foolish person approaches you to make inane conversation. “Why do you like to dig in the dirt?” he asks, and “Why are you working so hard?”

It’s quite infuriating to work very hard and very long at a thing and not to see progress quickly. To see that you have limited skills at something that you very much love to do can be infuriating and also bring sadness. 

An infant who cries when you are trying to hear something. The noise of an airplane flying overhead. Insects, particularly in the evening in the summer, when it is still warm and still light enough to remain outdoors, to keep the wine flowing and the conversation intimate and hushed, if not for the persistence of the winged insects feeding off your tender summer skin. 

The man you are with speaks admiringly of past lovers. Of their beauty or of the ways in which they performed certain acts of love. This can be infuriating although there are some situations in which it doesn’t bother you at all. 

When someone you love with devotion loves you only inconstantly, unpredictably.  When you are compelled to face the limitations of love. 

things that make your heart beat fast - A sparrow with her nestlings. The scent of lavender on a warm summer breeze. Or of honeysuckle. To wash your hair and skin with well-scented soap. Even if no one will see you or be near you, you can still feel a heady sense of pleasure. 

Walking past a place where small children are playing, their laughter ringing high in the afternoon stillness. 

Paintings hung in a light-filled room. A field of vibrant color against the starkness of a white wall. The figure of a mythical creature carved from stone. To press your cheek against the cool stone can make your heart beat fast.  

On a night when you are waiting for someone special to come and the lights are dim and you are standing near the window, near enough to watch for him, but where you cannot be seen as he approaches, so as not to appear so eager, but you are waiting and your skin is perfumed and your heart beats so fast you can hardly stand still. 

outline for your novel

PART ONE:
  1. A woman loves a man she cannot have. They meet, for a time, in secret. They attend the openings of art exhibits in the cities where they meet. There are pleasures. There is heat. But it cannot last forever. 
  2. A woman takes a journey to learn something about her past. Is she running toward something that she hopes to discover? Or is she running away from a life she no longer loves? She is sad. She is broken. She is at a turning point. 
  3. Everything is broken. The woman is divorcing. Her mother is dying. Her father moves away and leaves her with nothing. She changes her name. She watches a man die. 
  4. Meditation on death. A catalog of all the people she has lost.

PART TWO:

  1. The woman takes a physical journey, which is a metaphor. She is constantly getting lost. (For a time, she loses her sight?)
  2. She meets a man she does not love but he desires her and for a time, this is sufficient. 
  3. Meditation on love and desire. A catalog of desire. 
  4. The woman expects the journey to change her. She is always looking for transformation and is always disappointed. She receives news of her father’s death. She expects that this news, too, should transform her. 
  5. She is the same as when she began the trip, except that now, she is divorced and her parents are gone. 

PART THREE:

  1. The man she could not have says that he will leave his wife. She learns that his wife is ill. She tells him she cannot see him and that he should be with his wife who is ill. He agrees, which sends her into despair.
  2. She receives a considerable and unexpected sum of money from her parents, who have died.
  3. Years pass. The woman lives comfortably on her inheritance. She spends most of her time alone. Sometimes, she will go to the opening of art exhibits at the museum and she will wear a brightly-colored scarf and paint her lips red. Sometimes, she will drink too much wine and laugh too loudly. 
  4. The wife of the man she loved but could not have passes peacefully one night in her sleep. The woman learns this not from him, but from someone they knew in common. She wonders if he will try to find her. 
  5. Years pass. The woman is alone. Her vision is failing and she is too tired to go to the openings of art exhibits. Some nights, she will drift to sleep thinking of the man. Nothing is ever the way you want it to be. 

things that are better at night

I wake in the night from a violent dream in which I witness a man shoot a woman in close range. I am kneeling behind a tall white fence and when I see this and when I hear the shot reverberate in the dark night, I gasp, duck down, and try to make myself as small as I possibly can. 

As dream logic would dictate, then I am carrying my son home from a carnival where we have stayed out too late riding the carousel and the bumper boats and throwing darts at water balloons. His cheeks and hands are sticky with the remnants of blue cotton candy and when I turn my face to his, which is resting on my shoulder, I can smell the sugar on his breath from his open mouth. 

Things that delight - the sweet breath of sleeping children. The soft whirring of the ceiling fan above my bed. Beach roses. Long summer evenings when the heat streaks the sky with pink. Embracing someone you have not seen in a long time and so the embrace lingers long enough for you to feel for a moment like you are floating. 

When you wake with a cry from an unsettling dream and someone you love holds you close and covers your face with kisses. 

In the dream, the man slips away from the scene through an open gate. He is tall and his hands are large. I awaken, sit up in bed and try to remember his face. It is wide and pale. His hair is dark, his eyes impassive as he lifts the gun to the woman’s head. I will need to remember this, I think, to describe him to the police. 

Did I mention that he was tall and that his hands were large? Did I mention that he had the familiar look of someone I had met before in a dream? 

Things that are better at night - A dress of iridescent silk. The scent of jasmine in the garden. The soft voice of a lover whispering in your ear, his warm breath. 

The anticipation of pleasure and then the memory of it. 

In the fifth month of the year, certain events are set into motion that in the seventh month come to pass. A man travels to see his parents who are ill. A woman visits with a childhood friend, who reveals many secrets. A promise made is broken. Someone you had trusted leaves you wary. Someone from whom you had kept considerable distance becomes a confidant. 

Phases of the moon - new moon, crescent moon, waxing and waning. Gibbous moon, waxing and waning. Full moon. Blue moon. First and last quarter moon. 

Things that are far away, but seem near - A childhood friend, who moves far away but with whom you exchange letters often. A much anticipated event, like a birthday celebration or a trip somewhere you have never been that is still many months from now but you think of it all the time. 

A sailboat in the ocean when you are looking at it from the shore. 

The constellations in the night sky. The full moon. 

Things that are near, but seem far - The crest of a hill on a warm day when you are walking toward it and you are weary and there are no trees to offer shade. The last long minutes just before a much anticipated event. 

When you argue with your lover and he turns away from you. He stands up and begins pacing gloomily. You remain in your chair, stare out the open window. You are near enough that if you reached for him, you could touch him, could pull him back toward you, but it is as if instead you are separated by a thousand miles. 

secret assignation

Summer provides the most delightful setting for a secret assignation. The long afternoons stretch into evenings. The day’s heat lays heavily on your skin but there is relief in a cooling breeze after love. The windows are thrown open all night. Morning finds the lovers still cooing in their bed in such delightful disarray. The call of birds alerts them to the coming light and the way that the sudden fear of being found quickens the pulse and excites them again to love is pleasurable beyond words. 

There are delights to be found also in winter on a fiercely cold night when you burrow beneath the bedclothes and the sound of cathedral bells reaches you with a deep and distant reverberation that seems to come from somewhere buried. You have made a nest of your bed, drawing the covers to yourself and you rest your head on your folded arm as if it were a feathered wing. 

A man comes calling, perhaps for some intimate conversation or to pass the time pleasurably on his way home after buying apples at the market. He holds an apple up to you, brings the cool skin of it to your cheek. How can you look away? 

He tells you about the weather, about the light rain and there is a bit of dampness on his shoulder where the fabric of his shirt has been soaked through. 

The house is quiet but not empty. Someone - perhaps your mother or her sister visiting from the north - is shuffling quietly in the kitchen preparing a small meal. A plate of fruits and biscuits. A pot of strong tea. You would like the man to stay and you ask but you know that he will not. He leaves you apples. Once you are certain that he is gone, you take the largest one in your two hands and pierce the skin of it with your teeth with a fierceness that surprises even you. 

Rare things - A perfect, unblemished apple. A sheet of handmade paper. A peony blossom still wet with dew.

A notebook on which every page has been written, without gaps, without lines crossed out. 

It is rare to find a man who takes delight in the smallest moments of a woman’s day. When she tells him that the sedum is about to flower. Or that she has discovered thread moss on the branches of the white birch tree. Or that the veins of her hands resemble rivers. 

Likewise, a woman who takes an interest in the preoccupations of her lover is also rare. He tells her he does not like the sound of his own voice. That the dry, cracked skin of his fingers shames him when he brings them to her face or when she takes them in her own soft hands. That it has been several days since he has written a poem or a line of prose. 

It is rare for two people who promise themselves to each other forever, to always treat each other gently, with admiration and with scrupulous care. 

Writing a letter to someone who is far away or copying a poem from a book on a sheet of paper, you take immense care to avoid making errors or smudging ink on the page, but even though you are careful, you are almost always certain to ruin it in some small way. 

Two people, who vow to love each other their whole lives, who are able to please and delight each other, to discover each other anew as the years go on, to cling to each other for comfort and to give solace. To remain faithful to their love until the end. 

Things later regretted - A man takes a job in another city in order to learn something new but when he arrives there, he learns little and he is sullen and sad. 

The parents of a young girl are poor and so they send her to live with distant relatives who are wealthy and who fill her closets with silk dresses, but the girl misses her home so much that the dresses may as well be made of lead and when she wears them, it is like the silk itself has drained the color from her skin. 

At great risk, you take a lover. He doesn’t live up to expectations. 

call my name

It has been said that we do not remember new names when we first hear them from a stranger because we are replacing, in our minds, the stranger’s name with our own. This, it is said, is a form of self-protection.

I go to meet my caretaker at the gym because he says that physical activity will be good for my condition. When I arrive he greets me by name and asks: How are you this morning but does not wait for my answer. He consults his notebook. He writes something down. I want to ask: Can you repeat what I just said to you, but I know that he cannot.

Seventeen bills laid neatly on my desk, lined up so that I can see where each is from. There is something aggressive in the arrangement, something hostile in the meticulous overlay, one laid on top of the next with only return addresses visible. The bill on top of the pile is for the trash collection service. I try not to read messages into this.

Incessant screeching of wounded bird outside my window.

I walk out into the front yard in my bare feet and it stops. I come back inside. It starts up again. I go to the window. Again, it stops.

It can see me, this dying bird. And it fears me. This is not the way I want it to be.

My caretaker hands me a weighted ball. I hold it in my open palms like an offering to unseen gods. I shake my head, but he nods up and down, slowly and in an exaggerated way. I put it on the ground, where it rolls toward him. He picks it up, hands it back to me. I take it from him, but then I put it down again. We go on like this, it seems, for hours.

I write the checks for the aggressively-arranged bills that my caretaker has left for me in the order that they were set down. That is, I start from the bottom of the stack and work my way up, bearing down harder on my pen with each successive check until finally, I get to the trash bill and the point of my pen punctures a small hole in the paper at the end of my signature. There is something satisfying in this.

Seventeen times I sign my name. Seventeen times again, I write my name on the envelopes, in the upper left corner, although sometimes I have seen the return address penned or stamped on the sealing flap instead. Also, I have seen the address included with no name above it, so just the street and the city state zipcode. This appalls.

Occasionally, a return address will appear with an initial instead of the full name written out as I have done. I have even seen liberties taken with the names of streets.

I leave my caretaker behind at the gym and walk back toward my car. As I am leaving he tells me about the bills he had left for me as if I have not already paid and mailed them, despite what he calls my condition.

I catch my reflection in the window of a coffee shop. I am slim but my shoulders are hunched and rounded, giving me the appearance, I think, of an older, sadder, more tired version of myself. I try to stand taller for a moment, push my shoulders back, lift my head, but by the time I reach my car, I am hunched again and I think now, after forty-five years, I am what I will become.

I hear my name called as I fumble with the keys to my house. I turn around but there is no one there.

I insert the key into the lock, hear the voice again, turn around again.

I stand in my living room, facing the window. I am holding my bag from the gym, still clutching my keys in my hand. I hear the cry of the dying bird again but it sounds like my own name called out over and over, a thin, high-pitched sound repeated, to which there will be no response.

habeas corpus

In June and July of 2010, I read in the news of several exhumations for various reasons: Nicolae and Elena Ceaucescu, the Romanian dictators – their kids think that their bones have been moved and that some other bodies had been put in their place. Bobby Fischer for paternity. Simon Bolivar, of Venezuela, because Hugo Chavez believes Bolivar did not die of tuberculosis, as is commonly thought but that he was murdered. And then in two cases, less famous, as part of murder investigations for DNA evidence – an elderly couple in Missouri and a young woman in North Carolina. I wanted to write about them. 

It was a summer for raising the dead. 

[one] The Ceausescus did not go easily: Elena in spasms on the blood-soaked ground. The three men walk slowly backwards as they empty their rifles, so as not to be caught in ricochet. Nicolae, deranged to the last, sings, “Arise wretched of the earth, arise, prisoners of hunger.” 

Years later, one of the firing squad will say, “I had never even killed a chicken before.”

Their bodies have now been dug up, in accordance with the wishes of the son and the daughter. These are not the bodies of our parents, they say. Their graves have been filled with the bones of the wretched. 

[two] From the national pantheon in Caracas, Hugo Chavez, overcome by emotion, tweets the news of Simon Bolivar’s disinterment: “What impressive moments we have lived tonight. We have seen the bones of the great Bolivar!”

For his belief that Bolivar was murdered, Chavez disturbs two centuries of slumber. “Bolivar lives!” he announces to the illuminated twitterverse. 

[three] For Bobby Fischer, there is the question of Jinky Young. Does his blood flow through her 9-year-old veins? His victories are catalogued by his opening moves, their taxonomy steeped in the language of empire: King’s Indian. King’s Gambit. King’s Knight Opening. 

[four] In one account of their deaths, Lloyd Piatt’s wife is called Irene, but in another, she is referred to as Gladys. Either way, Irene or Gladys, the elderly couple was found dead in what remained of their living room after their house had burned to ash around them.

[five] And what of poor Janet Abaroa, heavy with child, stabbed to death in her own bed, while her infant slept soundly in the next room. 

All buried, now unburied. There are gaping wounds in the earth where their bodies have been. 

[judgment] Some believe that in death, our bodies must be oriented in proper form: head to the west and feet to the east, from where our final judgment is thought to come. 

But we, who are left behind, are too impatient to wait. We crave explanations, demand earthly justice. 

[folly] What folly to believe that our bodies are our own. That our final resting places offer rest. The desires of this earth follow us into the ground. Even death will not satisfy the insatiable hungers of the living. 

Our bodies reduced to bone and dust and DNA, landscapes across which the living drag their knives, as if these bodies have never been soft and warm and wet. As if hot blood has never pulsed through them. 

[rest] When my days are up, set my bones alight. Burn them to ash and let the smoke that rises carry my secrets to the sky and bear a message from this world to the next: 

Requiescat in pace. Rest in peace.

We go out of town to attend conferences to develop ourselves professionally

Our husbands don’t do well on their own.

The first day, sure. They are giddy and free. They strut around the house not wearing any pants. They leave their socks balled up on the rug. 

And the second day, too. Making nachos for dinner, again. Belching and passing gas and patting their full stomachs in profile in front of the hallway mirror. 

By the third day in the afternoon, their voices are raised and tense. “I’ve developed a rash on my arm,” they say, “and I can’t find where you put the cream.”

We tell them where it is on the second shelf, behind the aspirin. We are lonely without them and we tell them this, too. 

On the fourth day, in the morning, the slightest hint of irritation. “Where did you put the receipt?” they ask. “For what?” we ask as we rush toward the conference hotel. 

“For the thing, that thing that I bought, you know for the thing. Don’t act,” they say, “like you do not know.”

Before they hang up they mumble sorry. They say: We are fine and we miss you and don’t worry about us. 

But we do. 

In the mornings, rising from the empty bed. We reach for them but they are not there. We scan the rooms for men who look like them, for the wild dark hair or the gray green eyes or the dimpled smile. Or the scar on the forehead, just about the left eyebrow, there. Right there. 

Beautiful man, right there. 

On the way home, we will drive fast. We will think about running up the wide porch steps even before we take our bags from the trunks of our cars. 

We will leave the car running and the bags in the trunk and they will open our front doors for us, smiling their dimpled smiles. Their arms outstretched. Their voices low and sweet. And they will hold us close and they will kiss the tops of our heads and we will know, once again, that we are home.