dear john

And in your hand you hold the pieces, but I have given them to you piecemeal. You held them–all of them–for a time, but I regained while you were staring into the dark, lost in another direction.

You will crumble them, the pieces, until you are ready to put the puzzle of us together again.

You will try again and again in the dark. In the light you will feign ignorance and you will make them hate me. You will pretend to hate me.

You won’t.

I have left you incomplete. Mid-sentence.

You are missing the rest of me. You will feel this. You will wonder, ponder often, “what was there, before?”

From your memory you will imagine my words. What single distinct elements of speech might have been at the beginning of us. The beginning of this letter. I will not give them to you. 

Mourn me, as I will not mourn you. 

I will not come this way again. 

 

stained

Tangy sweet bitterness of newly fallen blades permeates the still air of the house and she is distracted by the distant reverberations of the mower.
She doesn’t hear his words, not at first.
They settle into the lull in the gardening, carrying gently through the room until they catch her.
“Say the word. Just say the word and I’ll go.”
She starts but does not turn, her eyes catching the red stain on the linoleum.
Once a brilliant coral that they laughed about and covered with the vase, the one with the chip that only his mother would notice, it faded into the red of blood marring the tranquility of their kitchen. She traces her finger over it lightly now, wondering if they ever tried bleach.
“Okay,” she allows, not because she doesn’t have another word, the word he requires–she does have it, right there on the tip of her tongue–but she needs a moment to fill the time.
She was ready. Five minutes ago she was ready to say it:
“I can’t do this anymore. Go.
But now he’s said it first.
The sickening saccharine smell of Spring has crept through the drapes and settled over the wilted plants and her, too. She breathes in its fragrance, drunk in the lingering luxury of dogwoods. Spring is young and innocent and it has deceived her into thinking the frost is gone, deceived her into imagining the heat will last, deceived her into waiting for bulbs that will never bloom.
Possibility? She’s drunk with it.
She misses his glance, the way it lingers.
His eyes are hazel, not brown. For three years she thought about little dollops of caramel that they would produce with mops of brown curls. “Comparing my future grandchildren to food is disgusting,” his mother commented.
“Your mother is a bitch,” she commented later.
Their little dollops would have brown eyes, like ours she mused, aloud until he stopped listening.
She loved his eyes with the too-straight lashes. She loved the golden flecks that caught in the sun and rendered him beautiful.
The fourth year was different. It took four years to notice.
“What color are your eyes,” she asked over the silence of dinner.
Not an uncomfortable silence–they weren’t fighting. They fumbled over salt and pepper and their legs didn’t touch.
But they didn’t fight.
He shrugged.
“Hazel.”
“I thought…I thought they were brown.”
He shrugged.
“Did you add more salt to the roast?”
“It isn’t a roast. And no. I thought your eyes were brown.”
“Oh.”
Now she bristles. He said the words first. It’s different. The words sound different emitted from him. Tinny and false.
She will leave him. She will live without him. He will miss her.
Five minutes ago she wanted this. She’s sure she did. She was going to say it, too, but she was busy and caught between the dishes and the infectious intoxication of direct sunlight and the words slipped from her mind.
She twists the ring around her finger, dragging it over her knuckles and placing it on the counter.
It tugs at her chest as it scrapes across the counter under his fingers but she does not cry out. The sun meets the diamond and creates a prism on the linoleum, hiding the stain.
Their eyes meet and she would swear now, in the sun, she would swear they are brown.
She wonders if they know each other, really.
Go.
He does.
She wonders if he knows her. If he does he’ll know she wants him to come back, eventually.
Go doesn’t mean forever.
Go doesn’t mean go for always.
She wonders if he’ll know she said it because she didn’t want him to, but she really didn’t mean it.

folly

Consider this, our folly:
How foolish we are.
Early we rise. We go forth.
We plant that which we will
Never harvest.
If we harvest them, the plants, they are not ours.
Repeat.
We collect photographs.
Half listen to conversations
Waiting for our turn to speak.
We misstep.
We fumble awkwardly, a dance
For each other
that only we ourselves recognize.
We injure ourselves
As we injure others in love
And out.
We count our breaths
Our purest blessings.

The simple things we do
to keep ourselves bound to the earth.
Bound to each other.

Our purest blessings.
We count our breaths
And out.
As we injure others in love
We injure ourselves,
Only we ourselves recognize.
For each other we fumble awkwardly
A dance.
We misstep.
Waiting for our turn to speak.
Half listen to conversations.
We collect photographs.
Repeat.
If we harvest them, the plants, they are not ours
We plant that which we will never harvest
Early we rise. We go forth.
How foolish we are.
Consider this, our folly.

Ether

Vigorously I curse the chill, hoping it will make it beyond me to settle into the ether. Ivory innocence flecked with gold my curse will reach it and mar it.
Perhaps the gods will remember us.
Will remember me.
I ignore the squeal of the brakes as the car squeaks to a stop, pretend I don’t hear the insistent beep of the fuel indicator. I ignore the freezing ache that has settled into my joints, too, rolling the window up until it closes me in with a snap.
I hold the letter–once crisp, succinct, razor sharp–tightly in my fist.
Rejection.
Somehow the words, “your project has merit” sting more than, “we must unfortunately pass at this time.”
I’d rather my rejection kill me instantly. Don’t linger. A bullet to my brain, a dagger to my heart and straight through. Don’t bleed me.
This, the merit, it lingers. Do they say that to all of us? Does it have merit? Do I?

My cheeks burn and it is nothing to do with wind. I crumble the letter and drag out my phone. An executioner its presence in my palm is enough to still my heart.
I dial her, my mother, then I lose my nerve.
She’ll sic her god on me first. It isn’t so bad, and her prayers are melodic and sweet.
Her pride is what burns. Her voice, cool and comforting, becomes acrid in its sweetness.
“I’m so proud of you,” she’ll say. I’ll burn the letter hearing her words, wanting to blame her. She believes even now.
She believes in me even as much as she believes her prayers reach something, reach a place beyond even ether.
Why did you let me think I could do it, I want to blame her. Why did you let this goddamn dream linger?
I don’t say those things. Her voice salves my wounds and I come to her in voice a child.
“What now? What can I be now?” Her script must be tattered and torn, but she reads from it believably.
“I’m proud of you. You can be anything you want.”
When I go to the schoolhouse in the morning and break myself into pieces that they can devour, I believe her.
When I press pen to paper and submit again, the heart-stopping euphoria just like the first time giving me a pause I believe her.
When I make them dinner imagining those words, those worlds that I created validated, present beyond she and I I believe her.
I tell her I love her and she says have faith.
I feel foolish standing at my front door, key in hand. I feel like a fool whispering this under my breath like somewhere it will reach ears that are partial to me.
If you are there–
If–
Just once. I only ask once. Remember me.

I am home before them and I begin the dishes but they are only partially complete. He sighs before he greets me, taking the cloth from my hands, now pruned enough to dull the ache.
George asks about my day without meeting my eyes. I smile and the words passed to him are dulled. “Fine. I got another rejection. This place was garbage, though.” He smiles, too, barely glances up from the fish he’s bathing in milk as he says,
“It’ll happen honey.”
I should ask, what if? What if I’m always here? In the in between? What if we never arrive? What if this is the most I am?
But I don’t. His voice is confident and world wise.
And I believe him.

metanoia

You ache, skin first–
a splinter.
The wound (a wound is always
what it becomes,
always)
festers,
then deepens.
Later relief, but
permanence is fleeting.

You contemplate all options.

Each of them.

You stare fearfully into the void.
You wonder if it stares back.

Death is not life’s opposite.
But sometimes it is for you.

A momentary reprieve, you feel the
Sweet burn of Sun, and it feels right.
But the burn begins to ache
and it lingers.

It always lingers.
The ache is always bone deep.

It festers and you think they smell it.
They will know.

You want the ache, you do.
Sometimes you want nothing,
but you want the ache more.
The ache is something and in spite of everything
In spite of this you know it

and it is better than not knowing.

You consider suicide.
Not so that you don’t feel…
but
maybe
you will
feel something else.

parallel

They will tear open what is left of me
Scribbling/
rearranging/
erasing
what they find.

Lie–tell them that my “soul” is free.

Know it isn’t, know I have
simply/
finally/
completely
lost my mind.

he loves her.

He chooses the drapes. He isn’t particularly fond of interior design, but he knows that a detail like that–the coral will accent the wainscoting nicely–will be appreciated by her.

He loves her.
He builds the bench for her; he thinks it’s a terrible idea and that she will begin to drown in her own disappointment, but that’s what he does. He saves her.

He loves her.
She wants their first to be a boy. It’s a girl. They are both girls. She feels guilty about being sad at first; he draws his finger lightly below her eyes, stopping the tears.
They worship him. His girls. He tells the best stories. Makes the best lunches. He braids their hair at 7; the braids loosen and fall by 9 but they love it anyway.
She wants to move to The City to find herself, and though he has a name here and a job here and their house and the drapes are here, he goes.

He loves her.
He thinks about the love and feels sorry and he hopes they forgive him eventually. He hopes they don’t miss him too terribly. He considers writing it down, but the pen has no ink and he has no time.

He loves her.
It is his last thought as he takes the gun and presses it into his lips as he leans against the window without drapes and casts himself into eternity.

laces

The heavy moist droplets send a shiver down my spine, dampening immediately the absurdly large white shirt. She presses her cool face into my neck siphoning my warmth. Shoppers pause around us, assessing this distance and that. I grip her ever closer to me before stepping gingerly from the sidewalk. The battered car looms in the distance and a van that I judge as filled in equal parts children and regret slows to grant us passage.
The seal above breaks and steel gray cascades down as a sheet in front of us, shielding us from the world.
The keys slip first.
Its fierce landing crumbles the ground beneath us as my dangling lace is caught.

The distance from heaven to earth is eternal.
My body twists on its own, my back poised to meet the ground wholly, and for a moment our eyes lock.

The flash of imminent nothing is nothing and everything.
Nothing like what they say. Everything like what they say.

In ten years you’ll bring a boy home. Or a girl. It won’t matter. I will hate them equally.
The way their hairs stick up unnaturally. The way their smiles seem false. The way they chew gum. The way they breathe.

In fifteen years you’ll press your face into my neck and your body will wrack with sobs mourning your failure the first of many and I will feel guilty because it’s out of my hands and I’ll hate that too.

I’ll try to control your money and you’ll ignore me. I’ll hover as you sign a check grumbling that they’re obsolete and I’ll make you pay for your own books. My stomach will curl at this; it’s good for you but for a while it will be bad for us.

Sometime you will yell at me that I’m ruining your life and that I am the worst ever and you’ll probably be right.

You’ll call yourself a daddy’s girl and dance with him at your wedding and I’ll swallow hard and pretend that I didn’t mind that you weren’t a mamas girl and that it wasn’t a competition.

In sixty years I’ll begin to forget things and you’ll start to infantilize me and I’ll hate that until I forget what I’m hating.

In the now my body collides with the ground with her tucked in my arms, the bags split open and forgotten. A sharp pain shoots through my spine and she lays over me, her enormous eyes even larger with fear. Her small fingers press into my cheeks and I am struck by how tiny they are, how they cannot yet lace comfortably with mine.
How the rain that is warm and thick for me is oppressive to her.
How large the droplets are as they cling to the fringe of her lashes.

I’ll talk to you about sex and love and hate and money and death.
I’ll teach you about how wonderful and mysterious rain can be.

But first we’ll learn to tie our shoes.

Eulogy (draft three)

They fill the pews and spill into the corridors, emanating a chill that would rival the newly formed grave. As I pass mechanically, simultaneously counting the steps and searching their faces they avert their eyes, futile attempts to hide themselves from me, the windows of their unfamiliar faces drawn and shuttered against us. I look to them vainly to mirror my grief, to ascertain what grief should look like—perhaps what mine looks like–but I find only shuttered windows and granite countenances.
When they believe I am not gazing absently at them they purloin glances like beggars, lifting her memory from me.
“She’s so strong,” they’ll whisper amongst themselves about me later, relieved to be free from the burden of my sorrow. I glance up, quickly, catching widened eyes and tight smiles. The eyes dart away, followed by shudder.
Perhaps death is catching.
Swallowing hard, I smother the stone that forms in my throat; my nostrils flare and acid burns my eyes, but stoic and still I remain. A lone tear threatens to escape, and so I cast my treacherous orbs downward, staring at the absurd lucidity of my Funeral Shoes.
Loving Mother. These words catch me off guard. Cast out from an unfamiliar mouth. Cold and damp, the words settle over me echoing in my ears. Loving Mother. Loving Mother.
What did I expect? Of course I knew this part was coming. He reaches for my hand, I reach for hers. Our grips are so tight that it would hurt, if we weren’t here. Now the sting is a blessed distraction, a release for phantom pain, that distant ache. With them gripping me—us gripping each other—it can be shared. The burden of grief is shared.
I am faintly aware of my name being spoken, the thousands of eyes that find me.
They exude a loathsome sadness that I want to cast back at them, and it makes me ill to find them all here. Who are they?
He helps me to my feet, and graciously I glide to the podium. The sickening smell of flowers threatens to overtake me. A thousand poppies, white and innocent, leer up at me. Who sends flowers? Why? They smell like death, and I hold my breath against them.
In solemn silence I stand for a moment, my heart thrashing in its cage.
Why am I here?
Why did I agree to stand here, to do this? I take a moment and look down upon my audience, imagining again their eagerness to assess my grief—to steal stories of her, to make her belong to them. That’s what this is for. She doesn’t need it. Of course she would want it. She would want us to stand here, mourning her. She would want these people to regret her passing—real or imagined, no matter—she would welcome this attention all the same. She would want our minds to be empty save for thoughts of her, only her, regrets for all we did not say, all that we did not do to please her, to love her, to make her whole.
All of the beautiful things in life my mother taught me.
Mentally I have spoken the words a thousand times, coaxed them gently from my lips, letting them fall like white poppies themselves, numbing me and marking where she fell. But now they are stuck, and the lie of her lies exposed before us.
“M-my mother. Loving mother. Wife. Friend. Sister. Daughter. She would be so happy that you all are here. My mother was. . .beautiful. She was the middle child, between two brothers.” Why am I saying this? Surely if they know—knew—her they would already be familiar with this. Surely they don’t care. “She was young. And. . .complex.” I pause here. My heart pounds ever harder and the blood rushes to my ears.
How did I fit her life onto this tiny index card?
What about all of the things I’m not allowed to say?
I’m not allowed to talk about my first memory of my mother. It would tarnish her. It’s rude to speak ill of the dead—even if it is true. Lie. You lie about the dead. If he was a crook, you say that he was a shrewd businessman. If she was a bitch, you say she was strong-willed. If she was your mother—I hear her voice.
The bible says honor your father and your mother. My children have never honored me.
“I think she would have liked to have been a star. Or a musician. She couldn’t sing. Couldn’t carry a tune. She tried, though. And once, once when we were younger she tried to get us to perform a duet with her. Karaoke, I think. She said we had a choice but she was so angry that we didn’t want to. We were shy.
She was shy, too. She had this tell. You all couldn’t. . .you probably didn’t know. But it was her tell. She would bite her lip and kind of pinch her fingers together, like this. She would take a deep breath and smile. She had a beautiful smile. It wasn’t perfect and she hated that. When I lost my retainer she was so angry.
She didn’t speak to me for a week. I thought it was just about the teeth, which was weird. It’s just a retainer. She wasn’t religious. She tried to be for awhile. I mean, she would be glad that we brought her here but she wasn’t religious. She would want to be here because it’s a large space and it would feel right to her.
You didn’t know my mother. Not really. None of us did. I didn’t. Not really. Who she was when she wasn’t facing us. When she wasn’t imagining a camera. She did that, too. When we were driving, taking trips. She would turn down the radio and act out scenes from plays. Sometimes she would make them up.
They always ended in tears. She preferred the dramatic soliloquies best of all.
She hated people dying. I know that given. . .she just hated that. So she—even though she wanted one for herself—she hated funerals. She always pretended that the person didn’t die. They just moved away. They moved away and she wouldn’t see them again. . .until she did.
She knew everyone, or she knew of everyone. Any time someone died—she was profoundly connected to them. More even than their family. I think that’s why she would be okay. She would be okay with you being here. I think she’d want you to understand.
She didn’t. . .she didn’t leave a note.
I think she wanted us to say goodbye for her. Not the goodbye with permanence. This kind. So maybe. . .we can pretend that she just moved away.
My mother was. . .she was. . .she just was. She would be so happy that you all are here,” I finish, my words swallowed in the silent stillness of the room. Briskly I walk back to my seat, avoiding their eyes—and her. I have not looked at her since The Day. When I sit, I think I see movement, and finally my eyes lock on her coffin. I am only feet away, on the second row. The First Mourners usually take their rightful mourning place at the front, but, without speaking about it to one another, we chose two rows back.
In case her illness was catching.
In the event death is contagious.
There is singing now, and I gaze upon her, staring at her chest, wanting to catch her breathing. She was a week ago. She was breathing then. When she offered those horrible muffins. How is she still, so still now? Where is she? Is she anywhere? Does she know we are thinking about her? That I am thinking about her? I force my eyes downward, again, angry at her for controlling me. Angry at myself for mourning her improperly.
Through the haze we follow the coffin out of the church, watch as she is placed in the back of that depressing car. I hate hearses. There is something so profoundly grim about the loneliness of them. We are forced into the Mourning Limo, and we make our slow drive to the graveyard. I wonder faintly why cars have stopped—these people don’t know my mother. No one cares enough to piss a fire out when you are here, but when you’re gone, they stop traffic.
We sit stiffly, graveside. The air is cool and still. The day is plain, the sun absent. Not rainy, not sunny. Just plain. The grass is spongy and damp, and I am aware of tracking the Georgia red clay that my mother so despised onto the fake green grass that keeps the chairs, which are covered with a strange blue carpet. I presume the carpet is meant to comfort The First Mourners, but it only makes me uncomfortable. One homily was not enough for her evidently, because the preacher, a forgettable, small man must again speak.
He pronounces her name wrong. This surprises me; not because she was an active churchgoer–she wasn’t. But because her name is so common. How do you fuck up such a common name so badly?
There is a glint bouncing from a gravestone–JONES–who has been here long enough to look a natural part of the scenery. To presumably find peace. The sun has appeared from behind the film of clouds. I wonder if this should give me hope. Find light in dark places or something. It doesn’t, and I don’t.
My uncle stands, gazes at myself and my siblings, says something fierce and passionate. My ears are still ringing, so I don’t hear him. When his mouth stops moving, I nod forcefully, and attempt to look as veiled as possible. He takes a clod of dirt—so soft it is almost mud, really—and tosses it into the hole. It is sad, but comical. Now he has dirt under his nails, mud on his hands to take with him. How symbolic will he find this later? When he discovers the mud stuck to his snakeskin shoes. He isn’t used to this climate; he’ll shit himself when he realizes they’re ruined.
We stand shoulder to shoulder, and watch, silently, as mourners move around, speaking in hushed voices. They pick up a flower here, a plant there. Two women reach for the same peace lily. There is a stare battle before the smaller woman decides to settle with a few cloying sweet roses.
We do not move. Stoic and serene we stand, as the flowers and plants are picked away. They have lowered her into the ground, and my throat hurts so badly I think I will be sick. They have not yet covered her, and I am struck by the need to yell.
Wait! I have something to say. We’re not ready yet. She’s not ready. I’m not ready.
My brother, perhaps sensing my anguish, grabs my hand once more. I grab my sisters, and she grabs the air and holds on to nothing. The three of us stand this way as people come up. They take hugs, kiss cheeks, give us sad, encouraging smiles.
I stare down, willing my eyes to pierce the wood that holds her. I think the words, hoping she can hear them from where she is, hoping she feels my anger.
I hope that when I grow up I can be half the mother you think you were. Guilt, unbridled and unwelcome, holds me, overtakes me, and refuses to let me go. Truth appears behind the guilt, swallowing me in its cheshire cat smile.
I love you. I love you. I loved you.