The Red Flesh of the Soil
Mikey knows the drill by now. He holds the primroses while I dig the pattern, a zigzag until every hole is evenly spaced. The flowers are in flux but soon they’ll be reborn. I’m sure of it. I’ve taken him to this field twice this spring and each time looks cleaner, more pleasant than the last. Primroses are my latest obsession, Mikey’s too. I tell him that if we plant the whole field with them, then Mom has a shot. She’s been reeling from dad’s death last summer, turning this way and that way like an aimless fox and never getting where she’d like to.
I decided upon a sanctuary, a place where Mom could go to feel clean. She doesn’t know it yet but one day she’ll look at this field and hardly remember the stubborn red clay that once subsumed this area, its divots like fresh scars against flesh-colored sky. She will only consider the acacia tree, still prodding its gray skull out of the northwest corner, under which dad is gone and buried. But the other delights – the primroses coming back to purple and yellow every year, the watering hole and its half-gallon pail, Mikey sifting through weeds, picking carrots for supper. This is what I tell Mikey life will be like from now on, and he agrees. There is time. There is work to be done.
Elegy for Aunt Martha
Today is your birthday. I'm hungover. Last night I stayed up too late, drinking with a friend who's been living on the other side of the world. I drank a Pimm's Cup before dinner, followed by two glasses of red wine (your favorite) at dinner, followed by a beer at a bar that aired the US/Mexico soccer match on three TVs. I am still writing my book about Mom. This week a poet read part of the manuscript and asked if I've ever read any trauma theory before. So, yesterday I read part of a book that deals with writing about trauma, and I said to a friend that I want to find a way into my book, a way in through a different door. Today is your birthday. I remember you better than Mom, though I have studied photos of you the way I have studied photos of Mom. My favorite is the one of you as Pork Queen of the Old Threshers Reunion in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. It was 1973 and you were 16 and you were sitting on the back part of a 60-something convertible; you have a sash just so and you're wearing a tiara, and your hair unfurls all the way down to your butt. This morning I woke to an email that Uncle Leo sent to Aunt Teresa that she forwarded to me and the cousins. He said you'd be 57 today. He said he drove his truck past the florist shop where he bought you a potted plant each year for your birthday and he almost drove in. It doesn't make sense. I am looking for a different door, a new way in. Last night at the end of the night, I sat on my stoop and talked with a man named Jay who sleeps in the park nearby and who whistled at folks who were walking down the other side of the street, like they were dogs. One person even came over to ask what we were up to; then kept walking once he realized Jay was insane and I was drunk. The meaning behind your death is a door I will never find. Jay sang the end pieces of songs, not enough melody to make out the melody. He hummed something then looked deeply into my eyes like I was supposed to read his mind and know what to do next, so I just hummed exactly like he did. We hummed together, a song that had no melody, not really, just the end piece of something. Does that make sense? One minute you were in the backseat of a car, the next—. You were in the country, on a two-lane. It was broad daylight. It was early summertime, June. The corn wasn't tall yet. Or maybe you were surrounded by soybeans. I don't know what grows where you died. And then—. Jay looked so deeply into my eyes, like he was searching for something, someplace to land, maybe. I didn't blink. He sang the end pieces of songs, verses that just kind of dropped off, dripped and dropped but didn't collect. Last night I told my friend about a man I'd seen on the subway yesterday and then again, about an hour later, in a totally different neighborhood of the city. When we saw each other again, this time on a street corner, I smiled (wide) and he did, too. It was really something how he recognized me and I recognized him. He said, "hi" to me and—you're going to kill me—I said nothing in return. Bam! And he was so handsome. It doesn't make sense. Today is your birthday, and I still can't seem to walk through the door. No, wait, that's not it. No, it's that I can't even find the door from me to the proverbial You.
George Michelsen Foy:
If night was a belief in dark, then at this hour doubt crept in. Aldebaran lost its grip. Between landfalls you had to trust in sailing. Oh what if there is light after all? Night as lover; night, a monk in a massage parlor. Blue congealed in port, in wetness on their sheets. He left her. He left her and they came for Tess. She hit out with both hands but pillows held her back. Rinse, she yelped, oh Jake. Asleep on one side her neck made curves against her shoulder that proved everything he’d failed to paint. He left her, and walked naked onto the terrace. In this hour she had no call to rely on him. She’d forsaken her violin, her black insect scores, to stay here where the winds had names: Meltemi. Khamsin. Scirocco. Nothing solid was out here nothing solid in, nothing was connected even the idea of nothing bore no latch. He knew only pools: of blue, of night. He felt the opposite of feeling, which was not nothing; felt as if he swam in it, free-diving as they’d done three days ago, in the channel between two islands. The seabed there was crusted with amphorae, offerings to the oracle she said. He had offered her everything and by doing so had given away the part he needed to feel anything for her. On an island near here no-man tricked a monster but the Greeks had no truck with nothing. She’d said, I want to start from the beginning with you, as if we had only just begun to exist. This island was full of stray dogs. When she touched one her body curved to protect it or maybe to adopt its shape. On the terrace he watched a light switch on in a white house near the docks. Someone opened a door and stood in its ochre rectangle. To the east a dog loped through the marketplace. A boat rounded the headland. At exactly the same instant, though none of them could see each other, the figure waved, the dog barked, the boatman sounded his horn. Jake laughed. Oh night, he said, oh night.
I was listening to a Christian radio station in the bathroom the other day because the knob fell off a few weeks ago, and that’s all I can tune in to, and I rather listen to a Christian radio station than no radio station at all when I have to do my daily ablutions and related matters such as the removal of ear hair, the squirting on of Minoxidil, and Q-tipping.
Anyway, the guest, who was of Indian descent, was speaking about a new book called The Intolerance of Tolerance by a D.A. Carson, who on further research I discovered also wrote The Gagging of God back in the 90s. (It’s odd, isn’t it. that we can already say “back in the 90s”? You remember the 90s, that’s when George W. coined the phrase “compassionate conservativism,” an oxymoron if there were any.)
Well, the New York Public Library doesn’t not carry this book, The Intolerance of Tolerance, which is not very tolerant of them, but then it’s by a small publisher, and . . .
I have no idea why and how the New York Public Library orders book.
Anyway, more to the point, I went to Amazon.com and looked inside the book to discover Carson is upset that the dictionary meaning of tolerance is changing. Supposedly, Carson notes that online dictionaries’ definitions are moving from “accept existence of different views” to “Acceptance of different views.”
“We move from allowing the free expression of contrary opinions to the acceptance of all opinions; we leap from permitting the articulation of beliefs and claims with which we do not agree to asserting that all beliefs and claims are equally valid.”
For example, he’s afraid that this new definition will force Christians to believe that Christ is not the only way to God, or possibly to accept the homosexual lifestyle, or no doubt that Catholic institutions will be forced to pay for abortions and so forth, so I went out and bought a new radio.
Quintan Ana Wikswo:
- Soldiers march down the widest street in town and the women raise their milk to them, nipples leaking. That’s how every good story begins, with a war and a breast that’s just waiting for a hungry bullet or a mouth. Why do you come here with your anger and your vulva you say you’re disabled but your mouth seems to work just fine he says to me.
- In the town. silence falls between our mouths, soft as a vagina. Look - there is a woman who crouches down. Let’s call it like we see it: she’s shitting more earth into the earth. Let’s call it birth, let’s call it ashes that haven’t been set on fire yet. In my mouth is a long red ribbon - let’s call it tongue - it’s lovely here, you townspeople say, and I wind the ribbon around your necks and rip it - now there is a head rolling down the hill let’s call it yours let’s call it a ball we’re having a ball. Let the dead fend for themselves. They can light their own fires. And so I follow this ball, I kick it, I kick it in the teeth and blood covers my foot and I laugh and say is this the game you wanted us to play.
- It’s tumbleweed, it’s the feet of refugees. It’s half fire and half water. They say, have one more drink and they think, you’ll feel like a different person after you’ve thrown it up. We throw up our hands. We throw up our hats. We throw up babies and cigarettes and the memory of home. We’ll do it again yesterday, and the day before, which will feel like tomorrow, like medicine, like love.
- The spider is the color of oxidized iron, legs drawn up sharp into a place of waiting. The spider has heard everything: the color of my voice, the disharmonies of my breath and thought, the taste from a scratch of blood on the back of my hand. She sees with appetite. She knows the pleasures within desperation. She is patience practiced for dismembering the trajectory of wings. For flight, and its eventual interruption.
- In the dawn, the lava blocks are still heated from the day before. Underneath them is a kind of evaporated clay – caliche. Sentimental. Damp. I reach inside your shirt and find spines. Solitude. I open your lips with my fingers and feel fangs, and venom, and silence. You are reptilian, and I am your hibernation. Sandstone, seedpods, and the soft rise of viscera amidst hips. Pumice and chaparral: what I piled on top of us, still breathing. Caldera. An immolation of collarbones buckled and pinned within the spine. This place knows what it is to wear down, to split, ignite, and then erupt.