On the other side of the fence.
Look through the links, stick your toe inside,
And push. Me with my Converse,
You with your saddle shoes. We’ll land
On the other side, on concrete that still
Holds heat, sticky with Coke and orange popsicles.
The water, still as glass (and as silent), is
Tired of children.
If we slide in, ankles, knees, hips,
we won’t wake it. We’ll be its deep night dream,
It’s teeth-chattering, goose-bumped memory
That swirled and kissed,
Dripping wet when we climb out again,
Before midnight turns the gate into silver birds.
In the before times, we saw each other every week. Your eyes sparkled. We connected, shared a laugh, had an easy friendship.
Now, I send you a word in the morning. I watch for triple word spaces, double letter tiles, and sneaky ways to use J or Q. You’ll add an S to my nouns, I’ll add an ING to your verbs. It’s like skipping a stone to you, across the water, or whistling to the other side of the cul-de-sac.
I haven’t seen you in almost three years. But each of your turns is a message. “I’m still here.”
Why is there a part of me that wants to pick up percussion? I’m the shyest of the shy, and it’s getting worse with age. The drummer is the spine of the band, aren’t they? Forming the bones of the music, flashy and insistent, the captain of the sound ship. Couldn’t be me.
But what about that glorious heartbeat pedal? What about the tympani with their rumbling basso profundo voices that I feel through my seat? The icy, teeth-gritting cymbals? What about the ecstatic tambourine?
Too loud, certainly. What if I hit it wrong, clanging the song off-course? What then?
Tie the Headband of Fear,
Equip the Charm of Fortitude,
And set out.
Follow the yellow bird.
Write a haiku.
Reflect on grief,
The rest of your clan run through on the beach.
Tap square to assassinate.
Rest at a Love’s, though on the way
You may encounter a bear, a roadblock, an ambush.
L1 to parry, tap triangle to break shields.
Free hostages and buy fast food fries to
Earn the Charm of Invisibility.
Tie it to your yoga pants, stride into the hotel,
And bypass the front desk.
Play your flute to change the weather.
Become a ghost.
We’re put in the same heat for the hundred meter dash, like always, but for the first time he’s assigned the lane right next to mine.
“Jesus fuck, it’s cold,” he mumbles, half towards me. He rubs his bare arms and shakes them out. I’m transfixed by the graceful shoulders, the ripple in his jersey. He’s grown since last year.
“Yeah,” I say lamely, my cheeks heating. “Meets in March suck.”
The official blows his whistle and points to our line. We crouch, our fingers pressing the asphalt, so close. I hear his breath. The gun cracks, and we fly.
I keep thinking about the woman who crashed our church service this morning. The pastor was preaching about blessings and woes when the door opened and she came inside, wearing a camouflage shirt and a sweater tied around her waist. She had no pants or shoes.
I offered her my coat and led her to the ladies’ room. She didn’t answer when I asked her name, where she was from, or who I could call. She would only smile and laugh, and sometimes put her hands over her face. They took her away in the ambulance. They took her. Away.
My New Jersey purse:
A cassette containing hits by Expose, Miami Sound Machine, Enya, and that boy on the couch who smoked
My Indiana purse:
North Dining Hall card
Matchbook containing the embryo of a drinking problem
My New York purse:
Pack of Marlboro Lights and a Zippo
Matte brown lipstick
An invitation to loneliness, printed in charcoal Art Deco font on cream card stock
My Illinois purse:
Two face masks
Burger King coupons
My daughter’s high school track meet schedule
A Chinese take-out fortune: “Look how far you’ve come.”
My figure drawing professor approached me after class and asked if I’d model for her. It would take just an hour, she said, and I’d be be fully clothed. She needed women for her “vices” series. She said I had an interesting face.
I arrived at the appointed time in a white t-shirt and shorts, and met the other model. She was dark-haired, like me, with a face I wanted to fall asleep beside.
Decades later, somewhere in the world, she and I are hanging in a hall or rolled up in a closet together, in a work entitled “Jealousy.”
Enter dialogue with that which is ineffable, intangible,
Interloping, such as a dog, a toddler, or God.
Take notes on what is said, with words or symbols,
Purple ink a bonus.
Say “yes” to travel.
Lay your head down, purposefully, then draw a line
With your nose that looks past the ceiling,
Past the shingles on the roof.
This will be the outbound, and also the return.
Form a cardboard box behind your brows
Into which you sweep that monstrous memory.
(You know the one. Yes. That one.)
Fold its flaps, tape them down.
Loose what’s left upon the world.
Rooster got his nickname in basic, when his cowlick wouldn’t lay down no matter how much he wet it. He’s got twenty-two confirmed kills, highest in the squad. He shifts into murder gear with music, the pounding, screeching beat of dark metal defining the soulless, thousand-yard stare that keeps everyone away.
Everyone except me. I’ve seen that harrowing blankness on the daily. But I’ve seen him come back into himself after lights-out, when he’s just Josh. His eyes get glittery and soft, then, and he melts, reaching for me, whispering tender things, humming Mariah or Taylor Swift against my skin.