“I think I missed a message in my dreams,”
Says my daughter, smelling of lavender lotion
And dandruff shampoo.
She looks around her bedroom as if
The lost wisdom will appear like a cat
Sleeping under her desk.
The Solomon Islands, Indonesia, and Guam
Scatter across the wallpaper map of the world
Above her resting head.
Where will you go, my sweet?
Her eyes close, another day gone,
Another page dog-eared
To be taken up again tomorrow.
The message will come for you, honey girl.
You will hold it in your palm,
Call it by name, and swallow it whole.
The sale bill hangs on the diner’s bulletin board. Even from across the lobby, even partially covered by a handwritten looseleaf advertisement for babysitting, I’d know that house anywhere. I see it in my dreams sometimes, even now, decades later. Shannon and I climbing the back porch steps after school, playing fetch with her dog in the yard, or studying at her big dining room table.
“They’re selling it,” I say out loud.
“There’s no one left,” Shannon’s voice says, but that can’t be. She’s gone now. Gone from rooms, gone from grass, gone from a house that dreamed us.
Carl and June are the oldest couple at our church. They’ve been married for sixty-eight years. He is ninety, and she just turned eighty-nine. She can’t hear, and has trouble moving around on her own; he drives her around town and links their arms when they need to get from place to place.
They met in 1945, when they were both in eighth grade. Their last names were one letter apart, so she sat behind him. “I never would have graduated if it wasn’t for her,” he said.
I wonder what it’s like to know someone in that many ways.
This land I “own” isn’t mine. I walk dogs on it, put fence around it, and plant a vegetable garden near the water line. I mow a path to “my” pond. I pick up sticks and apples that fall from “my” trees, identify flowers on “my” prairie and sit on “my” dock.
Who does it belong to, if it doesn’t belong to me?
And what do I own, if I don’t own these?
I puzzle it out as “my” dog pulls me toward a sunny game of fetch. The answer must be what is left when the rest is gone.
Zip your legs together, which form your sapling trunk,
While naked heels and toes push into the carpet.
Gather living green things, like a scrape of moss
Or spade-shaped grasses. Collect a cupful of earth
And fill your glass bowl terrarium.
Paint a stone, a shell, a pebble, a seed
With your grandmother’s clear nail polish, and
Tap on it like a turtle drum.
Fish your red sweater from the cedar chest,
Pull its sleeves over your palms.
Slide a metal spoon over the ball of your foot,
Envy its frank coldness, then thank it all the same.
She says it’s called “crocodile breath” and we should
Move onto our stomachs, flat, so the tops of our feet
Press into the floor.
“Breathe in,” she says, and I imagine my
Biting, fuming crocodile mouth opening
Showing my teeth, jaw like a vise squeezing
My history under my tongue.
“Feel the breath in your stomach,” the ribs
Full against the yoga mat, against the carpet,
My crocodile’s tender belly also full of argument,
Anger, an egg of fury.
“Now push it all out,” she says, meaning our air,
But it’s the unsaid words, dislodged,
That spill onto the sand.
If my sexuality was smoke, it would be from the unlit cigarette Jack Dawson holds between his teeth on the stern deck of the Titanic. (This is one of two borrowed cigarettes, the other tucked behind his ear, hair an impossible color of honey slicked alongside it.)
His tongue pokes at the cigarette’s edge, held warm between his lips, no ember tracing shapes against the black and red beaded night. This smoke, unborn, waits for a flame as well as an exhale. The match would transform, the breath would give body. The smoke is everywhere, is always, is not yet.
Today is the one year anniversary of my breast cancer diagnosis. I know because I wrote about it in my line-a-day journal.
“I got the call today. I do have breast cancer.”
This was after weeks of testing, during which I told only my best friend (who got a mammogram herself six months later, which led to her own breast cancer diagnosis). I kept it from my husband and daughter because I didn’t know what to say. I was scared.
Twelve months on, I’ve made friends with my scars. They’re tender, but consistent. Proof that what happened wasn’t a dream.
If my gender was a ghost, it would be a stern Victorian schoolteacher haunting the third floor of a Maine Street mansion. She’d wear a floor-length dress, hair pulled back into a severe bun. He’d wear rings on every finger, even the thumbs. He’d also wear a corset, and walk with stately posture and silent solemnity. She’d have a jawline large enough to be cupped by the hands of a ghost coal miner, or a ghost farmer who mows weeds with a scythe. She’d call out to passersby in a lovely baritone, making them look twice, curiously, at the window.
Coach’s favorite words are “grit” and “toughness.” After the homecoming game, when I broke the school record for sacks, he said I was “gutsy” and he liked my “tenacity.”
I’m not sure what he’d say if he knew.
He’d probably take it all back. No way would he think I’m tough if he knew how close I come to melting when you look at me. How soft my chest feels when you touch me, or how tender your groan sounds in between our kisses.
You adjust my shoulder pads. I hand you your helmet. We go, together, to the line.