“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.
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.
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.
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?
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.