There is nothing quite as deflating as the blankness of a room after Christmas decorations have been taken down. The empty tree stand left outside on the patio, the half-wall stacked with folded laundry instead of hanging with stockings, the pile of wrapping paper rolls balanced on the monstrous blue plastic tote to be returned to the basement. It’s insulting, really, to spend an evening with no twinkling lights, to open a door with no wreath, to stand at a kitchen counter with no cookies. I put the stray cut of ribbon, almost eaten by the vacuum, into my pocket.
Your walk to school has chapters.
The first chapter tells the neighborhood story,
Streets named after girls,
Where you Big Wheel and roller-skate and
Kick horse chestnuts with the frigid toe of your loafer.
The second chapter tells the city story,
With its gridlocked traffic square.
Conversion van, station wagon, or Chevy Camaro,
They pay you no mind.
The third chapter tells the public school story,
Where the high-diving kids go,
The ice cream eaters, the ones who wear jeans
And spit on your knee-socks.
Chapter four, finally, is
The story of your daily invisibility
Behind the tall brown door.
Her voice lifts when I tell her who’s calling. We chat a bit about the pitiful, gray rain that was supposed to be a full-on blizzard.
I explain that I need her help finding a document for the bank. “They can’t open the account without it.”
“There’s a file cabinet I could check,” she offers.
I say, “No rush,” though the bank would disagree. I picture her hair draping against her neck, and her small hands with their silver, spinning rings. I imagine us searching the dim attic together in thoughtful silence, the quiet stacks of books keeping my secret.
The trail from my house
To the pocket pond
Is made of X’s.
My boots stamp them in the snow
To make a treasure map
(Think of The Goonies or
That pirate movie with beads and buckles).
Who have no idea
What has become of me,
Who track their own paths
Folded in creases on the maps
Of crumpled memory.
If you turned it just so,
I’d reach iced spaces upriver
With waterfall names like
Minnehaha or Bridal Veil.
But here, home, eye-level,
My dog sniffs from print to print,
And eats the ones he loves.
My Playstation 4 was a “fuck yeah, I’m done with radiation” gift to myself. I’d heard the raves about Redemption, my daughter wanted Detroit, and we were still in loose lockdown.
There began my dance with The Infected. I started with a flashlight, a pistol, and a partner. I gained a child to smuggle to safety. I leveled up to rifle, bow, and Molotov cocktail; I lost the partner, but earned strength and stealth as I avoided infection and killed (several hundred) enemies.
I finished, not well, but true, and knew what it meant as I began the dance again.
I probably should have brought my phone for it’s flashlight, but the moon lights the way through my snowy backyard to my neighbor’s house.
I smell yeast bread on the icy air as I approach her back steps.
I only stand in her kitchen for a moment, long enough for her to place the bag in my hands. “Still warm,” she says. I can see six shiny, golden-brown rolls inside.
At home, minutes later, my daughter eats two in a row. “They’re the best I’ve ever had!” And they are, soft, buttery buds of warmth, reminding us were not alone.
I have wire crampons for my boots
That help me walk in the snow.
In the spot I thought they’d be, next to the shoe rack,
Was a manila folder of recipes
That had slipped off the shelf
And spilled its contents on the floor.
I found Neiman Marcus Brownies,
Turkey Divan, and Cold Peanut Noodles.
I found the wrinkled, yellow legal paper with the heading
“Classic Stuffing Recipe!” which was my mom’s,
Lost for years.
It burned my hand.
I filed it with the others, back on the shelf.
It doesn’t help me walk.
Vivian plays the organ for our church. She lives alone in a two-story white farmhouse, the kind they make horror movies about. Last night, I picked her up and we drove to town.
A half-mile in, she turned up the heat and told me about her son’s accident. He’d only had his car for a month when he fell asleep at the wheel, hit a culvert, and was launched into a treetop, where he hung upside-down by his lap belt.
“The branches cradled that car like a bird’s nest,” she said plainly, her thinning blonde hair fragile as corn silk.
If I had to (today) pick an item to take to a desert island, it would be a coffee table book of art history (painting, sculpture, architecture) showing works (great and obscure) from all eras, which would be a catalog of beauty (for my eyes), but would also describe the succession of styles from what came before to where they did lead, because that might explain how my mind, which for a year was a torpid watercolor (bleeding formless across a fiber card that was illness) has leaped into the urgent, saturated squares and black borders of a comic book.
My first task is to find out what one hundred words looks like. My fingers are awkward on the keys. I’m backspacing, misspelling, because the home row is not my home anymore.
That’s a nice start. About three sentences for the first paragraph makes thirty-two words. That means three paragraphs of about that size would make one hundred words. A beginning, a middle, and an end.
I’ve just figured out what this project is about. It’s about getting reacquainted. Familiar with my computer and its sounds, it’s texture, its temperature, its weight on my lap. And also, reacquainted with me.