Open the rusty screen door
Follow my voice through the center
of the forest with no trees
Float atop the escaping river
like a weekday problem on a Saturday afternoon
Watch the cardinals glide above
this mess of a city, careless, self-absorbed,
The drivers in their compact cars, too,
accelerating behind you to dates and games
the scattered possibilities of something better
Take solace in the abandoned
take-out bags and six-pack rings
like embedded buttons to press
along the speckled shore of Lake Michigan
Lives are being lived here—mine, yours too—
Fill your lungs with ivy
Feel each of your toes slicken with grease
and pulverized stone, the natural aftermath
of ten million people using up this world
a paragraph at a time, a paragraph
at a time when each of us yearns to write
A burnished tome
“You sure you’re cool with us?” The cigarette in our neighbor’s mouth bobbed as he spoke. Heather was in the kitchen rustling pots.
“Us?” I asked, setting my beer down on a coaster, a souvenir from happier days when I still bought Heather gifts.
“You know, with me and Heather?”
I never thought I was descended from saints or anything. Still it’s difficult to see proof that your forebearers were abusive, racist, or felonious. My two-times great-grandfather, Nathaniel Lewis, turned out to be all three. I’ll post more about this story soon.
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While my great-grandfather was getting married on Christmas day 1906, his father’s barn was burning to the ground.
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He traced my name into my chest after he heard it, the e blazing across my ribs like a comet. On the dance floor, he grabbed my hips and kissed me.
“What’s that for?” I asked.
“For the stars in your eyes.”
A couple years ago after researching as thoroughly as possible, I had decided my family was not related to the infamous outlaw, Jesse James. But, after finding this newspaper article recently, I’ve brought out all of my research again.
To be clear, the man interviewed happens to also be named Jesse James. He is not the outlaw, but he is definitely my grandfather’s cousin.
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I’m writing to ask you to my wedding on the 15th. Her name is Roslyn. You don’t know her.
I don’t wish for you to receive this news as a rebuff. It is possible to be two things at once. Like you. What was that name you insist your mother gave you in that bleak time before we met? “Herve”? And yet will the Lord God judge me as a liar for calling you Harvey all these years?
Two things at once.
We dine on fresh emotion with each day
a fork, red salad plates of grief or joy
then rest on beds of flashing opal-fear
a docile pillow lost upon a plain
too late, too sure, to realize comfort won
sweet hours lost avoiding stroboscopes
by hoarding little stones in mattresses
by lording over rooms gone dim with light
a woman found an aniseed
among some withered recipes
inside: recumbent fantasies
Of gray days swelled with ecstasy
His sneeze was so quiet I almost mistook it for a sigh, as if he were annoyed by something small like a poorly written scene in a TV show or a dropped piece of cookie on the gritty carpet. “Honey?” he asked. It was not a question, but a command. I stood, holding my breath. I only exhaled after I walked down the hall to the far end of our bedroom. His Rolex shined from the top of his dresser. A bowl of change sat next to his half-drunk glass of water. A half hour before I would have felt tied to those everyday things, the reassuring signs of his presence in my life. But I walked wide around them and lifted the overfull backpack from the bottom of our closet.
When I returned to the couch, his cheeks and forehead were already the color of a bruised plum. He noticed my quick pause. “Grab the ventilator.” He watched as I did what he said. Through the plastic cup over his mouth he reassured me as genuinely as he could. Nothing I hadn’t heard before. But his words in my head sounded like Darth Vader so I exaggerated my inhalations to mimic him. The smallest of smiles fidgeted on his lips. “Help me up, please.” He needed a break to catch his breath in the middle of the sentence.
We drove in silence. The unsettling flush of his face had quickly spread to his arms, below his elbows. Every time he gets sick, the speed of it surprises me. He put a plastic glove on and placed a hand gently on my thigh just below the hem of my shorts, his thumb circling in the hair. The lead singer of the Neon Trees growled and flirted from the speakers; I skipped to an Aimee Mann song. His favorite. He leaned his head against the window as he listened. I heard his wheezes getting shallower.
The clinic was squat and jammed between a chiropractor and a eyebrow threading place. I helped him out of the car after I parked. He pointed to the parking meter to remind me to pay. Other purple-faced men, women, and children met our eyes as we walked through the door. I found Doctor Juno, who put a finger up when he saw us. One minute. I nodded, even though my heart was spinning. My boyfriend dug for something at the bottom of his backpack. When the outbreak first started, the doctor had to treat me for panic attacks right after he’d administered the shot to my boyfriend. With every recurrence, I’d gotten better at coping with the idea of losing him, and, once again, I started the process of reassuring myself this wasn’t that day.