Tag Archives: relationships

This Dimming Light Between Us

The days, you keep tying them to hooks on the ceiling. Clay ornaments on strings knocking together like wind chimes in a summer storm or the eerie jingle of the Good Humor truck driving by. Somehow both immediate and fleeting. They make the most delicate clamor

The noise sends me out of the house late at night after you’ve drifted off with the raft of our bed. I dig up the neighbor’s yard, catch raccoons in the garden, walk to the bar on the corner and ask the bartender for something, anything. I make the most delicate clamor

She ducks under the counter and pulls out a pickle jar. Small holes in lid. Label advertises Dill Spears. I am not afraid of the fluttering moths inside, their wings outspread, anticipating flight. I find you at the kitchen table when I return. We make the most delicate clamor

The Invitation

My dearest,

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.
Your Jonah

The Outbreak

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.

Calamine

I still feel that humid night on me. Back then our apartment perched above the sidewalk like a vulture; my head perched above my heart like a parrot. Just before you wedged that stupid laundry basket you use as a suitcase out the back door, you told me to stop messing with the frays of things, and I spent I don’t know how long on the rim of the bathtub. Early, early, I wandered outside. I found one of your button-downs wadded in the yard—still wet from its vagrancy. I took off my shirt, smoothed yours on my skin like lotion.

Scrimshaw

I wanted to write you a poem about horseshoe crabs,
how they are born on beaches, how they spend their lives
sheltered, underwater, and only reemerge when they’re old.
They trudge across their grave, their chestnut lives etching
wales into every grain of sand. Every beach is their archive,

but I forget about your summer house—in Delaware of all places.
You must have stepped over them on your twilight walks. I bet
you think of them as army helmets encapsulating the precious history
of the world’s disappointments. Or maybe you thought of them as pins
pushed in a map, marking the exact moment of abandonment.

If you ask them to, they will arrange themselves quietly,
using their tails as compass needles, to show you the way
to me. They’ll point to a tangle of seaweed, then a perfect
stone for skipping, and finally to a knife laid bare in the sand
at your feet. You will pick it up. You will drag the blade

through the center of a belly. No remorse—just think:
it was finished anyway. Just think: even those most protected
can’t avoid their end. You will tip the shell to your mouth,
you will drink the crab’s blood; and it will search your body,
each magnificent cell, to scour away the etchings I made.

Then you will continue walking without me.

(photo: walknboston on flickr.com; no changes made)

 

 

A Ship Made of Grass and Dirt

foughtGrandpa tilled the fields out back with a hat on, the plow slicing through soil like a prow. He carried a pitchfork into the house to eat lunch. After he finished, he’d toss it on the table and say, “Well, I should get back in the water.” He fought pirates between church pews and soothed lions in the dark circus of the barn. For him, rest was a not-yet-smoked cigar in a pocket; faith was a dahlia bulb in a pot in March.

foughtGrandma dug the root cellar of our house herself. She told people she’d found a mammoth bone and dragged it to some bigwig in the city. I believed her. I believed her just as surely as I believed the Martian landscapes tucked between pages on her nightstand, or the dreams of her children tucked between clean sheets upstairs. She swallowed whole planets and then went outside to feed the pigs even when the icebox in the corner shook its head no.

foughtThey plotted their course together. No maps, no calipers—just using each other as their north star. They slept side-by-side each night on flypaper and still woke each morning to add rungs to their ladder. On Saturdays, they’d test its sturdiness by leaning it against the sky and they’d climb—Grandma’s bloomers would always show, but no matter. The people of the town would look up at them like astronomers, but call them boastful later. The pageantry, they’d say, was shameful.

foughtNow Grandma and Grandpa are the tin bathtub in the kitchen; they are comets drawn on paper; they are the sea air crackling around me as I tie my shoes.

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Osage

Waiting for the bus, Osage slipped her hands into her pockets and found something. Cellophane crinkled as she pulled out four bright orange and yellow Jolly Ranchers. That was the third time this month.

Osage spotted her friend Jessica’s shock of purple hair in the fourth seat from the back of the bus, their usual. She heard bubble gum snapping as she walked between the seats. “I found more candy just now,” she said when she reached Jessica. Jessica looked up from her phone. Osage recognized the deep-voiced narrator of Candy Crush saying ‘Sweet.’

“You don’t think it’s me, do you?”

“Yeah. I think you totally woke up early, carried a ladder five blocks, and snuck into my bedroom window just to put some stupid candy in my pocket.”

“Ever hear of doors, smart ass?” Jessica’s phone cheered and whistled before she continued. “Have you checked your other jeans? Maybe whoever did it hid the candy before and you’re just finding it now.”

“I checked. Nothing. It gotta be Mom because she’s not letting Jimmy, my step-dad, sleep in the house anymore. No way it’s Camden. That would require him to acknowledge my presence.”

“Why don’t you just ask her?”

“I don’t know. Why doesn’t she just give me the candy?”

“True. She’s being pretty stalkery. Like how does she even know which jeans to put them in?”

“I lay my clothes out on my dresser at night.”

“You’re such a freak, Ozzie. No one sane does that.” Jessica’s attention shifted back to her phone. Osage watched a few purple locks of her friend’s hair come loose from behind an ear. They reminded her of the tentacles of a cartoon octopus.

“Shut up. My mom does it, too.”

“That just proves my point…is she any better?”

“Sort of.” Osage traced the seam on the edge of the vinyl seat with her finger. We’ll get through this, her mom had said between sips of beer, we’ve done this before.

A few summers ago, her mom and dad packed her and Camden up for a surprise trip. They acted weird on the drive down, being super nice to each other, like Mom asked permission before she changed the radio station, and Dad didn’t check his phone once while he was driving. Camden and Osage spent the car trip tossing looks across the back seat of the Blazer.

They stayed the night at a La Quinta outside Jeff City. Boys on the floor, girls in the bed. In the morning, her dad told them to put their swimming suits on before they got in the car. After another hour of driving, her dad pulled into a parking lot near a river. They walked down a pier that ended with a tin shed, brightly colored canoes nodding at them as they passed. A man with a long beard handed them four lime green life jackets and two oars, then pointed to a canoe the color of a pencil eraser. Her mom got in first, and Osage followed, then Camden and her dad. For some reason, the morning didn’t feel fun to Osage, it felt like doing chores.

After about ten minutes of half-steamed paddling, their father pivoted to face his family. “Do you kids know where you are?”

Camden shrugged his shoulders; Osage scanned the buildings. Her dad pointed to the shed they’d just walked past. “That’s the boat rental place I worked at in college.”

“This is the Osage River?” Osage dipped her fingers into her namesake; the cool water pushed against her fingers.

“Yeah, and that’s Camdenton,”  her mother finally said. “We wanted you guys to see how gorgeous it is here, how special.”

“This is where we started,” her dad said, using his oar to turn the canoe. “And this is where we want it to end. There’s no good way to put this: your mother and I have decided to break up.” Twelve gongs of a church bell announced the arrival of the afternoon.

“It’s going to be weird for a while.” The boat reeled as her father shifted his weight. “But we still care for each other. We just think we’ll be a stronger team apart. Right, Traci?”

Back in the bus, Osage thought of the last time she’d seen Jimmy at the house. He had offered to pack their lunches. He’d never done that before.

Osage pulled her own phone out of her backpack, clicked on Jimmy’s text thread, and typed, “Thx 4 the candy!”

Yellow

It starts
bright as lemons
fresh cream churned to butter
love’s weight in our hands     promising
golden

We stitch
our lives slowly
and dye the joined fabrics
our saffron     turmeric     mustard
future

Fluid
and so fragile
we pack our love away
like a yolk in its shell     waiting
to break

The whites
of your eyes turn
beige in our photographs
head down     arms at your side     looking
jaundiced

No     love
we are cowards
standing in fallow fields
we’re sunflowers in November
ocher

It starts
our lives slowly
we stow our love away
head down     arms at your side     looking
ocher

This is a garland cinquain for yeah write’s poetry slam. Click the badge to read other awesome cinquains and other poetry forms, and short fiction.

*Things are good in my relationship. It’s fiction. Promise.

“No.”

No plumed horses charged in my revolt, no chariots trailed
nor thunderbolts loosed, no baritones cawed
for mercy before the amoral
axes cleaved them apart.
The operatic crows in their robes—those black guards

will find no antecedents’ bones to pick. Like me,
they must forget anything but tundra existed on this plain,
and fly off with nothing, hewing their complaints elsewhere. No,
horses did not charge over the poor 
soil between us. 

Instead, I employed a simpler machine.