It's still dark outside, too cold to have coffee on the porch or take a walk around the lake, but if you come over, I'll keep my hands to myself. Really. I just want to show you the new watercolors and my latest oils: a scented jacaranda dripping over the cedar fence in the yard, leaking onto the sidewalk. The white brick wall splattered with poinsettias, like the aftermath of a shotgun. The rippled lake washed in gold. I have tried to tell a story, to make a record of things. Many things have happened since you left here, most of them disconcerting. A man in my office put his hand on my thigh, so he could try to know me better. I left early that day for a doctor's appointment. My test results came in, though I already knew I have anemia and amenorrhea and a small heart murmur. I had a lot to think about on my way home; I hardly noticed the man on the sidewalk until he whistled at me long and low, so I would know he was hungry. Never mind. But hey, come over. Winter has already polished off October and I need another pair of hands on my rib cage. I can hardly tell anymore if I am sketching your face or just imagining you on the front of the cereal box. This morning we could do something together. We could act out a scene where we fry the eggs and bake the sourdough ourselves. Where we open a book and flip through the pages. Where your hand rests on my shaky kneecap. We could rewrite the scene where we let the toast turn black. And I let you see the cities glowing in the center of me. It's impossible, you know, to feel calm in a city. Without the sound of birdsong. That why every love song begins like that: with a sweet piano, so two cursory people can pause to kiss in a doorframe. Composed for just that moment. That's never what I wanted with you. I wanted to be the doorway, the trapdoor that you would fall through. The pair of hands to open you like a moonflower. To whisper inside of you like an echo begging you: ruin me, ruin me, ruin me.
You've snuck around here before, dangling inside the word forget like a tiny bell on a leash. Swaying inside our darkness you noiseless bat. Begging me to neglect you. Oh, I remember you said it will be okay, like you could know and like I asked you and like it would be. Well. The heart is like a mirror, it can only be broken once. I'm not mad. If love was meant to be bloodless then why would we have knuckles to grind and lips to chew on? I never asked you to go easy on me. Really. Show me true anguish, yours, and I will show you mine. Winks. So we glue the mirror back together and it still reflects, but so distorted. Anyone can love a demented thing if it is done just right. If it is just done right. I can't help the way I am. If only you had a sickly half-heart like mine, you would understand. This is my weak attempt at telling the truth-- I usually just watch you stumble around and feel your way through the dim corridor. Are you starting to understand? My heart is like a mirror, it will show you who you really are. I have always chosen a severe life even when I said I wouldn't. I was resolute. I was brave. But I still never figured it out: how to behave, how to be tender, how to be selfless, how to start over. I opened the book on my lap, but only sat there crying. It is hard to be your own terrorist. Really who doesn't want to be remembered as better than we are? Every day I have allowed you to overemphasize my gentleness. This is when I have been most selfish. Who can blame me? You said hello so nicely that I didn't sense any interpersonal boundaries. For once, I did not have to be gracious. I did not have to starve myself for days or defy my impulses. No, for once I let the desperate animal in my bones devour what it craved most. Yes, I remember you.
I held my breath as you carved a line down my thorax, sliced clean through my chest plate. I needed help & you saw it right away. You in your white lab coat, absentmindedly chatting about how you love the southwest, the empty, the canyon. You cracked me open & began removing all the junk stored inside: my insomniac nightmares, my darkdecade lullabies, some extra wishbones & molars. You stood over me a long time, inspecting carefully; my skin splayed open like a messy star exploding. You apologized to me sadly, as if my body was our bedroom & you'd left your wet towels on the floor. Listen you said we are going to have to take everything out. It's going to hurt, but that's temporary. You looked sad. Things just don't look right and your insides need air. We'll put it back after, but your insides need air. I was sad, too, about that pretty face. What a shame to gut it all & the changes to be made seemed slight but costly. I said I understand so you bent into my redcloud and began the process, wincing as you pulled my pieces out one-by-one & you talked about love. But you didn't mean it. I mean, that much blood can make you say stuff. You sung softly to me about happiness but with a blackvamp voice that meant sadthing. Of course, singsong is still more comforting than silence for obvious reasons. Then you put everything back inside me neatly, sighing loudly & those sad eyes. Much better now, you're going to be okay. And you left me there, sleeping, curled up on the table like a heart.
You and I are lonely birds. The last two laborers. Maybe we don’t always know who we are. Even our shadows melted together; we made up every polished stone in this mosaic. At first I didn't know how to live outside of the world we carved out: that astonishing garden of nowhere, those deep lakes inside a mother, the train track down your spine, the wet canvas landscapes we used to wander together. How do I keep from returning to the ghostly oleanders in our arboretum? They are bending back and forth, promising to open to me. What would it take to grow a garden in me? There are days I feel that empty canyon inside me, pulsing like a lighthouse and I miss the years before my childhood. When I was still a pinhead egg, buried in your side and we never were apart. Then after that. Every morning was chamomile and maple syrup, the color of your hair in the winter sunlight. Your careful voice like notes from an old record that float across a dusty room. You never did wash out of my clothes. Those things that happened, I had meant to move through them by now. But such a cold river of grief ran over me that I couldn't remember who I was. It was your voice that told me: this is who you are and pointed at my grief.
We were standing in the church parking lot Figs were falling from the sky, splatting on the asphalt, and you were heaving with laughter, I had never seen you so swollen with joy, your head thrown back, baring your throat to the weak winter sun as the sound burst from you like a geyser We both were wearing mittens You were gazing at me in a way that I wanted to bottle up and keep forever in a mason jar and for a second I thought, this is it So I took out all my ribs and tried to hand them over but you wouldn't take them, you couldn't make up your mind about me and it was too late by then to put them back I laid them on the ground-- a streak of white bone floating in an ocean of figs I looked up and you were gone I looked down and I was knee deep in a clear blue pond There were oranges and water lilies and human ribs drifting on the water I woke up from the dream and you were still making up your mind about me
A Buddhist monk once said that life is like stepping into a boat that is already sinking. Death: it’s the apples rotting in the yard. My mother says she is not afraid of death, but of dying. Not me. I am terrified of death, its finality. Lights out. Or else, eternity. But first, the dusty volume propped open on the welcome desk, thick as a phonebook The careful catalogue of my choices to be considered: The lies I told without blinking All the homeless I have walked past The mornings I left without saying I love you. Humble, courageous, and kind: my mother will go to heaven. Her heart is just enormous, like Audrey Tautou in Amélie, dipping her hands into sacks of grain at the market. I might go to hell: I don't save birthday cards or love letters. I hoard unread novels and believe I am what I wear. I am bad at listening even as the Buddhist Zen says gently until death there is nothing enough.
You didn’t understand: I wanted freedom; well didn’t I have it? You demanded to know: Why all this beating of wings? Not in words, but the way you stared at the floor and nestled the cat to show that you were capable of affection but withheld it from me. To you this was a question of loyalty. Meanwhile, I was trapped in the slow-clicking memory of my childhood, like an old video tape: the tick of a clock, the sound of late afternoon. At this time of year, there is no sunset, just the deep carve of light that slowly melts away. I told you I was leaving, which was easier than allowing you to love me. At first, it felt as if the sky had been ripped off the earth, but then I finally sensed my own existence and I was ravenous for the world, driven outward like a bursting sap. For weeks, I opened all the windows before I went to bed. How glorious: the fragments of moon, blue air and honey sun. All that light on my face in the morning. When the summer edged out, I shut the windows and left. The drive was long and the sky was filled with rain like thick strokes of ink I hurried down the freeway, as if someone would be there waiting for me. And the next thing I knew: Wisconsin. I dashed from the car, pretending to run for cover, but secretly praying for more and more rain.