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 “I had come to the house, in a cave of trees, / Facing a sheer sky. . . . / Sun and reflection wheeled by.” – Louise Bogan, “Medusa”
First he asked her to leave.  Medusa was not a woman ever asked to leave.  Men asked her to stay, not just for one night, but for night after night after night.  Men fell in love with her as thought she had the power to bewitch them, as though she could subdue them with a single look, melt away their willpower.  It was she who decided when to leave, not the other way around.

Perseus was different.  They had made love, and it was sweaty and electric and obsessive – just what she was looking for.  She had congratulated herself on selecting him as a sexual partner out of all the men she could have chosen.

But she never realized he had not looked at her, only at her image in the mirror.  In all the mirrors in all the rooms in his apartment.  Never directly.  That was her mistake.

Her net of curly hair thrashed wildly when he asked her to leave.  She almost pulled out a weapon – men like this did not deserve to live.  But then she came to herself, remembered what this would all look like on Facebook, and she decided she would go.

She laughed as she put her things in the red leather bag she’d brought.  She laughed for all the boys who had suffered tragedy for her, all the men who had followed her commands, all the ones she had tossed aside when they no longer amused her.

Lust was an ugly business.


“Our light is never spent. / Is spent.” – Rae Armantrout, “Eyes”

You wonder what it is like to see beyond today, and into tomorrow.  You wonder if the long long days that stretch before the end of summer are real, or if you have walked here before and these days are only the phantom shadows of what has come before.  You were a six-year-old, you were a ten-year-old, you were seventeen and on your first date, you were twenty-five and had a baby who grew into a man of thirty before he was killed suddenly, terribly, and you thought you might get over it, but two years later you know that will not happen.  And each day you try to see the slow changes between spring-summer-fall-winter so that you will know you are alive, you will know you can think and feel and laugh like anyone, even with the heart’s stone burden you carry to the end of your days.

Black seat and silver gas tank

What she remembered was the motorcycle.  The motorcycle had a black seat and a silver gas tank, a small mirror on either side of the handlebars.  The mirrors reflected back the road, reflected back the past behind them.

There was a black-and-white picture somewhere of her standing on the back of her father’s motorcycle at two years old, helmet on her head, smiling.  He’d told her a story of the time she rode on the back of the motorcycle and she fell off, into some grass, apparently unhurt.  He told that story with pride in his voice, as though it was a shared adventure just between the two of them. As though only his daughter, his eldest daughter, was the kind of person who could fall off the back of a motorcycle as a child and come to no harm.

He didn’t tell her if her mother ever knew about it.  Even now, so many years later, she remembers the motorcycle and the helmet and the soft grass.  She remembers the deep gravelly growl of his voice, pleasantly gravelly, whenever he explained a thing to her, like how thunderstorms behave, or what it takes to fly a seaplane.  She remembers that deep pleasant tone as something just between the two of them, between a father and his eldest daughter.

I am the daughter whose birth had made him a father, she thought.  There is something in that.  There is something in the mirror of our lives, held one against the other, the father’s life and the daughter’s life, once together on the seat of a motorcycle so many years ago, once together in a shared adventure.

The Lost Daughter

The paint took forever to dry.

Words, all those words hidden beneath the paint.  She could hear them whisper in the morning when she woke up and she heard them at night before she went to sleep, traitor traitor traitor.  The words never stopped.  She put the paint over them to cover them and to silence them.  But still they whispered at her, in the kitchen, in the parlor, on the sleeping porch and under the floorboards of her bedroom.

The paint was gray and thick.  She smoothed it every morning with her fingers before applying a new coat, willing the words to stop speaking.  But they went on.  They went on.

When she was little, she could hear the thoughts of the cows in her father’s field, the songs of sheep in the little pasture behind the barn, the sayings of the geese in the yard.  She tried to tell her parents, but they ignored her.  Imagination, they called it.  She called it words.

She stayed at the farm long after she should have left.  She was an adult, she should have her own home, they told her.  But she couldn’t leave the cows, the sheep, the geese.  She couldn’t leave them and their words.

When her parents died last year she almost left.  There was a teaching job in the next county that needed someone with her skills, her English skills and her ability to tame unruly minds.  She took the job, in fact.  But on the day she was supposed to leave the new words started, traitor traitor traitor.  She could not go.

The paint would do it.  She only needed more coats of paint on the walls, on the porch, on the eaves, on the shingles.  More paint.  Every morning she would paint a new coat.  And she would wait.

The Heaviness of August

“one day commands the next to lie down, to scatter” – D. A. Powell, “cruel, cruel summer”

It was the last days of summer that were so hot and still the child did not come.  What was she thinking, staying in the country to have the baby?  Oh, when she took the train from the city in May and there had been that stretch of cool weather, she had been fooled, fooled into thinking it would be easier in the country.  No diesel fumes or oppressive haze in the canyon streets between skyscrapers.  But even here the deep heaviness of August heat had settled.  Cruel cruel summer.

Her mother made black tea every day and she felt nauseated when she drank it with a dry biscuit and a slash of paper seaweed.  From the seaweed the salt of the ocean coursed through her veins, chased by white flakes of the biscuits, making her abdomen contract.  Still the child did not come.

Her mother told her black tea was for healing but she did not believe it.  Yet she did not have the energy to refuse.  Instead she took the black tea into her mouth and rolled it over her tongue, once twice thrice, before swallowing it. She sent the blackness of the tea directly to the child within.  Willing it to leave her body.  Willing it to be born.

Cruel cruel summer.

You never said you were sorry

“Lately, too much disturbed, you stay trailing in me.” – Joanna Klink, “Apology”

You never said you were sorry about the socks I found in the dryer.  I had kicked you out after you told me about the affair with Karen Stendahl at work, after you told me it wasn’t a big deal, and that anyway she went back to her old boyfriend.  I told you to take your stuff and find somewhere else to stay or I’d take it all to the dump.  You put most of it in your buddy’s van and even then you were still making out like it was my fault.  But you left your socks in the dryer, your witching skulls-head socks with the glittery-thread eyes.  Witching socks.  The ones you told me you wore to ace your law school exams, that you wear to ask your parents for more money, that that give you the best trails when you go skiing.

After I found them the strange things started.  The five-am yearnings for your warm skin, the eleven-thirty at night cravings for your kiss on my neck.  The imagined ring of your cell phone call at three in the afternoon, even though my cell phone screen is blank.

Next week I’m bringing in a witch doctor.

Landscape, Dense With Trees

“Roadlight licks the night ahead, licks / the white line on night’s new hide, licks /
the undulating blacktop flat, sticks its end- / less forking tongue out onward, flicks /
itself at culvert, tree, passing truck, a sign / insisting heartbeats equal conscious life” – J. Allyn Rosser, “Night Drive”

I made the two-hour drive to the house, my mother’s house, on Friday night.  The storm was just coming up and I wanted to get here before the wind got out of hand.  All those tall trees around her place make it pretty dangerous, in my opinion.  Mother laughs it off, but she doesn’t know what I know about Dad’s death.

By the time I got there it was after dark and the wind was blowing hard.  Probably thirty, forty miles per hour.  There was no telling what might happen by the end of the weekend.

Another accident.  It was definitely getting dangerous up here.