Ankles painted red with clay, we’d pound our chests like timpanis, comparing the shape and depth of our blisters and calluses against each other. Anyone who thought we were twins was victim to our fool, my name escaping your lips from across the court. Bright yellow fuzz we’d find in unexpected places hours after we were finished. We’d laugh loud and ask just how it could’ve gotten there. We’d brace for cold showers on hot mornings underneath the unforgiving sun, for suicides and spider drills and you asking our coach why the conditioning exercises always had such violent names. The day after you quit I saw an actual spider on the lip of the baseline and pounded it flat into the clay with my racket.
Pops and crackles on God’s gray Earth herald men and their tires, balding in unison, leaning back and over pebbles in the gravel lot, and coughing dust hot behind them. and I, in a low cinderblock building with a veil of sunlight spotlighting dirt and dust feather-falling to the linoleum, watch through a grime clouded storefront while the radio beside me and a fly far off somewhere, ducking behind rows of dusty snacks struggle to see who can drone the loudest the bell above the door announces guests: farmers caked in clay nod toward loose cigarettes our hesitant exchange strung together by broken words in the other’s language. and a gray-haired man that could be my father all knobbed joints and trembling fingers scrapes daily at a lotto ticket with a filthy coin that matches a lonely tooth gleaming in his face like watery eyes looking at something far off he leaves even poorer and above the door, a stroke of orange at dusk paints the bell and I hit the jackpot every time
I. When we moved in, my parents thought the tree in our backyard was dead or dying; its peeling bark evoked an ear of corn not quite shucked, a natural edge run ragged. We would soon learn that the shagbark hickory is not born with shag in its bark; but grows into it. It is the story of age as paring knife, bark as shed skin. II. I let my first whitehead ripen until my mother snipped pus fruit off the vine with flesh between pinched fingers, a pop. This is how rite became passage of time, and how I could not help but pick and poke and prod and pop each bump, raze what was raised into submission, into scar. Keep squeezing after all the pus is out, just to be sure, or just so that a steady drip of blood may follow. Two birds, smooth your face and yourself, one faucet running red. III. There is a beetle in my sink. It scuttles out of the drain so rapidly I can imagine the ratatattat of legs on porcelain. The urgency of an ugly thing. We know each other, beetle and I, beetle who could crawl into an oversized pore and shimmy under my skin, hatch eggs in my cheek and excrete itself in pus. An ugliness that can spiral back down the drain. IV. When we moved in, my parents thought the tree in our backyard was dead or dying, and so peeling bark was tempting for idle hands to pry off. To leave a scar behind: a reddish-gray gash, a nakedness. When Caliban looked in the glass did he too see Ham? Are there pimples on the cheeks of forests? The beetle living under my skin laughs at me. No, it says. And still they grow.
My father’s voice bears the weight of indignant, violent memory a voice so heavy that he struggles to carry it it swells and collapses and sways and stirs, and I worry that he will fall right to the floor right down to the floor, there with his feet there with his head, here with me, A constant inclination for a cold, inhospitable, merciful floor And at the summits of the swells and the riverbeds of the valleys, At the apogee and at the anchorage, I worry
so when the dog died at the ripe old age of twelve my father responded as he usually did, which was to sigh heavily, boil an egg for six minutes, and eat it in two bites. my mother always believed if you made hens lay eggs year-round, they’d run out, so in the winter my father would eat oranges instead like a monster: biting them whole, spitting out the rind. I peeled them hesitantly, and he beat me for the orange residue under my nails. my father loved that old dog. once my mother cursed it as she came around and found it licking rotten apples; my father loved that dog so he bought five apples at the grocery store, and forgot the bread. he used to crawl downstairs while my mother was asleep, so he could pet that dog, kiss that old dog, who slept so soundly. in the mornings I woke to see his body circled around the circle of that dog banished to the kitchen floor. I had to wake him back to my mother, place an old coat over the dog, so it would not stir. my father loved that dog, though he always knew his marriage would outlive it, that one day there would only be a cold bed, the white morning sky in the window, and no-dog curled in-between them, but possibly it was precisely because my father knew that dog would die in his lifetime, possibly he only loved it because he knew that sad beast would die someday soon, and after he had kissed it goodbye, he could get back to what mattered, things that would only last for as long as he had his mouth around them: bites out of covered fruit, full of seeds and rind. drinks from a boiled egg at night, tipping back the wet and yolky center, as he laughed, mouth wide, face up towards the yellow moon.
in eighth grade, I had a science teacher who taught us the phases of the moon. he taught us other stuff too, like physics and friction and gravity and velocity and why it snows more on one side of the mountain than the other. he taught us all sorts of things, but I only ever remembered the moon. I knew that it looked like a “D” when it was growing and a “C” when it was shrinking. the moon set the alphabet backwards. waxing waning crescent gibbous words that flowed over my tongue and straight to the memory crescent slivers over campfire flickers and a mirror lake full moon reflection. the moon is hard to forget. that teacher followed us to high school and one day there was a solar eclipse and we gathered outside not not looking at the sky. he approached me and asked if I remembered why eclipses happen. I didn’t. I looked instead at the half-moon leaf shadows the eclipse made on the ground. like a waxing gibbous, I said, pointing at the dancing shadows. he smiled, a little sad. in college now I go for a bike ride near my childhood home where my life has been put on pause. the sun has already set the sky went from orange to pink and now, blue again, like the day needed one last look. the deer have gathered in the field. the wheatgrass looks like moonlight. I look up, and there, tucked in among the blue-grey sky. fingernail moon. waning crescent. just a sliver of wheatgrass.
Lumped silence until the intersection, where the car sputters beneath your feet. Next to the faded yellow line you stop, pull out a flashlight, open the hood bonnet. We stand like the earth is eggshell, we don’t move, we shoulder a wet black sky like we are afraid to wake it up. Your arm touches mine and I am afraid to wake you from this daze, the same daze you had when we found her. Mother, an accident sprawled horizontal next to a bottle. We left her muscles to die — when should they be left to die? You and I stood, unable to touch mother — she might regret her last violence to the world, a big whopping fuck- you. Now she lay as still as a painting, we were the viewers, we were the critics, I stared and felt ashamed for it, like I was watching her undress. Then she was peeled from the floor, all five feet lifted into arms of men neither you nor I knew and she slid away to a world where we have not lived.
the night before you left, that night the ashtray was just out of reach. gray-white flakes, weightless as dreams, drifted through the cracks in the table.
i miss the air tinged with smoke, remnants of burning prairie. i miss all the trees infested, then splintered, cut down. when i return, the street is bare, but i am relieved to smell the air sweet with thunderstorms. the glowing blue of evening even the ants that crawl across my skin when i am too still. in fear of falling once again into the pull of inertia, i took my time, listened closely soft voices in morning, wind whispering through leaves i was grateful when the birds returned. i let pain, slivers of it, dissolve slowly. these last few summer nights, i squatted bare legged by the window wishing stupidly for fireworks, a fistfight. last week i took off my glasses and thought this could be any street. now the quiet is an indictment it was never enough just to mourn
— for the unrequited i can never answer you at the moment you unhand your question you remind me of the man who overbundles in boston, and your question arrives like your overcoat dropping to the floor i can never catch it — these arms have grown tired, kid, and the orange bottles in the junk drawer insist i’ve grown up and maybe it’s not a good enough excuse anymore to say that i’ve released the balloon again i can never keep the rings on my fingers so i bury them in a childhood music box Dad tells me cognition dictates sensation How the daggers in the air only pinch If you let them except all i heard was the bile in his voice and his crimson lie you’re getting better i can never because these circuits only know disorder i can never answer “where do you go?” “what do you see?” because i am with you and scaling the alps, i see your coat hit the floor titular quote from the work of J.R.R. Tolkien