Aught, no. 13 (2004)
I fly back into the barren heat, the horsefly’s hum connecting the ear to the land’s spill, mileage crawling into unaccountable and somehow, I never really question my desire for annual migration.
Every August I listen to southern rock, pray to the god of good barbeque sauce, pretending I’m a belle gone bad, and you, stepfather, a poncy sous chef with a morphine habit, rolling the tips of your black moustache between your fingers with gumbo file. Tree roaches flatten like letters to deliver themselves beneath the doors, and you, zut alors, spackle them against the night air with your spatula.
Your wife, for god’s sake, is nearly my age, an import from another time. She likes Chopin and Millay and she drinks chardonnay from the freezer because it’s the only way she can blush. She says if I drink too much lemonade I’ll develop hives.
Your daughter Annabel has a collection of scarves and we applaud the dining room dervish: purple and green and hexagon and there she goes, knocking over lit candles and flinging butter knives at the dog. On the other hand, Carmen sets her face downward like a clover-green horseshoe before the whine sets in. We buy her animals because she’s too tall for her age and her feet turn in despite the ballet.
And here we are, thighs brushed in bug eyelashes, junctions for knees and blood all Creole—we’re not really sure where the similarities came from: throats that rip through Galveston sailboats, false modesty, eyes that sear shut when Lester Young plays—mouths that form Aramaic & bastard letters nobody’s seen in a very long time.
And the death penalty reigns supreme here, and governors somehow make their ineptitude palatable to the nation, and your daughters weep in the sanctity of air conditioning, and one city seeps into another and all the outliers are backed into the epicenter as if the unused hole will eventually close up and swallow the bacteria with it. All of us, all of us, band-aids on the lobes and throat to deceive you.
And women are tall drinks of vodka perfumed in cherry atomizer—though, they’ve given up potatoes, and the heat makes you forget what you wanted, and the pool-side’s rhinestones transfix and you clutch your wallet and you say life is good, unrolling your white legs from the towel as if everything is better browned.
You smile though the showroom is closed and swept, silently asking me not to notice the mausoleum you’ve been making in the garage, air of your lungs cold and full of dust mites and typos and dogma—you’d really like me to believe all of that junk’s been annulled.
Everything’s later, later, so let’s just eat.
You shouldn’t pretend that ferocious women named Kate and Leigh don’t haunt you, that your dreams don’t undo long ropes of brown hair and think that if they loved you, you wouldn’t be afraid of shellfish and water and flying, but my god, these women are not under your thumbnail’s domain. You could try having friend’s for once.
But you have slithered under the porch because the sun gives you nosebleeds and panic attacks and heat stroke.
I am here inside a silver pot—you have put me behind the mayonnaise. I am lying on the couch—you have passed me twenty-five times today, whistling so you don’t have to talk. I am buying six pairs of pants and knocking on your office door—I am asking, asking. I am stealing your Tobasco tie and a Bob Dylan album and hoping you will want to vent about it long-distance. I am burning in the yard and drinking your whiskey and feeding the deer and running up the electricity and shutting the doors with a click the way you always told me not to and I am picking out a child’s song on the piano, picking the okra out of the Creole and putting it on the edge of my plate and I am coming back again and again, though it causes you indigestion and nightmares.
I think maybe you left through the broken keys on the Steinway—I think maybe you left years before I did.
Mr. and Mrs. Berry Invite You
He holds the shirt of a ticket-taker up to a party at the lawyer’s South Texas sprawl. As he legs down the limestone driveway, he sets off some system of sprinklers and door chimes. His teeth peel back with the giving of oranges, underripe in their nests of raffia: get in here, she says, hair hung and haloed by holly knots and reeking of cinnamon: have you met all the grandkids, I guess they’re all running around here someplace. In the hallway a woman plays her husband for baklava: But don’tcha wanna watch me unpeel the layers’ve dressing t’reveal the nuts—mmm—don’tcha wanna bring me a triangle drizzled with sweet warm honey? Loping across the living room, he ignores the blue glint of genetic blondes in the swaddled family of mantle frames. At which, a brash old woman presses in and says: You didn’t steal any soap, did you? There were three lilacs and two lily-of-the-valleys, now there are two lilacs and one lily-of-the-valley.
He edges forward under the dim searchlights of track lighting and sits rocking on his heels, trying to look attentive and friendly, like the guy who is just waiting for somebody to ask him about his collection of 1960s album cover art. The lawyer’s appliances are plastered in potholders made from what are apparently bands of pantyhose in discontinued hues: mist green, rose sachet, sunbeam, orange sherbet. A woman in a gold sweater bobs through the doorway, catches him feeding cocktail wieners to the Dachsund. The links of her smile click soundlessly into place: Sooooo, you’re a male elementary school teacher? Her hair is a copper kettle. Do you have your own children? Tried the baklava? Met Bethany? Been married?
Five eggnogs down: there is absolutely nothing beyond the grinning snowman, tipsy and violent in the gray-green grass, in the halo of St. Augustine.
Copyright © 2004, by the author.
All rights reserved.
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