|Jan/Feb 2003 • Poetry • Special Feature|
I always thought they'd buried all the stillborn
babies on the hill with all the cedars. I'd always
played careful there, especially at night, felt extra
things flipping within my jet-black skirt.
My mother is writing a book about our Danish ancestors, their heritage
to her a grisly story about a long-gone barn and someone's
grandfather named Jens. Her chapters emerge with names
like "Moving the Body," "Baby Skeletons," "Where's Little Sophie?"
So she corrected me about those babies tonight during the supper
I wouldn't eat, chili bowl in her hand, Well they're buried on the hill
that ends at the creek. They're next to the cherry trees, under
the chrysanthemums. I thought about tearing outside and pulling
at those flowers to check and see if they smelled like skin.
It made perfect sense, same as my mother's chili
tearing through my husband most of the night.
Tonight my mother had defended her characters
and the way they'd cracked Jens' skull after they'd caught
him at it. I thought it would make a different sound than just "thud."
My mother had made a ceremony out of the stillbirths, assumed
each baby got a coffin. I thought the mother of all those babies
wouldn't have been all that sad. She already had six
and it was something that happened all the time, Mom.
My mother has a few other things not-quite-right; she doesn't
see how a man could huddle his body over a little girl,
his own blood, and still be a person. She called Jens "It"
and "Monster," even though I reminded her
You can never really know another person, especially a man.
Instead of reading a man's mind I'd rather turn, my back
to him a silhouette as definite as moon forced into the snow.
Somewhere in the night, alone in the bed, I've shifted
into the center because of the broken boxspring, it having
begun the inevitable folding. I'm buried up to my eyes in soft dough.
The green dial of my husband's watch says 3-something,
and I'm still alone. I have recently begun to think
of aloneness as pleasant, having already accepted
it like an award for being a good girl, good wife.
The book scrolls down the veiny screen of my closed eyelids.
If I open my eyes it would flood over my pupils,
dilate them with extra darkness. I would be all pupil,
my blue irises covered like a hand over a scream.
The barn where they buried Jens is gone because of some
weight, and it wasn't the sugar-weight of clouds.
It also wasn't because of the eaves that wore the winterbirds
like those feathered hats nice girls never wore.
When you blink fast enough you can see whatever you want; everything
else, no matter how big, will disappear into black, collapse and fold itself
into nothing. The skirts I wore as a girl were the heaviest eyelids, just barely
opening and closing as I ran away from sight. But now I am too tired to run.