Where did all that verve go, driving you around the morning on sturdy cypress legs? You were taller just before, unshaken and clear. Rooted and reaching. Until a familiar chorus fell into the hole in your head. Look at you now, Dear, clearcut to the couch by a blade that has neither heft nor shape but is plenty sharp enough.
Isn’t that something, how a mind turns and bends? The nature of us would be more predictable, you’d think, what with all this talk and cartography.
Scenic coastal highways spiral around then down, and our thoughts cruise past with the windows up. The weatherstripping has lost its grip, and the outside roar no longer charms. Thoughts curl around your sturdy trunk and slow to idle with the radio off. Here they have parked to mourn.
Walls don’t rise from anger.
Brick by brick, cinder by mortar, we build them out of fear. It’s hard to say which is the bigger threat: What we let in; or what we let out. But quite suddenly overnight, and without express permission, here is one now, ugly and gray, high and thick, unadorned and unrelenting.
Scale it if you want, but it is real life Tetris, and the rows will add above you. As you scale forever and grow weary, your limbs and skin will find the teeth.
You could don your medieval armor and blast it through, leaving smoke and black rings around a gaping industrial hole. But that’s never been your style; and even if it were, violent explosions do nothing to ease the hearts of the skittish. Wounded things flee the noise, find soft ground, and burrow.
And so: How diligent do you feel? How patient? Because I have left an opening, and it is the only way in. Do you see there, eye level, a sliver of a gap between bricks where the mortar has been neglected? This is my safe window to you, and I have watched you walk away at least three dozen times. Your face flickers between caring and not caring, wanting and not wanting, and I take unforgettable notes.
Meet me here at eye level through this sliver of a gap. Speak kindness, say love, and mind your flicker. If you care to, endure, because I will need to hear this more than once. More than twice. More than you think is reasonable. If you tire, pass a note.
Fold it thin as a blade and work it through. I will read it until the cement dissolves (as all figments do).
Filling cracks with gold is fine, but I’d rather fill mine with cement. I’ve no squabble with pretty things; but when I break, the pressure to mend is enough without the pressure to be fine looking in the process.
Strong, durable, without sheen, the stuff of interstates and dams. Infrastructure cannot afford to be delicate.
Life turns industrial from time to time–all product and regulation. When gears stick and grind, oil them and try again. Try not to be so fancy about it this time. Under all that grace and lace and flow, even ballerinas spin on toes turned to blood and bone spur.
Type and delete. Sometimes a free-write doesn’t feel so free.
Words become gears in the car every winter morning. They don’t want to wake up. They don’t want to move. They don’t want to shower and dress and groom and button and zip and put on shoes. They don’t want to go to work. Leave us here, they say, in the safe cocoon of Still and Quiet Driveway.
Maybe it’s not so much about leaving.
Words are careless. When they go, they leave the door open and all of the lights on.
A draft seeps in and chills toes. Peering eyes of nosy neighbors criticize your wall color and the hideous lamp by the empty bookshelf. Trinkets you value more than you should, disappear in burglar pockets. When a word is true enough, there’s no telling what it will let inside and what will go missing in the process.
And so, Words, you darling chicken shits, crawl back into your safehouse–the place just under sternum alongside all hazards, rebel rousers, and subverts. Dim the lights and quiet the dog. Shutter the windows and change your name. Eat your protein.
Maybe the cold will not knock you into a sideways stupor tomorrow.
I drive gravel backroads of Missouri country looking for home. Something has sent me digging for roots. I turn off pavement with an inkling of Great Grandparents’ farm, but everything beyond the brick town blocks looks the same. I am from here but not really.
I crack a window, inviting Great Grandmother; she will blow in and navigate. I turn off the radio, wait for Ancestor; she will tell me I belong. Somewhere out here surrounded by horizon, I will find place and know all of my own secrets.
Gravel pings against steel. A large farming thing I cannot name, drives past and fills the interior with dust. I roll up windows, grimace. Rear tires fishtail on unstable gravel. Nothing is familiar.
I am in a car, prattling nervously to spirits on a road that doesn’t behave. Does Great Grandmother even know that I am Great Granddaughter? “Stop calling my name, Child,” she says. “Go back home and wash the filth off your face.”
The dust has cleared, and I roll down the windows again. “But I’m looking,” I say.
“Always,” she tells me. “Stop it. Go be.”
She and her blonde-haired boy read about volcanoes over dinner surrounded by diners who were not reading about volcanoes over dinner.
“That’s magma underneath the crust in the mantle,” she said, pointing to the diagram. “That’s the orange part.”
“What’s magma?” he asked.
She read to him about hot liquid metals, thought of the cars and trucks he lines up on the edge of the bathtub. He wants to know which are metal and which are made of plastic. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference, so she guesses.
She thought of her blonde-haired boy sitting by the fireplace eating breakfast and asking which of his toys and eating utensils would melt if they got too close. “Is this metal? Is this plastic? Will this melt?”
She wondered if he was imagining right now a liquid pool of partially melted Hot Wheels cars and spare forks swishing and bubbling beneath the surface of the earth.
“But what about the lava?” he asked. “Where is the lava?”
“I think magma is the same as lava, but I’m not sure.”
She turned the page and they learned that magma becomes lava when it spews. It is magma until it squeezes through a crack and charges into the air like so many rockets. It never explains why, though. Why change the name of something just because it left where it started? Magma on the inside, magma on the outside.
Impossibly hot liquid metal meets air, cools, and changes its clothes at least three times. Even a volcano cannot make up its mind, she thinks.
She couldn’t take a walk without doing math, the neighborhood a fine series of geometrical puzzles to solve. How did we arrive at this, she wondered, divvying up squares of land to top with square houses.
Who said: “You, there. You take this spot. And you over there, you take that spot, and I’ll take this spot, and she can have that spot, and he gets that one, and then we’ll flatten a path here in front of all the spots, and we’ll wheel and hoof forward and backwards between them to say hello and share sugar.”
And I bet it was all nice and friendly at first, before the ruckus.
But then the ruckus came. How long did it take? You can’t plop and plot people so close to one another without the mess spilling out of them. We are not pegs, and the baggage of us does not fit neatly within holes on a board. Whose mess spilled where first?
A fence appeared. Tall and straight or short and crooked: either way it said, “Hey, I’m sick of your mess.” Fences originally intended to manage meandering livestock were now repurposed. “If you’re going to act like an ass, I’m going to corral you like one.” No one questions the hierarchy of ass to human.
But then again, no one was quite sure, exactly, per se, which one was the ass.
And once they thought about it, they were neither quite sure, exactly, per se, which side held the mess.
Because a frightful disaster sometimes comes in the most fastidious package.