Friends, Home

The Interdependence of Self-Reliance

Friends gave me a bed. My Mister helped me rent the van and drive it over the river to collect my friends’ bed. The student from Afghanistan with the big smile who lives with my friends grabbed one end of the mattress as my Mister grabbed the other. My friend risked fingertips and bent with me to unlatch the frame of the bed.

We drove off through my city. My friend called when we were down the block to let us know we’d forgotten a cross brace for the bed. We turned around. My friend was waiting by the loading dock. We opened the doors and my friend smiled. “Long time, no see!”

My Mister drove back over the river and I fielded a call from another friend trapped in the belly of a divorce.

My friend’s hitching breath. My friends’ hands. My friends’ offerings. My friends’ voices.

In my parking lot, I walked circles around picnic tables talking to my friend about her upcoming move and the new commute to her kids’ school. My new neighbor hopped over and offered to give my Mister a hand hauling the mattress and boxspring up the stairs. We set up my friends’ bed.

My Mister drew me into arms he says are mine.

Later, alone, I shook open white queen-sized sheets that once belonged to my parents and stretched them across my friends’ bed. I unfolded my pillowcases, the ones I sewed myself from swaths of sunflower fabric blushing with green dragonflies. My great-grandmother’s quilt with its pastel hexagons and fraying green piping drifted down across my friends’ bed. Biggie, my giant white polar bear buddy, settled down on a pillow. He was a gift chosen by my son’s dad and and my former brother-in-law, well before either one was either one.

Afternoon slipped around my curtains. The island blue weave is faded from sun that followed the drapes along my winding road from California to Colorado to New York to here. September light made its way through the treetops alongside the thrum of I-66 to warm my window and spill across my friends’ bed.

My circle of light. My circle of friends. My finding my own way. My finding everyone.

My return to the beginning.

My home.


In Bed with Book

The bed needed a new orientation. Mildew had flowered on the window panes. Stink bugs had built their incubators and mausoleums in the corners of the wells. All of that had to go. Vacuum and cloth, then clean linens, then the pillowcases with the dragonflies and tiny birds in butter yellow, in the green of ferns.

Now, the head of the bed is to the wall under the cascade of family photographs. Its foot is closer to the windows. The wintry morning light, low in the east, falls through the sheer curtains and rouses me to meet the day.

It is a fine thing to nestle into a heap of feathers and foam, to unfurl the tucked wings of a story. A whole sack of gold is nothing compared to a long moment’s gaze out at a hazy day. Up above, four sepia 8×10’s in their mismatched frames keep a gentle watch. Grandfather, grandmother, father, mother. Such smiles on those faces! And each of them, so young, so very bright.

Now, as before, we share a name.

For eighteen months, I kept them near my feet. Their gazes were unsettling. Their judgment, subtle. In another time and place, I would have stayed. They all did.

When the bed found its new direction, something else slid with a whisper into its proper alignment. From this place, their smiles are guileless. Patient. Even kind. I have stopped looking at them now that they linger above my tousled cocoon. Their presence is still palpable, but less worrying. They are in the place I don’t let my gaze linger: back, behind.

Here, just flesh, just bed. I settle the weight of my 38 years into the embrace of the day as it begins to stir. I feel the give and accept the invitation. My eyes drink in the quiet light, the quilt warming my skin, and the page as it breathes awake, opening in my lap.


Cross Over

In a village cut into the edge of a mountain, the sound of pounding feet and howling beasts dredges a boy up from the tidepool of sleep. Men in masks, their bodies streaked with paint, haul him from his bed and carry him away while his mother and sisters shriek from the porch. Somewhere in the distant hills, the men burn him with charred spears and chant in the dark, handing him a machete hammered with glyphs he has yet to learn to decipher. He makes his first kill many months later, but that night, he becomes a killer. The sky, slung low across the blood-red veins of the manzanita, shrouds the transformation. The men pour a fiery brew in a circle around his prone body before making him drink, but even they cannot see the rearrangement of his component parts. When he walks back into his village two mornings later, he does not recognize his mother, despite her teary prostration at his scarred feet.

I wait naked in my bed for the ululating horde of women to arrive and bind my wrists and ankles. A barebacked Palomino follows them to the steps of my front door. They lift me, writhing and protesting, down the stairs, past the china cabinet and the baying dog. Out into the suburban street, they throw me over the damp spine of the mare. Belly down and ass exposed to Orion’s sword, I can see nothing but the familiar blacktop as it gives way to alien terrain. The ragtag caravan ferries me to the place I have known exists but had never been able to find. Behind the roar of the waterfall, a swath of Eden. All about, the implements of alchemy: the crucible and its white-hot fire, the crushed roots of blue cohosh, the skewers and spears, the jewels and the pelts of slain whitetail deer. The drums, of course. The hole dug deep into the throat of the earth where my body lands as the gruff whispers begin.

I wake in the morning, still naked in warm sheets. The dog snuffles around at the base of the stairs, waiting for her walk. The damp winter grass, bleached and flat, shows no evidence of hoof prints, no signs of a scuffle.

If a woman falls open in the night and no one is around to hear her crack, did she change at all?

Maybe I could take the blade and run it across my own skin, sprinkle the ash in, and let the wound scream and seal.

In the absence of rites, how are we to mark passage? If we were once carried over a threshold, by what choreography do we uncross it? How do we make sacred the soil to bury the blessed stone? Fall on your knees, the women whisper. Learn the names of the insects that unfurl on your flesh. Tunnel in and follow the stink of sulfur to the hidden spring.

It is morning on the last day of the hardest year. No one is knocking. Even so, behind the haze of December sun, the stars studding the belt of our galaxy flash and blaze. Cassiopeia rises from her extended recline, stretches out those stiff joints and drinks deep from the deep, cool well of space. She goes to work unchaining Andromeda from the rock. By tonight, they will be ready to cross the distance to my bedroom door. I tuck myself deep into the musty sheets and ignore the faint echo of their preparations. For a few moments longer, I can pretend that I belong locked in the safe in the cell of my parents’ home. I can pretend nothing is on its way to pull me over onto the other side, that the sun will keep the dark at bay and that the silence of this last morning is the only company I need.


The Seventh Life

She begins to cry sometime after midnight.
Each howl a round, dry bottle
she casts over the water
only to watch it sink.
No buoyancy at all,
just the cool ink where it fell
silent, still.
In this house of warm flesh
every door is shut. Even her nemesis
is out of reach
closing in on a doe,
a black comma
on a pallet under a coat of winter wool.

She didn’t do this before. Never in her many years
has she wandered the house, pleading,
the inflection cresting at the end of the cry
a sustained note,
a hooked interrogative
dredging my drowned body
from the depths.

I would invite her in (I claim)
but never have, not once.
She kneads the soft places
with her claws.
It doesn’t so much hurt
as scrape the edge of desperation
and beg for a way back in.

There is no vacancy
in this fallow womb.
Even though she presses her longing
against the spars,
the sea of my heart does not surge
and my breast is parched.

She will have to let the light from distant stars
in through the portholes
of her eyes
and seek refuge
in its inadequate warmth
as we all do.