Family, Things I Can

39. Things I Can Deliver: Her Eulogy

The girl who climbed trees in Durant, Oklahoma, ignoring as long as possible the suggestion that this activity may be less than ladylike, she was long grown by the time I came around. But I caught a glimpse of her when she and Dick outfitted that van for the open road, and she scrambled over hillsides all around this country collecting gems and geodes.
 
The college graduate who came to Dallas and strode through downtown with her girlfriends, in awe of the fashions at A. Harris and the big city bustle? She was a distant memory by the time I was old enough to have joined her on those walks. But a glimmer of her appeared when she’d stroll through the aisles at Neiman’s on the way to the Zodiac Room, pausing to stroke the beaded silk and saying, “Oh, just imagine the places we could wear this!”
 
I wish I could have met the young woman who whirled around the USO with her flyboy, but she showed up at the bridge table, and stocked her cabinets with board games and playing cards, and let us flounce through the house in the puffed sleeves and petticoats of her square dance dresses, and opened her treasure boxes to gild our necks and arms with costume jewels.
 
That girl who’d let her big sister Cecil take the spot as Mima’s culinary apprentice while she herself was skinning her knees climbing all those trees? When she became a young Navy wife and realized she’d actually have to cook for that husband of hers, it would have been a kick to see her rooting through the barrel at the PX and choosing a nickel edition of Fannie Farmer and stumbling through her first pot roast. But I saw a bit of her when she cranked a whole orange through the grinder for cranberry salad, and tossed just the right splash of ice water across the flour for pie crust.
 
I could have learned a lot from the dedicated young mother who cared for those five babies while setting up house and community in Hawaii, Maine, Florida. But she appeared in front of me when, at 86 years old, she got right down on the floor and played with her infant great-grandson.
 
I wish I could have held the hand of the young widow with two of her children still in school, who took the searing tragedy of losing a husband and transformed it into the courage to up and move to Germany. But I did see her seek adventure in the everyday, driving all the way down to the Dallas Farmer’s Market on a Saturday to marvel at the cantaloupes and east Texas tomatoes, lifting them to her nose and wowing at the fragrance, the warmth, as if each was the first she’d ever held. I saw her boldly stay open to the world even as her body set its own limits. Walking the pool, gabbing with friends; accepting every invitation to travel; serving families in need through her volunteer work; consuming the Dallas Morning News every day; and meandering all the way through each new issue of National Geographic.
 
Mardy was Gramma Mardy by the time I came along. She would sit with me in the breakfast nook and drink her tea. But she was so much more than a tea-drinking, nook-sitting gramma. We’re working the crossword together, digging through the dictionary, patching together word origins and giggling at the rickety bridges strung between the gaps in our knowledge. She wants to learn it all. Then the puzzle is done and she’s reading the headlines out loud and punctuating them with fiery commentary about this senator or that scandal. Then she’s up feeding birds whose habits and classifications she is eager to grasp. Then she’s skimming the arts page for a gallery or a foreign film.
 
Then, invariably, the people come.
 
The phone rings and it’s one of lunch ladies. Rick and the kids stroll up the patio waving. The doorbell rings, and Nelda is there with a question.
 
Gramma invites them in. Curious, affable, delighting in whatever is going on in their worlds, she offers a chair and questions, and soon they’re re-drawing the blueprint of old neighborhoods on the map of their collective memory. Where did Sleepy Reese end up? Did the neighbors actually lay that driveway on Daddy’s property? Which year did Eddie Dominguez graduate? Oh, and what about old What’s-his-Name? Then we’re laughing and hollering, trying to reach consensus, and barring that, nudging the discussion into more agreeable territory. Soon someone’s going to pick up Dickey’s barbeque or getting suited up for the pool or arranging for church then lunch then a trip to Durant. And all of this activity just blooms up from the mere act of being in Gramma Mardy’s house.
 
I say I wish I could have known the girl, the young wife, the mother. But maybe I did know her. All those glimpses had stories behind them, and the stories were right there, still very much alive, ready for me to weave into my own. I knew a much fuller version of my Gramma because people called and came to the door knowing they’d be invited in. Made comfortable. Asked to share.
 
Witnessing and learning about the lives of her loved ones – that was Mardy’s way. She cultivated openness, welcome, HOME. Everyone who was part of Mardy’s circle knew they’d have a place where they could come and where they could belong. Cherino, Crestover, Allencrest, Hideaway. She opened the doors to Paul, Lissa, Brin, John and Nancy, Rick and Carrie, Jamin, me. Giving all of us at one point or another a waystation and a launch pad, or just a place to catch our breath. And the other grandkids – Jonathan and Jennifer, Brendan, Dylan, Sadie too – all of us knew that Gramma’s home was ours.
 
This is not an accident. This is a way – Gramma Mardy’s way – unique and extraordinary. And because all of these generations of friends and kin have sat at her breakfast table laughing and arguing and telling the stories, I met that red dirt girl who became the kind of woman I hope to someday be.
 
It breaks my heart that my Gramma didn’t make it out to Virginia to stay in the condo I bought two summer ago – the first home of my own. It would have been so nice to share my table with her for once. I spent the first year there guarded and shell-shocked, protecting my solitude, my hackles up against the obligations attached to membership in a community.
 
But this year, as Gramma’s health declined, it’s almost as if some fragment of her spirit rode the currents over 1500 miles and took root in me. I’ve finally started to look up and become friends with my neighbors. To host parties even when my house is a mess. To follow my son when he jets off with his buddies, and go meet their parents and siblings.
 
Maybe that woman I only caught in glimpses over 41 years waited for me to grow up enough to meet her, fully formed, as the curious, vibrant, tough, and tender person she always was.
 
I am lucky – in fact, we all are so lucky – to have been on the receiving end of her love. She’s here in that love, in me – in us – every time we open the door and invite someone in.
 

Love, Relationships

Don’t Blink

Maybe when the moving van is idling in the driveway. Or as the plane lifts off. Maybe when the only ones left encircle the bed with whispers of permission. Or when chain link goes up around the place where lovers learned to fox trot long before they could imagine what would be lost.

It’s rarely so clear when we have our last shot.

Endings don’t come with a narrative pause.

When they do, the impulse is to fold like shutters. Pain approaches on horseback. Voiceless momentum, the vibration down low, the faint stink of iron and scorched powder. Get small and douse the lights. Better yet, dash out the side door and don’t look back.

My grandmother told me about the dust coming like night. More than a vision of it choking out the horizon, it was a growling, quickening pulse. Like the collective hackles of every living thing — mule deer, jackrabbit, gnat — bristled to action. Burrow. Batten down the hatches. Take cover.

Run.

It takes an act of will to unclench. That ending is not going to put on rouge or slow its gait. To look it right in the eye means staring down something whose ugly keeps expanding as it shambles into view. No wonder the urge is to cut it off before it can fill the frame. Call it claiming the story. Call it authorship. Call it power.

Call it for the cowardice it is.

Dare instead to turn towards that death. Creak open. Blink clear. See the arrival of the departure.

See it whole.

The architecture. The clay shards. Cracked paint, rusted locks, weathered lips. The polished steel fragment of a fallen bridge.

See the lines in its face. The leathered scar that masks its soft place.

Dare to love completely what you already mourn.

The chance won’t come again.

 

Change, Poetry

Dead Ringer

The ting a single note was key
against coin, a passing
pocket, the handyman pausing to light
the corridor after a week
of burnt filament
and shadow. It was not
the dog turning
a corner. Of course
I look up anyway
because it is easier to recall
than to forget
her and easier still to forget
that recollection
is all I have left.
The last time tag tinged collar
was the last time.
I will get used to this
too soon. I will fail to catch
the first moment
that note chimes
and I don’t look up
anymore.
 

Choices, Growing Up

Fill in the Blank

Language is courage: the ability to conceive a thought, to speak it, and by doing so to make it true.

– Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses

Is silence, by definition, cowardice?
 
Impossible. There is no silence in silence, after all. Language is always there, elbowing and grunting its way through the heady determination shut up I’m trying to be quiet of quiet. Thought is all voice. But without throat and tongue to give it an address, where does it land? On the page, perhaps. In the letter she writes with the pen squeezed in her fist but never sends. In the steel echo of a John Lee Hooker song bouncing off the walls of his skull. In the clanging, fists-swinging noise of ideas backed against the ropes. One thought after another dripping sweat, conceived and voiced in some halfway-way.
 
Courage? Certainly not. But neither is the nascent thesis cowardice. It is something between. Suspension, perhaps. A pause in the action.
 
Truth needs a shape, though, yes? One can’t just hesitate forever.
 
She sits across from him, across and far and maybe nowhere near him. The silence is every possible word pushing against the roof of her mouth. Finally, she speaks. “I don’t understand you. You make no sense to me.”
 
He recoils from her and says, “There is something wrong with you.”
 
Every other thing, not spoken. Every other statement about everything also right exactly here, unchosen. Every other truth, from the draping leaves of the ceiling-high houseplant to the taste of sourdough still clinging to their fingers. Every other possible scaffolding on which they could build some structure to hold is left there in a heap. Rebar cascades away in waves. It washes offshore when the tide comes in. It drifts to the bottom of the sea.
 
She says, “I need to catch my breath.”
 
He says, “Goodbye.”
 
Language is multiple choice without an “all of the above.” Choosing a word, even if it is only one, is courage. Even if it is the wrong one. Maybe especially then.
 

Family, Happy Days

Happy 100 Days: 10

In the hours before we leave for the airport, the erratic artillery fire of footsteps rattles the house. Four of us, up and down and in and out. We somehow manage to eat a full breakfast and pull off an early-morning pre-Christmas gift exchange in the midst of it all. Bug purchased surprise tchotchkes for all of us from Colvin Run Mill’s gift weekend for kids. Volunteers take children through the country store with their lists and budget helping them both pick out and wrap the presents. Parents are not allowed. It if fun to see my little boy growing up enough to take pride in selecting treasures for each of us. He bought me a lime green kitty cat ring-keeper. Considering how much he loves to play in my jewelry box, the gift is especially sweet.
 
During our morning exchange, Bug crawled around behind the tree and made a pile for each of us. It is amazing how quickly he has put the alphabet together into words. He reads the names on the tags easily, tossing each gift into a pile. Never mind that the tags are hand-letters and a little smeary and that each of us goes by different names to one another. He understands whose is whose. He counts them out and makes sure we take turns.
 
Then we are done and off to the bath, the laundry, the packing. Giovanni stops by to drop off gifts and to say goodbye. This is not an easy moment. He is moving out of his apartment in a few weeks and we are seeing less of each other. The New Year will be very different than the last. After giving Bug the winning gift of the morning — a Lego minecraft set  — Giovanni kneels down and says, “Listen, buddy. I won’t be seeing a lot of you. If you ever, ever want to talk to me, you just tell your mommy that you want to call me. You can call me anytime, okay?”
 
“Okay,” Bug says, only half looking at him. Giovanni sweeps Bug into a bear hug and tells him he loves him. Watching him attend to my son through this farewell makes me shiver. I can feel those arms as if they are holding my own heart. I take a breath and decide not to cry as he kisses me hard before driving away.
 
Soon, we are at the end of the morning. We take out the garbage, empty the dishwasher, set up the cat’s food bowl for the kitty-sitter. All through it, the bump-bump-bump the overstuffed suitcases and the last remembered items shake the rafters.
 
Another Christmas awaits us when we land at DFW. My grandmother, still kicking at 92 despite the dementia and the broken hip, will have all five of her children and a good fraction of her assorted grandkid under one roof this year. It will be bright chaos. It will be a story to tell.
 
And we never know when it might be goodbye.
 

Love, Outdoors, Poetry

Happy 100 Days: 46

I have only two left
gloves, a worn
hole in the index finger
of one so I turn it backwards
on my right hand and heft
my end of the 6×6
over to the pit where the small hill
of sand by the gate
will reside
after we are done
(probably not today)
 
The man’s toolbelt drags
down his pants and his pencils
have not been sharpened
in a year. His drill
bit is too short and keeps escaping
from its housing
it is a wonder we manage
to fit holes
three beams deep
with the same rebar we use
to lever the lumber from its
ill-placed seating
(the volunteers did not use a level)
 
Leaves drift into the pit and we lose
the maul and then the last
pencil. My gloves flop like wings of
bats. Nothing stays. We use the flat
side of a hand saw to draw a line
“measure twice, cut once,” I say
so he pauses and smiles and unclips
the measuring tape
before hitching up his pants
again. When he drills backwards
through wood to meet
the hole from the other side, every time
I hold my breath and every time
I cheer when the bit spins free
finding its aim in the dark center
and the light and the air
spill through
behind the shavings
 
The eight-foot beam splits
my right index finger
at the tip and I suck my breath
but he is bleeding too in almost the same place
(the posts are hard to lift from the rebar
we keep seating too soon)
so we both shrug and keep hammering
the business end of one maul
with the blunt end of another
 
The sun sinks. We coil
the orange cord and stand
the shovels and wheelbarrow against the shed
wall, the beams still loose
the sand still piled
by the gate. He gives me
my first and
as it turns out
only hug of the day
and drives off with the circular saw
in his back seat
 
The gloves need a proper burial
but I toss them in
with my tools again
and my skin chafes red and thirsty
as I lift away the leaves caught
in the trunk of my car to make
room. The sting dulls to a throb
and so I do not feel the cut
mouth of the paper frog
my son made for a man
he loved once when crafting
something by hand was enough
even if the the edges
were ragged and maybe
even especially then.
 

Friends, Poetry

Good People: An Elegy for Chris

He did not grow out of the cultivated earth of a literary tradition. He was Texas dirt, sunburnt and scarred. He banged into poetry sometime in his twenties and instead of slinking back and skittering away, he grafted it onto his body and sprouted there, all new.
 
He was not a particularly good writer when I met him. It did not matter. He drove his pen into the page, hammered those rough words out on a stage, and decided to be a poet. Bukowski and Ginsberg and Ferlighetti elbowed out the last of the complacency. He wrote of dark stink and revolution. He riffed off the speeches of great leaders with only a vague notion about how to organize a movement. Something more, something growling, pulsed through him, throbbing, feeding his voice.
 
He was so young.
 
We wrote together. In Dallas, on the cracked vinyl of diner booths, we wrote and wrote and wrote. One of us would suggest a prompt. We would write frantically for 10 minutes, read aloud without commenting, then write for 12, read aloud, write for 20. We could pass hours this way, whole lifetimes, galaxies dying off and starting again, no sense anymore of where one story birthed the next, one theme then the next, the rhythm of impulse moving in synchronicity over lukewarm Dr. Pepper and tattered pages.
 
For three months, maybe four, we were this toothed pair, fighting about everything and nothing. On Friday nights well past bedtime, we drove down I-75 to the slam in Deep Ellum at the Blind Lemon next to the auto glass dealer. We competed against our own team-mates and our own demon for the coveted perfect 30. He would get up there and hiss and hum his fury for that cash prize, barely enough to pay for two drinks. On Tuesdays, we went to Insomnia and took the mic just for the hell of it. On Sunday afternoons, we holed up in a windowless bar and team-wrote with a scruffy menagerie of rockers and poets and screenplay writers under a low shroud of smoke.
 
He was up for anything. He jumped at the chance to walk through the Dallas Museum of Art. He would pull over at a techno club well past midnight to dance among the goth teens. When his car was towed, we passed two hours in line at the flickering mausoleum of the impound lot, coming up with characters and laughing with our whole bellies. He discovered German barbecue places off the interstate, tried alligator tail at the cajun place, and introduced me to a proper Texas cheeseburger. We drove to Austin and crashed on a friend’s couch. He meandered wide-eyed through the State House, a place he had never visited in the lost years. He tracked down his state representative to ask her about road projects in poor communities.
 
I loved him a little and he loved me wild. His run-down pad off Walnut Hill had posters of Limp Bizkit on the wall and a full Nintendo game system he could barely afford. He had a twin bed. A sour couch. No savings. No degree. No plan. No pedigree.
 
But on that day my grandmother had the ladies over for bridge and he swung by to pick me up, he tapped some source of sugared light I had only just begun to sense.  Never has a group of octogenarians so quickly puddled into fits of giggles.
 
He was complete already, and I didn’t know it. Neither did he.
 
He wanted to plan Big Things. Community-wide bilingual free poetry shows. Demonstrations in the park for funding for arts in the schools. He was firing on all cylinders with no direction of travel.
 
Except for one: Poetry.
 
He dreamed writing. He woke writing. When I urged him to slow down, to read, the practice the craft, I could see his jaw tense with the effort. He did not want to measure his pace. He did, though, because all suggestions were fair game.  Then he would return to just writing writing writing. He got better and better.
 
He treated every other uncertain artist exactly as he treated his own self. “Get up there. You’ve got something to say.” He never let anyone sit in the back and play it safe. He did not wait for perfection or an invitation. He crashed the party. He grabbed everyone within reach and carried them with him.
 
“I believe the world is beautiful,” wrote Roque Dalton. “And that poetry, like bread, is for everyone.” Christopher Ya’ir Lane lived this.
 
Alas, no journey unfolds without flat tires and black smoke. Back then, a dozen years ago in the Dallas night, there were lies and drugs and there was another woman. I was leaving anyway to head back to Vermont to help a friend with a baby. So, the heat burned to embers and then ash. Sometime later, I heard that he had stumbled down the rabbit hole. The details were vague. He moved to Arizona. His siblings were involved. Who knows? I failed to reach out. Bruises, even if only to the ego, can make a heart cold.
 
I found him again virtually, years later after I was gone and back and gone again a few times around. He had his own beautiful family. A wife, a baby in his arms, then another. In the intervening decade, he had not stopped writing.
 
What did I say? He was not a good writer?
 
Now I have to admit that I didn’t understand the first thing about good writing. Chris had something to teach me I am only just now starting to wrap my mind around. Good is only this:
 
Doing it.
 
Just doing it, over and over, then doing it some more. He did not stop, from what I can tell, for longer than half a breath during that time. He had become a great poet. And what’s more, he had let that fire and fury carry him into projects that would make the Espada and Angeolou and even Roque Dalton proud. He put together youth slams. He became an organizer for the Alzheimer’s poetry project. He bridged the gap between rural and urban artists. He wrote and wrote, but he did not just do it from the back of the cave. He was a people’s poet. He shared, learned to make things happen, turned that charm into currency that could open the door to the ones for whom a closed door, or no door, is standard fare.
 
Christopher Ya’ir Lane was a far better writer and man than I gave him credit for. He never stopped. I wish I had known him later, that I had gotten over the small peevishness of our parting and welcomed him as a friend and as the gifted teacher he became. That is my great regret. But I am thankful that he inhabits a small moment in time and a living corner of my heart.
 
It is hard to know how to honor someone when the loss is so fresh. I can only say that this man’s life work is both humbling and inspiring. He did not wait around for the world to tell him he was good enough. He simply decided to love something, to make it multiply, and to cast the seeds of it far and wide.
 
So, for Chris, who shared that burning moment with me, I make this commitment:
 
I aim to crack open my rigid perceptions about what makes a piece, a project, or a person worth consideration. I aim to be impatient, to open my throat, to have the courage to believe in ink and voice to carry the art to life even if my doubt would surely sink it. I am to urge everyone I meet to follow their own bright pulse, blow past the doubts and the critics, and burn big, and burn loud.
 
Christopher Ya’ir was the best writing companion a girl could have during a fit of Dallas fever. I am grateful he unfurled his passion in my presence and showed me how it’s done. I ache for a world without him, and my heart goes out to his two beautiful little ones and to the wife who carried him over.
 
Goodbye, Chris. Your voice is with me, splitting open now in this turned soil, reaching for my own roots and feeding me the heat I did not even know I lacked. You live forever.
 

Uncategorized

Late Last Night, I Heard the Screen Door Slam

The dentist was the last holdout.
 
Henry Wray grew up here. He told me about it in that casual, rambling way a person can when he has his hands in your mouth. His stories were all yesterday. It was just a blink ago that Arlington had more single-family homes than condos. Tilapia risotto may not have been readily available, but you could walk down the block to get your hands such modern-day urban rarities as drill bits, a toilet brush, and practical underwear.
 
When he was little, Henry Wray’s mother took him shopping at Kann’s department store. He remembered standing up on the platform in the shoe department and ogling the caged monkeys kept there, one guesses, for the pleasure of the children and the relief of their mothers. As he grew, he moved and returned a time or three, watching the familiar landscape shift in that way cities do regardless of the potency of memory. Block after block gave way to office complexes, high rises, big-shouldered condos selling for $400 per square foot.
 
Dr. Wray has wrinkles. He wears a bow-tie. After a life of who knows what, he returned to the area and bought up one of the last little houses on North Kansas, a street that is barely a pass-through between the whizzing lanes of Wilson and Fairfax Boulevards. The tiny structure still had the feel of a home. A narrow corridor through the single-story bungalow was flanked by closet-sized rooms transformed into exam spaces and an office. The windows were plentiful. The carpet was brown. His part-time assistant greeted everyone with a booming hello.
 
To one side of Dr. Wray’s lot squatted a black-and-red structure made of what appeared to be oversized legos stuck together at wrong angles. It contained an insurance company and not much else, thought it was hard to tell through the tint of its windows. Behind the dentist’s house was a used car dealership and on the opposite side, a busted-up patchwork of weeds fenced in chain link.
 
From every side, shine pressed in on North Kansas Street. Across from Dr. Wray’s, the glassed balconies of a corner apartment building sipped shafts of light into bent shadow. A little further on, the FDIC’s rippling mirrors stretched the sun aquatic. The brushed steel face of George Mason University’s new Founders Hall burned back the day, its tiny windows blinking blinking against plaza trees that will require two decades of rain to cover its nakedness.
 
Every six months since I started working here, I made the 90-second journey across the street. I loved walking through Dr. Wray’s door (A front door! With a handle that turns!) After hanging my jacket on the coat rack, the dentist himself would call me back. I never had to wait. Henry Wray would reminisce as he hammered away at my plaque. On the way out, I would listen to the receptionist spill over with bubble and opinion as she jotted down my next appointment. I have one in my book for September.
 
Just last week, wrecking crews arrived. They rolled their equipment onto North Kansas Street and unfurled a barbed-wire border between past and future. You can get your visa stamped, but you aren’t coming back. The backhoes roared to life. Dr. Wray’s office, the last of the single-family homes in that long-gone memory of a neighborhood, lay in a heap on the ground. I watched as hot dust settled on the debris.
 
Time for a new dentist, I suppose. The old fellow is unlikely to start fresh anywhere else, unless “starting fresh” means sipping a martini by the side of some Canadian lake. This week, big yellow monsters clambered over the rubble of Dr. Wray’s office went to work on the black-lego building. Now, an entire city block is a moonscape of splintered drywall and shattered glass. Diggers pound deep into the orange dirt to gut the very belly of the earth. An underground parking garage? A sub-basement for HVAC? Anything and everything. It will go down, it will climb up. It will eclipse the sun. It will house the transients who, like me, have little time to spare for memory.
 
A local historian has written that no one can find a photograph of the Kann’s monkeys. People did not have smartphones in 1956, and even if they had, the mothers were too weary. Who captures such mundane things as shoe-shopping? As dental appointments? I did not think to snap an image of the last house on North Kansas Street or Dr. Wray’s red bowtie. I had no idea what was coming.
 
Silly me.
 
Blink, and it’s gone. Even though we know everything is fleeting, we cannot bear to hold that truth up in the front of the mind. We believe in permanence against all the evidence because it would be too frightening to consider how much we stand to lose.
 
Then the world up and blindsides us. Or, perhaps, we blinder ourselves.
 
I do this every day. I mourn the loss of the familiar, but I can’t even draw up an image of the object of my nostalgia. What did he look like, anyway? I gaze at the patch of once-woods where the new houses are going in, trying to discern some trace of the sacred canopy that sheltered a first kiss. What was there before? I wrack my brain. I probe the cavity. Emptied of recollection, the hollow place aches. Loss is the ice water. Better to go thirsty, some people believe.
 
We love so much without even knowing what inhabits the corners of our hearts: a small swath of trees, a giggle with a lover, the rainbow of petit fours in the pastry case at the supermarket. Every bit of it, beautiful enough to make the jaw throb, if only we had a moment, just one more moment, to notice this feast spread here for our senses. So perfect. So within reach.
 

Uncategorized

Chemical Reaction

The festival’s fireworks are beating at the sky. Down in the dining room, the dog paces and pants. I know now that the report is the second and larger explosion of the two. The shooter lit the slow fuse before sending the case skyward. At just the right moment, the flame ignites the calcium, the sodium, the copper. All this knowledge does not propel me out to watch. I have decided that to know is better than to feel, and so I remain, curled in the safe cocoon of my bedroom.
 
One slight click to the left, and we are there on the curb in the parking lot, letting light shower down on us through trees purpled with night. Between blasts, I hear the fat tears always at swelling at the edge of his throat when he sings “Sweet Savannah.” His voice slides over the lip of the distance to fill my hungry ears.
 
I still remember exactly what you said
That you had demons that you couldn’t put to bed.

 
On nights like these, some women buy shoes. Others call up girlfriends for pink drinks in a loud bar. Some fill the tank and hit the open road. I do none of these things, at least not at first. I dig out the last of the blank books and fill page after page with nothing but him. He gives way eventually and I find my way through the rubble to myself.
 
I made promises I could not keep. I wonder if everyone does this, or just those of us burdened with the belief in more. “I’ve done everything I can,” he said.
 
This claim intrigued me. “Everything? Did you really do everything?”
 
Oh, my impetuous tongue! I am so often accused of callousness, one would think I could remember the importance of timing. Not everyone pauses to marvel at each fragment of insight. Even those who do have no appreciation for inquisitiveness when they are standing with a lit fuse in their hands.
 
On nights like these, some will find another one in whom to stash the remains. Here, take the bones. I do not do this, either. Instead, I unfurl the turquoise sweater that had been left in his drawer since winter. His scent blooms from it, an explosion of molecules I cannot quite place except between the folds of his sheets and skin. A chemist could identify them, but only as long as the unique microorganisms last, which, as we all know, is not very long. I hang the sweater back in its native habitat. No one would guess anything here has been gone. Time and homeostasis are the secret of oblivion. All extremes return to a steady, predictable state. Soon, I will smell only my own sweat and dander unadulterated by the leavings of any man.
 
“Did you really do everything?”
 
We were well past the play of the idea. He contracted and pawed the earth , refusing to defend even as he did exactly that. He folded and re-folded the corner of the comforter as he stood next to the bed, breathing like a bull.
 
Lithium makes red. Strontium makes an even brighter red.
 
Like so many times before, we were the north and the south, two nations divided by a common tongue. My question was one of philosophy, not history. Have any of us really tried everything? Have we, in our tumultuous affair, made ice cream from scratch? Built a weather-vane? Learned pick-up lines in Russian? As best as I can recall, we did not read Rumi aloud every night for a month. We neither carried bowls of fire out to the forest at dusk nor fell down on our knees before the wide open sky to beg for a sign about how to proceed.
 
We worked hard as workers are known to do. We walked at a dogged pace around a known perimeter, time and again, and then anguished at the absence of mango trees and open sea. My own imagination grew weary of scoping the narrow sphere around us for signs of wolves. I forgot how to lift my gaze. So, it seems, did he.
 
On nights like these, some shred the old letters. Some march back into the world, shoulders squared and jaws tight. Some set themselves to re-writing the to-do lists that love’s windstorm left in disarray. I do none of these things. They are just more noise, as deafening as the blasts still clanging against the sky. Always, the dead weight of the silence that follows presses on the chest. Always, the only guidance that matters is found in the nothing.
 
After the grand finale that I refuse to witness, I close my eyes. The older self with loose gray hair and a hard-earned smile takes my own young body into my arms. She does this without effort. After all, she knows I survive this. She knows it won’t be long before I rearrange my constituent parts to bloom in full-spectrum color when the slow fuse finally makes its way down into the rare elements that comprise me.
 
I set the book aside and go find the dog. We step outside. It is quiet now except for the echo of him.
 
Sweet Savannah, you shine so bright
May the evening be your favorite night.

 
I let his voice out to rise and then splinter against the high branches of the white pine.
 
I walk with slow steps and follow the loop that brings me back home, every time. In bed, the silence is a tungsten shard against my throat. No reason to fight. I get up again and feel in the closet for thick knit. The bag I found under his kitchen counter when I was carrying my things away is still crumpled on the floor. I fold the sweater into it then stash the bundle in the furthest corner. Maybe there I will forget about it until one of those nights like these, when I most need to remember.
 

The Shooter Jennings website: http://www.blackcountryrock.org/shooterjennings/
 
“Sweet Savannah” on You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u9e85XEWoM