This Quiet Plot

Suzie Seitz

Silence is the absence of sound. That is where we start. Then we hear what’s left when a bow lifts from its string, the reverberation humming across window glass and skimming over curved iron rails. Even after it dissipates, sound remains. We cross a bridge from memory to the note that arrives next, if any. This is not a certainty.

The lift carries us. The resonance in our own blood rides over when the bow releases it from its string. The arm lifting belongs to the song. Muscles move the arm. Breath fuels muscle. Pulse syncopates with breath.

Player, instrument, audience, the hollow belly of night. Nothing is silent. Inside the ear, a river rushes. Even in the dark, even alone, we sleep on its roaring banks.

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Bug Bites: Zen and the Angry Child

You mustn’t suppose
I never mingle in the world
Of humankind —
It’s simply that I prefer
To enjoy myself alone.
 
– Ryokan

Into the morning blue he wakes as dark-eyed as when he greeted night. He hurls himself at me, his hair like snapdragon stalks unpruned along the fence of his fury.
 
“Idiot,” he grumbles. I am at a loss. First I tell him if he’s old enough to use that word, then he’s old enough to make his own breakfast. Then I change course. Thorns will not be the texture of our day. I slide from the bed and crawl across the carpet to my splayed and scowling son. Right up close, I say, “I love you, baby, and you love me. I always know it.” I wrap my arms around him and tickle his sides. As he wrenches himself away, he bites back the smile I catch peeking. “Even if you don’t feel it right this minute, I know you love me.”
 
“No I DON’T.” Cold simmer cuts up from under the blonde cloak shadowing his gaze.
 
When he was two, he declared himself a girl. Rainbows on his underwear. Sequins in his hair. His third and fourth birthdays were pink crowns and princess cake. In his fifth year, he shed the tutu and snapped on a fist. He has not unclenched it since, except in moments belly-flat on the floor or twined sticky into me. Moments when he forgets.
 
While the oatmeal simmers under its skin of sugared cinnamon, he arranges a dinosaur jungle on the floor. The T-Rex pounds at the lesser beasts. A barrage of high-impact explosions upends all the palm trees leaving half a dozen herbivores strewn across the killing field.
 
I watch him wander into the tangled garden of his imagination and take corners I can’t see. I tiptoe to the edge and consider joining him there. Does he need the company of others, of playmates, of me? My only child turns away and blazes a trail alone among his hedgerows. Is it labyrinth or maze? He is not reluctant to find his own way in. I wonder what, if anything, compels him to follow the thread back out again.
 
Bug's Drawing of a Flower and a Watering Can
 
Returning home at the end of day, we trip our way to bed after fighting over dishes, teeth, bath. It is time to surrender to routine. Both of us need to waltz our way back to a rocking gait that smooths the friction at the edges where we meet. Three books. Three songs. Every night for six years.
 
He has a fairy blanket on the bed. It is the last vestige. He keeps it close even in the August swelter. With Tinkerbell bunched at our feet, we read Zen Shorts for the 400th time.
 
“Mommy, why is this book called that?”
 
“Well, the three stories Stillwater tells all come from Zen. And they’re all short.”
 
“What’s Zen?”
 
Oh geez. 
 
I guess it’s a way of living. It’s very old. Thousands of years, maybe? It has to do with making quiet places inside your mind and body.”
 
He twists away from me. Restless, ever moving. He is all proboscis and fire ant. A cement mixer. A quicksand man. I have had to learn to test my footing before every step. “You know how we talk about breathing when you’re wound up? Or when I heat up? Zen is about getting still. Like Stillwater in the book. Then you can accept things without needing them to be different.”
 
Zen Cliff’s Notes. Am I close? He’s humming and tapping his fingers in a pattern along the wall. I touch the edge of his leg just enough to make contact but not enough to capture his attention and raise his inevitable ire. “Even when there’s craziness all around you, even if a robber comes into your house or people say mean things, you stay peaceful inside yourself.”
 
“Yeah, yeah. Okay, okay.”
 
“It’s not just for kids,” I tell him. “Here.” I get up and go find the book of Zen poems a friend gave me back when time to play with meditation was there for the taking. Or rather, when we chose to see abundance in a clock face rather than just its pinching glare.
 
I open to Ryokan.
 

Here are the ruins of the cottage where I once hid myself.

 
“Okay, whatever. That’s enough,” he tells me. The gold ribbon marking the page hides down in the spine. He pulls it away and trails it down over the back. “Now you’ve lost your place,” he tells me.
 
“Good,” I say. “I was hoping for that. Now I can start at the next place.” I leave the ribbon free and close the cover. The cottage is far behind me. I am alone on my unmarked path but also tangled at the root with a boy whose opening is his own to burn or tend.
 
“Are you mad?” His grin crouches in the dry weeds. His eyes cut a path to me. He is ready to pounce.
 
“No, baby. I’m nowhere close to mad. I’m happy to be here with you, exactly like this.” I set the poems on the floor and open my voice for the first song.
 

No Fixed Address

In the parking lot of the state college campus where Tee was staffing an exhibition table, Bug nursed. We sat in the back seat with the door open to a spring afternoon. Tee came around the corner to meet us, concern folding in a face usually at full sail. He moved to block us and pushed the door partway closed.

“What are you doing?” I asked. In my lap, Bug raised his eyebrows up and back to get in on the action. He didn’t lose his grip. Besides the perfunctory drape in an airplane or shopping mall, modesty had rarely factored into Bug’s mealtimes.

Tee shrugged and shuffled. “Everyone can see. We don’t know people here.”

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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