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Name Day

Patch of skin, paste made of bone, bits of cartilage in a jar. Around me a spiral of blue scrubs, a gurney spins, mask floats mid air. Somewhere above, I hear an incantation from the wizard of anesthesia: count backward from one hundred . . .

morphine dreams of lions licking flowers, voices not mine say rest, lie back.
Inside these foggy walls I’m three years old again, fearful that someone
is changing my name.

Coming back, I wake holding tight to a starched skirt begging please hold me, push the button, send me back down. I can’t move, can’t speak, can’t rise beyond this fluorescent pain. A warm black hand unlocks my fingers, calls me milady in an island voice, pushes the hair off my forehead. I fall past the pain, past all dreaming as I watch the silent drip of comfort in a small plastic bag at my side.

I was silent for three years as a child, when the bones were cut from my face. Three years of no mouth, a name I couldn’t say, a name she tried
to change. I didn’t know how to answer when mom called me other names, so I didn’t answer at all, spent my days riding wishes like horses, chanting in my missing voice . . .

give me bones in my face I told stars, told wells, told dandelions, told apple stems, twisting not for true love like my sisters. My true love’s name starts with B, he is bones in my face. In dreams he calls my real name, and I answer in a clear, steady voice.

I go to sleep thirty years later, and wake with wishes granted. This face is stronger now, filled with skin bone cartilage where before was nothing but voiceless air and the battle to name an absence. I say my name with bruised lips; the force of new bone makes me ache. I didn’t know the hardware of wishes would batter me, burn me so deep.

Dad hated my cancer, he gave it my name. Mom hated my cancer, fought it and me with a rage that burned her dry, left nothing but bone she couldn’t give and new names for me she thought I would could should want to say.

But this is my name, don’t call me any other. I couldn’t speak, she couldn’t listen, and we became mute. We became mute.

In this room, with new bone and my name on the chart at my feet, I wish we could talk. I would say, if you could hear, that I know you were with me. I know you carried me to birth, then through that hospital with my blood soaking your dress. But I have built this face with bone and skin from my own body. I have earned this name, and it is mine.

Name Day was written many years ago. It has an interesting history as a performance piece, and has been used as text and conceptually in dance, music and theater works.

Spring scramble

Dark chocolate jumps from hand to mouth,
Crusty bread sings aioli not hymns.

On the rooftop our just washed sheets dance and flirt,
April wind sees them waving, so much like old friends.

I chew my pencil for juice and for comfort,
scramble my metaphors like lizards not eggs.

Lettuce opens like a rose, fork hovers full
at the first cool mouthful of spring.

I saw

I saw – I thought I saw – the outward flight of birds
rising up from the water, this watery tomb,
this sunken parish.

I saw – I thought I saw – the roots of a drowning oak
reaching out, gasping for air. The children dancing
in the mud had keys in their mouths.

I saw – I thought I saw – a bridge, broken down broken
down I thought I saw a white fox cry,
beautiful in the moonlight.

Conceit is not a disease. A monument is not a disease.
A plaque remembering another another
tragedy is not a disease.

I saw – I thought I saw – the birds circle home,
the moon rise on the silvery water.
Let it stop there. Let it stop there.

At nothing

At nothing – which so often led to nothing – I
stopped. And stopping, found self and sea still,
clear as glass. In the harbor that day, waves hung mid-
air in a moment of paralyzed force. Look, I said. Look.

Dog looked, questioning, hopeful, and so we walked.
Starting then, we walked all morning through
the frozen town – the black and oozy wharves, shop windows
filled with heads. So much to see, so much to smell.

Small walnuts in a pile near a motionless squirrel
made dog superstitious – this is not right, dog said –
this is not right. Look here, I said. Look.
Together we walked, together we looked until

the moment breaks, waves come crashing, squirrel skitters
away, dog chases squirrel, smiling and happy at last.

 

Bellies

My thought is as free as the sun,
rampaging, billowing, fire and bones.
This earth may sing, I will sing too,

to the brave, unpitying stones,
that break, break, crush the blood
right out of my veins.

What is it I really want? What narrow
bed, what unlit path? My thought is as
free as the sun, that sun spinning mid-

air in an endless gallows dance, counting centuries
and seconds alike, mystic, vulgar, transient, full
as bellies in a peaceful time.

Afar

wintercorn

It is the stability that makes it all so bearable. Never having to decide. My sacrament runs on established lines. Trinities. Bells ringing at predictable intervals. The bowing. The smoke. The painted snake runs along the inside of our mudded holy place and then out and around the building into the golden rows. The snake becomes the labyrinth within which we seek meaning. What is in the center of god’s heart? How far do we walk to find the center of that maze? The maize that grows in the fields feeds the children who laugh without knowing god nor snake nor sorrow. The maize raises its head to the sun until it falls over dead and feeds the cranes while the children sit inside drinking atole, hot liquid corn sweetening short cold days. It is the stability that makes it all so bearable. The stability of the dance that raises the children and buries the elders, the stability of the harvest, the chanting and the secret smoke that talks to the great ones, the ten generations who came before and will come after. Snake does not ascend. Snake lives here, on earth, with us. Like snake, we feel the sun on our backs, and we are warmed from afar.

Six fingers

I’m a nice girl from a good fucking home, excuse me. I’ve taught exercise classes since my sophomore year at Kent State. Pilates, spin, kick-boxing. Finally got my degree in exercise physiology and worked in a physical therapy clinic for a year. I quit the clinic to teach pole dancing at a very goddamn nice club not too far from my mother’s house. Pole dancing was new to Shaker Heights, but I told mother not to worry, it’s not a strip club, it’s just another way of staying in shape. She wasn’t too sure, still pushing me to get married and stop working, but I did eventually convince her to come to class and was surprised by how much she loved it. Mom clinging and grinding up and down that pole did something to our relationship, opened us up, once I got over my own embarrassment. She took to it easily.

One day after class she brought up my sixth finger. I shitfuck don’t have a sixth finger any more, had it removed surgically in fifth grade, just a little scar. She said, “Did you notice, that girl at the striped purple pole by the window? She’s got six fingers too, just like you.” I actually hadn’t noticed, but I did next time she came to class. Her name was Dierdre, and she was apparently yet another sister.

I remember the first time I met one of my siblings, wondering how many there were. The things my mother kept hidden from me were doled out in tiny little stages, first the notice that I’d hellfire been adopted, then gradually that I had a brother, then two, then some sisters, until finally I came to understand that I had at least a baseball team worth of siblings, and most if not all of them lived in Shaker Heights and all of them had or were born with six fingers, shithead fuckinghell. Dierdre was a nice girl, mild and easygoing. No cursing from her, she’s not a Tourette’s attraction like I am, just that extra finger, waving at me, saying look, we have a shared secret, don’t we?

 

(This is a fictional memoir, also written in 15 minutes.)

 


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