Spectral, slate veil shrouding
A jaundiced hue–my tired heart aches
Spectral, slate veil shrouding
A jaundiced hue–my tired heart aches
With pulsing pink heart
April’s magnolia unfolds
To disappear in the blue
White sky and return to earth
Sitting in this glass globe, I watch the snow falling
outside. It is pretty and sometimes I miss lifting
my face to the sky and feeling
the delicate flakes land cold
and then melt, leaving
my face wet and chapped in the winter air.
The world shakes and rattles
but in the shelter of my glass house all remains
quiet. I cast stones only at myself and am careful
not to break anything.
Here is my Christmas tree, brittle
and bright. It no longer drinks
but is alive. On the mantel, pictures of my children
from years past. The cobwebs I dare not
brush away. They tether the dust that piles
upon trinkets, talismans that dare you
to take my house and shake it, turn it upside down.
Watch the storm of particle gray whirl and rise
then drift back to where it came, a dream, a nightmare
a moment. Another moment. A lifetime.
All will remain unchanged.
Outside the wind has begun to roar, whipping
the falling flakes into a frenzied dance.
I remember dancing.
I am ashamed of my cowardice.
I am afraid of the wind. But the snow
is gentle and the sky is black.
Perhaps I will toss a stone into the night.
If the broken glass tears my flesh, what of it?
The crimson syrup will fall and spatter
a delicate pattern of roses in the snow.
Will I not look pretty lying in my garden of impossible memories?
The other day, my husband learned that the apartment in which he grew up in Rome was being torn down. It was built during the post-war economic boom of the 50s and 60s when Rome emerged from the rubble and restaked its claim as the Eternal City. What a word–eternal. Appropriate for a place where structures from the ancient world stand amongst the innovations of modernity. Eternal life, however, was not granted the home of my husband’s family, its existence lasting a mere sixty years.
The razing of that building is the obliteration of a small piece of history, personal as well as cultural. After hearing the news, my husband turned to me and said, “It’s as if none of it ever existed. My parents, theirs lives, their accomplishments, all of it, gone.” It is true–his family kept few photographs; the older members have passed away. What is left to keep their history alive other than the memories of my husband and his brother and cousins?
When the tangible reminders and the memory keepers are gone, what happens to what has been? The thought that the history of our existence fades away is terrifying. Perhaps it is because we find ourselves in middle age that my husband and I are struck by the profundity of loss. I too am in a desperate scramble to gather the remains of my fading history. My parents’ home is going on the market. Before dementia took my mother’s mind, she maintained the house as if it were a museum. Once she was gone, my father seemed to engage in a mission to erase her, dismantle the home she had preserved so carefully and start anew. Books were removed from bookcases and tossed into the garage; family photos were thrown into the basement along with holiday decorations and garbage. My husband and I would go to the house and try to clean the messes my father made only to discover the work undone a few weeks later. Searching for treasured books, photographs of my grandparents and any reminders that that there were some happy times has been like sifting through ashes.
Last week, my brother and sister-in-law called with happy news–they had discovered the boxes containing the portraits of my grandparents and mother when she was a little girl. I had been struggling with sleep for the weeks leading up, haunted with the notion that if we didn’t find these things, we would would have failed in our responsibility to preserve our family’s history. The discovery of those photographs has brought a measure of peace. What would have happened if those had not been found? Who would hold the image of those people, most of whose physical bodies have long since crumbled to dust?
I can still smell my grandparents’ house. I can still hear them, see them, feel them, but I cannot hold out something to my children and say, “Here, this is what my grandparents’ house smelled like,” or, as if I had a magic conch shell say, “Press your ear here. This is how my grandmother sounded when she sang.” All I can do to keep them alive is share my memories and show photographs.
Years ago, when my mother-in-law was visiting from Rome, I caught her sitting in silence, staring at the children. She was smiling and, when she discovered me watching, explained in her broken English, “I am taking a picture in here,” pointing to her head, “to keep with me when I go home.” How I wish it were possible-this preserving of memories. But the mind is fragile, and I have watched as memories slip away until a person no longer knows her own self.
The idea of losing memory is terrifying because it is a reminder of our mortality. The truth is most of us fade away. Even if our portraits are meticulously preserved, after a generation or two, who will care to look? Perhaps that is why we create art-music, paintings, poetry. If we create something that remains, a piece of us remains as well.
How ridiculous. The hubris of it-this need to stick around and be remembered. But most of us want to be remembered. We want to remain. If we turn to dust, what was the point of the suffering, the struggle, the battles we waged to survive in this world for the time we did? I am afraid to disappear. I am afraid to let my grandparents and those I have loved disappear. The thought of it is unbearably frightening, unbearably sad.
It is January.
The cold air bites my face,
not a full, open-jawed bite;
tiny bites, like a fish nipping my legs while I swim,
small, sharp stings on my cheeks
Walk. A walk will lift your spirits.
The Christmas decorations have been taken down.
The trees have been discarded, thrown to the ground
at the edge of driveways, waiting to be picked up
by men who will throw them
into trucks and deliver them
someplace to be chopped into dust.
It is gray.
There is no snow.
Just a gray sky
and a dry earth
lifting their arms, begging,
beseeching, reaching their skeletal fingers
Move along. There is nothing for you to see here. Only houses.
There are only houses
and naked trees.
one atop another
on small, ever so small, square, parcels of land.
How do people breathe? I wonder.
I cannot breathe.
Walking is supposed to help.
I watched my mother go mad.
When I was a little girl, my mother once said, “I want a house just like that.”
I knew it was death.
A death house.
I live in such a house. I bought it myself.
I realize death is a square.
where you place yourself
and bury yourself alive.
Some people do not realize they are dying.
I am choking,
choking up the last bits of my womanhood.
Some people live in those boxes.
They are monsters.
They make noise and rattle the walls
and wake their neighbors.
They do not care.
It makes them feel strong.
I used to bring my dog with me, but she can no longer walk here.
She has been bitten too many times,
bitten by violent dogs,
kicked and broken by violent men.
I see those men, walking out of their square houses,
getting into their trucks-giant trucks
that make up for their small
It is quiet.
I don’t want to die here.
I see a black cat sitting atop a stone wall.
It is watching me.
I walk past.
Poor dear. I do not wish to bring her bad luck.
Low light delivers
New Year’s painful reckoning
of past eternal
How she got in
I do not know.
She breached the fence
Somehow. Perhaps burrowing under
Like the weeds that invade from the neighboring
Yard. Or maybe she leapt, like a stallion
Over the wooden planks.
I watch her through the window.
Ready to lurch and bury herself
Into the leaf pile to play or
To Snatch up the unaware chipmunk and
Sink her teeth into its soft, fur-coated flesh.
I envy the fox,
Her bold assertion of her self
Claiming a territory that is not hers to claim;
In the moment, uncaring
Of anything other than her desires
And what sates her appetites.
I watch her.
She stands at the edge of the leap, heart
Racing with the anticipatory heat of excitement.
Yet, she knows death.
She screeches in the night
Like an owl or a woman stalked
And caught, her gut about to be cut by the blade
Of a predator whose evils the fox cannot conceive.
The fox screams for her young.
Stay away. Stay away.
I watch through the window.
I too am standing at the edge of a leap.
And I remind myself that I too
When I was eleven, my mother took me to the Norman Rockwell Museum.
Standing in front of Freedom from Want, I listened
as the docent explained how Rockwell created the illusion of water
in the glasses. All that white and glass and water- the painting really
is a remarkable achievement; even I, a child, could see
that. But what most interested me about the work
was the guy in the lower right corner who looks like
the creepy uncle. Even now he unnerves me. Staring directly at us, wanting to know
if we’re in on the joke, asking, “You know that ain’t no water, right?
That’s paint. Here, have a sip.” But he’s saying it with his eyes
because Grandma taught him better than to use the word ain’t
and she sure as hell doesn’t know he drinks anything stronger than
tea. He must need a drink, sitting at that pure, pristine table, amongst all those nice,
clean, well-behaved people. What are they talking about?
Sports? Stocks? School? Grandma’s dinner? That turkey,
it does look delicious, but I bet it’s dry. Good thing those nice folks have something
to drink. My family is a lot like theirs, although we also imbibe in vodka and wine,
and when we give thanks it is in the haze of the candlelit dusk where we sit at a table laid
with Waterford and Lenox, inebriated by our own lies, so many that, we can no longer discern the glasses from the water.
The chipmunk is flat.
It would peel off the pavement with little resistance
if not for the blood and entrails that hold it to the surface
like of a piece of glue soaked construction paper
stuck to a child’s school desk.
If one removes it with one’s hands, parts will come up
with ease. Some will need to be scraped — bits of ear, kidney,
fur to later be found in nail beds. The rest will remain
on the street until someone comes and shovels the remnants
of the small, once delicate body and throws it
away with the rest of the carnage
collected during the week.
What fate! Crushed by a behemoth —
a dramatic end for an inconsequential creature.
Now, only a flat, damp, skin sheet.
No trace of beauty.
No trace of itself other than the color
and the tell-tale black and white stripes.
Leave it be.
Perhaps the crows will find the corpse.
They will pick at its flesh
and fill their bellies, offering it purpose,
and so, dignity.
On this episode of Strange & Scary Story Talk I discuss Kelly Link’s, The Specialist’s Hat, a work that earned Link the World Fantasy Award in 1999. It is a literary mash-up of horror, fantasy and fairy-tale. Disturbing, strange and brilliant, The Specialist’s Hat is almost as fun to discuss as it is to read-and it calls to be read over and over and…