Our fingers used to whisper to each other
ventricles of the same heart,
but now when I look there are American
flag tally marks running the length
between my knuckles like creases from your bedsheets,
keeping track of every time you didn’t hold my hand.
But you can’t see that,
my hands are palm-upwards
lifting empty space from your shoulders.
After you left I played big-kid Operation,
extracting each thought and turning it over
in my battered hands until I memorized
in my cortex.
I come close to the edge of an ending
nervous or otherwise
sent war flags jerking
between my synapses
once-liquid blood has crystallized,
chafes against the wall of an artery
and bursts through
filling my empty ribcage
splitting open old wounds
you called them battle scars,
but the only war was inside my brain.
you stippled dried blood between forearm follicles—
tried to make art of gore.
Like an old charm bracelet,
my heart hears its own voice in my wrist,—
whispers from beneath the carnage—
and they pulse as one,
thrumming a coronary baseline
in time with the echo of your voice.
In the snow the dog ran. In what a day before had been fields and trees and the dried stalks of grass, the dog now ran through castle walls made by the stomping of boots, ascended tower stairs made by buried wood palettes, ears held high, the sole marks of the soul’s travel through the mute and crystalline palace of the new quiet, new white world. If the world were to be filled by a single heartbeat, it would be filled by his.
In the hours that grew, the light changed in color, a testament in sky and horizon to say, Yes, there are blues- Yes, there are golds- Yes, there are the purples that dye the whole world and in that way the whole world is royal. There is majesty in light and life and the sky, heavy as satin, began to fall.
In the patches of gold and violet lay an animal that breathed with a quiet and loving sort of whimper, and the dog saw it as a collection of warmth, wrapped in furs stitched and smoothed, and bared hands clutching towards him. At the approach the dog sniffed and scurried, felt the air, felt the breath, and saw: saw the ears red as berries, as glowing aubergine; saw the fingers glowing, the heat of breathe cooling; and in fact it was like a sunset of a creature, and for this the dog bent its head and came close.
But the boy’s arms were still tired, and where before he had but a cold stomach from crawling he now had cold hands, cold ears, cold nose a shade deceiving and bright, and his breath, still shallow, now drew in less heat and more of what makes life crystalline. So now, in his noncommittal longing, there was the hope of approach, and sure enough the dog would appear, each time now more surprising and more necessary than the last, and finally, as if sensing the want, march through the paths and hallways and lie atop the boy, at which point he would run frozen fingers through the fur, dark and warm, would kiss the head between the two searching ears, and would whisper loving words in a language the dog could not know and would not return and did not have to return. And the hours grew and the palace, though still white, could no longer illuminate itself and so disappeared, leaving in the world just the boy and the dog, dark and warm and full of loving words consumed by the quiet.
My mother is so much early
morning, a silver loop of breath, the air
itself, her dark hair a cloud,
eyes full of gray sea. Soft cotton
and silver spices, her perfume
trails sleekly like a vine,
a dolphin’s wet back through
water, appearing here—
and here—until gone,
gray into gray, rising up
to where I wait to glimpse it again
from the shore.
My father is forest, his beard
brown like bear fur, white
shining through—veins of ore
sleeping in the earth.
His eyes are powdered stone,
ground glass, steel shavings—
forest but also city, the thrust
of gleaming silver to the sky, firm
foundations of concrete
and bitter metal. The air fills
with the hiss and hum of machinery,
power drills and car engines dark
with the slick of motor oil
and smoke thrown from the mouths
of men, tall as trees,
and just as richly brown.
I am the bird born warm
from the gray of that marriage bed,
when bare branches through the window
were brittle like bones made
of frost. Ocean quickly cooling, forest
filling up with glass, they met
in a time of plenty. In the brown and gray
of autumn, my heart bloomed red
and billowed out, so much leaping flame,
so much harvest moon. Ocean-mother,
father, city of trees, see yourselves
in me; the vast coming to rest
in the red of my breast feathers.
Deirdre scuffed her feet along the floor, watched her mother sniff the laundromat washing machines until she found one that agreed with her nose. Deirdre shifted in the metal chair, clutched the sides, wiggled. The place was small, smelled of old steel and soap, the floors a dappled tan, the walls an off-white like a tee-shirt washed in unfriendly colors. The Sunday morning sun filtered itself through the hazy windows, warmed the lazy tiles. The sterile smelling air riled up lint puffs and wandering dirt floaters. Deirdre stared at the television, but couldn’t hear the newscaster because of the grumble-thump grumble-thump of the machines.
The white noise and white walls filled Deirdre’s brain until she made low sounds that grew until her mother, Janie, shot her a wrist-yanking look.
“So bored,” Deirdre said. The laundry mat was never busy on Sunday, at least not when Deirdre came to help.
Janie opened the lip of the machine and went about her laundry business. Deirdre gazed at the whirling things, the silver winking at her. She leaned further and further, watching the swirl of colors, like an endless wild eye.
Janie unscrewed the cap on the detergent poured the blue soap until she measured out the right amount. Deirdre wasn’t allowed to help with the laundry anymore because she didn’t measure the right amount, just poured it out like pancake syrup and hoped for the best. Her mother had scooped the detergent out with her hand and the cup, wiped the sticky blue onto the hip of her jeans, muttered. She had told Deirdre to go sit.
Deirdre knocked her feet against the metal legs of the chair, then she hopped up and wandered towards the laundry soap dispensers.
“Deirdre,” Janie said.
“I’m just looking,” Deirdre said. Deirdre checked to see if her mother was looking at her—sometimes she swore her mother had an antennae hidden in her hair that told her wherever Deirdre was, whatever she was doing. She had looked for it once when her mother let Deirdre brush and braid her hair, but she didn’t find it. Maybe it curled into her skull like the radio antennae of their car before it snapped off.
Janie sighed and continued to load in her laundry. It was already separated into the right colors since Janie liked to keep things tidy. With three black garbage bags of clothes, with the red plastic ribbon looped into itself, with only six dryer sheets left, and half a bottle of laundry detergent, Janie had to be efficient. She thumped the lid down, selected her cycle, plunked in her quarters, and pressed start. She moved over to the dryer and scooped out their clean laundry, scooped a stray sock from the floor, glanced back to scold Deirdre for playing with the dispensers.
Deirdre froze, apologized, and scampered back to her seat. She watched a lady amble down the isle. The lady had a patterned dress on with thick legs that peered out like two flabby stumps. Her fullness pulled her dress out in different places, hips, thighs, bust. She waddled towards one of the washing machines, dragging two bags of laundry with her. Deirdre stifled a giggle when the woman leaned over to untie her laundry bag, her round butt cheeks pressing against the back of her dress, bumpy like batter.
The woman stared at the machine with a hunk of clothes in her hand. She put her clothing in and tried to start the machine. Her brow furrowed. She tipped her head to read the instructions.
“These darn machines,” the woman said. Janie glanced at the woman, gave her a once over, but did not help her, continued to fold their clothing, one little shirt and pair of jeans at a time.
The woman lumbered to a different machine after gathering up her clothes, and tried again.
Janie finished folding the laundry and placed it neatly in her blue laundry basket. She walked over to Deirdre and set the basket down, then sat next to her daughter. She stared at the television, then she asked Deirdre:
“Can you watch the laundry while I go wash the car?”
“Can I help?”
“No,” Janie said. “You’ll help me by watching the laundry.”
Deirdre watched her mother leave and said, “so boring.” She watched the fat woman glance around the room and then sat in the chair furthest from Deirdre. Deirdre stared at the woman, puffing her cheeks, and wondered what it was like to be so large. The woman looked at the girl, and Deirdre averted her eyes. The woman pulled a book from her purse and began to read. Deirdre leaned forward with her elbows on her knees, her hand against her face like a dark visor, and she tried to peek underneath her right palm at what the woman was reading, but all she could see was one pale thigh. The green-blue veins stretched across it and the skin sagged, rolled, adjusted itself in doughy mountains. Deirdre examined the woman’s leg from under her hand, and prodded her own thigh with the other.
Deirdre didn’t notice that the woman’s moon face swivel in her direction.
“Huh,” Deirdre said, she dropped her hand and felt heat whirl in her cheeks. Her heart bumped in her chest.
The woman stared at the girl, her eyes droopy, her brow tender, but her mouth was a plain, hurt line.
Deidre said, “sorry.” And she occupied herself by scraping her sneakers against the speckled floor, as though she were trying to scuff off the dapples in the tiles. She looked at the clean laundry through the laundry basket, wondered if her mother got rid of her spaghetti stain. She got up and wandered towards the laundromat door, peered out into the parking lot. There was a wooden fence and a machine for vacuuming the car. She opened the door and looked out, stretched her neck to the left, trying to spot her mother and their burgundy car.
She trotted outside and wandered towards the cement garages where the cars parked as the drivers washed their cars. There was her mother, scrubbing the car with a black squeegie in quick strokes that bubbled the dirt from their clunky car.
“Mama?” Deirde said.
“Deirdre, you get your little butt back inside,” Janie said.
“The woman’s in there.”
“And there’s a woman in here, too,” Janie said. “You should be more afraid of this one than that one.” She wagged the soapy brush at Deirdre, the soap splatting to the concrete. The machine began to beep and Janie rushed to it to deposit more quarters.
She watched her mother switch out washing brushes, then stood back as Janie sprayed the car, the water roaring off the metal. Deirde toed a curve of water, stayed to stare at the spray that bounced off the car and beaded in her mother’s hair. A tiny rainbow bloomed in the speckles of water, followed her mother to the other side of the car. Deirdre stepped towards her mother, ready to ask her how the water made the colors.
“Deirdre,” Janie said.
“Sorry,” Deirdre said. She padded back into the laundromat.
She knew her mother was going to vacuum the car, too, so she stood by the door to watch. Soon, their washer clicked off and Deirdre went over to it. She opened the lid and, standing on her tip toes, unloaded it into one of their laundry baskets. She kicked it to the dryers where she selected the one right next to their other laundry.
Her mother came back in, and paced to the empty washing machine to pour in their final load. Deirdre went back to her designated chair.
The bell chimed. A woman wandered in, hair orbiting her head. Her tie-dye sweater bagged over her, and her black leggings were torn at the calf. She was carrying a small bag of clothes, wiped her nose on her shoulder as she shuffled towards the machine next to Janie. The woman was so small, but Deirdre felt like she filled the whole room as both Janie and the moon-faced woman bristled and looked. Janie scrunched her top lip into her nose, tried to ease the displeasure from her face.
“M’am,” the woman said. “M’am?”
“Hrm?” Janie said.
“Could I…borrow some of your soap, m’am?”
“There’s a machine over there for that,” Janie said, and pointed towards the corner with the television.
The woman paused for a moment, made a sound, and moved over to the soap dispenser. Deidre watched her and as she passed, and sucked a wave of odor into her lungs. Deirdre covered her nose and mouth. Then she leaned over with her head near her knees.
Janie brought a basket of haphazard laundry towards Deirdre.
“Deirdre,” Janie hissed from between her gaped teeth as she set the laundry onto the chair next to her daughter. Deirdre had a basket beside her and a basket in from of her, so she felt cramped and stuck with the smell.
“What?” Deirdre said. She sat up and sniffed her lip into her nostrils. She stayed like that. Janie shook her head and began folding their clothes, her back to both of the other women in the laundromat.
The woman toyed with the detergent machine for a moment, before she faced the chairs.
“I’m sorry, m’am? Do you have some spare quarters?”
Janie didn’t look.
The woman next to Deirdre looked up from her book and said, “I might have some in my purse.” The woman set her book onto the seat next to her and grabbed her bag and dug through it. “I only have three, sorry.”
“That’s alright, m’am,” the pungent woman said.
The woman next to Deirdre paused for a moment, then extended the quarters towards the other woman.
“Thank you,” she said. She stood there, then she wandered towards the washing machines. She loaded her laundry into the machine, eyed Janie’s bottle of laundry detergent. She dug quarters from the bottom of her laundry bag and jingled them with the other three quarters.
“Why don’t you give her soap?” Deirdre asked.
Janie folded a shirt and set it into the basket of clean laundry.
The woman hovered over the machine, putting each piece of clothing into the machine, one at a time, glancing at them.
Janie continued to fold clothes.
Janie glared at Deirdre, her eyes wide enough to swallow her up like a washing machine and spin her round and round until all her talk-back washed out.
“We have soap,” Deirdre said to her mother.
“You spilled all of it out,” Janie snapped. She stiffened her jaw so much that her teeth fused into a white wall as she spoke.
“Not all of it,” Deirdre said. Her voice raised over the blend of the machine and television sound. Deirdre’s heart beat in her cheeks, and she could have sworn she heard steam hiss from her mother’s nose.
“Deirdre,” Janie said.
“I can do it,” Deirdre insisted. She took up the laundry soap bottle, but her mother grabbed her hand, wrist, yanked it from her grip, and snagged Deirdre’s hand in a scold-lock.
“Sorry,” Deirdre said.
Janie held Deirdre and said close to her face, “You’re making a scene.”
The moon-faced woman stared at them, and finally stood to waddle towards the woman, who thumped the lid shut to select her wash cycle and insert her quarters.
“I have a dollar if you want change,” the woman said. “For soap.”
Deirdre watched as the woman, as large as a celestial body in her patterned dress, pulled a dollar from her purse and offered it.
The other woman smoothed a hand on her tye-dye sweater and accepted the folded bill.
“Thank you, m’am,” she said. She stood with the dollar in hand, guarded her machine, looked around for a change dispenser. There wasn’t one.
Janie didn’t finish folding their clothes, and she scooped the last load of laundry out from the washer, wet, dark things that smelled clean.
“Grab the laundry,” Janie said to Deirdre, pointing to the second laundry basket. She bunched the garbage bags, twisted the plastic red around the bulge.
“Deirdre,” Janie said.
Deirdre did as she was told, but remained by her chair and stared at the bottle of laundry detergent.
“You didn’t finish,” Deirdre said.
“Car. Now,” Janie said.
Janie said, “I’m not going to say it again.” Then she strut out the laundromat, clutching the laundry basket like a shield.
“There should be a change machine down the street,” the moon-faced woman said.
“It’s fine, it’s fine,” replied the other.
“I can run you there, if you want.”
“It’s fine, it’s fine.”
Deirdre grabbed the laundry basket, and noticed the bottle of detergent, bullied between two chair legs from her scuffle with her mother. She smiled at the two women, who were busy talking, then made her way out of the laundromat. Deidre drank in the morning air and the cotton clean of their unfinished laundry.
Janie took the laundry basket from Deirdre when she approached and put it into the front seat. Deirdre climbed into the backseat, next to the other laundry basket, still warm from the dryer.
“I couldn’t be in there much longer,” Janie said. “That woman…” She sniffled, pulled on her seatbelt. Deirdre wondered which woman her mother was talking about. Janie started the car and pulled out of the parking lot. Deirdre played with the shape of the laundry basket handle, and waited until the car rattled far away from the laundromat.
“Mama,” she said. “You forgot the laundry soap.”
Janie banged the heel of her palm on the steering wheel. Silence.
His aftermath a riptide inside her
brewing in her veins
about to burst currents coursing
ripping her shreds
till she turned white as a ghost
paper-thin like torn up strips
los in oceans of beds
inside her head he resonates
but she cannot let him
will not let him drown