The Year of the Water Rooster

Once there was a girl. Slight undersized for her age, a girl who was clever and brave, who experienced her own periods of sadness, relatively longer than everyone else’s it seemed. She planted seeds in whatever vessels would work and sometimes they grew, other times not. She liked to be alone most of all, but allowed love to come in from time to time.

These moments usually ended quickly, and as the other person walked out she kept their ghost back, guiding it to the room where she kept the lot of them, feeding them thin milk and old bread; not enough to starve them but enough to keep them around. Ghosts get hungry, you see. They would nibble at her fingers, begging for more food, more more always more. Something to stop the deep bellyache of sustaining oneself on scraps.

Ghosts do not die; she learned quickly. The more she smiles with you, the louder they groan. The more you hunger, the more watching someone eat hurts.

“You missed me?” She asks one day, when you’re lying in bed together. You’d just got home, laid down on the sheets in your clothes next to her. “Of course I missed you.” A hand on your mouth. “You love me?” She wants to feel the words when you say: “Yeah, I love you. You know that.”

That was how she started feeding the ghosts. Bits of green tomato, eggshells, pits. The more you held her the fuller she was, the more she left for them. They stopped begging and she stopped listening to them. The whole house slept at night.

Time passed. The quiet was taken for granted, as if it had always been there. The plants were blooming out of all the containers she had collected, greenness warping through old cassette players, radios, glasses. Everything became sacrosanct; the plants, growing for her, the ghosts gone silent, for her, you being there, it was for her. All up to the day when she came home to an empty house, full of crying chis. And she knew it would never be quiet again.

She kept feeding the ghosts. She wanted to starve yours but it just wouldn’t die. Ghosts do not die. Ghosts do not die, and when you played with the others she left you alone. Her life never stopped because you were crying for attention. Her life was just the same, only without you in it—or you were in it, but not the way she wanted. The memory of you followed her, tethered somewhere deep and unreachable.

One day she got tired of feeding when you called. She ripped the brass knob off the door and threw it in the garden. “You want the house,” she asked you all, “then take it,” and sat back down in her chair to finish the tea. At first the ghosts all stood there, wary of new freedom. One by one they left the room, stood in the hall, looked out the windows. A great cry rose up: they ran, gleefully terrifying the cat, smashing plates, hanging from chandeliers. She finished her tea. Got up to wash the dishes.

The ghosts followed, pulling at her hair, try to trip her, screaming at her ankles, at every part of her. She let them scream. “Get it all out now,” she said, “you won’t get another chance.”

So they did.  She left; to go to work, go to the store, go out and experience a life other than the howling loneliness at home. When she returned, the door wouldn’t open.

“This is my home. Let me in.”

The lights were out; windows, door, house, all locked.

“This is my home, too. Let me in.”

She sat outside all night. She wouldn’t leave. When dawn broke, the door opened. Your ghost was there in the doorway; your ghost was sorry. But that’s not enough; she shouldn’t have to forgive you. But she did.

The others were not as kind. Her home was unkempt, a mess save for the green that was spared. They were still howling all hours, howling until finally they began to quiet down. Ghosts can’t keep screaming all night. Well, actually they can, they do, but this particular group lacked the sense of righteousness needed for such a feat.

So they put the house back in order: one would hold up a shattered plate and another would find the other pieces, until everything was righted. While the spirits cleaned, she left for a bath. She saw her stomach in the water for the first time, clear and warm. When she got out, a ghost from years ago held out a towel.

Life when on is an interesting thing. The ghosts were out of the room now; she never put them back in. It was more peaceful than the screaming. She thought: better to let them roam than to keep them in.

Once there was a girl. She’s still there with the ghosts. They tend to the greenness, they keep the house full, they play with the cat. Some nights they are restless, some nights another one joins them, but they are always there, and she will always keep them. They all live in a kind of harmony: a girl, her ghosts, and yours.

5. Titan Southern Polar Ice Cloud

Scientists found another cloud on Titan; a monster in the active weather. They’re talking about the rich, gaseous filling between the void and substance. They’re talking about body.

Your skin was always so clear, save for that red line on the back of your hand. The blue ring around the planet that provides definition against nothingness. The empty fireplace, full of wood.

I stuck my hands under the tap—the cold one. I was trying to coerce feeling back into them. I made fists, but nothing worked until the water warmed up, turning them raw.

I swept the ashes out of the grate. You were lying on the sofa, barefoot and wanting for something neither of us had a name for. When I touched your heel, it felt like cold water. There was a moth flying around, touching our lights, so I took it by the wings and let it outside. You wanted to crush it; you never did like animals.

Braiding blades of grass, stringing the daisies along. You wrap it around my finger, add me to the chain. I’m not sure I mind. I don’t think I do.

What days are you freest in the evenings? I’d imagine it would be when it’s clear out, and warm enough to sit outside. That’s always when you’re here. Where do you go when you’re not around? Nevermind. It’s none of my business.

So, what happens now? We see other people. It can’t be helped; that’s just how we are. You were lying on the sofa, barefoot, with your legs over mine. I don’t think about what happens when they’re not. I just don’t. And you never ask and I never say yes. I never say that within all this laundry I did for you, there are things that aren’t yours mixed in.

One day you came in from the rain. I opened the door and let you in. You were lying on the sofa, barefoot and smoking right down to the filter. I put your clothes in the dryer, tossed the whole pile on you when it was done. You laughed. Your toes curled. I thought you would throw it off once it got cold, but you kept laying there under it all, arm extended as the lit ember kept on going. You never burn your fingers; you always get away with being just dangerous enough.

Titan is a moon. Had I told you that? It orbits around a larger body, apart from the rings of Saturn. Apart from us, it is the only one to have a stable body of water. It is an egg yolk turning around against the black velvet vacuous nothing. In certain light, it looks like us. Its clouds look like ours. The soil there is rendered uninhabitable. We’ll never call it ours, as much as we’d like to.

When they talk of the monster cloud, they’re talking about substance. They’re talking about body. You always had a little of each, and I was always in the middle.

the girl who owned the void

The antlers went clear through your chest. It’s not so bad; you were the one being hunted after all. There is no more fun inside of you, it’s all tumors these days. And that’s not what you wanted. Who would? The body and the memory of the body. You’re at the big glass table with so many envelopes. This was the first year without any valentines, for you or from you.

There is something sticking to your ribs. There is something in there, and you can’t get it out. You tried with the fishhooks, or was it the top of that fence? You told me it just missed your heart, and now you have a hole where the fatty remnant leaks through. Is she a she at all?

So, okay, you’ve changed a little. That’s fine. Okay, maybe you don’t wash your hair as much as you used to. Maybe you wear the same clothes all the time. Maybe you can’t sleep. Okay. That’s okay. It just didn’t work out very well. That’s fine.

I tried substituting something for a feeling that wasn’t so condensed. It was lacking; not quite as filling, of course. But it’s supposed to sustain me longer. I don’t know. I’m not really feeling anything. What’s going on with you?

The grinds keep getting in. Acids constrict the cells of the meat, break it down. You don’t want that. Last time we spoke, you didn’t want that. I mean, you said you didn’t. I don’t actually know what you want and that’s really the problem. I want you to know everything I know.

You are the blue curtain and I am the light trying to shine through. The fabric of space and time always bends when you’re added to it, and you follow the curve that you created simply because nothing else in the universe stops you. And since you’re there, you know what happens? The light bends around you, because you’re there. So even if I could get to you, it would always go around. Around, around. Always around.

the brightest restaurant in all the world

In the benign lights is pollution, but not so much so that you could not see Orion perfectly out the window. There is the spear, there the dagger, there the head of the god, always wanting what he could never have; first the women then the doves then the stars. Always following those stars through the winter and infinity.  Their catasterism was his undoing, and, unable to let them go, he followed them up.

So many empty boxes, so much food left uneaten.

The brightest restaurant in all the world, garnishing the night. I can’t stop dropping my things. I can’t stop drinking the water that always comes back. I could call that nervousness but that’s not quite right. I’ve been here for years, I’m renewing the lease.

I keep burning the roof of my mouth. I don’t know how to stop. The worst thing is having ambition and nothing to do with it as it devalues and everyone has a garland around them, except yours isn’t so full, isn’t so flourishing because you don’t water it often. It’s your own fault, you keep drinking the water but you don’t ever save it. Are you getting the most out of your water? Are you sure? I’ve got all these keys on the ring; we can leave now if you want to.

So you go to other houses, and see how they live. They all have skylights; they all live greener than you. It’s not so much jealousy but its kin, a kind of notion that maybe you could live like that if you did things differently. You’re always walking with skates on. Make sure to lace the back so you don’t hurt your ankles; at least then you could keep walking.

The brightest restaurant in all the world is full of mirrors. Mirrors so the waiters see around you, mirrors so it looks bigger, mirrors so you can see yourself wherever you look, and that’s not quite unpleasant so much as unsettling. The soap in the bathroom was making me sick so I had to stop using it and everyone takes off their coats, but I didn’t bring one. I let my scarf fall off the chair until I pile it in my lap. I can’t eat much anymore; I’m not finding as many stains. So that’s the silver lining, the thing that burnishes the garland around my neck. The silver pin holding it all in place.

At least it’s warm in here. At least I have someone I love. The rest doesn’t matter so much to me. The garland can grow if I can care for it in the brightest restaurant in all the world. Isn’t that crazy? I sat in the brightest restaurant in all the world.

invite your soul abundant

A bite of red apple. The river is a sliver silver chain in the sun, but up close are imperfections. I’m not allowed to take much citrus with me. A lonely lovely warbling trumpet and the oncoming clouds, dark and woolly. In the winter it’s all grey and high winds. Not a lot of green, or it’s artificial, or it just doesn’t feel right. My feet are always cold, and people keep getting black thumbs; pocketmarks of poor circulation; I didn’t want you to know about it.

Back into the clouds we go. The river’s damn near frozen, but people are fishing anyways. Of course they’re going to fall through, ice can be thin like that. I sat alone again. It’s okay; I don’t know. You are becoming the person you were going to be 24 hours ago. You can stand up you know, but keep the belt on.

greenpool

I face outwards onto a pool, now a viridian green, darkening with infertile pollen. The green that you dye eggs in. Deepwater green. Openwater green.

There is a monster somewhere across from me. I hear him screaming some afternoons. I imagine he finds his mother in the matted clot waiting outside to walk their children home from the bus stop. She’s holding his younger brother,  the one who looks up to him, and fears him. A lot of women here wear jewel-colored robes. I’ve never spoken to them, but I like to sit on the steps and watch them. They walk like tendrils of smoke in a still and breezeless room.

The boy walks home with his mother. She wants to hold his hand but he’s getting too old for that. He shakes her off, dismisses her. Maybe she smiles in secret amusement, tickled by her boy trying to be more of a man. He’s not so old—seven perhaps, or nine. Old enough to command authority in his group. She makes him take his shoes off when they get inside. His father isn’t home, so he doesn’t listen, and kicks them hastily into the cubby. The other brother toes his sandals off and places his shoes down as one would with an injured bird into its nest. He still holds her hand. When she walks around, she smells green, like leaves, like mint.

They have a dog. The younger brother digs a hand into the fur at its back and buries his face in its neck. It smells copper, like dirt, like salt; the acidic yellow in a pineapple. The dog doesn’t push him away. The dog does not leave.
So she moves to hold the older son’s hand, but he shrinks away. Maybe she smiles, but maybe she flinches. Her son is growing. Doesn’t need his mother anymore. He wants blood and scraped knees now.

After their homework is finished but before dinner, she lets them go outside. A group of boys plays soccer near the pool nearly every evening. I can hear the shouting from my window, but I keep it open; noise is good for the plants. Even when it’s been raining they play, everything from the mud to the pool to their shirts weighed down with rain.

I was reading on the history of the house. Hantha is Peruvian term for the edibility of a potato. The Aztecs mashed amaranth with blood for human sacrifice and so terrified the first conquistadores by their perceived cruelty into calling them pigs. Vasco de Gama looted and burned a Muslim ship, carrying men, women, and children. And he called the Aztecs pigs for their inhumanity.

I was reading on the history of the house. The screen door was between me and that slowly turning pool, growing heavier and darker by the day. Outside, nothing but crickets and dry grass. Boys waiting to play soccer, killing time. I would imagine that the amaranth-blood dish would have the consistency of adequately-mashed oatmeal. Dry stalks of baked wheat, soaking up blood into a mush. Maybe it is this sudden bloody thought that caused it all. Maybe it was a moment of violence in the air, a chord struck somewhere behind it all, then left to pass through us.

A boy, screaming loudly in a quick, high-pitched language. Screaming just on the edge of pubescence, an inhumanly different sound. Strained as high as he can go, and angry. Then, in English: “I will whip you! Whip you!”
I haven’t heard from the monster since then, but his mother has; he’s being punished. Or his friends, shocked by his outburst, play without him. Either way he’s been quiet.

I see the younger brother; I saw him last night when I was watering my plants, murmuring sweet nothings to them so they could grow. He was near the pool, crouched down over the pavement. Trucks and small cars littered the ground around him, he like a pint-sized Godzilla hell-bent on destroying the city’s transportation system. And for all the time he was out there, he played alone.

His brother wants nothing to do with him anymore. Even worse than the quiet was the yelling; the screaming, the threat of the punishment that was so constantly held above their heads. Or maybe neither parent can look into their sons’ eyes and beat them. Perhaps this is why the older one craves violence so much, why he kicks other boys in the shins when they play soccer, why he goes to the idea of a whip to scare his friends. A whip collects its fury as it draws back, before it comes down.

The mother who smells like leaves walks with her youngest son, and she holds his hand. There’s a little garden patch that’s overgrown and pale from the winter. They weed together. She tells him which plant is what, passes their names onto him. Her shawl is blood red. Spilt blood in the family. Or simply another rose in the garden. Their little plot of land grows greener with each passing day.

I was walking earlier today, and a couple was parting in front of me. I moved to go around, but they kissed and separated, and I walked right through that dissolving moment. Perpetual motion pushed me through, the residue web-like in its refusal to pass without clinging.

In the distance, thunder.

The pool is getting clearer and clearer. The green is in recession, the color bleeding out into the little garden patch beside it. It’s a milky translucent green now, almost like the kind you see on postcards of tropical islands. I suppose this is the water that separates us all, after all. All of us on our little islands. I wonder if the mother will let her sons swim when it gets warm enough. I wonder if the monster will make another appearance. Something tells me that he will.

Crossing into Albany over the River

It’s only just started to snow past Poughkeepsie. The conductor says take a walk, take a smoke, take ten minutes, but no more. The dining car is closed. Crossing over the Hudson, the Basques take over, and then chemise a la Reine, then the bones of our ancestors. OrlandoEthan Frome. Scraggly woods which promise wolves, past the snowy mists. Splashes of red down in the ditch, like blood, like cell clusters mounting the tributary arteries; wheat follicles line the face of another world.

Deep in the snow, black waters trudge on unimpeded yet slowly, with the viscosity of sludge, carrying winter within it. In that way we are the same. People tend not to consider bears; wolves — the threat of packs and coordinated attack — seem far worse and more eminent than a lumbering, engorged, large-eyed beast. But it can run. It has claws. Weight behind power, instead of agility.

In the white wild, there is the body, there is the big red machine, a warm heart pumping blood in the cold. The tassels of the pines must survive in the wind and snow, a faint plumage to brighten the dead, stripped of all but the internal life preserved in syrup and sap. Pikes find themselves stacked into coherence, shapes we recognize; placed before their dormant brethren, spared in place of uselessness, too thin, too unsubstantiated; too uncontrolled. Always a capacity for ignorance.

If you run your tongue over the roof of your mouth, it feels like waves. Bare trees offer blooded cones; the water churns with river silt and sand, gravid with ice, while upstream a ways the water steams in the cold air. All dormant, a natural gestation until the spring, so you can come back renewed. The big red machine, churning onwards.