I found you
I lost/found and surround you.
The sound of you
The childless mothers were asked to meet in the tall grass next to the river. The river next to trees, the trees in the shadow of the foothills. The foothills adjacent to the mountain, the mountain the reason they’re there.
One by one the childless mothers took off their shirts to reveal where they were healing. Each wound closed by metal sutures, each suture coaxing the scar tissue. The scar tissue a forgetting, the forgetting a dam to staunch the flow. The flow a sort of bitter sweetness. A regret, a longing, a calm content. A knowing. Most of all: a knowing.
There was an elder who held the fire, the fire a symbol of life. Life, the bringer of death.
The elder with the fire closed her eyes and traced a large circle around the childless mothers. The circle the thing that separated the women from the field of tall grass that buttressed the river which fed the birch trees that waved to the foothills like, “Here”.
This is here. We are here. We are here, here, here.
The large circle described the women inside it: many, together, alone, open, closed, empty, full, inside.
Most of all: empty.
The elder with the fire lit the grass outside the circle. The fire outside warmed the mothers inside; the mothers inside only really mothers inside. Only mothers underneath, where the knowing is a thing that runs more wild than the river, the river a thing that describes the child.
Their stomachs were hollowed, their breasts were heavy, their skin was hot, their scars were forming. There. Right there. Cell upon cell upon cell upon cell.
A cell a thing with walls, not unlike a prison. A prison cell.
Upon cell upon cell upon cell.
Each childless mother a prison. A cell. A solitary confinement. A thing with walls. And a fire.
Fire a symbol of life; life, the bringer of death.
First you must get to the coast. The bay won’t work. The sound is too shallow. Coves are insufficient. Harbors, estuaries, inlets, gulfs, fjords: these too are unqualified for research such as this.
You will need to stand at the edge of the ocean three times: very early in the morning, at or near the middle of the day when the sun is high, and in the moonlight. For this reason, it is necessary to rent a room as near the salt spray as possible. One night will suffice. You may visit the edge on that night, and again the next morning, and then once more before you leave to go back from where you came.
The room should be plain, inexpensive, and without distractions. The room is for resting and bathing, and for waiting. The room is where the balance of the truth you seek you will find you.
Some will suppose that this exercise is best carried out on the new moon or the full moon, but the moon’s cycle is inconsequential in this instance. As is the legibility of the sun. Regardless of what you can perceive, the planets will be there with you at the edge of the ocean.
That’s the first thing you will know.
The other things you will know when you stand at the edge of the ocean are as follows:
But you must not expect to know these things as the tide pulls the sand and changes the curvilinear shore from this vaguely recognizable outline to that. Do not expect to know them when the wind picks up one end of your loosely wrapped scarf and whips the cloth from your body. Do not hold some back-pocket expectation that if you pretend to give up, if you make a show of finally turning from the terrible, vast nothing of the ocean, the true things will float like gulls on the airstream into your terrible, vast unknowing and alter everything they find there. Do not expect.
All the things that come to you will come to you only in short-order hindsight. In the room you have rented. While washing your hands in water that will not run warm. Under the hum of a mandatory ceiling fan. When muddy coffee drips from a plastic drum. When the unplugged television flashes in the early morning with a gray-pink light and the melody of the only song you know all the words to comes to life in the silence before you realize it’s just a lousy muffler, and an old car with an AM radio, and a nearby parking lot in a small town near a big ocean outside your window.
And the window is not even your window. And you do not really like that song.
Still. You will be open to all of the true things in the world just then. You will see them in the cloud of that undoing. You will taste them as if they just touched your lips. You will hear them rattle before they drive away.
Reach out, make two opposing cups of your hands, and hold it all loosely. Carefully the, zip it into the pack that holds your extra sweater. Drive home now and later, tell yourself that you learned what you know at the edge of the ocean.
It begins before any of it starts. It begins in how you ask for it. It begins because you ask for it. You say why don’t we? Yes now. We won’t be long. We’ll be quick. Smile when you say that. As though you said something clever.
Be the first one to unbutton or otherwise remove an item, but only one item at first, and then when you are wearing something pretty and secretive and rare—then, when you are wearing almost nothing, steal out of the room for a glass of water or a candlestick or under the guise of putting a record on. Do this in an effort to be seen.
Now, if the room is warm and it’s comfortable to be there inside it, make time into an elastic band and then take the elastic band and stretch it the length of an outstretched arm through your chest down your thigh and into your toes. Do it gently. Stretch here with all of the laziness and luxury you can muster. It isn’t a tired stretch or a runner’s stretch or the stretch of muscles that are burning or sore, it is a unnecessary lengthening, a drawing out. It is meant to paint a picture about couldn’t-care-less; about ease and something that isn’t unlike a type of positive boredom. It’s a movement of confidence and nonchalance, because if you can look as though you believe in everything and nothing, you can believe in everything and nothing. And everything and nothing is what you came here to do.
Above all, do not be bothered by time or what will happen next, but around this point in the exercise, you will need to take steps to move the action along. Here, now, remove whatever covers your partner. Hold the part that needs holding. Touch the things that are not usually touched.
Begin to use more of your body and less of your mind. Reach into the place that is thinking and draw the curtains, bar the door. Turn the lights down inside there and as you do that, turn up the part of you that has connected with the part of the other. Turn the part of you so that it turns the part of them and let the movement that you make together be like a song played backward on a German phonograph at the wrong speed.
The song should have a verse and chorus and a verse and a chorus. It should have a rhythm that is like that rhythm that everyone in every village by every river under every sun is born knowing. Play this song, backwards, with the obvious parts—the bone in your hip and the strength of your drawn up shoulders—but sound the instrument of your elbow, sound the instrument with the back of your knee.
Whether or not you feel the end of the song coming, sing louder when it is time for the song to end. Refer back: confidence and nonchalance. You must believe in everything and nothing. You must believe in the ending even when you have no evidence that the end is near because the secret of the end is that it will not come until you call it home.
But when you do call home—perfectly with pitch and tone and verse and chorus and the delicate bow of a lover’s arch, you will know: The ending never really ends. Not as long as you can hear the message in the backwards singing and the rhythm of the multilingual supine hum. Not as long as <em>you</em> started it. Not as long as you keep believing, not as long as you keep playing along.
At the party there was a woman telling a man that she was making tee-shirts. “But everyone’s making tee-shirts. It’s so boring.”
"Everyone’s not making tee-shirts. Everyone’s in a band. How do you think I think I feel?"
Everyone at the party was in a band. No one except the woman was making tee-shirts.
The woman who made the tee-shirts found the bathroom. When she didn’t know what else to do, she found the bathroom. The woman was not sure if this was something that everyone did; this thing of finding the most private yet public room in the house and locking the door and looking in the medicine cabinet and sitting on the edge of the bathtub and trying the different lip glosses and nail polishes and aftershaves until it felt like something changed and she was ready for the party or the party was ready for her.
But that was what she did and that was what she was doing when someone knocked on the door and twisted the knob—not in a forceful or impatient way, but just in the way that anyone does when they have reason to believe that they can proceed.
Instead of standing up and assuming the role of a person who had been using the bathroom in the customary way, the woman reached up and turned the doorknob so that it freed itself from the jamb and swung open. The woman sat back down on the edge of the tub, a bottle of Revlon lacquer labeled Juicy Fruit in one hand, two painted fingers on the other.
"Oh. Hi. I’m sorry. I didn’t know anyone was in here."
"No, it’s fine. I’m not really in here — I mean … I’m just… I’m just leaving now." The woman took the bottle of color, smiled, and slipped past the second woman and down the hall to the top of the stairs where a mirrored panel met a corner and another door to another room.
The woman who made the tee-shirts sat down and began, awkwardly, to paint the fingers of her other hand, the hand that was more comfortable doing the painting. The woman who made the tee-shirts was thinking about the woman in the bathroom. She looked familiar. From another party? From a coffee shop? From the bus stop? The bar where she had been the night before?
From someone’s band?
The woman who made the tee-shirts had arrived at the party with her boyfriend, but she did know where her boyfriend was and she was not going to look for him. Not because she didn’t want to be with him but because each typically fared better at parties on their own. Hanging out together didn’t make very much sense. They could do that at home.
By the time she was finished dragging the borrowed color across all five fingers, the woman who had found her in the bathroom finished her turn there. She emerged from privacy still tucking a white cotton shirt into pale, faded denim. When she saw the woman there at the top of the stairs near the mirror that cornered the door, she stopped, startled, and smiled. And then she sat down next to her.
"Is someone going to play in the basement later?"
"I think so. Devon’s band."
"That’s a good color."
The woman who made the tee-shirts passed the bottle to the woman from the bathroom. The woman from the bathroom opened the bottle and leaned against the wall.
The house was old. One of those grand old houses that had once been cut up into formal dining rooms and servants quarters but was now cut up into kitchens that no one cooked in and bedrooms without proper closets where people in bands slept with people who waited on tables.
The house was one of those formerly grand old houses that was now dank and carpeted and sagging. The people who lived in these houses did not appreciate the original crown molding. Did not, in fact, even notice that it was there.
The kitchen and the keg was directly beneath the women with the painted nails; if they followed the stairs they sat at the top of, they would, after 13 steps that twisted slowly to the left, open a door that faced the never-used oven and about 20 or 30 men and women and boys and girls they each knew or pretended to know or half-knew in the way that people of the same age with the same interests in the same small city all “know” each other.
And this was precisely why the women stayed there, at the top of the stairs where no one knew anyone in the very best way.