"Exodus Return," from Alone Together, Children’s Hospital
(Sacred Bones Records)
"Exodus Return," from Alone Together, Children’s Hospital
The sun after summer does not say goodbye or otherwise indicate that it is leaving. It certainly does not ask you if you would like anything else before it goes.
I am thinking about that now, in this cold car in this cold parking lot, because I know I do the same thing: After the party, after the bar where the people have gathered to drink, after the show with the guitar player who just needs and needs and needs, and after the rooms with the walls where the paintings of the photographs are hung and admired. I just go.
Earlier, at the long crowded table under the bullshit chandelier in the big deal restaurant in the quiet city by the water, I had passed the ceramic dish of pink salt and said something about this winter damp that blows as if through a wet flute down the chimney and covers me in webs of unrest. The woman next to me said “I don’t think Lorazepam works for that but I have one if you’d like to try it.” And she said she wasn’t going to finish the thick red juice in her tall stemmed glass or the icy rocks that melted into her amber spirits. I took one of each and I felt the hole in my breast start to fill up with a soft, white material so I put down my napkin and left.
The way the day leaves after it thoroughly breaks the night, the way night leaves after you sleep through its last lesson.
And so here I am, black wool trousers made in Milan between my flesh and the leather seat of a two-door sedan idling in stall #22 under the high pressure sodium light bulb of a street light set to “Blinding.”
Stuck the way a shot bird is stuck in a foggy moor. Wounded and dreamy. Waiting for a hunter or for heaven. Or god knows what else.
Between one leave-taking and the next.
Cupped hands around my mouth, hot breath as if through a flute on fire. It doesn’t work—or rather it works in the most fleeting way so that all I can do is inhale and exhale, inhale and exhale until the tired engine is awake enough to push warm air through the opened vents set to “Blow it all to hell.”
Inside the restaurant the woman at the table thinks she did the wrong thing and the man across from her thinks I did the wrong thing and between all of the rest of them no one else has even noticed that I’m gone.
Everyone goes home wondering what their friends said about them when they weren’t around to hear it.
But not the sun in summer. Not the day. And not the night. Not me. We go home thinking, “I am a shot bird, dreaming.”
You want it to be over but it’s not over. You want it to be good but it’s not good. You want it to be the same as it was but it’s different.
You want to go back to the time before the time before, but the system is flawed. The system does not go in reverse.
That which is cut out cannot be reintegrated. That which is stolen cannot be given back. That which is traded for services rendered cannot be returned for cash or store credit.
That was then and this is now.
The colors are dull after the rain. The sounds are empty in the aftermath hours. The streets are flooded but the soil is dry.
And this life, the one you found on the floor next to the bed when you woke up this morning, is all you’ve got.
We awake in damp bathing suits unsure how we got from the lake to the tent, from the tent to the sleeping bags.
Outside there is a fire, the smell of warmth and a Coleman stove.
And then we’re standing with bare feet on pine needle carpet in thin cotton layers over synthetic straps. There is a light mist, there is always a light mist. There is powdered hot chocolate and there are Saltine crackers. There are always Saltine crackers.
There is a blue tarp stretched until it pulls from one corner of the sky to another. There is a picnic bench but this is not a picnic. There are beach chairs but this is not the beach. We do not go inside the trailer because going inside the trailer is giving up. Going inside the trailer is giving in.
There are hooded sweatshirts and a deck of symbols with Kings and Queens and the back of a pickup truck covered by a canopy. There is a green mile and another green mile and then another. Green mile. There is a battery-run lamp at noon, casting a dim gold light. It’s useful. It is a waste.
And then, a snap of thunder near the hills that surround the mountain that gutted this lake valley we’re in. And then a roll. And then a hard, heavy rain that makes in the blue tarp a suspended body of water, an ocean at the top of the trees.
And then it stops, and a final crack breaks the clouds and forces an opening where the sun had been waiting, as it turns out, all along.
We take the motorbikes, there are always motorbikes, two by two, down to where the edge and the water meet. With the suits still against our bodies we wear old jeans and helmets and boots. Helmets and boots as if helmets and boots might protect us. Holding tight to the one in front, we follow the shore to the road, the road to the climb, the climb to the top to where we stare down at what we left below.
And then we’re on the downhill, closer than we have ever been before. The damp space between us not a space at all. At no time could we ever name what we are feeling. At no time are we ever aware of what we’re feeling.
Later we will wonder why no one ever wondered where we were. Later we will notice cuts and scrapes because despite the protection, we were not protected. Not really. Despite holding on tightly, we still let go.
And afterward, later than that, we will finally take off the bathing clothes and hang the costumes from tree branches, but the rain will come once more and so we will drive home to houses thick with emptiness holding synthetic straps still wet from the last day of summer.
Unsure how we got from the light to the dark. Unsure how to cover ourselves from there on out.
The voice from the back room calls dusty and chalky. It calls needful and lonely. It calls for water, warmth, company, and television. It calls with the restlessness of youth and the hollow of the ancient. It’s power is a rattle that burns a little around at the edges.
The voice is the father’s; power is elemental.
The voice in the day light hours is quiet. Soft, easy. The voice in the daylight hours is hardly even a voice at all. In the day light hours it is taken out into the cool sunshine and let to rest a while.
The voice is tucked under a wool blanket near the white fence.
The sisters take him there. While he closes his eyes they mend holes in nets, wind wool around wood, draft messages for the village. Together they are most comfortable at the fence between the seasons. Between the dry season and the wet season. Between giving and taking.
The voice in the dark is a spider. It crawls slowly from corners. From deep and hollow pockets behind the bed posts. It is not comfortable at all.
The voice in the dark is another form of darkness.
Sister, what is the remedy for blood loss? Sister, brew the black berries from the Mulberry. Sister, close the window. Bar the door.
(Power, like time, has shifted, changed hands, changed meaning, lost meaning. It has revealed its true self and its true self is little more than a layer between two languages; the language of giving and the language of taking away.)
In the darkness the sisters listen from down the hall in a room with a rocking chair and a fireplace. The proverbial rocking chair, the proverbial fireplace. And adjacent: the proverbial pot on the stove, the proverbial bones in the proverbial soup. The proverbial salt, water, and onion.
The proverbial peeling away of layers. The proverbial tears.
The darkness is a difficulty that no one wants to claim. The father belongs to the voice at the fence. In the light. Hearing him there is a power, the power of the layers between languages and seasons. Of giving and taking away. Of years the family cannot bear the weight of, and days that are even heavier.
(A layer is a line to cross. A voice is a fence to picket. Time is a season. Age is a language. The spider has the power to tell the story. The story has the power of meaning. Meaning has no power at all.)
Close the window. Bar the door. Tell me the difference between light and dark.
Three posters produced in conjunction with a zine (see Widow of 100 Days below) for Vigil, curated by Sierra Stinson and others, at Love City Love in Seattle on Thursday August 29, 2013. Images by Erin Sullivan.
Now, on the 100th day as the shock goes static and the burden of normalcy sits down at the breakfast table, the widow becomes a vessel for emptiness. A carrier of absence. An intermediary of the lack.
In the service of this nothing she is free from herself. She has no currency, she knows no language, she cannot feel the cool of the morning on her skin. She hears the clouds break and is nearly blinded by the echo of bird wings, but insofar as she is inside her body she is inside her body like a caught firefly. A dimly lighted bug contained in a jar.
While shuttering the blinds to the afternoon sun, she has visions of the grass by the rose garden catching fire. Of fire becoming one with the sunshine. Of batting at flames with apple tree branches and evergreen boughs. Of batting at the sun. In the garden she is black, at the tree line she is a childless mother. On the stairs she ties rocks to other rocks and leaves no warning at the false front door.
She will give them their messages. She will pass along their middle names, their bone mass, and the specific velocity of their blood. She will burn their memories with the wasted harvest and after the land goes fallow for one year it will swallow their need and grow riches again and no one will be hungry.
There are seconds, and the seconds make moments, and at the end of the 100th day there will be a pile of moments in the shape of a fable but the widow will be unable to tell you how the fable ends.
[This story appears in a one-page fold-out zine made in collaboration with Erin Sullivan in an edition of 50. There are also three related 11 x 17 posters in editions of 10 each in this series. These items were available at Vigil, curated by Sierra Stinson and others, at Love City Love on Thursday August 29, 2013.]
Dust, a photocopied picture storybook based on a 70s-era coffee-table picture storybook that Erin Sullivan and I assembled on a whim in or around 2002. Produced (reproduced) in June, 2013. Edition of 20 or so. Free; send self-addressed stamped envelope.
The women at the dinner party were dark and pretty. They all had long hair that they piled loosely on one shoulder. All on the same shoulder, the right shoulder. They had tan skin, they didn’t need any makeup.
The one sitting on the arm of the chair was saying she walked three miles to and from work each day that past winter. She said the hills were unforgiving and it rained everyday, and the city reminded her of Scotland. Or she might have said San Francisco. She said there was so much rain that the pleats in her pleated silk skirt fell out.
In the center of one of the tables was a tall glass vase holding three long tiger lily stems. The truth about lilies, particularly the white ones, is that their fragrance makes me nauseous. But everyone else seems to really enjoy them.
The women at the party wore comfortable but complicated clothing. For one it was fitted, double-faced satin, for one it was cream-colored linen in the shape of a bag that had grown legs. The women at the party were blonde and brunette and shades of gray with eyes from lapis to moss to earth to moon but they were each, to me, in some way or another, dark.
Three in the kitchen lit candles and carried them into the bedroom one by one. One by the stereo opened a bottle of Champagne, another one poured it. The rest were on the couch in the mist, in the middle of things.
Together there were nine of us and what I was thinking was how we might look and where we might be forty years from then, and forty years from that. I was nodding and answering and laughing and agreeing and disagreeing and drinking Champagne and eating Spanish cheese but really I was looking at the women at the dinner party and thinking of this one at 63, that one at 72, the other at 99. At anyone aged 113.
And then there was a different one on the chair arm and she was saying she had moved back west to be here for the one who was there for everyone else, only now all of them were gone and frankly, she was over it. She said she was finished with it, that time on earth is time on earth.
I imagined that the women at the dinner party might each have her favorite scarf, her favorite cologne, her favorite gloves, her favorite lipstick in the top drawer of the dresser in her bedroom. And I imagined that they might well have those things there, in those exact places, for the next forty years so that when some young woman, one who isn’t at this party; one who isnt even born yet, comes to open her aunt’s belongings and claim them as her own, she will find the wood underneath them carved by time and weight into shapes like spoons for what each is holding.
That she’ll think she knows what the women at the party looked like, with their hair piled loosely and drops of jasmine at their necks.
"So much rain that the pleats in my pleated skirt fell right out."
"Time on earth is time on earth."
But what I’ve learned is that you can’t place too much importance on what you think you hear at dinner parties. Or what you find under the weight of habits. People do it—on city buses the same as they do in cocktail hours and family attics—and they often believe they’ve alighted on some larger truth. If you stay a little longer and listen a little more carefully however, the thing you thought was so prescient and golden is, more often than not, just a loose thread in an open weave.