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Pissarro Family Legend

We are allowed to love ourselves.

We are allowed to show up. We are allowed to take the compliment even when we fall short of our own standards.

We are allowed to determine the standards.

We are allowed to talk about how hard it is to love ourselves. We are allowed to enjoy our own simple company. We are allowed to release our grip. To revel in the small days. To have just one or two good friends.

We are allowed to think of our family, whatever its shape, as worthy of a crest.

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visitor for bear door

Little holes in the bag of rice gave it away. Three and half years living in this place, and here was the first sign of uninvited guests. On our next trip to town, we stopped at the hardware store for traps. Despite Bug’s insistence that we buy the $39 ultrasonic pest repeller, I opted for Tomcat traps. A four-pack for four bucks.

We smeared on peanut butter and tucked it into the cabinet corner. The next morning, we heard a snap. Big brown eyes, white fuzzy belly, limp broken body. “Oh, he’s so cute,” Bug said sadly. Into the weekday rush we crammed this death. We shrank it down to fit. School, work, a morning meeting and already late. I dumped the trap, mouse and all, into the garbage. Another dab of peanut butter on a clean trap, and off we hustled into our overfull day.

On the drive to school, regret hit hard.

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Creeping Crawl

The plants are multiplying. They need new pots which I don’t have so I find old ones and streak them with violet and gold. Brushes dry in the dishrack alongside the pizza cutter, the wooden spoons. Potting soil and paint collect in the veins of the floorboards.

Another flea-market dining table has joined our family of orphans and strays. On any given day, half the furniture is hidden under cover of old newsprint.

An explosion of of foliage in the quasi foyer threatens to displace the coats. It needs a haircut, a transplant, a new home, yet most of the walls here are too far from windows. The greenery plays musical shelves. If any one refrains from curling into brown husks, it quits the rotation and settles into its new role animating shadow. The prima donnas demanding full sun have to contend with Bug’s beads and colored pencils to stake out a spot near the sliding glass door.

Tonight, I will divide two into four and ferry several to the office on an inverted vacation. They will sip northern light from their perch on a woven throw draped over a low bookcase. Like the others, they will spill from their pots and climb the walls, feeling their way across the muted canvas. In the after hours of a 5th-floor shush, they’ll peel open and twine into inevitability.

Back home, the false starts of an amateur’s attempts at design clutter the walls and halls. At some point six or eight months in, I abandoned pretense and pushed the sofa to a nook along with the coffee table and lamps. The honey-drunk bamboo is clear for landing. At last, nothing is the everything. A person can puddle unobstructed all the way to the outermost window and maybe beyond. My son zooms his scooter in giant orbits around a living room which is every room.

From the corners, a fecund unfurling. We’ve shed the illusion of indoors. Tiny spiders loop from strands that dust the ceiling. My Mister and I lay in the bed and watch the epic journey of one who circles back on itself, forever beginning all over again. Its progress is like our own: A lovely conceit. A reason, anyway, to keep moving.

I sweep aside obstructions, machines and footstools, bigness, permanence. I own almost nothing I can’t lift on my own, nothing I can’t throw off the balcony when the time comes. In the space where things usually reside, now an invitation. A frame without a door. No lock, no knock, no fumbling for an excuse. I stretch my arms and almost brush the overgrown fronds of the philodendron. It was the first one, the one my Mister brought to welcome me home. No surprise that it’s the biggest. It has outgrown its pot. (“Out,” groans its spot.) The jade blades arch then bow like a suitor toward a patch of grass that springs from the opposite corner.

As them, us.

We expand to fill the space we inhabit. If we are wise, we clear the way for what we can’t stop anyway.

If we are ready, we live as if we’ve chosen what creeps in.
 

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It is impossible to sleep with his feet fixed on their beacon. He presses them behind knees, into hip, against spine. I stiffen my skin and try to fall further in. He belongs right here I suppose, even though each time I sink into the lagoon, his hook cleaves the deep and rips me from my chosen oblivion. One touch sets the chain cranking back over its pulley and drags me towards unwelcome air.

So much like birth.

(So much for sweet erasure.)

My mother’s friend was found dead day four days ago.
She makes her hand into the shape of a gun. Points it at her head.
It strikes me
as she bends her thumb
to blow a tunnel through her skull
that this gesture is the international sign

for get me away
from these morons

when you can’t bear the noise
one second more, caught
in a riptide of voices
belonging to you or to the ones
in whose company you’ve found yourself
snared
hurling
attribution at each wave
every angle of light
anywhere but the lungs
from which they come
and what you want is to
(hand, gun, thumb)
hitch one hell of a ride

Into?
Away from?

I didn’t know before
his name and didn’t have a chance to say
look
lucid dreaming is a dark magic that is not without its costs.
They’ve got you pinned
against the seawall and the tidal crest
rushes, yes
but you learn
to tear yourself from those eye hooks
and swing the whole facade around

to block the salt that surges for your throat. You are left safe (for what it’s worth) and now your only direction of travel is a terrain with no visible geography and no written rules. You have to turn. You have to face the blank expanse. Your hand alone holds the purple crayon.

You may be asleep but you cannot count on dreams anymore
to read your desires, to lay them out
on a carpet of oil and flesh for you.
You claimed your mind. You signed on the dotted line.

You chose this spell.

He and I could have put our heads together
two wholes almost
puzzling over this:
How do you draw the world you would inhabit if no limits existed, not even the laws of physics?

(Does the very idea make you weary?
Do you, like me, ache to creep back to the cliff,
to swallow the sea?)

It doesn’t matter.
Put the gun down.
Open your hand. It will take
the shape
of what hasn’t been sketched
just yet.

Heaven cannot possibly be a release from the burden of imagination.

We would cast a legion of lines
to him to pull him back
to hold him here
to rub him warm from the shock of return
if we could
(as if we could

have).

In the beachfire steeldrum night
I would say
look
if fate or invention or the forces of providence could anticipate your desire
and angels set to work manifesting each component fragment a split second before the notion cracked free of its seed,
wouldn’t you still need your hunger? Your taste for color? Your private lyric? Your thirst, your frisson, the key bending to your tune?

He does not show up to hear my impassioned speech.
The blanket I’ve wrapped around him is stiff and hollow.
A week late, I plead myself hoarse to an empty room

not so empty after all.

My son’s toes rake like harpoons into my fleeing back and rip me up
towards the sting
of waking.

I ask myself if for once I might come to shore glad of being saved.
I ask myself
as my fantasy flits off ahead trailing ghost threads
whispering me down to that disappeared place,
what stops me from hooking my thumb
into a loose strand, hanging tight,
and hauling it up with me to the cracking dawn?
Why not lash it to this canvas
lift its corner with this imperfect air
let it billow
and smash
into any of its thousand
shapes
around the inevitable breaking
open day?
 

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Then as Now

When it all falls away (pretense, fantasy). When we run out of words. When he is just a hunched figure in cotton underwear standing at the sliding door talking to the dog. When we are rumbling bellies and sore feet. When the teasing from hungry lips gives way to dishes and air leaking from tires.
 
Then. Only then. Not even now. Not yet.
 
Here is what is then: He looks up at the path, nothing but bare trunk and brown leaf, and sees a single white light hovering there. He stops and stoops, gazing. A tiny spaceship dips, indecisive, at the skin of our alien planet. This one light arcs sideways now, streaking there all wrong across the early winter path.
 
Mesmerized. Our breath, caught like mothwings. Light on a strand of spider thread plunges into some impossible distance then reappears an inch from our noses.
 
This is what he sees. Then as now.
 
I trust this. He finds filament hidden among knob and stone. He plucks the string and calls up the first note. The chord, an atonal twisting of this day, this everyday day, into its converse.
 
This will be then. On our most trodden route, I am lost in what he finds.
 
Now, he asks why we are busier. Are we busier? This second asking, the shift in emphasis. What is truth? Not only what do we make of it, but what do we choose it to be made of?
 
Summer came. I bought a home. He coached and then didn’t. We lost one weekend then another. We are more purple. Less driven. More painted. Less rested. Better fed. Steadier. Scruffier. Here.
 
We lay together far too late into nights, those fleeting nights forever becoming mornings.
 
The dog panted when the rain began. I thought the roof had opened and the sky had found us at last. No. It was just ice on the skylight. The clouds tumbled in when we weren’t looking. They shed their weight.
 
Winter edges closer.
 
In the window of the train is the reflection of the opposite window and then the reflection of this window in the bus kiosk wall. This I see now.
 
This commute like every other. Unlike anything ever. He does not ride with me except he does.
 
I think of the woman in the prairie who fell asleep on a winter night and rose three times, restless in the pitch black. She lay awake for hours until finally giving up the fight. She tried to step outside. The door would not budge. Snow piled in drifts to the roof had trapped her. Digging up through a window, she found the sun was setting on the following afternoon, which was, in fact, the day now behind her.
 
We are so frightened when we hear of those who fall alone and lay dying, hours into days with no one coming. I wonder how terrible this would be. To finally, finally know yourself as you are: solitary, and maybe not a you at all. To suffer there with your absent god, the songs your mother sang, the terror, the surrender. All of it, your own and not yours at all, because you are not yours. Not really. The illusion finally bends. In the polished glass, a reflection of self and the door opposite. The glow you thought was distant and sacred is simply spider floss. A trick of light. So very near.
 
Blood and lung. Salt and water. It is all just evolution’s clever twist, the story arc in the leather-bound volume you’ve become. You never owned it. It is on loan. When the reaper arrives, he is not a hooded wraith or a thief after all. Just a librarian with an overdue slip and an open hand. Then the cover closes on your meager pages, your handful of lines. Threads slip loose as they always do. Some maybe even still drifting from the spine.
 
When we are bent to bones. If he stays and maybe even otherwise. This is then: He catches those filaments between fingers fine and silvered. No knots. No binding them to or into. He holds the strands up before me just long enough then blows them to sky like lashes. Like a wish.
 

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Then she realizes it is not man. It never has been man. The one whose gaze she has been seeking all this time, alert to it feeling its way up her spine, it is not one or another. It is only a gaze, an entity all its own taking on some kind of psychic presence in her orbit. It moves from eye to eye, brain to brain, sketching her into background or foreground depending on preference, on mood, on the light slanting across the edge of day.
 
The outsideness of it she never questions. She simply submits to it, as if only that exists: submission to the forever slipping away line of sight. Her form, laugh, posture, texture all move about like a bit player, an extra only. Just a hash-mark on the canvas, one of the legion, a soldier of oil drawn into nameless formation alongside interchangeable others down a mountainside waiting for the slaughter. She is one. She is all of them.
 
It is never a man at all, is it? The origin of the gaze, it never really is him placing her, taking her measure. No, it is not living tissue with intention, not even an actual eye in an actual skull.
 
Instead, it is the piece of her she left behind. The missing Y, the twin who was next in the queue and swam out against its will in the next tide, out into the sea, out to be lost to Marianas trench. Later, eons later, geyser force, thrust (again, unwillingly!) a briny and brimstone singed speck of what she lost back to the surface. Now this He (or, rather, her) watches, watches.
 
Not to take her measure, no. Not to judge or even manipulate. These are the assumptions of the simple mind. He (or is it She?) only comes to covet. For corporal life? Yes, for the depth of the bend, the unchained laugh, even – yes, even this – the pain. Deep in the bones, the age and accumulating disease, the sorrow – yes. He would take all of it. Give everything. His universal access, the boundless roaming, for one minute in her skin.
 
This twin, a houri, thunders in astride some winged steed made of nothing but smoke and the dried rinds of tangerines left on the riverbank. She loved him before she knew love but was gone before he ever knew her at all. Now she begins to wonder. Now, the dawning awareness.
 
The he is her He, and he is only just everything she traded for life. Is she wrong? Is it possible he is not the one who came after her? They lose their beginnings and endings, out there in the nothing of not-life. Maybe he was shed before? Did he, in fact, precede her by a fortnight, out into the gnashing maw of the world? Did he roll out the crimson carpet? Did he bury the landmines in his wake, just for her, just for spite?
 
Jealous thing, this unborn brother. No wonder he stares with such assessing frost. He hovers like an odor yet he refuses to resolve into view. Would that be his undoing? To let her see him? She dares to believe he can be undone, that she has some agency in the situation, but perhaps she is fooling herself (as is He). Surely, surely, no one would instill such power in a creature as weak and foolish as she. That would be a muck-up on a cosmic scale. She has no managerial skills, no executive privilege, no armaments (that she knows of).
 
He fears something. This much is slowly becoming clear. She can’t imagine what. How could it be? His everything, the whole of the skies, the diamond planet, all of Davy Jones’ locker and the soft thighs of the unclaimed farmer spinning wool in the wooden room by a window streaked with oil and light, all of this at his fingertips, and he stands there watching her? Is this the best he can do?
 
So finally, she turns on Him (who is her and who is surely there, even if only seeing but not seen) and speaks:
 
In this world you choose to crave this erratic pulse, this weak will, this drifting imagination and coarse flesh? You have nothing to constrain your wanderings – not body and its hungers, not child and the chains of toil, not the need and the clutching, relentless thirst of the ones to whom you belong. You are neither bound by gravity not checked by time. Yet still, ghost, gaze, you linger here in the doorway of my unremarkable boudoir?
 
And then he speaks in her voice from her own throat:
 
What shall we trade? One crumb each from the other plate?
 
They both consider.
 
The night is long.
 

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He races through the small patch of green at the edge of the cul de sac. Under his feet, the grass grows wild. The knot of stalks reaches his shins. Suddenly, a blur of motion bursts out around him like an electron cloud. His feet meet earth, setting off one explosion after another. A whisper of wings and rain catches the air, following him through the brush. He neither sees nor hears, swimming just below the surface of this quiet cacophony of sound and motion.
 
“What is that?” I ask, pointing. He stops, and as he does, the grass falls silent. He looks sideways at me through the stillness. Then he is off running again, bursts of confetti meeting his footfalls.
 
“Look!” I call. He stops again. All is still, all is silent.
 
“What?” These interruptions are seriously inhibiting his pleasure. And anyway, there is nothing to see. Controlling a phenomenon enough to observe it renders it unobservable, as Heisenberg tried to explain.
 
“Watch,” I say. I stride up next to Bug and stomp my foot. The weeds send up an inverted shower of tiny, living things. Bug’s eyes pop open. Then a grin spreads lights him up from within. He lifts his foot and stomps. Another shower, followed by the tinkling of tinsel rain on a forest canopy. For an instant, I wonder if these airborne, pinging things are midget grasshoppers or buff-winged moths.
 
I crouch for a better look. The weeds are slender, dark green stems with tresses of gold radiating out in all directions. Because of the yellow dusting atop the bending plants, the clearing appears as an infant wheat field. The tendrils are thin, cleaved nests. Each is a floral ovary clutching an egg in a loose grip, readying itself to take a shot at starting next season’s crop.
 
Next to me, Bug is stomping, giggling hard at each detonation. I bite my tongue and keep my observations to myself. Does knowing what things are really teach us what they are?
 
Then he is off and running, his face pink and his arms wide. His gaze is back, down, up, everywhere. His voice cries out the high notes. He is the bandleader now of this moving parade, and all around him, one explosion after another announces to the world the arrival of this force of nature, this human animal.  His weight is enough to set loose a surge of animate fireworks right here on earth. The simple presence of him sends life skyward to seek a brand new start in an unturned corner of the world.

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