I’m racing for the light. The flashing orange hand counts down. On the other side of the street waits the supermarket where I’ll load up on almond milk and broccoli before hurrying back across to pick up my son at school. Still twenty yards away, my legs groan in resistance. The backpack chafes my shoulders. I curse under my breath.
When did reaching the other side of the street rise to such prominence in the pantheon of meaning? What is it I hope will happen when I achieve this singular purpose? In all likelihood, the produce section will revert to its simple functionality. Cinderella’s pumpkin at the twelfth stroke. I’ll grab what I need and try to outrun the lady with the full cart who’s headed for the short checkout line. The purchases will turn into a hasty dinner and an even hastier breakfast. At the office tomorrow, I’ll hustle through tasks, trying to stay a step ahead of the next item on the list. Then I’ll dash out to catch the metro in time to catch the bus in time to make it to my son’s school in time to pick him up at after care in time to go home and have dinner and do it all over again.
Cool air shivers skin. The bus engine grumbles below plastic seats molded to cup a human’s soft places. Thighs of meat padding bone. Outside, women in a pack bustle down the sidewalk in jeans stretched taut.
The days grow shorter.
Even so, I forget. Forget to stop and touch the zinnia with its five shades of orange tethered to a center like chocolate. Forget to let the crepe myrtle dip across my cheek. Barely notice a fat bee chugging past me towards what bursts from the hedges. A body that should be too weighty for the tissue of wings somehow stays airborne.
I forget that eventually, everything falls. I forget to catch drift.
Sense skates over the damp oil of detangling spray. The film coats my son’s raveled mat. His head is a summer hayfield bleached gold and heavy with dew. At the tips, tendrils going to seed thin and fall away.
Down under all that flower and dust, the stalks twist into themselves. Pile up. Snarl. My fingers burrow to the base of his skull and find the nest there. I begin to brush. Starting at the ends, the gesture is one short stroke. Then another. The brush barks over the ragged rope. Its plastic bristles chatter as if scraped across a guiro’s ridged wooden belly. The boy tolerates this, gripping his nerf gun and re-reading Sunday’s comics.
Silence is the absence of sound. That is where we start. Then we hear what’s left when a bow lifts from its string, the reverberation humming across window glass and skimming over curved iron rails. Even after it dissipates, sound remains. We cross a bridge from memory to the note that arrives next, if any. This is not a certainty.
The lift carries us. The resonance in our own blood rides over when the bow releases it from its string. The arm lifting belongs to the song. Muscles move the arm. Breath fuels muscle. Pulse syncopates with breath.
Player, instrument, audience, the hollow belly of night. Nothing is silent. Inside the ear, a river rushes. Even in the dark, even alone, we sleep on its roaring banks.
I’m parked in the lobby assembling bookcases. Even though we have a facilities staff and work study employees, somehow this falls to me. My students’ dissertations will live on these shelves, so okay. I’m assembling bookcases.
Earlier this morning, I moved another set of bookcases along with their assorted contents. My lovely gay co-worker joined me in hauling this stuff across the suite into the file room because. . . Does there need to be a because? It needs to get done. Tracking down the people whose jobs involve moving furniture – to say nothing of the negotiation this would entail – demands a far greater expenditure of effort than simply doing it ourselves.
Parked in the lobby assembling bookcases means an hour at least erased from the projects my mind and hands could be serving. The article that needs to be written on the relationship between race and the completion rates of doctoral students? Not getting done. The accompanying literature review and data collection to write the article? Ditto. Following up with PhD student leaders on their 9/11 day of service plans? Updating materials that more broadly distribute the cultural capital needed for navigating a PhD? Developing a panel on graduate funding opportunities?
None of it getting done. Because I’m parked in the lobby assembling bookcases.
So when you, Good-Hearted White Dude, wander by, I’m less disposed to chat.
Eyes like a growling. Eyes like a treasure box. Storefront reflection, candid photograph, inverted glint on spectacle glass.
Eyes tethering me to corporeality.
They write their stories on my body. Make their confessions on my body. Cast the runes and decode the signs and plan their fortune on my body. Ink the map of their nightmares on my body. X the spot of their rescue on my body.