Table of Contents - Vol. VIII, No. 1
“The unreadable” Wilde says “is what occurs.”
My mother had to get good and drunk to join us
at the Bubble Room in Captiva when we vacationed there—
captive, not captivated, all those years ago. She spewed
venom and garlic on scallops, white bubbles of champagne
(as this was a celebration) all over the table. We had survived
three hours of jaw clenching stress, payment exacted for escaping
seven Christmases and nine birthdays. We had taken to enjoying
holidays once in a while, every year or so and now as this was both
our wedding Anniversary and my 40th birthday—it was a double
(or so my father kept ordering) and reason enough to endure.
She was on again about Anne Morrow Lindbergh, a one time
resident of the island, who herself had endured her husband’s long
term infidelity after having one on of her own. “I’d rather
be dead,” Mom kept insisting “than be the instrument of some man’s
passion” a statement that was shared with such frequency
that my father (her husband of 49 years) lurched to the men’s room
with such enthusiasm, it made people in the restaurant believe
he suffered from prostate problems. Later, holes were filled
in the plaster walls that matched my father’s knuckles exactly,
had anyone bothered to check. “I’d just as soon have my throat
slit and bleed to death” she kept gurgling into her white wine.
Almost as a sign of defiance, I asked for bitters and tonic water
simply to watch the drops of red slide down the sides of glass,
temptingly like last rites. Mom, by now, had built up to a stunning
crescendo. The waiters and waitresses were dressed in scouting
uniforms and they started making motions over Mom’s head
to kindly “cut her off” which she took as the ultimate conspiracy
that “you all want to do me in.” Nothing is more relaxing
than a visit to your aging parents on your 40th birthday;
a treat to drive a convertible to a distant land on wrinkle
island. As I backed the car up and then forward, my own
pony tail flowing in the humidity, I offered my mother a scarf
to keep her wisps of grey under wraps. I thought longingly of moonlit
escapes and Isadora Duncan, Princesses on high cliffs and dangerous
guardrails. I salivated over the pounding surf, my mother’s voice
pulsating in my temples. I thought of Anne Morrow Lindbergh
and that painting I once saw at the museum in Philadelphia or anywhere else
I would rather be. A goddess or a woman with blond hair would some day
be rising off a garlicky scallop shell. With all those other gifts from the sea.
There are no headlights in Eden. The sun rose
twice that morning: once when he left their bed of nettles,
the second time when dawn pointed at her, the tip
of an accusing finger, like his eyes, coal-red and burning
into her flesh like his last cigarette. The Other
invented her, conjured her out of sand. The Other
made her lithe and tawny, swift like a gazelle. She was grateful
to the Other but obliged to this one too. He showed her
apples needed salt to bring out the sweetness. The bits
of fruit that sustained her were windfall and she sought out
the bitterest. They would be preserved together as sometimes
bees are in honey. Silent and forever glutted in sugar.
He was in her all along, or she was in him and now
finally they had made each other’s acquaintance.
The Devil and the Fawn were just getting
to know one another. Before she became deer flesh,
She was salt, and before that dust. And now
they turned into fire and then, naturally, to ash.
For Andrew Motion
When I rock back and forth on the edge of the roof,
I keep my balance, at the precipice of all things
known and unknown. I bundle up a sack of fancy
words to expel into the wild air. Below me I see
his elocutions hanging on the line:
chiffon, lavender, hibiscus, periwinkle. I follow
my father, his blue chambray shirt, salty and whorled,
like a sea snail under each tanned arm. I wade in secret
marshes. I should have averted my eyes. From a leafy
riverbed, I will force my Love to see me
as uncommon. From a slippery ledge his heart
will race to keep up with mine. I’ll unbutton his shirt
and threaten him with the whole world. My father’s clanging
battens and cutters when I clearly want ledgers and ink.
A shudder will somehow loosen as each new
tile sets. I will blow the rounded horn, announce the hunt.
He straddles his fine horse. His ruffled lace cuffs
muffle the pulse on his wrists, which smell when I kiss
them, of lavender. I am in danger of disappearing
into the curlicue depths as his hairs glint foxy red in the sun.
Me, with my superior view off daddy’s roof with its latest
conquest as we put lamb and bread on the table.
Make believe you are lying
next to me in the usual way couples lie
without regret but this time we are lying
under a willow; branches tickle
our faces, pickerel and sunnies jump
through the cool air to land on the round fire.
Grass and moss are beneath our backs,
robins stalk our toes, pecking
while overhead clouds form your initials.
This is courage.
This is ferocity.
The fires of the forest die down, there are no
birthday candles blazing a trail. Words hide
behind stones on the way out. Even as the earth turns
black and the coals sear us in midnight’s bowl,
we are still not afraid.
The hummingbird’s mantle has unraveled
on the oak floor. A twist of light flares
and flurries to the windowsill.
I am now spreading a feather quilt in the loft
upstairs in an ivy-rose cottage bathed in rain
and salt. There are no roosters to awaken us.
Mourning doves, immune to sorrow, chatter all night.
Pretend we lose the smoke and sand of our day.
Pretend we devour the carp and bread. Outside,
a blue heron stands sentry in the blue clematis.
We spread stars on a tablecloth. You sip wine
from one of my favorite slippers.
Tomorrow will be perfect. Or was that today?
© Laurie Byro