Tag Archives: pregnancy

She Hates Numbers

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Pregnancy, a poem

illustration pregnancy

Pregnancy, a poem

(after Alice Neel’s painting, Margaret Evans Pregnant)

Puffy hands clutch the seat
of the ruffled boudoir stool
to keep the woman from tumbling
to the floor, injuring
more than dignity;

her cumbersome belly bulges
taut, looms over the
bewildered thighs
like a great question mark.
Around her delicate knees

are small white dimples;
the pulse in the blue vein
revealed within a pale breast’s
transparent skin
taps in dreamy rhythm and

though her hair is unkempt,
her eyes gleam with gentle
confidence, patient sureness
that she will pass through
the coming ordeal of body

unharmed, spirit intact; that
everything in the world,
all the movement both inside and
outside her flesh, will emerge
from its hiding place at last….


Filed under alice neel, art, baby, beauty, birth, childbirth, poetry, pregnancy, women

The Conundrum: Splitting The Baby) for Kimberly Mays Twigg

kimberly mays infant photo Switched At Birth, www.silverimagephotoagency.com


Sometimes, I ask myself why I didn’t give her back sooner.  Would it have been easier then, before I knew her personality, the sweet meaning of her every sound, every movement?  Already I loved her smell, the weight of her small head on my chest, already I’d soothed and fed and washed her forty days running.  That other mother gave life, I gave only touch, warmth, comfort.  I couldn’t help it; I fell in love, it happens like that, quickly, without thought.  I didn’t know how it felt to be someone’s mother.  When I couldn’t become pregnant, I cried for days.  My insides felt soft and hollow, like an empty purse.  This little girl loves me, I know she does.  She reflects a rainbow back to my eyes, in her smallest toe resides a perfect universe.  I lie next to her at night, breathing the rich, salty fragrance of her hair, feeling her body growing, expanding to meet mine, and over our private nest flows time, but for as long as we can we rest outside death’s pull, allowing all that to pass by, content with this lovely darkness, this small sliver of heaven.


Sometimes I ask myself why I gave her up in the first place.  It wasn’t easy, not even then; I haven’t held her since the day she was born, but I know her, like she’ll know me, without thinking.  I began her life, I walked with her body in mine for nine months, we were never apart, not for a second.  I called her my daughter.  That woman has taken care of my poor baby for years, but in her heart it’s only me she’ll call Mama.  Any fool knows this, anybody with a brain will tell you adoption can be a mistake.  It was a crisis of self-esteem, more than anything.  A momentary weakness, where I thought maybe I wasn’t strong enough to keep her safe.  Once, during all this trouble, I almost gave up.  All I had in my hands was a pink plastic bracelet, but I couldn’t forget holding her, I couldn’t forget how her toes curled against her foot, so small, so much like mine.  Now she’ll never have to wonder whether I loved her, she’ll never have to discover where I live.  The time we spent apart will soon be forgotten; she’s young and there’s plenty of time for our life to weave itself back together, to re-create our lost paradise.


Sometimes I ask myself why I couldn’t have had them both, forever.  Is love so smart that it can tell the difference between one drop of blood and another?  Being born was harder the second time, though life at home smells just as sweet; the weight of this new mother, her reassuring size, pressed against me like a sheaf of autumn grain, harvest of all dreams.  Dimness is where part of me lives now, the part that slept near the warm shadow-woman of my first days, hands that held fast, then let go.  Dimness, and a lifelong vocation to tell people — remember, I have no patience for fools, none at all — nothing is as simple as it seems.  A child’s soul can fill even the most tortured shape imaginable.  God knows, when I have my own daughter, she’ll ask how it was to be torn apart for love, and I’ll have to tell her:  it was a beauty and a terror and a fiery cross, and gaining the knowledge of good and evil has a price… and those of us who’ve paid it don’t for a minute regret our sacrifices.  Yes, it hurts, yes, it left scars, and yes, now and again I have trouble sleeping — don’t we all?


Filed under acceptance, adolescence, apologia, apology, baby, birth, childbirth, childhood, compassion, daughter, daughters, dream, dreams, family, girls, grief, human beings, humanity, justice, law, legal system, loss, love, mama, mother, mothers, mourning, poetry, pregnancy, soul, transcendence, tribute, woman, women

Soon After My College Graduation, a novel fragment

illustration soon after my college graduation

Soon After My College Graduation, a novel fragment

Soon after my college graduation, I became engaged to Harold.  I’d known him since freshman year; we had dated casually until my senior year, when he watched me perform with the modern dance ensemble and fell in love with the way I moved across the stage in my clingy leotard and filmy skirts.  Everyone in the family adored him.  My father, who never learned to drive a car himself, let Frank drive our very first car home from the dealer.  Though I was happy about the engagement, I wasn’t in a rush to marry.  I wanted to work for a few years, get a taste of the world before settling down at home with a brood.  My parents were skeptical, but they didn’t make a fuss.  They knew I wanted a big family, at least six.

Harold was very good-looking:  strong chin, auburn hair, lean and athletic torso.  We were engaged, so it was the usual custom to sleep together.  His touch was delicate, his hands smooth and lovely.  It was a peaceful, dreamy experience, being with him.  He gave me a pear-shaped blue diamond set in platinum — I wore it and real silk stockings to the office every day.  My family was just middle class, but people thought I was rich.  Nobody knew my father got the stockings free as part of his job at the patent office.  In those days my hair was dark brown, cut in a short pageboy, draped gracefully over my forehead and curled at the ends.  I looked good in simple tailored skirts; my legs were long and well-formed from all that dancing.  Of course the stockings were a plus!

It was about a year into the engagement to Harold that I happened to work with the same young lawyer on several complicated adoptions, right in a row — Robert was Italian, short and bald, and his suits were nicely cut though threadbare.  Something about the confidence in his fluid voice grabbed my attention; one evening after work we met for a drink.  He wasn’t classically handsome, but he had bright, lively features and a charming way with funny stories.  That night, over a pitcher of Rob Roys, he confided to me that he was leaving the Department after the first of the year.  He had an office and secretary all lined up, and could hardly wait to get into practice on his own.  We ordered another pitcher of drinks to celebrate his daring move.

I suppose my big mistake was letting him take me out to dinner, too.  I was drunk:  not so drunk I didn’t know what was happening, just so drunk that I didn’t much care.  Robert touched my cheek, tucked a stray lock of hair behind my ear, then closed his eyes and sighed.  I was all over him in a second — he kept saying, are you sure, are you sure?  As I unzipped his trousers, he asked, what about Harold?  I said, I don’t owe him anything.  What I had then with Robert was neither peaceful nor dreamy, but a jolt of electricity that kept my nerves humming for hours.  Afterward, I held my breath for ten days, then kept right on holding it when my “friend” never showed up.  I started having trouble sleeping.  I was all mixed up.  There was no one I could talk to.

See, if I married Robert and the kid looked WASP, no big problem.  But if I married Harold and the kid came out looking Italian, what then?  I went with the easiest lie.  Does this seem terribly evil?  I had no real alternative at the time.  Now, I suppose I’d have an abortion and be done with it.  It’s true that I felt a little less awful as time passed and Robert and I had three more children who resembled their father, but I was never entirely certain about Robert Junior’s pedigree — depending on the time of day and the season he had the look about him of both men.


Filed under health, legal writing, mysterious, prose poetry, science, short stories

easy as pie, a short story

illustration easy as pie
Easy as Pie

Jonathan is still a virgin at twenty-eight — or so he says. From the look of his underwear, I’m tempted to believe him. His blinding white jockey shorts are far too big, hiked up to his ribcage like an old man. We’ve been friends for a long time. I’m between relationships at the moment, and on impulse, really, I’ve gotten him stripped down this far, but now he’s balking. His underwear acts as a kind of psychological barrier, I guess. We’re on my couch having an intense heart-to-heart.

Part of the problem is this woman he’s in love with. Even though she’s been living as a lesbian for two years, he keeps hoping she’ll come to her senses and marry him. It’s true, they still go to Temple together every once in a while; he even cooked her a seder last year. He and I talk about religion all the time; I’m a curious Episcopalian and I ask him everything about Judaism. I have this wild notion of converting someday — but he says it’s difficult, and I believe him.

I’m interested in having sex tonight, though I’m not going to push him too hard. With hindsight, my own virginity was surrendered far too casually. My first lover was a lot older than I was, a lot more confident, and I just let him do it because he was so persistent. It’s not that I don’t recognize the attraction, the magnetic purity of someone like Jonathan. No worries about disease, and he’ll most likely fall in love with me. A flattering situation, sure, but also a burden — one I’m not sure I want to take on. Jonathan’s an appealing but complicated case.

“It’s not that I don’t find you attractive,” he says, reaching out to take my warm hand in his clammy one. The flickering candlelight throws his cheekbones into sharp relief, hoods his eyes and makes him look exotic, mysterious. I want to see him in a yarmulke and prayer shawl, those little leather boxes strapped to his head and arm. “You’re very attractive,” he adds.

I move my hand up and down his bare thigh, feeling the few downy hairs there rustle back and forth over his smooth skin. He’s a lawyer for an environmental-protection group, and he runs eight miles every other day. Compared to him, I feel like a moral slug: a vegetarian since high school, he’s never even driven an automobile. “So are you,” I say. I play with the little opening in his shorts with one finger, teasing him like I would my cat.

He closes his eyes, leans his head back against the wall and draws his breath in. “Please don’t,” he says, his voice a little strained, his Adam’s apple bobbing. I take my hand away like something bit it.

“I just can’t do this,” he says, opening his eyes wide and staring at me. “Not tonight. Not this way.”

“Okay,” I say, getting up off the couch. Why did he think I was taking his pants off? Intellectual curiosity? Science experiment? Bending, I pick up his shirt and jeans and shoes. “Here’s your clothes. There’s the door.”

He sits there, his face frozen in a squint-eyed wince that makes him look like a chastened dog. He reaches up to touch his forehead with a forefinger. “I’ll probably regret this in the morning,” he says.

“You probably will,” I say, tilting my head and smiling.


Over time, according to his rules, I discover Jonathan isn’t only virginal, but also an old-fashioned romantic. He doesn’t like to think of himself that way, however. A reformed atheist, he talks about “significance.” “I want everything to be perfect between us,” he says to me. We’re lying in bed together at this fancy bed-and-breakfast he’s brought me to for the weekend.

“Perfect?” I ask. “Perfect?” My stomach is so taut with lust you could bounce a five-pound slab of beef off it. “What does that mean to you?” He’s been lifting weights every day for the past few months, and from what I can feel of him tonight through his thin knit shirt, he’s big and carved-looking and hairless like a god.

“A serious commitment,” he says. He turns to look at me in the moonlight. His eyes glisten, and he strokes my hair. “That’s what I’m looking for, after the fiasco with Melissa.”

Melissa’s the lesbian he’s finally given up on. I don’t say anything at first. It all used to be so easy, so effortless. Everybody’s clothes came off as easy as pie. “God,” I say, the word arcing out of my throat like a wet watermelon seed. I lie there feeling my heart pound. He reaches over, tracing the lines of my eyebrows with one finger. “Give me strength,” I sigh.

Jonathan gets up on his elbow, his brilliant pectorals bulging, the mattress squeaking under him like a baby bird. “And what is so wrong with wanting to build a relationship first?” he asks.
“Jesus, you sound just like my mother,” I say.


After all this, I’m astonished when, a few weeks later, after dinner out and a cryptic Brazilian movie, he announces he’s ready for us to “move forward.” He leans down to kiss me, and I can tell he’s nervous. I’ve decided his full, red mouth is his best feature — on him it’s almost larger than life, contrasted with the rest of his austere person. He tells me his father’s mother was Native American, though when I ask him what tribe she belonged to he can’t say — but he does give me a real flint arrowhead to commemorate the evening. “I found this in a field out back of my parent’s house a long time ago,” he says. It’s small and gray and minutely chiseled, still warm from his hand.

“It’s beautiful,” I say.

We walk back to my apartment holding hands, hearing an odd blend of reggae and big-band music through the open windows of the neighborhood. In my bedroom, he turns quieter and quieter, seriouser and seriouser, as each piece of clothing comes off. As expected, I find him enthusiastic but unschooled. His hands are like roving mice, ticklish and prickly all at once. “Help me through this,” he says at one point, gazing up over my head at the O’Keefe poster in the far corner. Afterward, he doesn’t talk at all, just lies there with his arms crossed behind his neck. “I love you,” he says, groping for his glasses on the bed beside the table.

It’s like he punched me in the stomach with something soft. I turn over and put my face into the nape of his neck; he smells bland and sweet like oyster crackers. I don’t like it when men have a strong smell, but I don’t like it when they don’t, either. Hard to please. Or, maybe I want somebody who smells like me. Back in college, I developed a theory that the reason I never had a problem getting boys to like me was I emitted some sort of secret sex pheromone, more than other girls. It wasn’t anything about my personality that attracted men, but the way I smelled to their unconscious nose.

A more plausible explanation is that I was more unprincipled than most girls: I never broke up with a guy until I had a replacement waiting in the wings. I’d keep the old one around as a decoy until that happened, even if I was irritated beyond belief, even if his touch made my flesh crawl. Because, when you don’t have a boyfriend, the other guys think there must be a good reason, and stay away. If, instead, they believe they’re stealing you away from someone, they have an incentive.

But, right now, at least with Jonathan, I’m in a stage of trying to reform, change my ways. So, instead of saying “I love you, too,” which I know I could utter in a convincing enough voice, I hug him and sort of shiver all over, as if I’m so overcome with feeling it’s made me shy.


In due course, Jonathan brings over his toothbrush, clean shirts and underwear, and his second-best running shoes. He even arranges for Sunday newspaper home delivery, something I’ve always meant to get around to; however, as the weeks pass, I come to realize my period is overdue. I try to shrug it off at first, but after another week end up saucer-eyed and sweaty, marking off the days on my calendar over and over — consulting the lot numbers and expiration dates on the box of condoms and canister of foam we’ve used, as if they’re runes.

One night, soon after I start to worry, we go to this cowboy bar. I have authentic boots, a string tie, a silver belt buckle, everything but a neon sign saying “POSSIBLY PREGNANT.” I don’t say a word about my period, but all night he keeps staring at me as though he almost knows what’s up. I would like to be able to tell him, but I have a feeling he’s not going to make any of this easier. He’s not that kind.

He dances well, for a lawyer. “Why’d you go to law school, anyway?” I ask him, yelling over the music.

“I couldn’t face medical school!” he shouts, laughing, as we squeeze our way off the dance floor.

“I wanted to go to medical school,” I say.

“What kept you from going?” he asks.

“Math, I guess. I had this trigonometry teacher in high school who smirked every time I asked a question.”

“For me it was dissecting a cat,” he says, his face solemn. “I figured if I couldn’t handle that, there was no way I’d be able to do it with people.”

“Yeah, blood,” I say, with enthusiasm. “I tried to pierce my friend’s ears once. We used ice cubes. There was this teeny little drop of blood that came out when I put the needle through. One drop about the size of this mole,” I say, pointing to my own arm. He peers down. “I was instantly nauseated. But more terrible than the blood was the way her earlobe — my friend has really fat earlobes — the way her earlobe sizzled under the ice. Like it was meat frying or something. I didn’t think I’d be able to do the second one, but I had to — I couldn’t leave her with only one ear pierced.”

He nods, that awful, fake kind of nod people give you when you know they don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. “What an awful experience that must have been,” he says.


Early the following week, over at the clinic, I pee into a tiny paper cup with Bugs Bunny on it, and when the lab tech comes back into the room, she doesn’t say a word — she doesn’t have to, it’s there in her eyes, the set of her jaw. “Our first opening is next Wednesday,” she tells me, penciling something on a pink chart.

It’s probably racism or something, but on the scheduled Wednesday, as I lie there on the table trying not to shake, I’m relieved to see that the doctor who’s going to perform the abortion is black. As if somehow that makes it all okay — as if he’s a surrogate for guilt, for suffering. He seems nice, quiet and bookish, with big horn-rimmed glasses and a neat mustache. His voice is soft, vaguely Southern. I close my eyes and try to relax, but it’s impossible.


“Was it mine?” Jonathan asks a few days later, after searching my kitchen junk drawer for the 75-mile-radius map he loaned me, and finding instead the bright yellow booklet of follow-up instructions they gave out in the clinic’s recovery room.

I don’t even bother to ask why he thinks it might not have been his. “No,” I lie, and he stands there for several minutes, towering over me in the tiny kitchen, stiff and straight through his torso, his head and neck bobbing forward, nodding in place like a tired metronome.


“I don’t think we should see each other anymore,” Jonathan says later, sounding rehearsed, over the phone. I don’t like to do my dirty work in person, either, so I can’t complain about his choice of medium.

“Even if it had been mine, I wouldn’t have asked you to get married or anything,” he says. “I think you’re a very confused person.”

“Oh, really,” I say, trying to keep my voice neutral.

“You’re not in love with me, anyway, and you know it,” he adds. “You never were.”

“Get off your high horse,” I say, laughing. “You’re not in love with me, either.” I’m above reminding him of what he said on our first night together — it’s gone beyond such petty one-for-one recrimination to a whole new level, a swirling gray reach that makes me feel more tired than angry.

“No, but we should have been in love,” he says. “That’s my point. If the person I’m sleeping with gets pregnant, I want to be able to consider all the options, including marriage.” He sniffles into the phone, and I’m shocked to realize he’s been crying. “Obviously, I’ve never been faced with this before, but this whole situation made me stop and think. It’s too dangerous.” He pauses, and I can hear him breathing raggedly. “I made a mistake,” he says. “I’m sorry.”

For a minute all I want to do is hang up on him, smash the phone down like I’m smashing his face. It’s as if a more flippant attitude on his part would be easier for me to deal with, because — to a certain degree — I expected that.

“The person you’re sleeping with? People don’t get pregnant,” I say. “Women do.” He clears his throat, but says nothing, and then I know he’s only staying on the line out of politeness.

“Okay,” I say, after a few more moments of silence. “I agree. We shouldn’t see each other anymore.” I exhale, feeling each slow millimeter of my lungs’ deflation — the breathing not painful, yet, as it will be later, when I will have to use pillows to muffle the grief which will blow me to and fro, grief which I can no more harness or control than I could a demon, or a hurricane. I will be rattled, I will be shaken, I will be damaged.

“Goodbye, then,” he says.

“Goodbye,” I say, surprised by my voice’s new gentleness. Taking the phone away from my ear, I listen for the click and buzz and let it go, releasing the long, springy cord that I had stretched across the living room from the kitchen wall, the curved plastic form of the receiver skittering along the length of the coffee table like a live fish. And then I notice the strong afternoon light streaming in through the living room windows; how, despite its warmth, it makes the skin of my arms and hands look bleached, pale and waxy — almost like I’m already gone from this place.


Filed under short stories

birth control in the ancient world, a poem

illustration Silphium stalkillustration silphium seed 200px-Cyrenecoin

Birth Control in the Ancient World

By the third century, our old favorite,
Silphium, was extinct. Overharvested,
the plant had been worth its weight
in silver for a generation.
Gone forever were the bright yellow

flowers, the glossy, deeply lobed
leaves. We turned next to a close
relative, asafoetida, a pungent spice,
yes, but much less effective.
Besides, our breath smelled

always of fermenting fish;
the men started to complain;
thus the population swelled.
Queen Anne’s Lace grew wild
in the countryside; we brewed strong

tea or simply chewed the hard little
grains dry after the act…. If that
didn’t work, we tried artemesia,
abortifacient, only toxic in excess —
Artemis, goddess of women, protector

of childbirth, let us down rather more
frequently than we deserved.
The truly desperate ones might
gorge themselves on pomegranates;
the red juice stained their lips,

made them look fevered; sometimes
that did the trick. By the twelfth
century, only a few midwives knew
which herbs prevented the seed from
planting itself; they were banished

as witches and we lost that knowledge
for five hundred years — not so long
a time that we didn’t remember what it
had felt like, to love as often
as we liked without consequences.


Filed under poetry

made in heaven, a short story (originally published in exquisite corpse)

illustration made in heaven sheet

Made in Heaven

(originally published in Exquisite Corpse)


The Test

He believes in eugenics — his line was bred for sad brown eyes turned down on the outer corners.  He feels his Self slipping away, somehow.  The Self he was creating — he did it, he was tied to a woman, a woman who didn’t really want him, a woman who flailed at being tied to men like an unbroken yearling colt flails at the lead chain.  He fell in love with her watching her walk in the grass at the side of the road — bare arms, long brown dress, square brown handbag, pale white skin, waist-length brown hair.  He’d had ten cups of coffee pulling an all-nighter to teach his first medieval history class.  His role:  the nervous young professor.  He stopped to give her a ride — his first day on the job, he didn’t want to fail some test, by not stopping, and then she was just like some wild horse, he knew he had to marry her to keep the other predators at bay, they’d have chewed through her throat in a heartbeat.  He’d never seen eyes like hers.  Unattainable.  One morning, he woke up, he was married.

The Question

Sometimes he thought the way his wife acted in public was like doing a strip-tease inside the Dome of the Rock — asking for it; bad stuff going down out there, he said in his mind over and over whenever she started up, giving people looks of… what was it, exactly? Then one day, driving to work, dawn breaking, coffee clutched in hand, he watched a flock of birds pass by, bits of black looking like a school of fish coursing through the sky.  Landing on a new-mown field, the birds hopped among the grain stubble, picking up leavings.  His wife with her unsatisfiable longings was like that, a ballet too graceful to be endured.  How was he going to stay?  How was he going to leave?  He goes to the office and tries not to think about it, but it’s there every second, floating in the air in front of everything he tries to focus on, like text on an invisible TelePrompTer.  It wouldn’t matter — his wife could run off with the car, all the money, his heart — still he’d never stop asking her to come back.

The Wish

His newly-adopted hometown was full of squares and smiles:  people walking by, talking and laughing to the air.  For years, his wife had this best friend who always thought she, the friend, was dying.  Sometimes his wife got irritated with her best friend’s fear and wished the woman would get it over with already.  She’d been dying for over 10 years now.  Except one time, after his wife hung up on her friend disgusted by her seeming hypochondria, the friend actually ended up in the hospital with a heart attack.  His wife told him God was teaching her not to make wishes.  That night, she sat nude in front of the closet-door mirror bawling like she’d just gotten a bad haircut.  Which she had, at her own hand.  Hacked her hair off with kitchen shears like an insane nun taking her final vows.

The Need

Long ago, his wife says, she lived in a warmer climate.  Her first love was a coconut palm, phallic and bristly.  Round brown fruits.  She scaled the tree again and again, could never make it all the way to the top.  She got a crush on every boy that talked to her that year.  She quit reading the Bible when she got to Job — after her own father lost his two sons in separate car accidents, he just lay down on the couch and died, for which she never forgave him.  Maybe it was the fact her father willed himself to die, left her on her own too young — maybe that, and the two dead brothers, made her feel like any man was better than none.

The Surprise

A spade is a spade.  Death and time are as big as the universe.  Even your wife’s dying friend can be deceptively spry, hale and affectionate; she can give bear hugs.  The dying friend can move to Lulu, Florida, after she gets out of the hospital for what she doesn’t know will be the last time.  The sky over her can be blood blue with thin white clouds like cobwebs.  A dying woman’s dentures can deteriorate — first a missing eyetooth, then going brown in front in weird streaks.  Evidence of her inner corruption.  Even a dying woman can be financially abusive.  His wife always handed over his money like Kleenex to people with pathetic sob stories; whether they were dying or not, she’d have bankrupted him if he allowed it.  Surprise!  His wife’s so-called dying friend can actually die.  His wife cried and cried, even though she told him only yesterday she was afraid her friend only wanted her money.

The Rule

Yet, that impulsive woman he married, she got pregnant the first night, the condom slipped off and was found wadded up next to her cervix — she baked and baked, after she lost that baby.  Even the day of the miscarriage, her favorite Dixie Lily flour was soft and cool and white on the table, her nimble hands unevenly pigmented, strong and capable, dusted with the white powder, holding a green-handled rolling pin.  She was like a horse trainer, she’d never hit you with her hands, only with something held in them, usually a hairbrush, the bristly side.  She wanted you to obey, but not to fear.

The Nudity

Die, black smile — his wife was like any ordinary woman you fall in love with on the side of the road, touching her own lips, feeling her own breath.  She was not comfortable with him.  She was not comfortable belonging to any man.  She lost another man’s baby the year before she married.  Now she is fighting depression off with a big stick.  In his favorite picture of her, his wife’s flesh looks so soft as to be eminently pierceable by the polar bear tusks in the head she’s leaning on.  Sometimes she’d cry hard and couldn’t get out of bed, other times she was just plain hard and he couldn’t get through to her heart — like she was compensating for the too-naked times, by not allowing touch.

The Drug

They vacationed incessantly — Omega at the desert — she wore a backless sundress, and all her spinal knobs were visible to the casual observer.  She was verging on plump when he met her, then she became lean, tireless and angular.  He doesn’t care either way — he knows she’s no good for him but he can’t give her up.  Maybe it’s that he’s never had lovemaking that good with anybody but her.  An hour in bed makes up for the days of misery trying to live with the rest of her.  He understands now how addicts can keep shooting up, even when they know it’s killing them.

The Problem

At a frown from him, at the slightest disappointment seen or unseen, she’d bolt; he wouldn’t see her for days.  Then he felt as hollow as an abandoned house, weathered gray clapboard siding, rusty tin roof, part of the roof gone so you see the rafters underneath.  He took long walks early in the morning trying not to think about her; he saw a rising flock of birds, confetti against gray-blue.  He was walking through flatness, brown plains, splashes of green, a dull sky, murky at the horizon.  A grain elevator through the mist, far-off, looks small like a toy.  Is he a toy, for her?  He buys a cup of coffee at Love’s Truck Stop on Fountain Rd.

The Fear

Her name, he sees it written everywhere — on a metal tower with guy wires, the upper half of the tower obscured by clouds.  He sees her name on maps, even at City Hall on a quick stop in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, for coffee and smokes.  Diana, the huntress — but she can’t bring herself to butcher her kills.  She leaves them to rot.  Or maybe she stores the carcasses in some psychic smokehouse, preserving them within herself for some imaginary future famine.  As if she’ll ever be alone, as if she’ll ever lose her gift for making others feel sorry for her, sorry enough that they pick her up hitchhiking and end up married.

The Disease

Heat and a white smile — he visited another sick friend, imagining making love to Diana in a hospital bed.  What would it be like, to care for her until death?  Would it make him forgive her at last?  Would she be able to forgive herself?  Diamond logic cuts through psychological scar tissue, removing old growths, old infections, but then comes pain, bleeding, and the collapse of drained and emptied dreams.  When he aches for her, but in the same moment rejoices in her absence, assault-eating seems like his only option.  He sits in front of the sports games on TV, bags of snacks next to him.  The cat sleeps on his feet.  It doesn’t matter who is playing, he always roots for the underdog.

The Conundrum

Before she came back after their first separation, he decided that the flat glare of the sun loved him more than any woman he’d ever known — he wasn’t even surprised when he read in the newspaper how two thugs beat a gay college student, tied him to a fence and left him for dead.  She is ill, mentally, spiritually; he knows this but something equally twisted in him needs to be around that illness, in order to feel himself healthy.  Who, then, is the worse off?

The Return

She came back to him over and over, and every time she was hard at her music again, trying to get perfect that rhythm only she could hear; practicing, pure mindless female energy — dressing up in fur and spangles, frothy material, fancy.  When she got like that, you could tell she wanted to persuade some mysterious Somebody to do a secret Something for her.  She wanted to tempt, to bewitch.  He let her practice her music on him, he took it into himself, her beauty, her nature, her vengeance.

The Desire

He had pity — she was piteous — her legs moving like a deer’s, then wrapped around his waist — thin, delicate, poised for fleeing.  Once she told him she loved to feel womanly, but the only way she could achieve that was to see herself as physically, mentally and spiritually complementary to whatever man she was with.  She could then mold herself to accommodate his subtle shape the way the space between her legs accommodated him, and the womanly experience came to her through that forming, that clinging.  Yin/yang, two halves of a sphere, with herself having structure only when against the man’s half.  And sooner or later, she always stopped assuming that complementary shape, as soon as she started seeing things in a man’s shape she didn’t want to cling to — what man doesn’t have weaknesses — and that left her feeling like a neutered being, not male, not female.  Barely alive.

The Change

A spade is to be pitied for having to bury a woman like her, he thought upon waking early one morning to stare at her sleeping face, drained of pain and fear, sweet as a baby’s — but the light was all wrong for this time of morning, damn that daylight savings time.  Change, he hated any kind of change.  She should stay in one place; there can be no love without commitment and full knowledge.  Yet even regarding her deep within the throes of her struggle, primed with the proper amount of pity, he felt their beauty together, as a couple, was almost equal to infinity — but then again, mating cockroaches could fly toward the light too.

The Ultimatum

One day when she said, “Let me out of the damned car, now,” he stopped, let her go — thought “finis.”  She ran toward an idle hay baler & mountains of mown hay in a field; after that, she ran through a field of milo.  Then came a sheet of rain.  While he waited for her to return, he picked handfuls of yellow flowers beside the brown stubble.  She was his ultimate fantasy — her hooded eyes, high cheekbones, firm jaw, and full lips.  Gleaming brown hair.  He said to her the next morning, grinning like a chimp, “I live for simple things now:  coffee and a cigarette in the morning, beer and a cigarette at night.  That’s my life.”

The Petition

Scent-paths are the most primal in the brain — one day he read about how, in the next state, a cyanide suicide’s body gave off fumes and made nine others ill.  His wife’s baby breath slowly turned into dragon breath.  A crazy tarot card reader told him seven was the optimal number for a point of view, whatever that meant — then during the month of July, his own mother walked the Great Wall of China, worrying about his pending divorce.

The Secret

Money could always make her come back — who was it that wrote, “Wealth is power?”  King Cotton.  After all, his family had bales of cotton the size of railroad cars, covered with blue or yellow plastic.  Chicken houses the size of football fields.  Tractor-trailer cars stacked with white chickens, still alive.  Numerous Arkansas mountain shanties.  On one particular tract of farmland, there was pampas grass and a rotting tin-roofed general store.  Not to mention abandoned buildings, too numerous to count.

The Charade

He felt his smiles turning into complex equations, numbers, letters, factors squared.  Also that July, his wife fell madly in love with Puerto Rican twins.  She sat in the college Spanish lab for hours, trying to acquire the accent of a native speaker.  Later, she asked him to take her in for an abortion.  Him, a male, like a wide column of stationary air before her warm front, her hurricane eye — she left him wishing he were a virile but tender auto mechanic instead of a college history teacher.

The Truth

Dig up the heart that was properly buried and leave it defenseless again — in a dream the next night, baby fists flailed against him, their full force like the blow of colliding with large bumblebees.  Heavy but miniature.  His wife, woozy with painkillers, crawled into bed beside him, woke him up, told him how in college a virgin boyfriend of hers, frustrated because she wouldn’t sleep with him, punched a brick wall, injuring his fist.  Crooked paths lead to God — his wife then told him how it was with the elder Puerto Rican twin, Emilio, that she first stayed awake all night long, so hungry, but then he pissed her off with his blond boyfriend:  using her as a cover so nobody would know he went both ways.

The Aftermath

The sun’s light always reminded him of diamonds — his favorite teacher once told him, “Don’t waste your gifts.”  He was too much in love with the teacher to ask what gifts she meant.  Now he thought he knew.  The sun ate his heart anyway, it didn’t care about his promises — he was bereft beyond bereft when his wife left him for the last time.  All his friends and acquaintances told him how he’d be better off.  He was, and yet he wasn’t.  Everything he has dreamt since then, since she was gone, was in black and white — he wanted to hear the white noises of the wind, he wanted to fly down the tunnels of green, he wanted the warm salt water to gently burn his eyes clean, he wanted all his enemies dead, he wanted the memories removed.

The Legacy

His wife loved white sheets — they made love that last time in a bed so white it looked like barely repressed violence.  In the center of all that pain, something brought them both rising smiles — together, they were convulsed by spasms of laughter, uncontrollable as an orgasm.  It seemed like laughing at a funeral — insane but maybe the sanest response of all.  She gave him one lasting gift, his black smile at infinity… infectious.  Even as he walked around, zombie-like, memories of the failed marriage ringing in his skull like aftershock of a car crash, total strangers started propositioning him out of the blue.  Male and female.

The Effort

The heart, it seems, can expand, then collapse, both to an infinite factor.  He noticed, one day at lunch downtown, lots of little people he’d never seen before.  Or maybe he saw before, but he didn’t notice.  Had she left him that ability as well?  Fat, strangely shaped people, people who looked mentally disabled, odd angles of eyebrow, odd expressions of puzzlement.  Then, he noticed a very pretty woman in a garden-print shift & orange straw hat, no makeup on except blood-red lipstick.  She could be his wife’s twin.  She ordered grilled turkey & Havarti with cucumbers.  Unlike his departed wife, she was apparently an effortless mother; her child was immaculate, dressed in hand-sewn clothes.  If she ever left her husband, the world outside might swallow her whole — but he’d do his best to convince her she had to — for both of them — at least try.


Filed under short stories