Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"Tell me a story..."

When he asks, it's as though the bedroom is a blank page. In the jungle damp sheets, we try to disentangle--return to our single selves. We grow shy, and he tucks an unruly hair strand behind my ear, which is all that is needed to clear my vision:

You are never so alive as you are when you are young and unsupervised. I was a ward of the neighborhood. You could find me outside, learning the fine art of the BMX bike from David, a teen who probably shouldn't have wanted to hang out with a little girl. Or I might be picking dandelions bouquets with Jody and selling them door to door to makes some quick candy money. Or maybe I was in Charlie's backyard, eating canned peaches on saltine crackers and pretending they were fancy sandwiches at an English tea.

I don't recall who I was with when the cemetery seemed like a good destination. A playground, really. I can only remember that the town was on edge that summer because women had gone missing. People were on the lookout for vans. Parents went on safety lesson rampages doling out stranger mistrust and curfews, which is probably exactly why we'd broken free and were exploring.

Where the cemetery butted up against saw mill and golf course, in some remote corner still free of marble grave markers, there was a knoll of grass and shade trees that seemed just right for resting after our child gang adventures. I don't remember who discovered the black garbage bag, and honestly, I'm not sure if I really looked inside or if I took someone else's account and made it mine. At that age, the blood one sees is contained to skinned knees and elbows or a steak your dad (if you have one) throws on the grill. This wasn't grocery store meat. There was too much of it. It was too messy and writhing with maggots. I don't think any of us were old enough to make excuses or meaning.

An adult would have a backlog of cruelty to draw from. In the file cabinet mind, they would pull the folder for poaching, reason that a hunter may have killed something out of season and dumped the innards where they wouldn't offend. An adult would know that sometimes household pets breed and are too many and too much to handle and so are dispensed with. This was no burlap bag of kittens thrown into a river or a box of puppies left roadside.

An adult might have thought to call the police. But we were children who squealed and dared each other to have a closer look. To touch 'it'. We were children who rode bikes with banana seats, tassles on the handlebars, playing cards tucked in the spokes. We could hear our mothers calling. I'd pretend to hear mine. Lunch was almost ready, and our hunger would erase what we had or had not found.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Man Next to the Best Man

I'm too far from sea for shipwrecks. Here, the yachts knot themselves in circles, so the party never ends. It's just a matter of stepping to the next vessel when company gets old or the alcohol runs low. Elsewhere, skiers trail behind small engines, drone during the most important part of the wedding ceremony. At a certain time of day, they seem to glide on sunshine instead of water. All eyes are on the bride and groom, but he--a groomsman and my date--looks out on the lake in the same way some fortune tellers look into a cup of tea to read the leaves.

Where is he?

The day before, I'd accompanied him to the tux store for the final fitting. I sat on a couch and waited. Frat boys with faux hawks spilled out of dressing rooms, already high on the idea of sowing their wild oats. I busied myself looking at the technicolor vests and posters of grooms serenading their brides on guitar. A little boy with bed hair ran around the room as him mom and dad got ready for their big day. He had red hair and skin so pale I thought I could see through it.

When he came out, the woman looked down at her clipboard. She noted his weight loss from the initial fitting. He required new pants, and the woman cinched his vest as tight as it would go. He paid the lady and left with a body bag draped over his arm. "Are you all right?" he kept asking.

He's the one who wasn't eating. And I kept thinking, I wish it was as easy to make him happy as it was for the mother of that pale-skinned boy. When he'd fallen and skinned his knee on the tux store carpet, all it had taken was a box of animal crackers in the shape of a cage.

I had nothing of the kind in the car. No remedies. I imagined feeding that hurt, that gauntness like we had fed the car earlier, stuffing it with backpacks, tents, sleeping bags, and a box full of booze that rattled and chinked when we took corners too quickly.

And it seemed the drive was all corners if that was possible.

When we arrived, he unpacked a bottle of tequila first. He took a pull and grimaced a bit until it turned smooth behind his lips. "Ready?" he asked. And we walked hand in hand down that gravel path to where it was all happening. The camp had been double booked, wedding party and bible camp. Activities were oddly parallel. In some cabin, foal-legged pre-teens were turning yarn into eyes of God, while the women were arranging sunflowers in blue vases.

Beneath a neon cross, children were pledging their love for God and their crushes on fellow campers. And we had our own neon. We called it the moon, and we swam beneath it the night of the wedding. He was no longer looking out across the water to avoid
it. He was wincing across sharp rocks until he'd reached the deep with me--the deep where the rocks turn smooth, where the water turns inexplicably warm, where the past is as distant as the shore, and in the arms of the right person, shipwrecks are the stuff of children's books: the pirates are on some page you've already turned, and treasure glints on some future page.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011



Temperatures low in the high country,
deer wintered here, still do
in the natural salt lick
of Warm Springs mound,
stepping over abandoned tracks
oozing tar in the Big Sky sun.
Once these rails would take you
to Chicago,Milwaukee, St. Paul--
I can still feel the pull of it and yet
they made a home of it.
The Cattle King and his million acres
whispered and some heard.
It wasn’t a hard life unless
you landed in the castle.
Sandstone ghosts still
adhere to the code of silence,
working in groups by day
and confined at night.
I don’t need to walk inside.
I know the soft brick and lack
of light,30 below, oil smoke, the rank
of too many bad men in one place.
Idleness bred insurrection,
so he made them build their own walls.
I can testify, fresh air changes a man.
I was falling asleep at the wheel,
so we pulled over at the edge of Deer Lodge,
where the horses seemed wilder
than they were. It is not a lie
that they ran in tandem
as we kissed. It wasn’t the sun
that caused the heat
that became unbearable. We fled,
got locked up next to a Volkswagon bug
with rust in the shape of starbursts.
And who knows how long
we would have stayed beneath that sun
if it had not been for the old man
returning from a stream that probably
always run clears. I swear he carried
his pole like a rifle. He’d had no luck.
Caught, we were shy. And I wish
we’d taken him at his word.
He’d said, “Don’t let me stop you.”
But damned if our separate homes
weren’t calling.