The cycle of life is a worrisome thing. —Liu Tsung-yuan
It is an old book, the earth. Give me a word & it will be the singular germ, the seed for all that follows. The language of hope is a laundered handkerchief laid delicately on a washing line. My cat tracks a sunbeam around the house, stopping to rest in its warmth, moving when it moves. She thinks she will find it forever. What’s in it for us to embrace continuance? On a sunny day in a Charleston park I make a video of a fountain. Water wells up from a brick courtyard and children squeal and stomp in the spray. A yellow dog enters from the left wagging its tail, circles the scene, and disappears. Here, time is a perfect swirl. In my hand I hold the clattering of water, low murmur of voices, sound of cars, of wind.
Pre-War Paris Apartment Discovered Intact
The stiff lock turned by distant relatives. More than eighty years empty and moonlight’s nacre still hardens on the parquet floor. Damask wallpaper water-streaked, detaching. Love letters, newspapers, Louis XVI chairs with their Aubusson backs. A stuffed emu, Mickey Mouse doll—the early one with dead eyes. Dust, dust. In 1942 a child pounds on the door, pleads for help, is dragged back down the hallway. Gentle ticks, expansion, contraction of ancient beams, mostly silence. Five more years and a rat knocks a Meissen figurine from the mantle. Shards scatter like millefleur on the marble hearth. Swastika banners flap-flap from balconies in the open city. Panzers prowl the streets, rattling bone china in a gothic cabinet. A paperlouse bores through Simenon’s Pietr-le-Letton: Le tout dans un linceul bleu tacheté de lampes à gaz s'allumant les unes après les autres. All in a blue shroud speckled by gas lamps lighting up one after the other. The apartment breathing rhythmically. Cries from the street fly up to the rooms when Morrison dies. On our honeymoon we argue beneath those very windows about where to have lunch. It is Armistice Day and in the plaza, frail veterans rise from folding chairs for their final commendations. We walk arm in arm, our breath incised in the air, the streetlights lithographic, a string of pearls along the Seine.
Their plush theatricality, honeyed throats. I had no love for those redolent tokens we wore to prom, plucked from a plastic bubble, then the fumbling attachment to breast, wrist. Far from Billie’s gardenia, pearlescent moon, tucked behind her ear, vibrating in darkness to the drawn out vowels of “Summertime.” Florida changed my mind, the way you could forget them under trees once they’d bloomed. Abandoned to heat, dappled sun, afternoon downpours, a miraculous pod would again snake from the fold of waxy leaves. Nun, ghost, moth. Symbol of rot, dead men’s fingers, the fetid greenhouse in Chandler’s The Big Sleep. From ancient Greek, órkhis, meaning “testicle,” the medieval bollockwort. Also, womanly, violet petechia, heart wound. Centuries of violent plunder. Fanatical collectors. And yet, such calm and beauty here: Its green arc and unashamed excess, the one true object in the room, my mother’s hospice bedside, the only thing unmarred by shadow seeping from the sunworld through the blinds.
What We Bear Within
Shorter days, the morning half-light traces the bedroom’s charcoal contours later and later, longer breaths as the sleeping mind kickswims up to consciousness. Why the dead leaves on the lawn so early? It’s only August after all. A garbage truck heaves and rumbles on the next block, sending our two cats under the bed, into their lair, which is unreachable with the vacuum. Inescapable, the trappings of old age. Ears ringing, closed captioning, readers on a string. Still, moving through the day is nothing like straining in one of those padded suits devised by lab workers to simulate old age—like trying to walk while wearing a mattress. I am learning infirmity comes on gradually, until one day you get up and the bed comes with you. When I was young, working at a women’s shelter far south of here, a 90-year-old was raped by her grandson in the bed she had shared with her husband for sixty years. He broke every bone in her body. I know the bones of every woman who ever lived are out there somewhere. Over time I’ve tried to add their weight to mine, but they are light, or that is how I see them, particles fleeing earth at inconceivable speed.
JANE CRAVEN’s poems have appeared in The Southern Review, Plume, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Tar River Poetry, Salamander, and Atlanta Review among other journals. She earned an M.F.A. in Creative Writing-Poetry from North Carolina State University. Her collection, My Bright Last Country, won the Vern Rutsala Poetry Prize and was published by Cloudbank Books in 2020. Her book, Early Love As Archaic Landscape, is forthcoming from Jacar Press.
Cover image by Nelson Lowhim.
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