Still rough, more fragmented narrative than poem, all explanation and no music. The struggle continues. Long live the struggle!
for Sue and for so long
version 1 draft 3
She straddled my chest, heavy, dripping water—
earliest memory, this dream still vivid, her
long hair hanging down to my face—
I do not remember so much—so much is lost,
nearly all lost, but I feel my toddler legs kicking the bunk
above me in which my big brother slept, smell the
dank of her, hear his mattress rustle, how even
in his sleep my panic stirred him, how he chased her
away again and again, how he held my hand, how he
never went to get our parents.
Somehow that the seven year old boy, kicked awake
every night by his three year old sister, had already
learned that protecting her was his job alone.
I remember how rarely he said
no when I wanted his jacket, his hat, my chunky
arms lost in the echo of his, and how he
did all he could, little one guarding littler one, and how in 1968,
in the hospital, he climbed two chairs and a shelf,
agile as our pet squirrel, to reclaim Brownie Bear, kidnapped by
nurses who said I was too allergic.
Straddling my chest nights after nights,
earning her way into indelible memory. She looked
like my cousin Rhonda—
incomplete recall of cousins tangling to the floor?
Not at three or four—more likely a blurring of Mortica
Adams and Maleficent.
During a body work session, a meditation
intended to draw out the root of my
asthma, I cast her once as metaphor,
nothing more than a child’s mind putting
shape to what it could not comprehend. An
explanation for the memory of her adult body
lodged across my own, the heft of her, how
I felt my lungs compressed like balloons squeezed
nearly to popping, sternum and collar bones splintering—
asthma is a euphemism for
drowning in air, gasping
in and wheezing out—
asthma is the world entire made
narrow as my bronchial tubes.
Sense what that story silences? Water,
everywhere, her clothes and hair saturated,
leaving wet thigh prints on my ribs, damp puddled
in palms restrained by her knees, water in where I had no words, a
nauseating instinct that water could reclaim me, that I was
about to lose the crust that kept me human.
Denial is too easy an answer.
I’ve tried to cast the dream
as suppression—Freudian bed-wetting shame—but that
neglects the choking and my
surety that I knew her, at an age when
everybody I knew or might have known
lived in one of three houses on two streets
in one small town. As sure as I knew my own
name, I was sure she was not
a person who dwelt in my
daytime world. And I knew that
I knew her. She was not
alien, she was terrifying, she was
not new. She was not
separate from me. What sense could I make of that?
Even though I’ve remembered the dream, though it
lingered hours after, though it lingers yet,
it is always only
neurological puzzle, a knowing that I do not know.
A bit of gristle, as Scrooge said, a piece of meat that didn’t
digest. A gallery with a name but empty walls,
installation still in progress. Like lightening seen from far away,
a comprise of silence and thunder. An expectant
null. A crime scene photo, all blood, no face.
She says she knew, from our first date, August
eleventh, that she had loved me all her
lives. She says that this is crazy; there
is no way that she should have felt her
nervous system convulsing when she,
awkwardly, first touched my face.