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"Spines", excerpt

Thursday 11/28/19

I will finish this later. I am composing at a high level.


What I do not say to my husband may also be something he does not say to me. A secret can be so lacking in light, you assume no one else could possess it. The darkness belongs to you alone. Anything shared has a kind of a glow, however loose and scattered the lambency.

The bruises on Menda’s shoulders looked like they were made by pastry wheels. Pinpricks of purple. Stains of popsicle drips. The night we brought her home I wanted her to myself. For the first night. You don’t say as much. You don’t make it look like you’re trying to get a head start, because you’re not. First to the bonding, you lead the initial leg. But I wanted to have the moment. She and I. Barry downstairs. He could feel proud in a chair. He lounged on the couch on regular nights, but the moss-colored stand-alone chair with cushions soft enough to lose a dog in them was for feeling proud. After a promotion from work. When I told him I was pregnant. Post-chainsawing a given number of trees on a November Saturday afternoon.

“Brush must be cleared,” he’d say, ‘we are less at fire risk this way,” and I’d add that would mean a lot going forward for our family, because there is much in this life that is said to you which has less to do with those words, and more to do with your willingness to add other words. My mother called it being tacit. I called my mother being wise. I guess all wisdom is tacit, when you’re wise enough to understand it.

I promised my child I would do anything for her that night, the two of us alone for the first time in our home, Barry on the phone downstairs, doing choric shouts with his dad. Each of them sounded like a choir of roisterers when they were excited. And I saw the points of purple come through the surface of the skin. Tips of sea urchin spindles. My child looked at me and motioned with its eyes, and I pressed the spindles back below the skin, as if the tiny fistfuls of baby fat around the shoulders were themselves something you could lose objects within; a thimble, a quarter, spines, the tip of your thumb, as mine dipped into the creature who had lately emanated from me. A part of who you were. The majority. Who you were. Because now you were something else. People won’t say this to you, but a child is also like a burial ground.

I always had her alone in the nights. I told Barry I read to her. I was instilling. A love. Of words. Their shapes. Their sounds. The sense that came from both. A triangle of S’s, system of sibilance. The way our tongue feels in that gap, a crease as over the bridge of a violin, where it touches no teeth, hovers mid-mouth, as it if it were taking a grave chance, commencing to say, as if by manner of a mouth within a mouth, “I love you.” All of that space around where the tongue hovers. As I said the words in the night, as the spines came out once more, or as my child turned yellow, as she sputtered, as a spume of froth, or a slurry of blood, bubbled from her mouth, her nose, sometimes her ears, as she choked, and she began to die, motioning me with her eyes, I’d think that the manner in which we state our deepest affection has the quality of abeyance because the words are never enough, and even the words themselves seem to know how limited they are, that they require further associations and implications. That is why there is room, between your tongue and the hollow of your left cheek, for “I would do anything for you,” and then on the far side, “My soul would be yours to have, should it aid you.”


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