We make pilgrimages to ruins and battlefields and monuments in hopes of touching history. It means a great deal to us to stand where our heroes and enemies have stood, to turn over in our hands their shaving kits and fountain pens. We pine for the past to be more than a story. We pine for it to belong to us.
We fail to appreciate our bodies, the artifacts.
Holding her that first night, it was a realization that I couldn’t shake. Her arms had shivered with goosebumps in the cold splashes of water which had bathed her in the days before plumbing. Her feet had padded, bare, across the soft summer grass of the prairie growing wild. Her nails scratched the backs of five hundred years of lovers, in beds of feather and beds of straw and no beds at all but open ground, under the view of every sky from San Francisco to Tangiers.
Her belly had ached in times of war and famine, her breasts had swollen in peace and in feast. She bore the scars of five centuries of serpentine history in the folds and taut places of her luminous skin. She’d cut it right back, one puncture wound at a time: indiscernible marks on the jugular of time.
But we got lost in the shape
Of arms tangled wild
In brave indecision
When they come
With their dark collars
And their heavy boots;
With their warrants and their statutes and their holy charge;
When they come
To wrap us
And bear us away
To anonmyous night;
When they come
To censure us
And to make us feel ashamed;
To wrest sweetness from the morning
And reprove it on the page;
When they come to demand
For these hot, unseemly crimes;
For a penalty to be paid
To all those that we tresspass against…
Won’t you tell them
All we’ve bought and what we’ve sold?
Tell them this is how we came to know music:
Your laughter on a streetcar
Or broken glass chipped on the night
The rumble and whine of plane engines in the dark
And the lungs in my chest the bass register.
Tell them this is how we came to know silence:
The agony of unspoken questions
Traced across unparted lips
Or the timber of uncertain times
The cacophany of life lived in the seams.
Tell them this is how we came to know mountains:
Bone against bone
Arching, slowly, for the sky;
A plateau of bodies
Thrust together from below.
Tell them this is how we came to know acid:
The smallest drop
A hungry fire
Eating and aching through buckets of sand
Heart stopped with blood
Blood steeped with poison.
Tell them this is how we came to know god:
The audience of the angels
Around a hollow crystal tomb
A stage where we poor marionettes
Have danced for their display
And bled and wept and loved and prayed
That they might bless us when we fade.
And tell, last of all, how we came to know man
In the alley to the back
How he hunted and he kicked us
How he battered our poor joy
‘Til it collapsed under his cruelty
But keep for me secret,
On that day the soldiers come,
How the bruises grow like flowers
On our skin as we grow cold
And in that purple, I, your fingers
Though your body’s far away,
Feel across me and inside me:
That, please do not ever say.
—Not the way you’re thinking,
Where it drags you to the light;
Not all the things I’ve done for love were right.
All photography by Erin Dunn of Fine Exposures in Rochester, MN
On a bright September afternoon, when Poppy was in the fourth grade, Jane sat in the printing studio with the windows open, listening to the birds in the tree outside.
It was one of those timeless hours, where the sun freezes between the yellowing branches and the whole day takes on a twilight quality. The earth pauses momentarily in the last throes of summer before its dramatic swing into the bosom of winter darkness
Jane was working on a small batch of books which had been commissioned by the wife of a local professor of Arabic Language and Literature, on the occasion of her husband’s sixtieth birthday. Jane had been recommended to her by an associate of Paul’s. She had been assured that Mrs. Hayes was the perfect candidate to print an art house edition of T. E. Lawrence’s masterpiece, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
This meant a close and tedious reading was required before any design decisions could be made.
Jane put down the book and walked to the window. She wished that Paul were there. He was much better at this sort of thing. But he was off for the weekend at a conference in Milwaukee. He had driven up Friday morning and was due back that night. Poppy was staying with a friend from judo class, leaving Jane alone in the house. Alone with her thoughts, alone with the twilight, most of all alone with the unfinished book.
These are the things that make you jealous:
A girl’s hair on the train, spread out like fire bursts on some grey stranger’s shoulder.
The color of fresh eggs, cracked against the frying pan and firming in the heat.
Paper folded twelve times lengthwise, incapable of bending to another pair of hands.
The music in the moment when the music has just ended: chairs and footsteps and cat-calls and whispers; one last note, choking in the rafters.
Friends meeting for the first time.
Lovers parting for the last time.
Strangers who turn to see if they’ve left on their headlights, or linger to count correct change. People who pause on the sidewalk, who never meet and never part, never laugh or cry or shout or leave marks that one day fade into scars. These make you most jealous of all.
She was sitting in the middle of the floor with all of the papers spread out around her. It was 3:38 am when I came home and I had expected to find her asleep.
“What does it say about me that all of my protagonists are smokers?” she asked as I sat down across from her on the couch.
“That you’re saving a lot of money on an expensive fictional habit,” I told her.
“My main characters aren’t all me,” she said. ”They’re much more likely to be somebody else.”
I wasn’t sure I believed her.
“Like who?” I asked.
“People I’m attracted too,” she said without hesitation. ”I have this thing I do,” she confessed, leaning on my knees, “Every time I’m attracted to somebody new, I have to figure out how to write them. I want to study all their facial tics, learn to imitate their body language, copy their speech patterns. I want to pinpoint all the things that drive me crazy about them.”
“Doesn’t that take the mystery out of it?” I asked.
“Maybe a little,” she said.
“Then why do you do it?”
“So I can call them up whenever I feel like it,” she said. ”So they belong to me.”
“Now that,” I said with certainty, “Says something about you.”