Standing in front of the garbage dump, I pluck a smooth stone from the ground and offer it to Bird. She feels its weight in her hand, turning it over, then throws it. When it lands, the pigeons, like doves at a wedding, flock to the sky. The sun behind them red from smog. Coughing, Bird believes this lift is an omen, and she steps inside the gate. In the mud she finds a Barbie. One arm is missing. The dress is browned, ragged, torn so that a nipple-less boob is exposed. Someone has burnt her hair, which mats, like hope, to her scalp.
The idea of a woman having to have a single pure life
is how the Admiral was raised. Our mother, etc.
So he couldn’t explain why his wife
drove into the pond: “Women are the ideal of a simple purity.”
The shape aimed for only attained through suffering,
surgery, liposuction, little girls with plastic lips, & pale shins.
The idea: “Her life was simple. She never left the house.”
How the Admiral raised this as a question, etc.
Winter is a place where love can settle. Or so I’d thought and moved into the mountains of Montana with my girlfriend, a woman who’d spent her whole life believing what the South had taught her about debt—that women should marry young and bear children and that some sort of life can be made from that. From my grandfather, we rented a house on the north ridge. Snow came in and sealed up the cracks. One morning, hungry, ice melting down my spine, I stole a chicken from the back of its coop. I cuffed it upside down by its shins so its body stiffened. The sky was the color of bathwater. Breath fogged my glasses. When the lenses cleared, she was in front of me, wearing a tank top with no coat, holding her arms. “It’s cold.” She looked at me as if I controlled the weather. “You’re not going to want to see this.” I stiffened the bird’s neck over a stump stained in blood. She scuttled around, gracefully, almost dancing, pretending to be a chicken. She was making noises that sounded nothing like one. “You’re not going to like what happens here,” I said. “You’re not,” she said, and stole the axe. A wind began to peel up the worn shingles of the house, the house there for the moment, but maybe, someday, not so far from then, in the distance, past where the weather hardens everything, who knows.
Someone had stuffed a short story collection by Raymond Carver in the leaves near my trashcan. Whoever owned it had removed the cover. Also, the person had spilled coffee on its corner, pruning the eggshell-colored paper to sand. Inside, pages had been folded over, keeping the reader’s place the way a person will note the birthmarks she loves on her partner’s arms. Immediately, I could relate to the constant weight the book must have felt, how it had been loved too heavy, too soon, and without relief. I sat with it in a foldable lawn chair. Across the grass, my fence pronounced the boundaries of foliage. A cat slinked from behind an overturned rowboat, preening itself in the grass. The shrubberies’ overlapping shadows swayed around him the way bathwater, the night before, had lapped around my tub as I eased in. That night, I was tired of being touched and had surrendered. Please, god, Carver, anyone, help me. Am I, like you, ashamed of being loved? Or of the way I never really knew my brother? A little over a year later, my brother would be imprisoned in Warrior, Alabama. The first time I would go to see him, my mother would stay in the car. The officer patting me down would tell me that the razor wire surrounding the fence was “set to kill”. For his minor crime, in which no one would be hurt, he would be sent there, my brother, to Warrior, to be forgiven, or grieved over, or whatever. Every stereotype you know about a prison is true from the outside and when I would step towards the gate, I would see him, my brother, a former naval officer, on his hands and knees, kneeling near a runnel of storm-water. He would be releasing a small boat made from a milk carton. It would sit in the water, swaying. He would breathe on it until it moved.