I. The Music of Our Efforts

All night my husband has been writing a melody. It sounds beautiful through the ceiling. I mean the floor under my feet. Like someone laughing in a downpour. But every time I go downstairs for water he stops and clears his throat. At 3 a.m., I ask him to play it for me but his voice is gone, he says, and besides it’s late. We get in bed most nights together, like we are waiting. I think he is waiting for me to fall asleep. Our son calls out through the monitor most nights to be escorted to the bathroom. But tonight he does not punctuate. As the sky lightens, he enters our bed, closing the space between us the way milk once let down in my breast. What can I offer him this tired? I want to whisper: Do you want me to open the window? But he has grown up before I can catch enough breath to show him that there is a world, still. 


II. Which Parts Were Always True

One morning after breakfast we emptied a milk carton, filled it with water and froze it. In the evening I cut the cardboard away from the block of ice and dropped it into the bath with you. We had forgotten to put in toys, which the prism was supposed to tantalize you toward. But you didn’t mind. You desired the ice, the way it broke into sharp triangles before dissolving into smooth tablets. Surprise. I let you catch and watch the forms change and disappear. When the last edge became water in your hand, you looked at your hand like it would soon morph before blaming it for staying the same. You screamed and I did not even comfort you, you who proved I was a mammal all along. I did not call upon science or wrap you in a towel as you mourned, not understanding you were also melting. Years later, we sit on cold sand unbraiding seaweed just to braid it together and pull it from a swarm of flies. The beach remains unfazed. When you scream for no reason, I scream now. How lying to you saves you from my disappointments. 


III. Last Station

The night my father was buried, I awoke having dreamt I was waiting in line to buy train tickets. It was taking forever because you had to choose a flavor and my husband kept wanting to taste them before we paid. Then he walked a long way through the crosstown tunnels in what I knew was the opposite direction of the train. The farther I followed him shouting it was the wrong direction, the less likely we would make the train. Even if we heard it coming. Even if we turned right then. As I tried to go back to sleep, I became terrified of dying, which made me feel guilty. My father was no longer alive! 

Once I was encouraged to say I love you (I didn’t) before his quadruple bypass. For your own peace of mind, my husband had said. I did not say: My father is the peace I write out of, the one mind my words have never been for. At 4 a.m. I shook my husband, asking to be held. He was too deeply asleep so I moved myself into the crease of him, turning against the grain of my usual sleep position in order to get under his arm. The difference between this death and other deaths is that my father is not one to visit the living. He is probably relieved to be left alone. Maybe not attending his burial reveals how much I understand his deepest need. 

Then a light started blinking in the study off our room. The blinking was slow at first so that I thought it was my blinking, then faster the more I gave it my attention. My father came home each day and turned off the lights in the rooms we were in. He did not often greet me. If he chose to, often I chose not to respond. My husband is not mystical so he got up to find the source. It was over as soon as he passed through the door frame. Hi, I said to the room I was finally alone in, and wondered, when my father passed my room all those nights turning off lights, what if I had simply said that? 


IV. Blueprint 

The last time we fuck we will think we know what we’ve been doing wrong. Music—forgetting to play music—made us old. The last time, his mouth never touches above my shoulders and I am convinced evolution will soon leave speech a lower body function, the head at last too vulnerable to make connections. I imagine fitting the furniture from our entire house into an empty studio he enters, all mine. The last time I, without knowing why, pour water into a small cup of dirt, No, I hear him moan, you’re making mud. Yes, you’ll see, I say pouring another pitcher, four more pitchers until the dirty water has overflowed so completely that what’s left is a cup of fresh water. So clean I forget what my point was. I think I feel his palm under my ass lose feeling. A feeling that is not mine to lose for which I have no better word than human. When he pulls out, I have given up nothing. Before blinds caressed by moonlight, the moon is any phase. No idea this is the last. Once the quest for a cause is kissed away the change comes clear like a doorknob turned but not opened. “We’re different people,” he says from the bathroom, cleaning off our innocuous ending. We will meet many more times, still willing to save the same lives for anything. Still closer than we began.


V. Lost Soul

Five days before my father died I miscarried an unplanned pregnancy. I was relieved not to have to consider abortion. Also to know that the embryo was not viable anyway. Still I felt the cramp as a contraction as I stared into the shaving mirror. This is not my house. There was hardly any blood around it. I could not believe how whole it seemed. So round, it would not be absorbed. My instinct was to pick it up. Unfurling it in my fingers, I had to remind myself the curve was not a human but a sac holding the size of a seed. I saw the umbilical cord. I saw the first day of nursery school. I saw my living children gathering around it. I saw the headless being and still I brought it to my chest to nurse. What was I to do with this silent smashed raspberry? Some of it dense, some of it spread translucent. Suddenly I understood the ultrasound machine, the way sound gives way to light, and light lets us decide what’s animate inside the animate. I know everything except one thing, a game my father played when I was little enough to love him, in which I’d guess which question he could never answer. One thing, one thing, one thing. Even then I could accept there were things one cannot learn.


VI. Sunflowers

It is not unusual, I’ve heard, for a loved child to frenzy the nonhuman world. I consider our son’s painting of sunflowers, so kinetic it resembles a family running away or the moment he ran back to us. The faces in the distance lose the features of faces. I must be the smallest one, behind, while he is the most detailed, with the red of a tongue about to speak. His petals bleed yellow hair or a cape blown back by humiliation, flapping between he was born this way and a tragedy. His hair a year later looks dark green to me, shading my face when he crawls between us for sunrise. His leaves are the arms I once thought we would carry him with, passing him back and forth to his father like art. On the wall, without opposable thumbs, we just end up joining or avoiding our own stems. When he says he is scared now we immediately call him brave. I ask what he remembers about forgetting, and he takes my hand, leads me outside. The rain makes the world smell like it knows us. 

Elizabeth Metzger

Elizabeth Metzger is the author of Lying In, as well as The Spirit Papers, winner of the Juniper Prize for Poetry, and the chapbook Bed, winner of the Sunken Garden Poetry Prize. She is a poetry editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books and she lives in California.

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