The light on our bedsheets is emissary
of more. It hints at the way you will cry
when your mother is buried,
not from heartbreak
but at the way that you feel
nothing and then mourn for your
own heart, forged steel, smoothed
granite, laid to rest
so many years ago.
The first time you almost killed your baby brother
because you hit him so many times
and all you could see was blackness,
a glorious Spirograph of pain.
The next day, you were late for 4th grade
because your mother couldn’t drive with so many tears in her eyes.
She told me this story yesterday, your mother,
regret a coyote loping slowly
across the 40 years between then and now, mangy, flea-bitten
starved to tell someone, anyone
the shameful black truth that has been hiding in her mama heart
all this time.
I told her I was packing my boxes.
she tells me that her son is a beast.
That she will never forget how flat your voice
sounded when you answered her questions.
I can’t help it. I am afraid of what’s inside of me.
She will not admit how many times you said these words over the years.
She says she loves you still and always will
and that she’d hoped I’d quiet the roar.
My own intuition has been telling me to run
since the very first moment I sat across from you.
I did not run and now eight years later,
this light is thick liquid, creeping
golden and alive
across your rising and falling chest
and it foreshadows the exact opposite of
warm beacon, dripping life, electric
salvation leading homeward.
rescue me from the dark.
It speaks of how the gravedigger knocks at your door
every single week but goes away empty handed
because you are trembling under the bed blind with rage.
Heartbreak, the way your mouth tastes like pennies for days
no matter how many times you floss and brush.
How you have always known that tears taste like the ocean
and sound exactly like fists landing hard on flesh.
You are afraid of everything, most especially yourself.
And rightly so.
Do you remember that scotch filled night in which you told me
that you'd never had kids because you were terrified that they would
turn out exactly like you? I do.
Why are you so upset?, you asked.
I’ve worked so hard to bring you to this place slowly.
It sounded like strategy. I remember the hollow places around your
eyes. The way I felt suddenly cold and unsafe in my own home.
I can see you standing there in our kitchen,
haunted and terrified.
Terrifying. Your empty eyes.
And so I am awake right now, watching the light
dance across our bedsheets
and I am left wondering if the difference between you
and a serial killer or you
and a sexual predator is simply fear
and I am thankful for that.
Grateful that after all the posturing and bravado,
all the anger and telling me what the fuck to do,
that underneath it all
you are just a coward quaking with fear.
A small boy afraid of what is inside.
I am not the same anymore.
I will not be hunted and I will not stand in place
while you pick me apart.
So I am packing my suitcase and leaving.
The breeze strokes the leaves of the trees
that my son calls weeds
but I call wonderful. They will spend the day
thinking about turning brown and drifting
to the ground.
Soon it will be fall, but not today.
Today, the birds wait on power lines
heads tilting to catch the sun.
They send an occasional song through the air,
which lifts and joins hands with others,
singing itself across my wagon-wheel potting shed.
The lavender digs her toes a little deeper
into the dirt. Prickly pears
widen their shoulders and stand up straighter, fuchsia
cups on the tips of their tongues.
On the west side of the city, someone’s motorcycle
is growling its way forward too fast and I worry about safety -
his, hers, mine, ours, everyone’s.
Wind chimes whisper my name and I answer silently,
so as not to break the spell.
I used to sleepwalk.
Throughout my childhood,
I rose at odd hours,
took to my bare feet,
fled through the kitchen door
and into the moonlight.
I don’t remember it,
but I understand it.
What I wanted then
was a mother who was sober,
if not all of the time, then at least
some of the time.
I wanted to curl into soft blankets
and wake to the smell of pancakes
and quiet in the house.
I yearned for a cool glass of water
on a clean white tablecloth.
It was not to be.
Until these days of quarantine and face masks,
I had forgotten about my need for safety.
It was buried deeply in the fine sifted soil of university,
covered over in the frail gauze called 401K.
I have found safety in distance –
social and otherwise.
This city encircled in mountains
is 1600 miles from that kitchen door.
and I am still not sure if it is far enough.
Today, I can hear that little girl’s voice.
She hisses like a teapot gone to boil,
high pitched and impossible to ignore.
She cries and I try to soothe her
but she knows better.
She knows that my solution is
to sleepwalk my way through it
and she is wise enough now to know
that this is not an answer.
Still, she wants to be held
by someone stronger than her.