After “Birthday” by Marj Hahne
The clouds sweep over the mountains. In their wake, rivulets, debris, and birdsong. It was rain that woke me at 2 a.m., dropped pitched rings on the metal chairs and glass tabletop, duller tap tap taps on the patio brick. The mockingbird started at 4. I clenched my teeth and three corners of the flannel sheet. It was the rain that woke me, but the cold that kept me up. You, deep in dreams, hoarded three corners of comforter. I, too, steal things unknowingly, myopic in my dreams. I, too, leave you shivering. These little meannesses, unintended, we soften with pillows and heartbeat. I gripped the meager flannel and glued to your skin, the curve of your back. The mockingbird and raindrop bell choir and the radiant heat of you lulled me to sleep until daybreak. Now, among the puddles and sticks and birdsong, sun. The spring sprigs glitter like sapphire and opals.
the thunder rolls in
awakening small things
and sweeps away
Rain filled the concrete river basin. The rushing came from a quarter mile off, a roar of muddy brown, charging to who-knows-where. I left you sleeping, straightened the sheets and blankets, sealed the edges around your hips and shoulders, and covered your face with kisses. I can never bear to leave you, but I do anyway. I don’t know where the balance is between what I give to you and what I take for myself, so I steal away at dawn when you’re too sleepy to protest, my pockets shaking with jellybeans. I run eight, ten miles, for two hours, sometimes three. Sometimes all the way to the ocean. I chew on the candy and thoughts I don’t share, or maybe do, and I collect things—a bagpipe duo, a coyote, a spray of graffiti on a sidewall canvas—to tell you later. When I return, you’re awake and there’s music and coffee in the air. We kiss without touching, but I want nothing more than to wrap you in my sweaty arms as I bring a mug of coffee into our morning shower.
Ella, The Young Marine Wife, Tells about Her First Horse
Some drifter brought
her to my father’s office. She’d been
wandering back country roads
with one shoeless hoof, an ear infection,
and a swollen belly.
I didn’t want her.
She’d never worn a bridle, let alone
a saddle. Her teats were distended
and dripped on my boots
when I brushed her.
Ella needs something to break in, my mother
told my father,
something besides me.
I found her twins
dead in the mud.
It had just rained.
Their eyes were sealed shut
with mud, their open mouths
bowls of mud.
And she was just running circles
around their crippled bodies
in the paddock.
I didn’t want her.
I watched my father put the heavy
bodies into black trash bags.
I watched him bridle her and tie her to a fence post
where she stomped and struck the ground.
I watched more blood come out.
I didn’t want her.
I named her Red.
He trails gunpowder across the map,
all of his footprints set to blaze
this geography of my loss. He flees
west, and westward more, will hit
that other ocean. He’ll swim, shoulders
taut against the pull of my anchor.
Or will he drop off the sudden edge
choose dragons over my skin.
Some days I burn, some I wade
into this ocean, empty my lungs
and drift to the sand. There I’ll find,
maybe, his new map, this shining horizon
he draws. Let’s call things by their proper names.
A chase. A flight. Some licking, brazen
burning need, a flame I couldn’t follow.
It Catches Us All in Turn
At a certain point heat becomes a mirage, a pulse in the air and under skin. The body can bear more—the fact of one hundred three degrees, of motor bikes that burn like rapids and air that tastes of lemongrass. The body can bear to a certain point only. We will ourselves strong and fool the days on the backs of bicycles, our hands in soil and our feet in the sea. Farm-dirt basil leaf fresh on the tongue, a sheaf of rice stalks cradled heart close. Wipe off the sweat, wave away the looming fatigue that gnats at the edge of your vision. These webs of muscle and bone will fail us, not at once but in the end. I didn’t think I’d last a day, built for cold nights and north ocean wind. On the streets of Hanoi and Hoi An and Hue I learned the depth of my legs and lungs, learned breath that sears. Learned to break, and rest, and breathe, and step back into delirious light.