Halflife Part Five
By Meghan O'Rourke
Every night, the same:
I wake; here and there
the eye can make out an edge,
the back of a couch;
or the lamp is on
but the light seems sickly.
My mouth sour with wine--
something is in the room with me;
something I can't see.
I look for him, I want to find him
looking for me--
At six, death dropped around me
like a sheet. I was playing tag
with my brother and a friend
whose name I can't recall,
when, out of breath, hungry,
I stopped to rest, put my hands
on the old oak table
(our parents were away) and fit
my fingernail into the slot
where the wood met the decorative lip
bounding it. A cold
ice rooted me
to the linoleum floor,
like a tree in winter.
Far from the dirty bay of the Hudson, far
from New York's penthouses and gutters,
where the Battenkill rolls among fields of green,
we came to spend the summer; here,
one day, -- the newspaper informs me,
when I am twelve, in 1988 --
"Inside the dense brush and trees
on an early Vermont spring day in 1981,
Melissa Walbridge and Meghan O'Rourke,
twelve-year-old friends, were repeatedly raped
and stabbed in a wooded area
behind a town park.
Meghan O'Rourke survived the attack
and was able to describe the attackers..."
one of whom, that spring, had been freed--;
--a story that could not be forgotten or owned,
like looking in a mirror and discovering someone else's face.
In my sleep a garden grew,
a kind I'd never seen before or walked in;
(or so it seemed);
what I had reconciled myself
to losing -- the wooden barette from China,
the Salvation Army sweaters I wore in college,
his lean-faced Anglo-Saxon cussedness --
returned to me, as if the memory had been
transported to the ordinary electric-lit
room in which I sleep, the words
I'd grown used to not uttering, love,
so long displaced, a box of letters, vividly present --
like the hum of a power line outside the window
which, now, downed in the storm, wakes you,
buzzing along the street's guardrail into a puddle;
a wire capable of killing a large animal,
like the one that last week silenced a couple
whose car broke down in the flooded road
as they stepped out into the puddle --zap! -- their bodies
still pliant. Only minutes earlier,
they'd kissed. Her lipstick on his face,
the cracks of her lips wet on his skin.
When I wake my hair is full of static.
Now the garden I walk in at night
is overgrown and uncivilized. All day
the flowers thicken in their sturdy plot,
the honeysuckle climbs, requiring me to stop, and weed.
In another life, he tells me,
we were brothers -- twins.
We ran together; we ate
from the same brass bowl, twin lions,
each standing guard for the other
as he fed; we broke our arms
and healed, quickly, skimming rocks
in the morning over the lake.
And now we were here, in Brooklyn, a lariat of blood
between us; our love, so unquiet, unfamilial, was
fraternal: what had connected us
had brought us back together, only
I had chosen -- in some past I could not imagine --
to unstitch myself from him, from my own
flesh, and become ... alien.
And so when I fought with him,
and then returned, a penitent, submissive,
he said, what I wanted
was my own boyhood back --
I wanted to be changed,
like Daphne and laurel tree. ...
In his green eyes, I hear his soul
muttering like the ocean
at its farthest edge.
When you are a child this is all you have:
rules, mountains, pools, boundaries, magic
that doesn't work. What happened to her
did not happen to you. You were a child,
you were safe, you were not harmed. But
there are fields inside us. They grow.
How do you choose which ones to make room for
under the golden sun, and which ones to lock away,
so that men cannot climb into them at twilight,
vaulting over the iron fence
and landing lightly in the grass?
What happens when you invite what you love
into the field and it will not stay?
Is the grass still green, does it continue to grow like grass?
Even in the winter, his body is warm;
even in the winter, after we have slept like this
for months, I come to with a start, not
understanding what lies beside me, eyes closed,
warm as a rock warmed by an alien sun;
I have just come from somewhere else --
where children with uncombed hair
guide me through slanting valleys,
walking arm in arm with me through a corona of snow
to a barren place: the garden
I still stand half in and half out of,
and in which, waking,
for a moment, I see his face -- what was
his face, what would be his face:
a cold fox, forgetful
of the place from which we came--
he wakes; he stretches out
a careless arm, and smiles. And tomorrow
he will do the same; and again; and
On a cloudless night, the boys walk
through the wooded field kicking at tame weeds,
shoes scuffling among the woodchips put down
along the back path from the fields
to the cluster of houses by Route 4.
The grass is so tall that cicadas
cling to it as it bends beneath their weight,
little old men weakly singing,
fate, fate, fate. By whose indifference
did harm enter the world. ...
When they come upon the girls
-- among dense trees, tall, degraded
grass, goldenrod, daisies --
just begun to bloom -- and on a musty
when they come upon the girls,
One takes out a knife and one takes out a rope.
It is a tired old truth, that death comes to each
the same, to each alone --
a solitary, singular act,
like laying out a tablecloth to eat in solitude --
and all this a few miles from where we pass
on the path to swim
by the culvert
and the river splitting into creeks
like a hand spread over the land.
My eyes hurt. A translucent sheet
has grown over them.
Twilight intrudes at the edge of the bay, and the room
goes gray -- so that one can make out only edges,
the back of a couch, the light at the mantel ledge --
concealing from us the things that have slipped
from our loose grasp -- girls combing their hair
with Goody combs, boys running
with baseball gloves outstretched --
and have drifted away, a wave of light
moving out into the last trough of the ocean; a path
that appears to be a way forward,
but is not a way at all, is nothing
but a tendency of light
traveling through the great, cremated distances of autumn.
From the critically acclaimed 2008 collection Halflife.
Our power came back on late Thursday night, but our internet was out nearly all day, though Comcast had promised to send someone between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Rather than lament this any further, since I am just happy finally to have everything working again, I shall instead post about what I did accomplish on Friday, which wasn't all that much. After breakfast I put on Star Trek: The Next Generation so I could review "Phantasms", which both kids ended up watching with me; it's a more enjoyable episode than I had remembered (I was still cloudy-headed from having a newborn when I first saw it), and we were all amused by the amount of air time given to Data's cat Spot. Then I went looking for the Deep Space Nine episode "Past Tense" since something had reminded me of it and I thought it might be in the Time Travel DVD collection; it wasn't, but I put on "Little Green Men" because I thought the kids would like it and we ended up watching the whole disc, which also had "Trials and Tribble-ations" and Voyager's two-parter The Year of Hell. I really did not like the latter when I first saw it -- it was in the early stages of the Seven of Nine Era, I hated the way Janeway was characterized, I thought it had a lot of redundancy -- so I was surprised that it held up better than I expected, particularly Chakotay back in the days before Robert Beltran started phoning in his performances.
Our internet returned just after 5 p.m. -- just in time for me to post my review, after two increasingly cranky calls to Comcast since I'd stayed in the house all day assuming they'd actually come since they said they would -- and I made a brief attempt to catch on on e-mail before going for a walk since I desperately needed to stretch my legs at that point. (Comment replies to come later, I promise.) We had dinner with my parents and my sister's middle daughter, who is visiting them till tomorrow morning -- tacos, which were her choice -- and stopped to see the baby bird on the way home. He is flying all around Rose's place and picking at blackberries but still not really feeding himself, meaning he doesn't get to practice flying outside yet. Adam and his friend Daniel were helping him fly. We watched the Redskins beat the Bills in a preseason game in which Donovan McNabb looked pretty good, though I'm sticking with the Ravens as my team; I have issues with the Redskins' name and the Redskins' owner even if I do live marginally closer to where they play.