Until We Go To Sleep
Trying to speak
this is the letter i’d write to him:
this is the letter (i’d write)
More there than before
Before arriving, I expect to find him diminished. I fret and worry, until I see the man I imagined halved or quartered or simply obliterated by his ill-functioning brain. But in a way, he’s more there than before, almost larger-than-life now, battling to say what he can say as he watches the words float away.
I imagine his brain a murky river that speeds up to take away simple words or slows, allowing the sentences to be formed with graceful ease.
The keys went for a walk. Out behind the barn? Danced for an hour or two, drank a beer?
He found them a week later, in the tweed jacket pocket, hardly drunk, maybe hungover, cowering, or cocky, he couldn’t decide. Warm metal in his palm, liquid.
Don’t pretend you didn’t know: cells can’t go on living forever.
People fall apart, sometimes in front of your eyes.
In the morning, my mother assembles ingredients, ready to bake a cake. Brown sugar coats two fingers, there’s egg white in her hair. Something yellow on the floor. I watch her almost step in it, three times, before going down on a knee at her feet, sponge in hand.
When things get bad, Aiko comes over with perfectly square sheets of colored paper and folds them before our eyes. We’re thirsty for the intricate folds, the neat handling of paper. Absorbed in the motion of the hands that flick and fold, we find peace.
Soon, a line of colored boats drifts lazily across the lake of the kitchen table, floats along the river of our conversation.
After a cup of tea, Aiko gathers her things and sets off. In her wake, a gaggle of geese flies the table in a lazy V.
He came out for dinner in his slippers. She said: I want you to promise me that you won’t do that again.
He said: No, I won’t.
She said: What are those things on the table? Thinking they were something good to eat, dessert perhaps. We saw that she was talking about his fingers. He wiggled them; we laughed.
Once, looking for a word like brain or mind, he said “what’s on top.” I’m still not certain he was out of words, but possibly simply casting an ironic tone on the process and his situation.
My sister said: Why did he have to get it? Why couldn't it be someone else?
Alarmed, I asked: Like who?
Jumping to Conclusions
Sometimes, it’s as if they’re already dead.
Orpheus and Euridice
The conversation kept getting stuck: odd silences, strange attempts to move it along.
But how does one say things without words, when the sense of a word’s departure is stronger than one’s possession of it?
Like Orpheus looking back at Euridice, the word falls apart.
Some days, one lies too much in the harbor of oneself, tied to splintery docks, banging against the hard shallows of a life.
Why is it that dogs always come near, sniffing her hands? Dogs stray from the fussers, warm to her lack of interest.
Perhaps they smell butter on her skin. She's always baking, putting things into the oven and waiting to take them out. Cutting into cakes that have risen, letting cookies cool on racks. Carrying plates to peoples' doorsteps. Leaving them without a word, with only the lightest knock.
Grandmother, nearly a century old, hangs on. Tacksharp.
When she hears that you’re going to Venice, she says: Just one thing. Go through the lobby of the Gritti Palace, and find a table on the terrace along the canal. Sit there for a minute and think of me.
You return with glass beads, a raspberry and a blackberry, plop them into a thin porcelain dish.
Not missing a beat, she says: They’re yours when I go.
I remember the day the word “house” came away from the thing house and all it meant. I kept saying, house. House? How-s? Then word and thing sewed themselves together, the chasm temporary.
New Year’s Eve
People are out in the rain, buying next year's Christmas cards, half-off. Where do they come by such faith?
The grandmother’s eye that closed six months ago is open again. Fixing it on you, she says: I’m not dead yet.
They called to say: We’ve lost the street where we parked the car.
The end is always just around the corner, but sometimes it seems as if the street between here and there is long and if you walk slowly enough may never end.
Toward the end of every meal, when the rest of us are sitting with our hands in our laps, my mother says: I’m sorry I’m taking so long.
When did she become such a slow eater?
Step on a crack, break your mother's back.
Eyeing the dark soil in the yard, prepared for new plantings, she said: I can see you’ve got our graves ready.
The only real them there is.
You make them grow old or young, jump them across huge expanses of time, trying to prepare. Just when you’ve finally accepted the fact, they appear jaunty, high-spirited; you’re ashamed.
Wanting to plumb the depths of my mind so I can know where he is when he goes there.
A couple of things
She said she knows he’s thinking about things he doesn’t necessarily mention to her. How do you know? I asked.
He talks in his sleep, she said. I hear him say, “my brain.”
We learn to get by, and it’s always that, a denial of some greater ambition and potential. Our miracles are diminutive, but they can seem great.
He said: We'll do this until we go to sleep.
When our children are small stuttering beings, trying their mouths around language, we’re told not to help but to let them find the words themselves.
Should we practice the same control with our parents when, once again small stuttering beings, their tongues go around so pathetically in their mouths that we can almost picture their emptied-out minds?
We become mind-readers, supplying lost words. It’s not difficult—we’ve lived with these people’s minds in our own heads all our lives.
It’s both appalling and fascinating to watch a mind turn this way. That’s the only way to think of it: a turning.
Sometimes, weird sentences run through my brain, as if he’s speaking to me, from inside my head, and his logic has replaced mine.
Because the garden was almost too wet.
His dinner the other night, and then.
One could be utterly cynical and say: this is a fascinating inquiry into the roots of language and identity. The dissection of a real person, cell by cell.
She heard him say of an empty bag: this bag is quiet.
Fuck time to a standstill.
Quiet enough now to hear men calling, boat to boat.
Unthreading the labyrinth
We watch their lives come undone.
People go to church in order to weep without imposing tears on their loved ones.
Is freedom simply the ability to go beyond guilt?
Or is it the knowledge that even things declared whole and done aren’t finished at all?
The way we finish each other’s thoughts, sentences, and works of art, we finish each others’ lives.
After a period of abstinence, I find that the swim of words and the wind of eros are located side by side.
I fall into that particular sea, the wind and buck of it. The rapid climax of wave upon wave.
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