Funny thing to worry about. Little hairs. Hairs on back of sweater as she goes out of the room. Little hairs, how you look from the back, girls worry about this. Or they used to. Now girls are free. Okay to be unpretty, ungirls. She thinks back, freedom, her first airplane to Europe. Scholarship girl. This term was used. Heady sense of a lightly exotic self chatting with older man as plane lifts, accepting a whiskey, feeling his hand on her knee. Cold yeast of that moment. Please remove your hand. Not exactly shame. What is shame. A matter of temperatures. Heat flooding her neck, ears. Cross your legs, don’t cross your legs, what is he thinking now, now you must stay awake, the long night a black window. His air vent blowing on her, just put up with it, little hairs riffling on forehead, that was years ago. That was innocence. Not that her sexual aptitudes have enlarged or she learned to like whiskey. No. You’ve got a funny look, Eddy is saying, what’s wrong? Nothing, she says. She’d come in again and sat and swallowed an earring, having found a pair in her pocket and put one in her mouth while poking the other through, just a small one, sort of a pearl. Nothing, she repeats.
Does the blood spatter relate to a homicide or not, he is running tests. Could be just residue of life in the house, he says, it’s a drug house. Addicts clear blood from the needle that way but on the other hand, so do paramedics. Really? Clear the syringe, yes. Odd how you use needle for addicts and syringe for medics, she says. Eddy looks at her. She goes back to emailing, what he hired her for. Calm as linen is the lab at night, lamps on, black winter beating the windows.
That was before I knew you is a phrase that steals into people’s idiom vaguely. Thus are eras. She and Eddy do not sleep together. But when not with him she feels a bit wrong. Horizons loud. Men throwing chair after chair into a bin below her window just before daybreak. Night and its stars soak slowly backward out of the world as she goes clip-clopping along in the dawn, hearing the pure strike of bootheels on snow. Thinking sonnets. Thinking other people’s suffering. Who has a right to it. The masters don’t ask. Lift the knife and cut. Virginia Woolf for example, not sonnets but a master cutter. That story about the Maude family. Lived down the street from VW. Their dog, she was telling Eddy the other day, the Maudes got a dog because they couldn’t pay their bills. Made no sense to Eddy. She tried to explain to him what frighten duns meant and how one day the dog ran out and bit someone. Too bad it was Virginia Woolf. Who rallied the locals who rallied the local magistrate who said destroy the dog. Locals appalled. Oh we don’t want it destroyed, just restrained. Poor Maudes, they said. Need their dog. So how’d it turn out? Eddy says. She tells him she doesn’t know, VW cuts the anecdote off right there. Eddy makes a hmmm sound, goes back to work.
But the dog! the dog! she wants to say. Just let it go. I hate when people bare their souls, early remark of his she’d tucked away.
just thought I’d say hi on my way home
I have to work
got a deadline
let’s talk tomorrow
can I just come in for a sec the heat’s off at my place
I’ll just sit here a minute and warm up then go
you get on with what you’re doing
how long’s the heat been off
or say can I use your phone I could call them
about the heat
why not use your own phone
they’d know it’s me I been calling a lot
they’re aware of the problem then
so I have a new sonnet I could read it to you
if you want me to go I’ll go
could you go
oh not yet
She’d followed him out the back door of a lecture. Originally. Curious. Parking lot. By the bins. Plastic wad from his pocket. Unwrapped it, took out five little somethings, and arranged them one by one on top of the bins. Came from the air above the trees a big swanking blackness and wham wham wham five somethings are gone and so is it. His crow.
It had been an odd lecture. Lot of noise from the dining room next door, some evening event being clattered into place. He was a good lecturer, knew how to slide his voice in under other sounds. Knew blood. She’d come for the slides, didn’t care about DNA, forensics, wanted to sit in the dark and not think.
you following me (he turned from the bins)
go get us a drink then
And she at a stuck place for a while now, about a year, trying to make a sonnet cycle about a subject she didn’t feel able to—raise the knife and cut? No breeze came through. Detainment, enhancement, asymmetry, the official words so shrewdly drained of connection to life.denk es genau, she copied onto the cover of her notebook. Was that the problem? To think it exact? Think exact about the stitching. She could not, she stopped. There were photographs, sites, information. But the pain exactly. What was her question about the pain? Exact question. She started, started, started again, stopped. The locked room took her breath. Who was this boy, light from a decayed star for all she knew dead already, photographs, a photograph she’d seen once and couldn’t find again. She imagined him, she stopped. What right had she? His day, his lips, his instruments. His aftermath. She made it be winter for him, it was winter for her. She made this fiction of simultaneity between them then stopped, unholy. Her real minutes, his—who knows? Was it all about her, of course it was. No. Two big bloody stitches one each side of the cupid’s bow. Not her.
Yet how effective it might have been—a boy’s atrocious bloody boredom, her own virtuoso stanzas of six and eight, all the steaming, stinking heap of it urged into rhyme, she stopped. Ashamed. Starving to do it. She read up on poetry of witness and telling the truth to power and thought, no. Sassoon, Celan, “you told me how you butchered prisoners . . . ” all that, no. “Your golden hair . . . ” no. Poems don’t purify anyone. There is a heap. It steams and stinks. Denk es genau, she’d read in Ernst Meister, a poet who all his life suffered from not being Paul Celan. No. She stopped. And then felt so righteous she had to go out on a long walk to quiet the churning. Ending up at a lecture.
what would he use for thread
to stitch it you mean
any old piece of wire from around the cell, I guess, a shoelace
what about the needle
be surprised what addicts will use to get through skin
he wasn’t an addict
I’m just saying
just saying what (watches him count bolts into a bag)
why not have a needle smuggled in, even a big one, easy
I hate the light in here this gray light
really? hardware store’s one of my favorite places
I got that
do you think
It was some time before she knew if Eddy was a first or last name. She never did finish the sonnets, never did find out more, enough, about the boy who sewed his lips shut in a refugee camp because he was out of his mind with pain and rage, or what happened after. She thought of him and wept a little, tears shed for her own pity mostly, the spectacle of it. Even pity has to be learned, she thought. Eddy, not much of a weeper, listens to her go through it all again. Evening, the local hardware store, him shuffling bolts in a drawer. Afterward he says some things about imagination, about hunting, by then she has tuned out. They return to the car in silence.
Don’t yell. I’m not. You’re hung up on your own pieties. Let’s not do this. You want to hunt without shooting. He’s not an animal. You visit him in your mind like someone going to the zoo. Can we not do this. You’re like one of those dazed women in Antonioni. Who’s Antonioni? Never mind. So give me the Eddy method. For sonnets? No sonnets in me. Not sonnets, I mean the world, the blastedness, your work every day, the blood on the walls, the ruined people, how do you get on with it? I define the task and complete the task. If it’s analyze the blood I analyze the blood, if it’s fix the fridge door in the lab I fix the fridge door. Define the task, complete the task. They are driving in a freezing evening now turning greenish at dusk, purple. She used to love winter, season of Advent, early dark closing in, almost friendly. They stop at a stoplight. Where are we going? Your place I guess. She looks out her window at a man wrestling three enormous snowflakes out of a box onto his lawn, beside him a plastic snowman tilts on a mound of snow. Man gives her a look. The wires of his snowflakes are terribly tangled. Inside a dark house a dog is barking, barking.
You know my uncles made squirrel chowder. Eddy is attaching labels to his vials. She is typing more labels. Earlier in the day they’d been out back watching a squirrel running on a wall, or trying to run. Squirrel with a bum arm. It ran along the wall, tried to turn, collapsed on the bum arm, pitched off the wall, sprang back up, tried again, pitched off again, did this a dozen times until all at once a moan of rage came out of it—the whole suffering of its squirrel life packed into one sound, calling out to gods and justice, a moan that did not stop. Eddy went back inside before she did. Five or six squirrels in a pot with some Lipton onion soup mix, few potatoes, you’d be surprised. It is beginning to bother her she can’t tell when he is kidding. Do you think animals can pretend? she says. Yes but they can’t pretend to pretend. What? A squirrel might deceive you as to where its stash is by running to the wrong tree if it knows you’re watching. Okay. But a squirrel isn’t going to run to the right tree to make you think it’s running to the wrong tree and then go back later, they don’t reason around corners like that. Holy crap, neither do I, she says. He looks at her. Well, she says, maybe I do. Eddy is putting vials in the transit pouch. Reminds me of a Russian joke, she says, I can’t recall how it goes but the punch line is, If you say moron you are obviously referring to the czar! Eddy laughs. Why am I laughing, he says, I don’t get it.
She studies photographs of Ernst Meister, who even as a young man looks like he’s wearing a hairpiece, harboring doubt. Let’s say you register for a doctorate the day your professor is arrested; decide to publish new drastic verse just as the Nazis denounce degeneracy; deploy to Stalingrad, get captured, imprisoned, return from war, and spend decades writing poetry no one reads. Finally, two days before your death, they all decide you’re okay and award you the Georg Büchner Prize. Posthumously! Zeitspalt is a word you might use to express your thanks. “Time rift,” where we dangle between nothing and nothing. Is Ernst Meister talking to her? Just fooling? What does he know? Why does it comfort her (all of us) to read his “doing well for ourselves above the ash heap”? What new falsehood is this comfort, a man dead since 1979, a boy vanished in a news clip? I doubt you can hear me. I cannot shout louder than this.
When my mother died I began to see irises everywhere. Mother called them “flags.” When she talks to Eddy sometimes he just studies her, goes back to work. She loved irises, my mother. Homeless guy on Fourteenth Street sold them. Where’d you get the irises, I’d say and he’d give me his brilliant look. I always bought what he had. One day he wasn’t there. His cardboards were there. Someone had swiped across them in big red trenches of painti was alive i was alive i was alive. I laughed. Good for you, I thought. Eddy is staring at her. Alive, he says. She gets up, goes out the back door, past the yew tree, walks west. There is a vast blue wind and heavens of silver opening over the bay. Sailboats breeze by. No guarantee the day will ever be remembered except for this blue and silver, this wondrous human freedom to walk toward the water and see boats and wonder about Ernst Meister.
The crow does watch them, maybe that’s it. Dangling at the yew tree, black, messy, unexhilarated, his mineral eye, his snatcher mocker self. She stares at him, four beats, he swanks off to defend his day. Whine down to the shitpit, gutplunder, eveningtombs. Fox on snow, watch it go, and her a moonplump morsel. Crowtalk? She laughs. Not every crow has its eye on the Georg Büchner Prize. But this one, this one might.
Eddy’s birthday, an occasion his mother likes to celebrate although Eddy does not. His mother lives two hours north. She is very old, very small, very well-dressed and surprisingly avid, a bullet of a person. And sustaining member of the country club where a reservation has been made for sixp.m. Bring your little friend if you like, she says to Eddy on the phone.
As they drive she looks out at March, the scraped-down hills, the thin hard light. You can almost see things coming through the back, she says. Back of what? he says. She doesn’t answer. A blackness flaps by on the left. She is beginning to wonder if the crow is Ernst Meister. Eddy turns on the radio. She dozes. Wakes to a familiar sensation. But in fact she hasn’t bled (monthly) for more than a year, since she started running too much and eating too little. She likes running and the power in it but misses the feeling of a safe clean bandage between the legs after tidying oneself up. The crossover of cleanliness and filth. Odd that being with Eddy should call the blood out again, if that’s what’s happening, she wonders if she should tell him, a sort of tribute. She laughs. What’s funny? he says. Nothing, she says. Can we stop at a rest stop?
that black bird always following you around
seen you feeding him
he likes toast
you’re a deep well, Eddy
actually no but I think you’re fond of your little web of myth and mystery
I had a dream we were in the kitchen and I kept opening the wrong half of the door to the porch, the half with no screen on it and you got annoyed
why open the wrong half
well I guess that’s the relevant question but
but the air, the air was lovely coming in