I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it?
a time to dance
The face of youth leans, lashes lined to hide her bags: baggy eyes and baggy skin and baggy soul, bags and bags which all need filling, so fill she does — her nose with powders, her throat with smoke, her belly with burning courage — or is it desire, or apathy, or all the above? See how she swims in her rocks glass, three years legal but rouged and ready all the same, smile pasted and pulse pounding in time to the throb of bass in the dark, where the club’s floor, sticky with the spills of heart and throat, the drip of skin and the clot of grime, is camouflaged like a flat moth on woodgrain, all its ugliness masked in fluorescence and grinding hips and upturned glasses and tilted tables littered with butts and limes and inked napkin invitations.
a time to get
The surprise comes, unsought and unbidden, and when it does, she fills the weeks with worried waiting, a pacing punctuated by wrung hands and bitten lips, an oscillating pendulum of patent fear and occluded desire, a craving she wishes were not true, a want she had so well hidden from herself, until the vial, blood-filled and centrifuged and tested and retested, reveals the thing (she won’t say baby, for that makes it real) that had grown inside her is dead, after all — somehow gone before it ever lived.
a time to lose
This news suffocates her, a clench of throat and well of tears unanticipated, and now, they say, she’s to expect the spill of blood, a communion to wash away her sins — but, day after day, absolution resists her tongue, refuses to stain the water, her pants, her fingers, so that she is back again two weeks later, splayed and skewered before the man in the lab coat who won’t look her in the eyes, who sees only the screen that, though black and blue and blurred, reveals four flipper-tipped white limbs and a tiny but — yes, it is — a beating heart, a hint of pulse nested in a body nested within hers, one the size of a cherry tomato, its center a mere throbbing seed: flesh within flesh within flesh, and her skin a fragile shell over the white of her numbness and the yolk of a life that will, after all.
a time to keep silence
The winter of this inside growth thins her skin, wears her away like tread from a tire, a sluggish explosion, shrapnel flung in slow-motion, smoke swelling frame by frame, the constant expansion rending her like a shredded garment, which is, incidentally, how her belly appears, taut and tiger-striped — how like the lines that came before, dug by her nails into a back that heaved and rippled, elated by the night’s union — and some days it seems that what is within her supplants her, roots into her ankles and reaches up her throat, stretching what baggy selfhood there was even thinner in this new dark — the quiet dark of a lonely house where no bass throbs, though sometimes yes, the floor is sticky with vomit and exhaustion, because now, it is that imperceptible throb, one detectable only by the man’s ultrasound machine, that must satiate her.
a time to cast away stones
Later — always very late — come the women, one of whom she was, once, but no more: legs long between heels and skirts, tinkling in chimes dangled from wrists and ears and throat, lips red to frame white teeth, and they light like butterflies on an unsweet bloom — which is to say, temporarily — paying a pre-party courtesy to her, this whale of a woman, swollen and stiff, large with a life and yet lifeless herself, simultaneously empty and full, both lost and found, both here and gone, and they assess, simply, her nectarlessness before flitting away, winging off to their vodka-crans and their thumping bass, neither hers any longer, drawing like moths to the iridescence of neon and noise, while she perches at the bed’s edge, where all is still, where her pulse, audible, throbs in her ears.
a time to rend
Then comes, as it must, the exodus — from her body, from the purgatory of incubation — and when it does, it is riddled with failure, and her plans evaporate, like all plans tend to, for they are, in fact, imagined fantasies after all: illusory, unbegotten realities extant only in the mind’s constructed future, one of millions spilling out in a fractal of various and sundry losses.
a time to pluck up what is planted
Though the child is healthy, he is nonetheless pulled from her, like a tooth, like a weed, and she thinks, again, of the preacher of preachers, and the vanity of vanities, for hadn’t her plans, her wishes, her desires — for bodily integrity, for respect, for control — been nothing but vanity, after all? A frivolous impersonation of truth and order: a semblance, a seeming, for it was never hers to know, as He has said, and in writing her future as truth — unviolated woman, competent mother — she deluded herself with a power that was never to be hers.
a time to sew
So. Her illusions of a safe birth, one that would leave her feeling blessed and whole and well, a blue-caped and haloed Madonna, are, like the child, excised efficiently by masked men privileged in their access to the holy of holies — and hers especially — which they excavate like an abscess, drain like a wound, then sew like a garment, stitching skin together over the space (she won’t say womb, for that makes it real) where the tomato-seed-babe had long lain and throbbed before swabbing both clean of blood and bile and wrapping each in starch and white, and after, she weeps and weeps: empty and emptied, a ransacked ark uncovenanted.
a time to gather stones together
The child grows, and yet she shrinks, longing ever after for the throb of noise and the tip of glass at the lips — oh, for an escape from failure, from seam-sewn skin and white-masked faces — and months pass, her history beckoning, its fingers crooked and mouth twisted, until, in a home with room to spare for bottles and blankets and bibs, on the eve of a new year, she finds, she thinks, what it is she seeks: festivity, camaraderie, and booze, of course; it warms her belly, pastes on her a smile she knows not as false, and births illusions, mirages of two epochs merging: childlessness and motherhood, risk and safekeeping, binaries of former and future lives stitched together like skins over cadavers — pinched, and faulty, and pointless, after all.
a time to embrace
Beyond curtained windows, in the moment between December and January, between yesterday and tomorrow, between now and forever, the explosive midnight rouses him, the one who is from her, the one to whom she owes all allegiance, the one whom she now places above all others — as it should be, as it should be — and so, cloaked in dark, she hushes, rocks and sways while beyond the locked door, the guffaws and whoops of drunks swell and swell and hard bass throbs and throbs and balloons fill with nitrous and red Solo cups upend into open mouths, wide throats, full lungs, the green scent of pot wafting in, oozing and swirling beneath the gap between the door and the floorboards and still she sits, the infant in her lap bathed in lamplight streaking through closed window slats, and still she sits in the gap of past and present, cradling newness to her breast.
a time to cast away
When the carousing ceases and the night is black — somewhere earlier than dawn — the baby’s breath is heavy and even but she, upright in the chair, sleeps not at all, watches instead the infant new year age, minute by pink minute, in slivers spilled across the floor, watches the gap widen between who she had been and who she must be, erasing who she is and who she never was, sewing together two lives and rending hers from itself, so that, once the youngest daylight bathes the streets, she has chosen her side, and lays her son in his seat, tucks and folds pastel prints and white diapers and stained bibs, trades one set of butts and powders for another, all while blue-veined eyelids flutter, and unlike winged things, are still, unstirring and unburdened, and when she emerges from the room, it is like a birth, an exodus, a cocoon cracking to reveal a new true thing; thus she steps into her own body as if into a fresh skin warm and waiting, the ark righted and full once more, the bond holy, and sealed.
And what if she is me, this woman I left behind, for how shall I call the past just that if I still now inhabit her, if I slide myself again into the skin of memory, slip into she-who-is-me once more, she for whom I long, and for whom I weep, and whom I reject — for how can I own a self I already traded for a child’s love unconditional, and how may I lay before you the division of a self from a self, no RNA replication this, no diploid cell reproduction, but an emancipation — and from what? Rouge, or rather, a ruse? A self voided and avoided, unquenched and dry, tight and swollen and heavy and worn?
And yet he sayeth, There is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.
So by this am I (or rather, is she) freed from bondage? Is it prison if I build the cell myself? For do I not lay, carefully, each bar on my cage of silence — me, a woman looking back as often as ahead, one chewing glass with each misstep, mornings when I wake again with throbbing head and trembling hands and slick skin, the night’s swallowed numbness more palatable than the knowledge that I am not now nor will I ever be a perfect mother, a haloed and blue-cloaked Madonna bowed, placid, over a swaddled babe.
Because he sayeth also: That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.
Oh, my innumerable desires! Oh, how that gap between door and floorboard pursues me, how it forever lets slip the dogs of temptation, the scents of oblivion, the mechanisms by which I try again and again to obliterate myself, to strike myself from the record of my life. The impossibility of a chased obliteration hounds me, for I cannot now nor will I ever be she whom I desire to be. Failure persists. The crooked cannot be made straight. There are none who sin not.
I remember the heaviness of the child’s full car seat, the glint of new year’s sun on toppled shot glasses, the balance necessary to pick my way over and past unconscious bodies strewn on carpet and across tables, and I know still in my ears the click-click of the tumbler in the doorjamb, shutting ever on an abandoned life — a life of abandon — and I know, too, the silence of the drive to my home, the hush of a sleeping babe, the echo of two pulses throbbing, braided, in my ears.
For thus sayeth he: Better is a handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit.
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