Saturday night and the hours spiral like dominoes into a morning covered in
the same patchy fog as my new mother’s brain. Something’s wrong with the baby. Something
in the tight bee swarm cough, the fists each time I lay him down. Maybe
it’s nothing, like these unsettling marine clouds the morning
will burn through. Probably it’s nothing I hear in the voice
of my grandmother, my mother, the wind pushing leaves in the same small circles
in the street. Outside, a deer slinks up along the side of the house to chew
tulip bulbs between bars of soap a neighbor laid out to ward her off.
She used to come with a fawn but now she cocks one cyclopean
eye at me in the window. Her other, a singed divot on the side
of her face, pins me to that gaunt room. The baby’s lip turns a deep
wormy purple. I whisper a prayer and hold my breath as if my breath were all I’d give.
The Uses of Grief
No one will ask you to house sit or walk the dog while they frolic on the shores of Hawai'i --
most likely, they will never even tell you they are going. Friends will not resist
when you pull away from a hug but nearly squeeze you dry if you initiate. And whether it’s for sex
or a carnival ride, no one will try to set the mood or coax you into going.
Neighbors will not expect you at the annual BBQ, but if you come,
they’ll be delighted you didn’t trouble yourself to cook something, and refill your drinks unasked
even as they count how many you suck down. No one will ask to borrow a cup of sugar
or a rake, much less expect you at book club, birthday parties, baby showers. People
you hardly know will pray for you, and though you have no idea what you believe,
when you growl about asking God to do something useful, like pulling weeds or laundry, you will
wake to find someone has pulled the weeds. Maybe it’s only the fear that someone
like your mother will show up to do your laundry, but you finally stuff a pile
of clothes into the washer. Then, one day, a sorrow greater than yours sends you
to someone else’s doorstep with your best lasagna and a bottle of whiskey, and you walk right in
because you know she will not protest, not when you rummage the cabinets or pour drinks,
not when you reheat the food, or set it down in front of her on a cracked orange plate.
A Sage Advises How to Firewalk
First thing in the morning, start with a fire rolled out like a blazing carpet on the lawn, the spot you might put a garden in before summer’s out
if you could get your act together. When the flames die down to embers, use a rake to spread them in a long pit. Don’t measure or lay string. And if
you must know, the temperature of the coals reaches more than 1200 degrees but that will mean little to you when, from ten feet
away, the heat singes your eyelids. You do not have to be a swami in a loincloth to get from one end to the other without toasting your heels.
And while interesting, it does not help to know that when two bodies of different temperatures meet, the hotter body will cool off, and the cooler body
will heat up until they are separated or meet at a temperature in between. And despite the testimonials, I swear you don’t even need faith to carry you
safely across. Did you not dive into water you couldn’t see into? Kiss a first time? Drive home after one too many and keep the car between the lines? Or swerve
to avoid the drunk? You buried a friend. You pulled the child back onto the curb. You did not strike back. You finally left that dizzy bitch. Despite
the new scar across your chest, you pulled that shirt off in broad daylight not knowing how he’d react. You said no. You said yes. You stayed. You quit.
And here I am now, hands gripping your shoulders to tell you, you’ve got this.
-- Darlene Pagán teaches writing and literature at Pacific University in Oregon. She has a chapbook, Blue Ghosts (Finishing Line Press), and a full-length collection forthcoming from Airlie Press called Setting the Fire. Her poems have appeared in journals such as Field, Calyx, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Poet Lore, Hiram Poetry Review, Lake E ect, and Hawaii Pacific Review. Her essays have earned national awards and appeared in venues such as Memoir(and), Brevity, The Nebraska Review, and Literal Latté. She is a member of the writer’s group Broads on the Side, and enjoys hiking, biking, the beach, the rain, and carnival rides now that her sons are just tall enough to ride.