How do you like to go up in a swing, Up in the air so blue? Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing Ever a child can do! —Robert Louis Stevenson
Think It the Pleasantest Thing
If you find yourself in a chair swing made of planks and pushed from behind by a nine-year-old boy in the doldrums between the end of summer and the beginning of school--
try to forget about sirens rising and falling in their approach through the hills of your stomach —in that nausea of what’s already urgent and only likely to get worse -- Try to remember your mother’s percale sheets wind-billowing from her clothesline; her diaphanous curtains breathing at an open window. Resist imagining your head
malformed between concrete blocks or under the dead weight of a rodeo bull leaning on his own skull. It’s opportunity missed even pinching the skin over the bridge of your nose or drilling
your fingers under your hair clear to your medulla oblongata. Imagine instead the amber waves of bourbon swirled in a glass, the banked curve of a skirt hem swiveling from hips. Let your movement
hypnotize the leaves on the nearby lilac like a cobra weaving before a mouse — then swallow the sun feet first and let your own peristalsis work it back through your vestibules to your open mouth
and again up to the bottoms of your feet. Be yourself the hands and the measure of butcher’s twine that becomes Cat’s Cradle, with their shared swoop and gather. Be the hammock the cradle
the echo the womb. And when the boy drifts away into his own equilibrium, become the whistle spun ‘round his finger by its chain and slid freefall into his pocket.
Lila’s mother laundered bed sheets maybe once in spring and once in fall. So when, after popcorn and toasted-cheese sandwiches, you two girls giggled into that small bed, you drew over yourselves the redolence of warm bodies, the burr of rumpled laughter and frayed wool sweaters with holes at the elbows. You nestled into a gamy, welcome welcome.
Your mother washed your sheets once a week at least. That may be how tonight and on the road, you know more than you think you know. If I say, Someone’s been sleeping in my bed, it’s not what you might think — not some fair-haired fairy story and surely not the smear you find on your own burgundy sheets when your lover welcomes you home from that all-girls’ weekend in Detroit. In fact, it’s nothing you’ll likely see — no make-up smudge, no hair too long, too dark. You might think soap, but it’s nothing bottled, dabbed or rinsed. As aroma, it’s more the difference of his late rising and your early. The difference between a Chevy and a Ford. Between breathing the russet feather from a red-tailed hawk, and then a wild turkey’s bronze wing.
There it is.
And so tonight, before you’ve barely turned the cover down, how something of these unfamiliar sheets rankles solitude and closes on your throat. Says Withdraw your hand. Says No vacancy. Who lay in these sheets last may know where those young girls went but will not let you follow. May know why you no longer forage in your dreams but will not say. How tonight if I could say salt, you might think sweat. If I could say rust, you might think iron in the blood. And really
that may come as close to it as anything.
-- Barbara Saunier has published in numerous journals and reviews, including Poet Lore, Cream City, Spoon River, and Nimrod International. Her work also placed first in The MacGuffin 16th National Poet Hunt. Since retiring from teaching at Grand Rapids (MI) Community College, she lives quietly with her horses, cats, and one good dog.