It’s my lunch hour, so I go into the drizzle that’s the ocean sky come down to the streets and if I walked on sand this drear would be expected but the pavement glints from shine through a folded cloud instead and a school of pedestrians silvers across the intersection when the stick figure lights up and the city rises into the grey. Dark suits, neon green sneakers, bike cab drivers with graffiti-ed helmets, and there on the corner of Pike and 6th three Girl Scouts singsong and shake blue and brown boxes in the air like castanets. I turn right onto 5th passing a man who plays half a cymbal, an upside-down tin pot and a broken dish with a pair of drumsticks. I want to dance but no one else does. The reading is at Elliot Bay Books and the cab driver says in two, three hours this place will be a festival. The event is ticketed - who knew? and sold out. They say it’s all downhill to the Brass Pig and I turn right again onto Pike. A girl leaning against the telephone pole calls to me by Broadcast Coffee. Turns out she was Gabriel, a boy I crushed on in college. In many ways I don’t feel any different from who I used to be. My mother says at seventy she still feels like she did when she was in college - and yet who wants to be the same as they’ve always been, who doesn’t try to change someone else? I walk a long way and end up back where I started. Like everyone else, my feet once dangled from a highchair and walking was a miracle that happened high above me. I thought living was all about falling and I guess it still is.
All day I think about my father’s spine. What uprights him. His scaffolding.
That secretive warehouse of shelving in the first Indiana Jones movie,
a box of vertebrae we collected from the Texas ranch land
(some dead cow), points of attachment where tendon and ligament tether
sheets of muscle and skin, bleached tunnels for ropes
of nerves, whitened crosses next to a hairpin turn,
the taper of airplane wings, a kite tail curling back in the wind
taut on its cord, how a line of poetry is an intersection
of two planes, the literal and the figurative, someone said that
in a lecture, sliced an X across the board. Kandinsky says what lies within
appears ugly only because unfamiliar. My father coughs into the receiver
and clears his throat. Let’s say how one moves through space
defies the rigidity within. A spine of river ice cracks,
noses up against the bank’s edge, folds beneath every night,
freezes over again. I saw him naked once, startled, eyes open.
He stood in the doorway, bone and hair, nail and cartilage, not a father.
The word suggests it is possible. Why does my father save a box of bones, some dead cow
we collected years ago in the August heat of Texas? A woodpecker hammers its beak into a tree
12,000 times a day without injury, its skull protected by spongy cartilage,
and scientists want to design a helmet similar and so strong it can save our own heads.
After the avalanche, my friend was buried forty five minutes.
She could not have been saved. A man flips each shoe off and up into his hands, keeps walking
barefoot through warming grass saved all winter under snow. Last night’s rainstorm blew away the winter birds.
Now summer is in this air hovering above the expectant rushing ground.
I’m listening to this morning’s world that exists without her. A carpenter on a tall ladder buzzes an electric sander
over a window frame, saving the wood from rot. The trick is that bone does not attach beak to skull
as the bird pecks at fifteen miles an hour. The trick is that there isn’t a trick. Maybe he saved the box
because he knew what I didn’t as a child, that what we had that day wouldn’t last,
toeing vertebrae free from the hard dirt with his boot, pointing out the fragment of pelvis
for me to lift, to carry home. We want to rectify the endings. The prom corsage saved under its lid
is the skinny dip at a summer midnight, the girl forever bending back against the boy’s arms as if
night itself was lost to the abandonment of her neck and her knowledge that he can’t help but pull her upright again,
shining with that primal youth that can’t be rescued. Years ago
my father and I spotted a Pileated Woodpecker; we studied its stats in the guide book, the soaring dip, the red-tipped crown,
the mad beak drilling holes in our dead trees. Who knew we’d salvage that staccato echo for our own myth?
Some people plant baby teeth in the garden or thread them on a necklace. The wedding dress saved
in its hermetically sealed box. Kindergarten finger painting. Fresh cut flowers dying in their sugared-water vase.
A braid of hair snipped and pinned to a bulletin board like a wreath or a shrunken head. Sometimes an object is too precious –
Embryos. Sperm. Organs are donated. Eyes. Taxidermy.
At the Bates Motel, Marion opens the old woman’s closet, dresses saved on their hangers, turns to see under the bedclothes
the bird claw hand. A body. Saving requires being able to imagine what we can lose.
Archived letters. Museums. Wildlife Refuges. A locked box.
The string on the finger – what is it for? The wedding dress fades. The daughter never marries. The key is lost, the necklace of teeth left somewhere in a drawer.
Hush – do you hear the bones, rattling in their box? The roots, bracing themselves for spring?
My childhood was one thing and then it was another.
My father awoke and his seventh vertebrae cracked. His spine, a vulnerability he didn’t know he carried. A turtle shrugs deeper
into its shell. Water chatters down a chain of stones and pools in the low spots.
My mother’s heart doesn’t know how fast or slow to beat, what’s for its own good.
When I imagine the ninety-year-old woman I will be, my bones close in, each joint misaligns, even my hair clenches.
These fractures take time.
Gregory Orr writes that life is about becoming rather than being, verbs rather than nouns.
Who I am now is the only place from which I can measure my knowing.
Things catch up with us – in the dank murk of my lungs a beastchild moans as it shoulders through the silence.
-- Karen Terrey’s poems have appeared in Rhino, Edge, Meadow, WordRiot, Puerto Del Sol, Wicked Alice, Canary, and Grey Sparrow Journal. Terrey’s poetry chapbook Bite and Blood is available from Finishing Line Press. If you’d like to learn more, she blogs at www.karenaterrey.blogspot.com.