Verdiaby Elizabeth Reddin
I don’t know how people in charge keep their faces forward, or the ones with guns in their hands, how they keep them up. They must never get a long enough break to think; or even get to dream.
What kinds of dreams are their sons as soldiers having. How can we be making it here when at night the blank tide
rolls me down and I can’t feel.
Not what would make us a whole part, not anything more than what is passing but passing is most consistent. Through all kinds of pages and not writing them,
about the women, they were afraid to cross the Brooklyn Bridge though they’d lived so close to it the whole of their lives.
I’m not going over that bridge, are you crazy.
I’m too scared of heights.
Are you crazy, my feet kill me.
I’m scared to go over that bridge, I’m not going over that bridge, are you crazy.
I’m not going over that bridge.
And when we crossed it we saw the water through
the wood slats,
under our feet, and we saw the sun red, but nothing seemed down enough, or like it was the voice from elsewhere.
Even a stream can seem senseless when your heart beats fast.
When you didn’t have a pen and paper how did you remember anything. Some things we’ll never
forget like the time you said he wasn’t alive, you can never remember having said it, having been straining, you could never forget that way of thinking, forget what you thought.
I closed the door myself.
Looking down over a clear stream you see the tan rocks on its bed,
suddenly afraid, you find yourself running from every sound you hear, it’s no one but you can’t believe you didn’t
die there. What makes us free enough or scares you into running home. Every shadow is moving; how afraid you must be where you are now. How afraid you are and when you stop
being afraid. I can see how someone could lose compassion for a newborn and see him as an anemone.
Where a road begins, when you build one, when we start building they don’t know where it goes. First to the end of town. Where will we build to next—there’s no place left and everyone’s embarrassed about it.
When someone breaks with a song you don’t need thinking, a song takes away time, we do what it wants. I see the water shining under the long
we live here in the city. And those who are out with the water buffalo, the children all pulling on her dress. Time for them, chalk games on the
sidewalk. Masks built for the parade.
What’s happening when one is lost in a crowd from the beginning. The moon is yellow three days in a row
and then eclipsed. What are the stars having to do with us now, in other worlds the sidelines are crowded,
bloodspills. I’ve never seen blood spill—only evaporate behind a face. It sounds like a grounds horn,
or going to sleep with the rest of the world behind your eyes so you don’t forget how many we are.
On open sea large whales surface for breathing; what kinds of dreams do the whales have, what dreams do they have when they float asleep, what kinds of tacit friendships do whales have.
I remember imagining what it would be to freeze to death—once when my fingers were cold, I was on the snowy mountain, fell into the well around the base of a tree wearing
a yellow snowsuit, looked up through the trees, it was cold afternoon, the end of a mountain day, knowing I’d get out, just laid back, pretending I would freeze, I let everything go to stay
warm, then after a while started yelling for help or I don’t remember how I got out, the truth is I don’t know how I got out.
The light can’t escape us now or we’ll freeze to death. We don’t know freezing, only to
think of it. I know nothing but being saved.
Do you need to go far or if you see only one town is that real. Her father knew how to
spell his name, her mother couldn’t write hers. Her name was Ruby, you write her name over down the lined paper like
a list, and think of her bull’s eyes, they pierced the black woods to see you.
Her face looked cold, her red lips that morning were purple she
sat deep in the corner couch, her foot rocked the rest of her. She didn’t stop
crying, all the thoughts of her boy, seventeen, from the beginning going through her mind, his swift gate moved him across the green grass to meet her, him
now gone, all the flashing thoughts gone too in one morning to see him lying in the wood box at the front of the room
the low ceiling, the dirty
carpet under him in a wood box, his eyes wrinkled,
her brown dress with lace edging, her wide ankles, her foot rocked the rest of her.
The women circled and pressed her to the corner, their eyes fierce to the ground all concentrated on his face saying his name over in their minds, I didn’t know his name.
Another mother entered, folded out a metal chair and pulled tight up to the flock. Her lips purple and quivering a dark scarf
almost over her face, her boy’s face, his
eyes wrinkled his head wrapped in white cloth, the women like birds
spoke words all at the same time saying different things all saying the same things in different voices, different ways at different times, all together talking and putting their hands on his mother, pressing their hands to her chest, like they were all the mother of the same fast gone son.
Everything they did to her
they were doing
like it was to him
that they did it.
Early cold uptown 116th Street and First Avenue morning,
saying goodbye to someone who shouldn’t have been going anywhere but home tonight, all
the siblings wondering his absence, like one of the litter gone with no way to explain it, the
women just cry and hope for the feeling of missing to be finished, and the reminder of terror that shows us out of nowhere we have no way really
to rein it in, or a place to put it really.
I imagine a blown garret, being pushed through a sieve. Or yelling at you, you were under the table, I remember your blue shirtsleeve. Even
when it’s math all parts seem contrived. When you begin a story it doesn’t sound like one. I know many colors, blue
night overflowing with the sight I saw drinking in the canary chair, overlooking the city. Our city can be destroyed; leveled to a flat
land, ladies in blue aprons look for glass bottles.
Even when you don’t want to tell your story one night, it’s important that you keep working so I encourage you. I think
you can’t stop now, time hasn’t. In Utopia everyone tells their story from start to finish before moving to the next world to begin again as their opposite.
It rained and she roller-skated in it with an umbrella. The rain jumped up from the pavement like anything shining jumps past recognition. From the
headlights, that’s what made them like fountains. I thought of if we wore fighting helmets and how our faces were, brows hidden, all eyes down. To wear
a helmet every day because you had to protect your head from someone. And last night before bed about a suicide bomb,
walking into a place to watch it all go before you. And then do you forget?
Which way do you go when in a helmet. I want to rape someone.
When in a helmet you can’t resign. What happens if you resign while wearing a helmet, is that like jumping. When you run fast to the end
of the road to the gate and you can’t catch your breath, because you’ve pushed yourself like someone was after you. How is it you know how
to live. When you watch a jumping frog you’re brought back a little aren’t you, to a memory of when you knew. When we can see
so far past where we are now, the reposits of guilt are endless. Go out and make a universal move. You don’t know how far your stroke reaches. It never feels like far enough, just
lie down, on the road is best. Lying on the road you’re looking up, up we can see the farthest even though there’s mostly just sky.
Below our skin we’re getting older, becoming more like everything else that lives here, impressionable like a
fossil, like making one, or a bed for it like a sand dollar. Run into the water with friends or alone float
with driving swallows
over you, like the lake does. Sinking face up under the water and watching the surface, I can’t remember if we can see our reflection that way.
Kids in New York who haven’t yet been to the beach like your seven year old cousin in California who’d never seen the ocean though he’d lived so close
to it all of his life. And when he did see it,
how afraid he was, and how by the third opportunity he drove right in, though it was too cold for me even to bear it up to my ankles, how he ran straight into the waves like he was born there.
Who’s listening to us quietly talking to ourselves at the end of the platform, in the shower, in the night, on the sand, in a tent, after a fight,
in the airplane lavatory, trying to remember a dream, trying to change, on the stairs, on an empty train. Justifying reconciling calculating—rehearsing it, walking
down an empty street, sitting on a stoop, apologies especially, when you’re late, making an excuse, in the car, on a bike, when you knew you were wrong
or right. Reading outloud, after they’ve left, to an imaginary friend, catching your breath, unconsciously sometimes, under a tree, on the next block, trying
to tell the truth. In your mind when you’re ashamed or too intimidated, in the back of a cab, to the water, when you’re hungry, in the dark, in the hall, thinking of something to say, alone in bed, to the
newspaper….... you remember not knowing what to say. I wish to be able to stand and invite any way with or without. I wish toward a talented skyway to run on.
To where do the draped children walk, the colored fabric, their ruffles blowing.
Being lost is individual, no one can hear it for you. The rainlike pattern, you don’t know for some time how to concentrate.
When we arrive it’s said they’ll take good care of us, they take us into the back room.
Grave is a way of speaking of what is to come, the laughing one in the corner.
Having been lost here I barely remember that last night.
Victory, I remember dreaming of you only when I was awake;
when I was asleep it was
all chase and taking apart limb by limb. I imagined cutting my hands off; I can see how to get the first one gone but then am stuck with how to rig the falling knife with my foot and a string. There is so much blood I fall over and always am embarrassed to be found still with one hand.
Give me dreams of what it is where they are. There is no other way to find ourselves living alongside time; they live alongside time when the lines are red.
We’re letting it go all over down there now—
I ended up watching the clouds pass. Close to life when coming out of sleep or going towards it. Sometimes you don’t have a choice, like when his father threw him into the deep end to teach him how to swim.
Someone said talking is a ritual to ward off helplessness. Anyone can tell you to stop where you
are, or let you fall to the curb. He ran over someone while driving a train, chased her with a shotgun through the woods, riddled the car thinking she was inside. Onward to the next town. You might
meet someone new, start your life over. No one will know what
how embarrassing it all was, you’ll be the new kid again. They won’t have to look past your envy,
her long blond hair hanging over
the wooden back of the chair,
know how you made it with your baby-sitter under the red tent of her bedsheets.
But tonight, it’s almost like we’re living here our sphere almost revolving.
She hasn’t found any one way. Tonight lying, just like alive, the grey over her; a heavy coat, an X-ray blanket.
Train us again,
we so many of us spend, forgetting, picking this or that. For survival we would need so much less with some needing more
so much of what we’ve thrown out.
Elizabeth Reddin’s prose poem Beyond Hope was serialized in the Brooklyn Rail, and can be found on the website. She lives in Brooklyn.