Metamorphosis

They hadn’t been known as Matty since Christmas. Well. More properly, since Yule, but they told everyone Christmas because it was easier to keep the seasons aligned that way. Aunt Becka, especially, was a difficult one to convince, but then, Aunt Becka was mostly concerned these days with whether Apple+ was going to show the Charlie Brown Christmas Special for free.

Before they were Matty, of course, they’d been something else. And something else before that. “They’re finding themself,” Mom liked to say, and Dad would add something like “we encourage experimentation. After all, at that age I didn’t know that I wanted to be a teacher.”

But it’s a peculiar kind of grief, the failure to find opposition. So they read books – coming out stories, of course, carefully stocked on their shelves by loving parents. They volunteered at shelters, they went to Pride. Nothing fit, quite, and they chafed not so much at being forced into a mold as against having no mold to break.

“There are too many options,” they confessed once to Ocean, who was cleaning the fifth piercing in his ear carefully, with a saline spray. “How did you know?”

“When the time comes, something will just make sense,” Ocean said, and swore, pushing crust away with a Q-tip. “You gotta try stuff on for a while. Like jeans.”

They tried. They really did. At Easter, they wore lace gloves, an extravagant hat, skinny chinos. At the summer picnic they wore ripped jeans, a flannel with the sleeves cut off, a ribbed top, Mary Janes. They tried on names like the t-shirts in teen stores, tissue-thin and meant to be seen through, and they filled in lines from songs in “gender” spaces on applications. Like jeans, nothing felt quite right.

On Samhain they took off their name. Their boots lay, unworn, by the door, with their shed skin. Mom gave them a mini Snickers and stroked their spines. “You just needed time,” she said. The smile they smiled back had exactly the right amount of teeth.

Faint heart, fair lady

 If I could change one thing, it would be sharpening that knife. Even dull, it slid between her ribs like, well, like a hot knife through butter. And the gasp she made, I’ll never forget that.

Pneumothorax, they call it. A collapsed lung, a pocket of air.

So I stabbed her back to life. It’s funny, really, like some old magical item, a sword of healing.

She said my name. I don’t know if she’ll remember that, later, but she said it. Her lips were as dry as the ground on which I knelt, as dead as the tree that sheltered us. We held each other in the cracks, in the space between worlds, while I begged her to come back to me.

She didn’t.

I mean, that should have been the end of the story, right? I save her like so much white knight, she comes with me. But she didn’t. Just held her ribs together and left. It was fair, though.

Us Montagues, we were always her enemy.

More items recovered

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I was propelled to fame on
June 6, 2020
Misidentified
As a can of soup
ACTUALLY I’m not even really a can of beans
It’s chickpeas
an annual legume of the family Fabaceae, subfamily Faboideae
Called gram in many places
Weighing in at 439 grams
I don’t mind being less-than
(a brick weighs 1905 grams)
It’s dangerous to go alone
Take me with you
For your family.

Old Enough

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Sofie loved the scarf. Ever since she was little-little, but big enough to open the cedar chest at the foot of the bed, she’d steal it out, drape herself in it, and slip down the hall to Grandpa’s room while Mom was watching TV or making dinner.

“What’s this day,” she’d say, and point to a bright line of color.

Grandpa would look at the knitting, holding it in hands more gnarled and arthritic than the ones he’d held the needles in, back in what he always called “those days,” referring to a mental chart.

“Well, that was in the middle of a run of cold weather,” he’d say, showing her the graduated blues and greys. He’d knit a line a day back then, or sometimes three or four lines, if he’d been guiding a particularly long trip, referring to the thermometer to decide what color to knit that day. “So that must have been February. We had a group in from Kentucky, and they’d never seen temperatures like that. Wasted the first day of the trip going back into Moab to get them all socks and mittens; they never would have made it through the canyons without losing a toe or two. But they held up all right once we got their gear set. There was a girl not much younger than you…” and he’d be off on a story, scarf forgotten, dangling from his fingertips to wrap around Sofie’s waist, neck, arms, the way his words wrapped her up.

Grandpa had knitted her baby blanket, of course, and her school sweater, before his hands stopped working well enough to hold the needles. But Sofie loved the scarf the best. Grandpa hadn’t been knitting for long when he made it, and it showed: the edges weren’t quite straight, and the stitches were loose and fragile. Except in one color.

“What are the black rows?” Sofie would ask, and “I’ll tell you when you’re older,” Grandpa would reply, and the story would be over, and Sofie would take the scarf back to her room, puzzling over the neat stitches knitted so tightly they were nearly hard to the touch.

“I’ll tell you when you’re older,” Grandpa said when she was ten, double-digits and surely old enough to know the secret. Sofie took the scarf back to the chest, curling it around the teddy bear she had definitely outgrown last year.

“I’ll tell you when you’re older,” Grandpa laughed, as Sofie brandished her driver’s permit at him. She sat on the corner of the bed, digging her fingers into the lace of an afghan he’d made when he was twice her age, for the grandmother she’d never met.

“You’re looking good today,” Sofie said, sitting at the edge of his hospital bed. She’d been crying, and trying not to, and blotting her eyes with the scarf. It was too rough for handkerchief duty, and her cheeks were raw and red. Grandpa reached for her hand, got a handful of garter stitch instead.

“You still have that old scarf, huh?” His laugh was rusty. “Did I tell you about the year I made it? I was working at Canyonlands, half park ranger and half tour guide, in the best park in the States.”

“Once or twice,” Sofie said. She was never sure anymore how much to remind him he’d already said.

“I used to knit a row a day,” he told her. “Every night I’d look at the weather report at the station, and I’d know what color to knit. Except on days when it stormed. I wouldn’t go out of my cabin, those days, I was so scared. I’d just hold onto that old scarf and knit a prayer for safety into every stitch. Couldn’t even drag myself out to look at the thermometer, so I’d knit those days in black. Always meant to go back and replace em, but I guess I won’t get the chance now, huh?”

“I’ll take care of it, Grandpa.” Sofie held his hand. In the bag between her ankles her own first scarf lay coiled, its uneven edges like lightning. “I’m old enough.”

Barrow-wight

I’m tired of being dependable,

Tired of carrying things to wherever, taking them back again, or filling, abandoned, with rain. Rain is just angels’ tears, you know. They say. I don’t know who they are.

The chickens are waiting. I don’t know who they’re waiting for.

There’s a lot of they now. Is there a we anymore? Can we depend on each other?

Look, I don’t know what you want from me. I’ve been the one who handled things for too long. You’ve let things go. All the things. There’s a pile of dirt behind the barn. Straw in the shelter. Goatshit.

Let the chickens handle it.

I’m only here to take you where you’re bound to go.

Ecosystems

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I.

The first words I heard my father speak were the way his hands smelled of plants, and the way plants smelled of his hands. The acrid tang of fertilizer balls and the stinging stains of mulch splinters around cuticle and nail were an original vocabulary like the sound of his voice singing, the way he walked ahead of me on a mountain trail, the way the tendons in his hands moved when he slid a barred F up the neck of the guitar to show me how. I learned those languages long before syllables and phonemes rubbed my mouth raw, popping like cherry tomatoes fresh off their bitter-haired vines.

II.

Scott Pruitt is the head of the EPA, he said over the uncertain connection in my backyard, when I called to ask about a garden pest. I don’t know why I bothered to drive a stick shift all those years. Diatomaceous earth is supposed to work, but I’ve never had any luck with it.

III.

It felt inevitable that The Big Surgery wasn’t his heart but something closer to the heart of him, a whiff of pine lodged between olfactory nerve and brain, a fungus you meet by sitting too long under the pine trees on the mountain trails, sap clinging to your knuckles as you unpuzzle the fallen bark of a Ponderosa. The hospital smelled, as hospitals do, of fake pine, the memory of pine, a description of pine by someone who hated trees.

IV.

I move soil around young plants with gloves on, listening to radio-show echoes of his voice reminding old women who go among their gardenias and roses on soft kneelers that you gotta get your hands down in that dirt, really dig in there, feel that dirt. Mulch splinters work their way past the wrists of my gloves and in, prickling my unfilial hands.

Peristalsis

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Down in the brown dirt
the green growing hurt dirt
below the chirps and itches and scratches of the birds
going unheard in the third layer of soil

lower

go

lower

where the old seeds show wild growth
where the plumule pushes the cotyledon erect

Popping past the pericarp and opting into the stamp of
germination and aging and down in the brown dirt
the green hurting dirt
systolic questions are asked again
before you ever view the
viridescent answer pushing past
the surface

to coat your tongue, as answers must, in silence.

Becoming

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“There,” CJ said, pointing. “She’s one of them.”

“Mrs. Wilkinson? Really?” Mrs. W had always been nice to me. And sometimes she had snacks in her desk.

We hushed up as she passed, squinting against the sun, watching for her shadow.

“See?”

“What do we do?”

“We wait.”