notes from the understory (level 36, first room)
I’m transferring from one BART train to anther
going in the opposite direction—I’m not ready to go home.
My mind is a thing that’s no longer a functioning conveyance
I hear metal scraping metal
as sparks burn to cinder any meaning I understood.
In my mouth, I taste bitter metal—
all that’s left of what I couldn’t say to my husband last night
when he told me his cancer prognosis.
Sparks fill my mouth, I spit blood.
In my pocket is a page torn from the Sunday NY Times Art Section—
a photo of a painting by Jenny Seville.
She painted a woman’s face covered in scabs, her eyes
staring off to the left,
the way my mother’s eyes stared, just after she died—
inwardly following what seemed to me
notes from the understory (level 36, second room)
A medium is an intervening substance through which something is
communicated or altered.
I am a cracked window in an abandoned house.
Rain uses me as its medium
to change everything to its likeness.
The crack becomes a medium that lengthens until it disappears
in myriad pieces of broken glass.
Now, I am a medium traipsing from one BART train to another,
picking up gum and cigarette ash
on the sole of one shoe.
A young girl is sitting on the BART train I board.
I take a seat beside her. Her face hasn’t been washed in days,
its grime is a medium we let mingle between us.
She’s a girl who isn’t any other child I’d noticed on BART before,
but exactly this girl who
looks straight into my eyes,
giving me eyes again, even as my eyes crack into fragments,
and rain pours in,
neither of us looks away.
notes from the understory (level 36, third room)
Translation is a thing arriving, an impregnation—
one material is delivered
or its delivery is denied.
It may develop impossible properties, contradictions,
Last night, a translation locked its steel door
and kept me
from understanding the doctor’s report
of my husband’s treatment-resistant cancer prognosis.
notes from the understory (level 37, first room)
My vertigo is no better than it was. I turn on my nightlight anyway,
open H.D.’s TRIBUTE TO FREUD to find the sentence
that I return to, but the words double against each other, leaving
only an echoing
of a “lost idea…taken out of the actual daydream or dream.”
If I close my eyes, my blanket’s heaviness and warmth
become a placenta
feeding me burning redwoods, one charred branch, one blackened
squirrel-pelt, at a time.
My pillows are heavily-weighted storm-clouds,
thick to bursting.
But no cooling rain comes.
notes from the understory (level 37, second room)
I try again to read H.D.’s TRIBUTE TO FREUD, but my vertigo is
worse today. The bedroom elongates, ceiling and floor
both give a small stretch-marked sigh and expand.
H.D. is in my ear warning me:
“any freak-thought, over-thought, will overwhelm you.”
In my whirlpool of concerns about every deadline I’ve missed,
every bill left unpaid,
I can’t resist being drawn deeper, to its bottom.
There, I have work to do,
scrubbing the mold off of all that I refuse to remember.
I wear to bed a black night-shirt that is sometimes made from
the feathers and claws that are all I have
of the mockingbird a stray cat killed and left on my back porch.
Now, silence lives in the tree outside my window.
Sometimes my T-shirt is made of the mother-hands that wrapped
around me while I slept beside her in our one bed—
hands that I could feel were sometimes feathers, sometimes claws.
notes from the understory (level 37, third room)
A T-shirt can sometimes unravel, the way a vertigo
can extend its threads to spiral backward into the gone-place,
and forward into the not-yet. I hear H.D. murmur
that vertigo lets me glimpse how I only ever see
in myself the “reflection of a reflection.”
I’m walking in Holy Sepulcher, the cemetery I used to visit
with my grandmother before her stroke.
We’d put plastic roses and daisies on the family graves.
Now, when I go, I must walk heavily. The dead beneath my feet
won’t easily recognize me without her beside me,
won’t easily open their empty eyes
to let me enter their long, tunneling gaze.
A life can sometimes unravel—the way a T-shirt goes thread-bare
at its selvedge edge. Each of those threads
can be a useful marker of the way I’ve come,
when the dead let me walk into what they see.
What H.D. might mean when she talks of places where “writing
can continue to write itself, and thus be written.”