This poem is based on a dream I had. I am both freaked out and excited, as a writer.
The city in my brain when I sleep
has wide black-outs the size of
my fragmented memories. I pedal down
an alley where dirty wash buckets
get dumped out open windows above
the Section 8 apartments we
so frequently took shelter in.
These alleys are crowded and huddled—a
fictitious labyrinth but still I am fooled
into believing its constancy because of
the telephone wires and iron fire escapes.
A man at a crate, wearing overalls and a red
bandana smiles his drunken grin, scratching
his bulbous purple nose, whisking out a tissue
from a bony wrist, something familiar,
a vague scent of lilac. Something about the speed
in a humming bird’s wings, rust and oil
and tractor parts fill my head. Honeysuckle.
Yes; my father called him “Pa.”
I turn what must be southwest
judging by the sunlight glaring,
but I am not sure. Then a block down
and right—a Parisian-like corner where
the next alley intersects. Buckets
and barrels of flowers, palette displays
and chalked prices. I pedal slower.
Round soft women in purple and daffodil,
berry-stained lips and a lavender water
scent that makes me feel warm,
like the sound of my grandmother, how she
used to say I sang beautifully. She had shells
on her wallpaper in the bathroom.
Beautiful. In the recesses of my brain, that
specific word signals my amygdala to
get out the boxing gloves or take flight,
and then Paris disappears because of this warning,
the alley swallows me up in darkness
and into an end once the word “beautiful”
grabs a hold of me, ringing in my ears
the way it did when he called me that
when I was a little girl. Not even in dreams
do we escape childhood.
This end is a brick wall, graffiti-filled and strewn
with Find Jesus and Bob Marley posters;
I turn my bike away, back toward light, an anxiety
starting to glow in my gut.
I hit a different center now, where four alleys meet,
these are all alleys now, and I choose—with “beautiful”
still hanging on my lips like a stale cigarette—to turn south.
Southeast. Cobblestone and puddles. This alley
is quiet and I feel the need to turn, but the walls
on the sides are narrowing.
My thighs just scuffing the plaster. I look ahead
because it’s too late to turn around—no room—and
I see the path before me going on and on like a tunnel
with shafts of light, then shadow, light, then shadow
where unnamed dead-end streets cross but I can’t
seem to get to them. A cracked hand
reaches out a glassless window and cold porcelain
knocks against my knuckle. I am picking up speed but
look back to see what it was, and when I turn forward
again, my bike wobbling, another white porcelain
girl. This one has a doll’s face that is white and cracked,
glued or fastened together, her head full of holes
where doll hair used to be, I back on the pedals
but roll closer
“—beautiful,” she whispers.
I am in the Hollow.
I am in the Hollow.
The song my music box played, the lyrics
I invented as I adorned my dollhouse with
magazine cut-out pictures and pizza box
end tables, and it chimes down this alley
like a wet echo. As I shake my head, her
white face shatters into mirrors
and the shards cut into my entire body.
Maybe plucking out the glass is my key
to escape; all this blood, and I keep moving.
My thoughts are causing an ache in my throat:
“I know her…. Oh God I know her…”
I am breaking out into white light.
All has gone soft, the blood has clotted, and I
see what must be the exit (or entrance?—I haven’t
decided which I am looking for).
I pass beneath the linens
hanging overhead across lines strung
window to window; a woman scrapes chipped
blue china plates free of potatoes for
the chickens where ice cold water drips
from a gutter. Then a familiar smell reaches me—his
sweat mixed with a threadbare shirt and roses—
the roses that fell after his ashes into the White River
after his funeral.
I pedal closer and this young-looking man
in his mid-forites crosses his long-legged jeans
at the cowboy boots, his hat tipped to shade
a well-sculpted face.
I know his chin because I have it too.
A slight indentation, a dimple. His wallet has fallen
and I slow down to pick it up but then there’s
the humming birds flitting and darting around me
and then up to the sun. I take bandages from his wallet
but all he has are tiny ones for children. I start covering
the cuts, wiping the blood on what now appears to be
overalls that I am wearing and I am walking up
a dirt driveway towards the lilacs and bird feeder.
I walk up to the chin-dimpled cowboy.
This is all a dream, I know, but this is always
the part I have come for
but never reach—
the part I seek every time I face my reflection.
I walk up to him—
“Dad, can people save each other?”
He smiles and hands me my doll, and I abandon
him, running for the lilac’s green lagoon under
the kitchen window Pa sits at. I take out a pocketknife
and gouge at my doll’s pretty eyes so she can’t see.
I hack her hair and pull until small yellow piles are at my feet—
pleasure filling me as I take away her beauty;
I cut at her mouth as my power takes her voice.
I cry and shake her as my wounds reopen
from the glass and it’s my blood
coming out of her.
“beautiful…” my father says.