from "embodied duet, recalcitrant aesthetic"

Standing in the darkened room before bed, the view of the snow-filled yard from above sends thoughts of my mother. Field lit by the full moon, hemlock bowed by the white weight of it. Wonder returns, like steady snowfall even this late, her ghost, the shape of my hands. Snow hushes everything, but the past. A white dress’ fluted skirt, violet and indigo sweeps of iris over her limbs and bodice, love promising a future self. The dogs have traced a ragged path up the hill beyond the hemlock. I read of the flooded Sundarbans, a lost folk, river dolphins in the tide. Sundari trees in the Ganges delta, drowned and tendriled profusion.

I reached out to her in the form of a letter. Text-touch needed to be able to touch at all. "Thank you for early childhood exposure to music." I stopped there even though there was a hard oncoming curve in my thought (..."even though your doing so traumatized me. It has taken me years to get to a place where I can thank you openly because how can you thank an abuser for the abuse--how can the trauma be thanked for its impact?"). Good I stopped when I did. No need to turn previous experiences of trauma into future exposures to trauma.

We both live so far away. A sadness to it--even though it was by my choice. Leave the letter of the law for some soul space. I want to saturate in a life all my own. No pleasureful details regarding childhood dress--except those of trauma. Red and white checkered--too tight. Cutting me at the neck and wrists.

How I wish I could recall an image of mother in which I saw mother truly free. In flow. No clue how to be clued into that when younger. Did not know flow existed. No rush or wash. All dirge and weights. All--"I don't belong here. This is not me or my life." Even though I laughed along with the rest of them at the dinner table. Even though a chuckle--my head was never thrown back--throat expanded--taking in the ecstatic lights of the knight as I now can. Then--maniacal following the loops and curves in the grains of the wood. Hoping to get out of there to somewhere where all of this might make more sense. Make me into something more than my lineage.

But how can one say this to mater.

She stood between me and my father, kept him at arm’s length. A safe distance. A whisper of sage. Is it possible to smudge out the marks of a switch or hand, the lines of disgust. What child, are you? Nothing at all. Nothing.

Silence stands around us like our shadows, holding the past in. He is there. Diminished, fallen into an infinitely receding past, until he, too, becomes the past. And she. Mother of silence, mother arms holding me, a mother diminished within a shell of being/half-being, being gone. At the cusp of 60, another twilight, Ganga’s blessing? Bad dreams are the least of it.

Climate change, politics, and greed. Jowar, the flood eats everything, even the ebb. One hundred and two islands consumed by the sea and salt.

He stood between me and my mother. He who held me while singing made in me a singing. The full moon--cerulean technician--through the closed window no less light than had the window been open. There were rules to growing up. There were various required obediences. This is what The Church expected. And yet--when I screamed I would throw my violin out the window it was he who was there. Caretaker--so full of flow. Like a river flows. Like rain in the gutter flows. "How about today we just do something different." See a child envision riding the currents up and down the street as the rain gets turbulent. Violin laid gently back down into case upon such invitation. Fun and love would certainly be better than breaking my violin. Another option appeared when I thought there would be no other way. His--the way for a hollow violin to fill with Spirit rather than tears. Permission to be. Conservative obedience is different than obey. The tender man not so Patriarchal behind closed doors. Simply singing to his child while her hair grows.

Held on his shoulders, a fish leaping into sun and air, embraces the water, lithe child. Fury wields a whip. Between these. Being neither. Obedient, disobedient. The requisite dance, daughter to father. A shallow pool-made-do beside the barn where he milked the cows, mother working late. The smell of grain spread before jersey cattle standing chest-height for milking, the purr of compressor, of pistons, of the agitator gently swirling their milk in the chiller tank. The smell of their manure, sound of water sprayed to wash it away, tickle of water raining out of nowhere, hose in father’s hand, onto my head. Lost in play. In high summer, pony-back, carrying water to him where he machineswept almonds into windrows. Later brooming orchard dust from his torso and limbs, come to the house for supper. The ship’s bell clanging call. Long summer days weeding the garden, picking hornworms from tomatoes, gathering grapes, figs, berries. Listening to the carbide gun shoo redwings and crows. Unfolding the remnant past reconstructs what he was, was there. It was only the once. Once upon my back. A rain of blows. In high summer. Once.

Once, twice--by the third time no charm.

Most depressed after it being expected of him he judge his neighbor. More harsh than he would have been had it just been him--his thoughts--no rules nor expectations he be a certain type of Patriarch.  The kind they wanted him to be: unkind. Natural laugh lines gone limp. On the evenings after he would judge he would need to be alone in the room. No warm firelight. Innate light of afternoon blocked out by a closed door.

I remember him crying--but perhaps that is how I imagined a palpable release for him from his torment. Not the same light-hearted joy of being with family on game night fingering the cards in hand while he planned his next move. When having to judge--simply not the same man. As if--as he was a part of it--it was psychically abusing him.

When a child, he revenged himself on his mother. Sought out a prickly pear cactus, stamped his foot into it, so she would have to pay attention to him. Have to set down her work and pluck each spine from his flesh. Did this soothe him? I imagine her angry, frustrated, terse. Mouth drawn together, silently working. Her expectations always more than he, or any of us, had given. It was she who called me out for failing to work my share beside her in the orchard, six years old, for punishment. Even when he as was falling away from this world into a past already fled, she demanded he climb a ladder and prune her trees. Never. Enough. The required sleepovers at her house in childhood, canned peaches, green beans cooked with ham-hock, handmade rolls. A tiny “magic” lantern filled with saccharine tablets to sweeten her tea, an untouched jar of hard candy on the coffee table. What could be given? What was never said. He was her last, meant to stay home and look after her. Not marry, no children, no future of his own, dreaming. The old cat on the farm would eat her kittens if we found her nest before she was ready to share them.

Knowing more about his childhood would require knowing more about his lineage. My lineage. Still haven't recovered enough from line to feel safe to inquire. Child squire I do not--wish to be the one in whom or on whom this is recorded: my shield made of mom and dad. No thanks. My shield will be made of future DNA. As a teen--during which time I officially "broke up" with my parents (like one would a lover!)--I vowed to never look back. The scream tore through me--each cell an unexpected throat. Everything ached. I could not think.

A sweeping rigor like an unfolded handkerchief (blanket statement) covering all of the land. From childhood stories recall we are descendants of The Mayflower. Had to sing about it on holidays. I envisioned the ship--aroused by the notion of such a big hunk of wood in such expansive water. Upon asking my mother many years after the breakup--she insinuated it is possible I have ancestry in French witches. The witch does not want to be traced to any line. Alchemies' ink pots spilling across her hunk of a table.

Not the same rules or life as mom and dad. In memory--very few of their wheels (most of them traumatic) spinning in my psyche and--I never touch the laundry line out back.

Two halves of a witch tale, mother, mutter, murder. Nurture and terror. “I love you so much, I could eat you up.” Which underworld lies in heaven? The boundary between one and the other, fluid. Child and self, mother and other. Small hands reach for me, point to the sky. An airplane passes over. Another child, earlier, a train heading south. The wash of surf over our feet. Pull me to the ground. Play. Demand and give, way. Later the insatiable hunger to be free, of me. Her. Us. Make me. (Divorce?) Fit to live, to inherit what? A shape unseen. A rhythm of making. Hand-built sandpit, treehouse, work bench. Coloring an endless scroll of paper. A bike roaring over a hardened mound of clay leaps into the air. Skateboarder counting coup from the top of the ramp. Liberation, the will to be free. Teeth smashed on landing, cut chin, cut brow, cut it out! The heat fear wakens. His teacher threatens, shames him. Shuts him. Down into himself. Shouts. Not. Now. Not. No. Willed, willnot willnot willnot. Just stop. Stop. Exhaustion and despair. Scenes in a living room, scenes in a grocery store. Stop. Seams. The way bodies bend, give way, under love's, the heat of dread. Mothered.

I wrote about her as a lime. It helped. Pressure was required in order to make the juice leak easefully. Otherwise--terse, hard. Streaks of eyeliner down her cheeks.

I need to remember those were in fact quivering cheeks. I live to love women now. The covenant. Many different kinds of love--sure--but with this self as my future then--I should have been able to find in me a way to meet her as unconditional love. Look soberly at it. If she were any other woman I might have been able to understand and love her--make more space for her imperfections. Yet I couldn't--or maybe didn't. She--mother--was a particular relation to me. Not a woman to me. Mother--to whom I am inborn? The one through which it was my nature to tear her interior, her canal. It was a healing when it was first reflected to me: she was too small for you. And yet--I came to her--should have been able to come to life through her. 

Into the citrus tree I would climb. Measuring my lights against dawn and dusks' arrivals. That was my family home in the distance. The barn on which the fraying rope swung. The lip of the top floor from which my small legs dangled. I could see from here--the citrus heights. Pungent lick labyrinthine wick.

Then later--upon moving away from my parent's home as a teen, it remained by citrus heights I could perceive. Citrus groves maturation fields. I would kneel in them. Unintentionally (but without resistance to it happening) allow my knees to be cut by the broken glass embedded in the soil. Could taste time. Smell rhythm. Perception as I grew through these years--about learning to receive. Receive a different kind of seeing than looking out and over the span with family home in the distance.

Now--so many years later--when I get the tattoo of citrus in alignment with sealing off Maiden time in form--it is not a lime but an orange in the tattoo. Burbling and bursting--blood, cara cara, valencia, heirloom, seville soar, murcott. Mother--can you see me in the imprints of the orange even though you came to me as a lime? Can we find each other in temperaments of tang? In truth we share more than we let on.

I want to be a woman to you, mother. I suppose that means I have to let you in as a woman too. Even though Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit--limes aren't either.






Marthe Reed

Marthe Reed (1958-2018) published five books: Nights Reading (Lavender Ink, 2014); Pleth, with j hastain (Unlikely Books, 2013); (em)bodied bliss (Moria Books, 2013); Gaze (Black Radish Books, 2010); Tender Box, A Wunderkammer (Lavender Ink, 2007). The author of six chapbooks, her collaborative chapbook thrown, with j hastain, won the 2013 Smoking Glue Gun contest. Her poetry was published in BAX2014, New American Writing, Golden Handcuffs Review, Entropy, New Orleans Review, Jacket@, Fairy Tale Review, Exquisite Corpse, The Volta, and The Offending Adam, among others. Her poetry reviews appeared in Jacket2, Galatea Ressurrects, Openned, Cut Bank, New Pages, The Rumpus and Rain Taxi. Reed was co-publisher and managing editor for Black Radish Books.

j/j hastain

j/j hastain is a collaborator, writer and maker of things. j/j performs ceremonial gore. Chasing and courting the animate and potentially enlivening decay that exists between seer and singer, j/j hopes to make the god/dess of stone moan and nod deeply through the waxing and waning seasons of the moon.


Edited for Unlikely by dan raphael, Staff Reviewer
Last revised on Thursday, June 18, 2020 - 21:02