Where It Is

Early on the dog seemed more like home—no animal ever had black spinning things behind a face, that relentless hum in every room of things that weren’t words that everyone’s mind was always shouting, things I never could unhear. Even now in every grinding place without an exit, I play here-there with things I’ve turned to empty objects in my mind. Down every hallway some dark engine rushed toward me or behind me, every house was a cabinet with a mirrored front. Always alone in days or evenings that didn’t begin and didn’t end until the mind just packed off to the side, but by then I’d already seen too much of everything.

After a while, you didn’t have to keep moving all the time, you were already unrecognizable in how you managed it, a border with a life on one side open to any vantage point, on the other side the one that always smelled of paint and turpentine. The one saving discovery: that you could show invisible things with a pencil or brush on paper, paper that you could go into like a house no one could see. Later on, every time I stretched a canvas, I was building a house behind it, a place I could breathe in behind the scrim of everything else.

There was just entirely too much seeing, seeing that would not stop, one had to fight not to see the things others claimed they saw that weren’t there, or to see things others claimed they didn’t see that were. Nothing was something always ready to loom up from every floor you stepped on. Why was there always broken glass on the floor in that spotless house? So small you couldn’t see it, then suddenly it had already pierced your foot and sent a rush of fire all up your body, like some arbitrary punishment conducted from afar. Then you always had to wait out in silence that gaping interval between claiming it was impossible and then finally attending to the evidence of your bleeding foot. Everything was an accident, all accidents occasioned disbelief. When your dog died, they said a neighbor had fed him ground glass.

Over and over: whatever you are feeling, don’t feel it, whatever is happening, it’s not. Driveways paved with caramel stones and chunks of quartz like cracked glass, that box of rocks I hauled from place to place, kept under every bed like some kind of anchor, carried around not to remind me of places but to save me from them.

Funerals were the only ceremonies, looking festive until you knew. If you were dead, you’d get a little lamb, a tombstone always in everyone’s mind, the lost treasured child, not the rag of one you were, like a weed, thriving, getting away with something like life. You found your mother once weeping over a poem about the toys a dead child had left behind. You asked, she told, and there you were, yourself a child, already wished away somehow, already replaced by that other child, the one worth weeping for.

Who expected joy in such places? Weeping always waited like a trap, someone could always drive you fast to it then claim you’d been imagining things. You were the one who played dead, the dead one was your proxy there where anything seen could be denied, where anything past could not be told, everything behind engulfed in darkness there where you could never turn around. The things I imagined were mine alone, what I suppressed was not pain, but joy.

I wanted to be an old man or a dog when I grew up. The one thing I did well was tell the truth, like cool water clear to a bottom where you couldn’t go or couldn’t stay. Now when I see lies, only my silence says I know. This heart that beats too fast for love, this life like a bag you throw things into when you have to get out fast only to end up where you already are with some other bag full of the speechless junk you carry for everyone else. When everything is forgotten, there is nothing to forgive.

Where it is in the end is where it was: a series of summer days when you had no words for the things you felt and the things you felt were everything. The shadows there were never blue, at noon everything was sharp edges, black and white, the ice in the shining jar you carried was black, your shadow black and running faster from you the faster you ran, the jar heavy with the charge not to let it melt. I hear my breathing, my feet running, and that is all I am. From the house to the field, I ran through no place, I hadn’t been to get the jar, I was not even awake, what time there was was somewhere else, and time belonged to places then, the ice that made trees clatter in winter was what I carried in summer, the things that root us in earth unplanted and unplowed overnight, the same jar, the same ice the next day, and between dream and waking, between here and anywhere, I was always carrying something I couldn’t say, that sunshine is what makes things black.

Don’t look, don’t look, I always did, years later, the child’s body on the railroad tracks, other children casually stepping over or around that ribbon of blood dried black, it was just how things seeped out: it was there if I looked or if I didn’t. I never could believe that everything always happened somewhere else.

. . .

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