by Katherine Carlman
Like the shell of a chocolate hare, upon the slightest pressure from an eager child’s hand causes it to give way to nothing but its own void
and trees toppled by bracing winds on forest floors lying, upon which moss and mushrooms creep; left for dead, collapsing upon themselves one day
or sacs that form within the womb with no pindot heartbeat appearing, despite the technician’s increased pressure on the ultrasound wand.
Empty words that from your living lips tumble forth in these same categories belong – blank,
hollow things; devoid of life.
scorching sand, salty sea, skin slick with sunscreen slather;
crisping flesh from ten until four, flipping from front to back and
front as often as every thirty minutes, to ensure even tone
stepping to the shore sometimes, slipping into sea – swimming
sun and rest, we laze all day until hunger strikes; then
gather things, trudge off beach – sand cooler as sun slips, sliding to horizon
at rented cottage clanking and banging, chatter of dinner prep
along the north side of the cottage, a long, wide shadow,
grass (lush and cool) beneath feet pummeled by waves and grit;
skin, battered by wind; taut and stressed from saline dried; a tightness
hose rigged up, snaking from extruding spigot over blue painted boards
elderly cake of soap sits ready; suds now lathering, foaming, washing
renewing water fresh and cool; stream rinses salt and sea from skin
everything clean; clear chill of dark evening air on wet hair
His voice gets me. And the odor of him. Most
peculiarly, though, a portion of his forearm pierces
something internal; without warning, I’m sent reeling.
This section of his flesh (from just above the
wrist to a few inches shy of his elbow) is covered
with the thick, dark nearly-fur of an Iberian male.
The skin beneath it, where one can peek through,
is tanned a deep brown. This is his own arm. I know this.
When I steal a glance up, beyond the shoulder
appended to the torso of the man, at the top of my
gaze, I see the face of my uncle. I know him. And yet,
when my eyes lower to his arm again, when I hear
the rich baritone of his voice, when I breathe
in the motes of genetic material he off-gasses;
it is not he next to me, but my grandfather.
I sleep little that night. A portion of my
past, long dead and buried, is revivified by
his words and scent; his strong, brown forearm.
The memory of a fragrance, the haunting sounds of
singing from the kitchen, of laughter and talking
that lulled me to sleep on many summer nights,
flood my brain; unleashed by the knifing. They
keep me wakeful, with a longing for times and people
long gone. The ache, palpable and unrelenting,
finally drives me, in too early pre-dawn, to seek
the day, to distance myself from the darkness and
grief of loss called forth by our interaction,
as when a child stirs a still puddle with a stick, and
swirls of grit mesmerize as they waft to the surface.
My uncle rises early, too. He asks how I slept.
Tears tell the story instead of words. My mother, my mother
is gone, and so much of youth; Grandma and Grandpa,
Paul and Jim, Wally, and Aunt Sonia and Ethel and …
an entire season of life has passed away; my children
know nothing of it; they know not those days or people. My
present loves know not my past loves. How can this be?
I share (because I can trust him) the detail
about his arm. I touch it to show him. Strength
is there. And lineage. And everything, in a way.
He suppresses a smile. He shares this: he never knew
how much of his father he was, until a college buddy
showed him…and how that’s a load to carry.
We sit in silence then; my tears dry. Others shuffle
awake. Our silence interrupted, we are asked how things
are. My uncle rises quickly, claiming all is fine.
About the Author:
Katherine Carlman lives in California with her family and spends an inordinate amount of time commuting on the PCH. Her poetry has been published by Red Eft Review, Adelaide Literary Review, Wilderness House, and Inciting Sparks, among other publications. Her play, The Sixth Station, is published by Samuel French.