Lineal


By J.M. Baker

Or say you were born in a field. Under a harvest moon, or crescent. Under a gibbous moon and cloudless. The November aromas of leaf and woodsmoke soaked into your skin. So you worry about asphalt. You fear the texture of bicycle crashes and subway elevators. You prefer the smell of lightning in your palm. There's a dark streetlamp and brick dust where your shoelaces tore.

Or say you jumped from helicopters with a parachute made of canvas and thunder. Your father never saw this. He was portly and smoked and died in a sedan. As a boy you tracked grouse, or maybe a hare, through the burnt bent wheat by the river. Your posture is perfect to this day. You can sew, and fold triangles well.  

Or say you bit the nurse's hand. 

Or say that when you unpin that bun of gray hair, late at night in the guest room before the fogged mirror, it howls down your back. There's a ceramic fawn on the nightstand. It has one broken ear. This injury resembles bone.  

Or say that you worry about fires and electrical storms because you have an imagination. That your son might die passed out in the snow keeps you awake at night.  

Or say that you did not witness a dog rape in South America. 

Or say you never had a farm with one blind horse and one crooked path. That was only summertime. The boys were all dishwashers, and you married one. He had a tattoo of a centaur. Or was it an oak tree? In August, in the orchard behind the mildewed cabins, mosquitoes gathered. The dusk billowed and heaved.

Or say that you are not afraid to fly.  

Or say you walk with a limp but do not use a cane. 

Or say you never learned to swim. You were born on an archipelago. You climbed trees to shake tart green mangoes from their branches. A notebook under your bed had drawings of the many varieties of rain. An index, added later, denoted their colors. But you can't remember if it was you or your sister keeping track. She is older now, mostly, and lives where it snows.

Or say that you died in the dormitory. You were huffing Dust-Off and froze your lungs. 

Or say you are a banker who wasn't sent to the Pacific. Even on Sundays you wear a tie. In person, you are gracious with the blacks employed at the club. Your wife was once beautiful, drinks gin now, dies first. After your stroke, you will mostly watch tennis. One of your three daughters will visit.  

Or say that the bee didn't sting. 

Or say you'd never started drinking, and that your father couldn't make a wineglass sing with the tip of his finger. You smoothed his eyebrows at the dinner table because they were thick and wild. You couldn't say caterpillar. A tooth had fallen out. And there were ants in the stairs, eating the wood, and you thought, when it was quiet enough, you could hear them humming.  

Or say you got snowed in. 

Or say you understand insects better than people. Especially spiders and flies.  

Or say you choked on a piece of pot roast. Or maybe leg of lamb. A bowl of cold green jelly on the table as you struggle to breathe. In the bathroom down the hall, where horsehair plaster curls like aluminum, you cough up the meat out of sight of the child for whom you knit cardigans. You keep all your money in your mattress. You prefer persimmons. You will die in your sleep with no one there to witness.  

Or say that you did not help slaughter a goat and eat its heart. 

Or say you have no hair on your legs, your teeth are made of woolen and waterlogged wood, and your laughter is a cave. 

Or say that no one had had to die. Just the tumescent white mouse your father shot, mercifully, with a pellet rifle. Your mother still sends birthday cards. One from the dog too. She is planning a visit to see your new home. Say that. 

Or say your friend was in one of those towers. He wouldn't have made it out, and you would have felt differently in the weeks that followed looking at all the photographs taped to lampposts and streetlights of people still hoped to be missing.

Or say that your first husband got cancer and died. And forty years later your twin sister. And now your daughter has it. And a step-daughter too. 

Or say you'd once gotten frostbite on your toes in a jungle in the Carolinas. You stayed in a hospital for two months reading Our Mutual Friend and Bleak House again and again. That would be remembered as a romantic time. Like when thousands of bats fell out of the sky. Or when all those houses burned in the hurricane and the fire reflected in the lake.  

Or say that you were allergic to dust and hair. 

Or say you don't read too slowly.

Or say that you have a scar running the length of your forearm. The tissue is warm and impressionable and foretells storms. You wonder if the rest of your body could feel like wet earth. But you like the color blue better. And learned very young to keep melancholy to yourself. When you had to put your dog down, you lay all night with him on the living room floor. Even without music, you knew how to make the city quiet.

Or say that you have a glass cabinet full of pinned moths and quotations.

Or say that you suffered from depression all your life. Your body, your body told you, was dull and unconcerned. You used to cut yourself on the inner thigh. Once upon a time, you wrote stories but burned them all. Sometimes it's hard to remember what happened yesterday, unless the weather stains the windows and driveway. You once captured a bird. You once painted a watercolor. 

Or say you've never experienced a catastrophe's kind of silence.  

Or say that with no sea near, your imagination will turn on you. 

Or say that saltwater didn't erode all the banisters and clocks. And that white space is not an absence but a veil. 

Or say that you were always cold. The house was full of wind. You cleaned the kitchen tiles with a toothbrush. A broken pane of glass once cut open your finger. Illness became inherent. Well after music had. Verdi, you'd say, is an invitation. If you could dig holes in the backyard, you would bury all the arias there.  


J. M. Baker's writing has appeared in The Antioch ReviewEpiphanyThe Brooklyn Review, and Fractal. Work from his series of international poetry workshops can be found at sawubonapoetry.wordpress.com. He currently lives in Los Angeles with his wife and his dog.