A friend of theirs had been festering like an old sandwich, rotting a little before disposal. They had to come, but it got to where they held their breath before they stepped inside the room. The wife remembered how anything with mayonnaise had to be refrigerated.
Even a sack lunch in an office was suspect if stored under the desk for a morning: egg salad was the worst. The husband recalled a tiny door in the stone wall of an English church, stage right from the modest altar—a place for lepers to take communion. Only part
of a soul could pass, and precious little of the smell. The wife and husband talked with their old friend like this, backing off from his suppurations, unwilling to think, This is our body, unwilling to think, Dust to dust, slipping their elements of decay into the outer cold and darkness.
Maggie, her grandparents’ dog, can’t come with us to the zoo, we say she’s not feeling well and try to leave it at that, bring up tigers and polar bears, offer Twizzlers and juice, but all she wants is the dog, asks if we gave her medicine, when will she come back so we can fix her with a screwdriver, today’s new word, so many new sounds, so much new these days we can’t keep track of all the people and places she knows, and the names of things, reminding us we cannot save her from the word, or save ourselves from having to explain what dead means, as if we’ve waded through all we were taught and emerged on one side or the other, unable to dismiss or believe there’s one true voice that could reveal a pattern we’ve never picked up on in the sunlight and trees, some force behind why that could lead us beyond our parents’ loving euphemisms, beyond we simply don’t know.
One took the colony by the heels, slapping its flank until it issued a broad cry of rage. Tall and forbidding, she waxed both sharp and sweet, flying in the angry face of magistrates, chafing the tender hearts of the unregenerate gently with her tireless voice. She coaxed as women labored in their cramped beds of pain.
The other fashioned quills and parsed her poems in clean white sheets. Still, her clumsy child shamed her, walking on stumbling feet, as real a “monstrous birth” as the first Anne’s tissue of stubborn clots. What was it she tried to say, poet in a wife’s starched linen, submitting to her tasks and thanking God without conviction for each bitter loss? Sarah, Hagar in exile, she too never went back; the stormy Atlantic roiled, keeping her margins, her heart rising within her and rising, rising again.