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The Subjunctive, and: The Field, and: February
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The Subjunctive, and: The Field, and: February

The Subjunctive

If not the cane fields, if that’s not where he worked, it could have been a city with white walls and gray birds in the plaza, children begging on the steps

of the church. Or maybe he came from the mountains in the south, sound of crickets at night, smell each day of each day’s fire. And he loved the inside

of some woman’s thighs, or the underside of her wrists. Or he hit her sometimes, pushed her against the wall of their house made out of tin and blocks,

or he didn’t mean it. Or she pushed him back, and their son cried with an open mouth, and their son was hungry. And he undid the laces of his shoes

before he lay down here. Or he walked in circles first, underneath the stars and moon, certain that this way, yes, this way was north. Or his hands swelled

in the heat. Certainly, his hands swelled. Or he folded his hands under his head, told himself he’d stop for just a few minutes, just to rest. And it was August;

I know that it was August, because the sheriff said it had been six months at least, time to be buried by the shale and then unburied, soft wind giving him new names,

or he went back home, or he never left home, he didn’t try to cross, never put his mouth to the gravel here, never thought that it was water. [End Page 543]

The Field

The day after we found him it was cold and a steady rain was falling. In the parking lot across the street from my house, I called her:

We found a body, I said, though I knew that wasn’t right. There must have been something of a man left in him

or the sheriff wouldn’t have held each part of him at arm’s length, lifting, before he dropped it in the bag,

the skull, the bones of the feet, the jeans, and with them dry leaves from where he’d been lying, dust,

pieces of shale. I got in the car and the rain was falling harder. Her voice was quiet and she put her glasses on, moved one hand

to the switch for the wipers, then back again to the wheel. I was telling the story and my voice was almost calm, her face,

looking straight ahead, smooth as though to soothe me. Over the ridge they couldn’t get the bag up,

they threw it—the noise she made then, of pity or comfort, not a word but an exhalation,

like wind just starting in a field of wheat somewhere in the middle of the country, wheat in her thin hands

on the wheel, wheat in her body where I was speaking as a child might speak into a field and hear a rustle

that could be a bird taking off in the dark, wings beating the stalks as it goes. [End Page 544]


If it would be ennobling, I could say it was like this, Lupercalia, or before Lupercalia, Februa, festival in Rome before it was Rome, the word meaning fever or rain, festival in which everything is washed in preparation for spring. Like that, I could say, I showered every morning and again in the afternoon, though we hadn’t touched the man we found. And I could say, as in some ancient city, that there were reasons for the rules: for letting the water run as hot as it would go, and then, when I was done, for not looking at my body directly but in a glance to one side when I stepped out of the tub, steam on the long mirror clear in spots from the wind that had blown the long window by the medicine cabinet open, white curtains blowing out and then back in again like the chest of a horse after it’s stopped running. The light came in differently at different times of day. Then it was spring, too hot to shower much: when the washing stopped, the rules...