restricted access I’ve Been Collecting This to Tell You
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22 I ’ v e B e e n C o l l e c t i n g T h i s t o T e l l Y o u I. On the drive north to a wedding, bluegrass’s mournful picking fades to static as I drive into a high cloud’s shadow then out again. There’s nothing now to distract me, and so I list again the reasons why we’re finished. The highway curves, and it feels good to turn the steering wheel at just the right angle, to move farther and farther away from you, the sun so bright that my arm on the windowsill might burn. II. A storm came through, strong from eating through empty prairie, the sky lit solid by lightning. I could feel the thunder in my toes. I turned off the lights, stood near the window— though not supposed to—and watched, the hotel parking lot a pock-marked river. The rain frantic on the roof drowned out that sarcastic turn your voice can take. A tornado took off roofs ten miles away. I nearly wrote this down on hotel stationery— but you have seen storms before 23 and do not need to know I write these letters to you in my head. If I scribbled some note and put a stamp on it, it wouldn’t be true by the time it arrived. III. We gather here to witness, the minister says, this man and this woman. They’re about to have their hearts sewn in, I think, and push down the silly pathos that says mine is still flapping about on my sleeve. I hold you in the bones of my jaw, in the muscles at the back of my neck which will not relax. And so, vodka. And so, dancing. White lights hang from the barn rafters, and the couple dances their first song in blue jeans, her left arm tucked under his right, her hand reaching up his back to draw them close, birds’ wings. Late in the night, black rings the women’s eyes as we sweat off makeup 24 which drew out our eyes so well when we arrived. IV. Unsent postcard: Hello from Atlanta, Illinois, and the grain elevator museum—no joke. Here, you can follow corn’s journey from seed to your cereal bowl. I stopped for kicks. Well, and my legs were sore from all the sitting. It felt good to breathe unventilated air. There’s so much sky here that I feel a bit claustrophobic. How are I’m sorry about how Oh, what does it matter V. You are more present in your absence, in the scent of burnt coffee grounds, in the sunwarmed fabric you are not wearing, which is simply a jacket in the glare of the window. I think of you in stairwells, in elevators, in airplanes, when I stop moving. I think of the way you pulled me into you even when my arm was taut with resisting, of the way you once stopped the loud bell of a lid clanging on the counter by clasping it to your chest when a simple touch of the hand would have done. 25 VI. I am tired of plastic wrappers, of packaging, of the bag of crackers inside the box, and both needing disposal, of each popsicle wrapped in its plastic and becoming a stick to throw away. I am tired of filling plastic bag after plastic bag with trash: food gone bad, pieces of cotton that took off my makeup, paper towels, pistachio shells, shiny piece of paper from a new picture frame with strangers smiling. I am tired of sorting bottle after bottle, of emptying things and then letting them go out of my sight, god knows where. I am tired of these letters, too. Of all the waste. VII. But I do love a letter folded so that it becomes its own envelope, space saved by crossing lines up through others, the page a mesh of letters. Since I cannot speak to you, as valediction, all tucked together, the final few things: The electric poles all look like stilled dancers. A green tractor kicks up a dust cloud that drifts past the blown-out carcass of a tire. Two birds burst across the highway in play, as I drive home, but not to you. ...


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