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Discourse 24.1 (2002) 38-50
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Because the Night, A Sentimental Education, and The Body is an Evil Guest
Because the Night
As a child I often awoke in the middle of the night startled by blood. The noise of my ancestral past breaking my body. Found myself lost inside burning dreams walking across the sands of the desert. Footprints dead in the wind. Here never there. Fingers pressed hard into my temples. I refused to believe in any of this. This, my body. The stories told behind locked doors. Hungry to be yours. Bare legs streaked by the cold air of winter in Pittsburgh. This mistaken tongue began, without words, searching for the derangement of some other body. Unfaithful words spoken aloud from my mouth. Words, refused by gods and demons, thrown out against the dark into strange bodies reflected on the bedroom wall. In the corner I saw God standing in fire. Silent. A return to the Garden. There, I saw God. Without a breath. His awkward elbows and jaw. An open invitation to my own mortality.
In the beginning before the flood of language my blunt fingers explored this body, mine, which I had been ordered to ignore. Curious about the torn skin at the precise moment when I came to know that God sees all and follows me. Into the attic. I climb wooden stairs. God leaves me there forsaken, some lonely father places his hand on my shoulder but I only see a reflection in the mirror of some dear dead memory. Feel his cold body close behind me. His [End Page 38] gray hand stutters against the beauty of the mirror. My belly warm and soft. When I try to move, the ropes tighten. Into me. My father cries. Spilling blood and skin onto the hardwood floor. I fall down on my back. The weight of God holds me to the earth. Paralyzed in time. In some countries this is the sign for the awakening of love. My thighs like the threat of open scissors. My lips tremble. Speak, why does he not speak? So much dust.
I was taught to fear monsters under my bed, bogeymen in the walls, and angry angels hanging upside down from the ceiling. "They will," Daddy told me, "bite off your toes and toss them into the Monongahela River." Mother flicking and flicking the light switch. Three times. Me begging her to turn off the lights. Be done with it. Enough with the mythologies, the stories half-forgotten from the dead lands. The ones our ancestors fled, the ones without trees. The tales that never end, only begin. She stood in the shadows of the doorway chewed away at her nails. Between her teeth. Pulled them off her fingers. Spit them onto the floor. In the morning my feet bleed. "The monsters will carry you off to hell," mother warns me. "In hell, you can't ever be a girl." I keep my eyes open, wide-awake, deep through these godless nights into mornings riddled by junk madness. In stillness, not a breath, not a word of this to anyone. God made these shadows in the image of a lost soul. I wait never to speak for my father to come home from work. Every minute, every night, I wait for my father. He with his body uses his body. The one God had given him at birth. In the name of his body, he interrupts my isolation. He takes away my weariness. I never cry. Not once. I never shed a tear. He likes that about me. I have heard that others have died because of their tears.
Nine years old. Late winter of 1966. The naked throat of a child. Cracked lips dry and peeling. It has been said that I was born choking. Not of this world. Not into this world. My body becoming a cage framed by lost desires in some looking glass. I come when I hear her words. She draws me to the country of gray birds. My...