- What Is to Be Done?, and: The Journalism Student, and: Family History, and: Fire in the North Country, and: Domestic Animals
What Is to Be Done?
for S. Reddick, 1976
I’ll answer your question now, the one youasked that evening we sat in your room,the hot plate you never used, not evenfor coffee, windows filmed with the dustof voices that reached us years later.The river was weeds. The sentinel towersof the canneries and sawmills that crowdedits banks. The river glossed with pronouncementsof dread. The graveyard hours you stood onthe peach line, the polished corrugatedlight, women and men in white apronsroaming through warehouses, trailing the sun.
None of us knew the way out of suffering.The windows of your room were alwaysleft open, and blackberry vines protestedgravity with vaulted extravagance.Who could escape the torrent of heatthat surged over our bodies and houseslike a dream? The afternoonwind freed us from the necessityof inventing ourselves, rendered usdown to a hush. In that we were lucky—we had a backbeat for our poetry.Our lovers’ kids slept openmouthedon damp sheets while we wrote in smallnotebooks, discovering the ruins of sky,the moment of falling always in us.The world was on fire, each of us [End Page 47]
on fire. Empires rolled over the earth,their monstrous wheels. We argued power,revolution, melodic rebellion. Bewailed
the girls we’d loved without claim, the oneswho left town in bad-mannered cars.Our own country becoming Romein the beautiful devouringflare of youth once given.
The mind returns to its sorrowsby habit, like a waitress counting outpennies at the end of her shift. Thereit builds its glorious city of losses. Old friend,moonlight tumbles over the mountains tonight,while I write you this letter. The fires willkeep burning, I see that now. And howsmall the gestures of thought are,how immense the silence between words.We recited Whitman and Ginsbergwhile our clothes tumbled in a laundromatdryer. I remember the consoling ringof our coins as they dropped in the slots,the music, the real blessing of that.Soon enough our lives would show ushow all is torn away, dying moment bymoment to become something else, leavingonly heat, and wind-burnt leaves. [End Page 48]
The Journalism Student
We lived by column inches, hermetic deadlines,the pleasure of our names above the fold.Hunched over stand-up tabletops, our fingerscapped with wax, we wielded dull X-Acto knives,pressed yards of adjective-free copy to the pagewith rubber rollers. Conjured photographsin a closet in the basement, a red light to letsecret lives float up in chemicals, unharmed,in dark. Our images, small flags, in black and white.
One afternoon the Jurassic woolly-scentedteacher said to me, You’ll have a scholarship,the letter’s here. She waved it in the air.That meant I’d go to college and whatever thatwould be. On that day, I was a girl, a receiver,who would tell you now I’ve neverunderstood enough, can only faintly seethe sealed and sacred hearts of othersand all that matters in this marveled,savage world. The ruined empiresof the poor. A burning girlrunning through a photograph forever.The faces of men, and women, brokenopen by their wanting. On that lonesomeafternoon I turned back to our work,our last brave words finally stakedto paper, our pages off to press.An unread letter on my desk. [End Page 49]
She walked off through burning dustand fields, he said. Down throughhollows cut by quick spring floods,floods that turned old graves to sunkenbeds, forgotten, nursling, unmade beds.She parted wires, eased her body through,her breasts, her birthing hips, her onegood dress, up one fearsome hill, pineand sun and shale, and down another.
A Bible and an apple in her sack,he said. A blanket, he supposed. Childrenleft to grow by juddering lantern light,light of snow that...