August 31, 2018 >

August 31, 2018 >


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Coma of the Comet, 4 Excerpts

by Caroline Cabrera


from The Coma of the Comet

I

I learn the rule of nothing. I learn the rule of space around myself, around my home, space not filled by my old and flooded neighborhood. Space larger, even, than the ocean that conspires to flood my neighborhood. Larger than the moon that directs the tides. I learn that most is space, most is nothing. I try to learn my place in the nothing.

My neighborhood is old only relative to what surrounds it. I have walked in cities with portions of medieval wall preserved in the town, on cobblestones older than my country.

My neighborhood was a swamp not long ago, historically speaking.

This planet was a nothing not long ago, cosmically speaking.

One summer a handyman who was painting my parents’ home took us go-cart racing. I say us but I don’t think I was allowed to go. I think he took my brothers. It seemed as if he spent an entire summer painting the house, always stopping to fix something new. He found wind chimes of my mother’s, a copper bird, patina-ed green. He spray-painted it back to red/brown. I fixed it he told her. Got rid of that green stuff.

Some things are built to age. The rest age anyway. His intentions were good.

Everything has a boundary, however ill defined.

When I turned thirty a shade fell from around me. Not overnight, but as I truly became thirty, as the age of it settled in, I found myself exposed to the world. I am not old but I used to be young and with youth came a mist of unreality. When I was a girl my best friend’s favorite color was sea-foam green and so I said mine was sea-foam green, too, but my favorite color was violet, always violet. I loved the look of purple but loved too, how close “violet” came to “violent,” how close ruin could sit near beauty. Once on a beach where the sea was foaming I noticed the foam was not green, but a sickly yellow, purulent.

Now I call that color mint.

If I am to live a regular life, a life anticipated, I will grow much older. The world will rub against me more. I will lose, perhaps, several layers of skin.

And this is the why:  The desire to erase, to move backwards. I say to my husband, if I cannot rewind to last week I want only to fast forward through Friday afternoon. But when Friday afternoon arrives it precedes Friday evening, and Saturday, none of which is mapped. Without a plan, I dissolve.

And my pain is so ordinary.  I tell a woman on the beach that the ordinary feels specific and she hugs me and says it is, when it’s yours. Her name is June. Her father is dying and yet she wraps her arms around me. She comforts me. I am this helpless.

I should watch a nature documentary to steel myself but the scale feels off.

I should know already that grief exists without scale.

 

IV

I begin to filter out the macrocosm so as to meditate on my private pain. With meditation comes the promise not of healing but of hunkering. If I don’t hunker, if I am not holstered, where will I float off to? Where will I land?

I would try to remove this log from my eye, but I am trying first to count its rings, then to sit on it long enough to smooth its edges, then to watch it decompose for a century or so. I would let you watch with me if I could stretch my eye out large enough for you to see, if I could make of my iris a shawl.

On Mars is Solis Lacus, the Lake of the Sun. I exhale all the air from my chest so as to imagine myself an un-breathing sunbather on the shore of this lake. I am beautiful on the red planet, untouchable.

In the hospital I laid my head against his chest, involuntarily compressing it. I heard a whoosh of air escape from his open mouth. I said, Poppa? I couldn’t stop myself.

Once a neighborhood dog attacked a stray kitten in my front yard. I awoke to the scuffle and ran outside, chasing the dog away. I brought the kitten into the bathtub to rinse her. When I set her in the tub her hind legs splayed and I thought her back is broken, but she was still breathing, still mewling. I wrapped her in a dry towel and held her in one hand while I searched for an animal hospital with my shaky other hand. Before I could dial she stopped mewling. I put my face near hers to see if I could feel even tiny breath but could not.

I hovered for a while over the hole I dug in the backyard, holding her still-warm body in my hand. I would feel a flutter of heartbeat and put my face back next to her tiny, clean face, only to realize once and then again and again, that I was feeling my own heartbeat in my palm against her belly.

He is ash now. I must forget it.

That I am here is an accident. That I am loved is an accident. And so I take all the love in me, which is great, for I have been fortunate and so loved, and I get out of my chair and make ricotta on the stovetop.

Everyone must eat, I tell my Nana, but you, especially. She tells me she cannot eat a whole meal and I say, share with me. I heap a double portion onto my plate and we divide it almost evenly. Soon our plate is clean.

I am mostly silent but underneath I am telescoping.

Radio receiver, radio transmitter. At all times one part is switched on, one off. At all times signaled, signaling. I imagine a science strong enough to collapse me into time and then realize it is in me, inside me, as damage. What am I if not arriving, without forethought, at some other moment, some other memory?

 

V

I have made a life out of give it a little time. I sleep on everything, the everything sprouting like spring onions in my dreams. When I was younger the mornings did seem brighter. Now, too often, morning feels like a simple continuation of night. Dawn and dusk become a beckoning, not to some hooded fate-creature, but to me. Every witching hour is a chance I have to seal something into its perfect grave. But I do not. I let all run loose.

My husband got me Mylar balloons for my birthday. I am not one for birthdays but my husband is a sweet man; he says my birthday is his favorite holiday. The balloons, freed from their plastic anchor-weight by my mischievous cat, floated in the corner of our living room up high against the rafters for weeks. One Saturday I was home alone, fixing my face in the bathroom mirror when I saw someone poke their head around the bathroom door. I nearly died of fright.

But it was not a person or a poking head. It was the balloons, the precise amount of helium having been lost for them to sink far enough into the room to be caught by the breeze from the air conditioner, sending them slowly my way, at head level.

I mean to say that anything is possible.

Carl Sagan writes that the moon has been mistaken for an alien ship, that the Moon has been reported as following and even harassing the observer. And I wonder if this observer might have been a poet. How the pursuer can mistake herself for the pursued.

Other objects mistaken for UFOs: The aurora borealis; bright stars; bright planets, especially under unconventional meteorological conditions; flights of luminescent insects; a low overcast, an automobile going up a hill, the headlights moving rapidly across the overcast; weather balloons. In the margin I write, a beautiful list. Sagan goes on.

I have mistaken myself for a savior. I have imagined that my attention, my will, could stave off disaster. I have used a warm cloth to soften and remove the debris from a tired eye, as if that could give real comfort. I have read aloud, emphatic and plucky, as if the story and my voice might be life sustaining. I have been afraid to stop reading. I have been afraid, too, at what a lapse in my attention, a waning in my devotion could do.

When he died I went over and over what I had done: What of it was harmful; what of it was not enough. Centuries of reading signs in the night sky and still we get so much wrong.

When I die my grandmother says. I shake my head, no, no, no. I am beginning it again.

 

X

Before it seemed like language dripped golden from the lips of so many brilliant, cow-eyed boys with angular jaws. It was as if my listening made them brighter, my attention soothed them into confidence. I was a quiet girl. I did a lot of listening.

Now mostly, when I hear a man talk I want to hold my hands gently over his mouth, nose, and eyes and say sleep sleep. I do this sometimes to my husband and we laugh. We agree I am very funny.

The boys are not boys anymore and they are not golden. I am not golden anymore. And worse, when I was golden I didn’t know. And worse, I believe that is why the boys took a shine to me.

Anything so pretty and blank as a canvas can convince, for a moment at least, that one is an artist.

I do not believe in prophecies or geniuses. I believe in the body rebuilding itself, skin covering over a wound. I believe in the itch while it heals. I believe in moss continuing to cover a plank of sodden wood, and water moving downstream. I believe in the continental divide and that I have stood atop it, my thoughts scattered by thin air. I believe in the expansion of the universe. I believe that death is final. I believe in moving home.

I believe in the ocean and in crashed planes languishing on the floor of the ocean. I cannot call it belief but I wonder if I was submerged in a past life and felt the pressure of so much water against my lungs. (I remember the air escaping, almost a breath—poppa?) I do not believe in past lives.

In dismissing the Bermuda Triangle, Carl Sagan reminds, The thing about the ocean is you can sink in it.

I believe in the ocean and that eventually it will rise and submerge my neighborhood. I believe, until then, in tending to plants and taking walks and watching the flowers bloom and die.

I am not golden anymore. I cannot believe in miracles. I cannot close my eyes tightly enough for any danger to go away. But I know there are mysteries built into this universe. I know to search for them is enough. I know to think towards the searching is a start.

My husband cuts down a scrap of wood and cobbles it together into a square-ish piece to paint on. As long as I’ve known him he’s made art from trash. When I was young and golden he made me a squid from old plastic and packing material and I hung it above my kitchen table. When he proposed I called my grandparents and my nana said I think marriage, for you, will be easy. For me it’s been easy.

I believe in rain falling and flash floods and water receding, eventually, to the storm drains. I believe, inexplicably, in marriage. I believe in human promises. I believe I am not good yet but I could become good with study, with practice.

I believe in water and in gravity. I believe in continuity. I believe in continuing.

 

from The Coma of the Comet

I

I learn the rule of nothing. I learn the rule of space around myself, around my home, space not filled by my old and flooded neighborhood. Space larger, even, than the ocean that conspires to flood my neighborhood. Larger than the moon that directs the tides. I learn that most is space, most is nothing. I try to learn my place in the nothing.

My neighborhood is old only relative to what surrounds it. I have walked in cities with portions of medieval wall preserved in the town, on cobblestones older than my country.

My neighborhood was a swamp not long ago, historically speaking.

This planet was a nothing not long ago, cosmically speaking.

One summer a handyman who was painting my parents’ home took us go-cart racing. I say us but I don’t think I was allowed to go. I think he took my brothers. It seemed as if he spent an entire summer painting the house, always stopping to fix something new. He found wind chimes of my mother’s, a copper bird, patina-ed green. He spray-painted it back to red/brown. I fixed it he told her. Got rid of that green stuff.

Some things are built to age. The rest age anyway. His intentions were good.

Everything has a boundary, however ill defined.

When I turned thirty a shade fell from around me. Not overnight, but as I truly became thirty, as the age of it settled in, I found myself exposed to the world. I am not old but I used to be young and with youth came a mist of unreality. When I was a girl my best friend’s favorite color was sea-foam green and so I said mine was sea-foam green, too, but my favorite color was violet, always violet. I loved the look of purple but loved too, how close “violet” came to “violent,” how close ruin could sit near beauty. Once on a beach where the sea was foaming I noticed the foam was not green, but a sickly yellow, purulent.

Now I call that color mint.

If I am to live a regular life, a life anticipated, I will grow much older. The world will rub against me more. I will lose, perhaps, several layers of skin.

And this is the why:  The desire to erase, to move backwards. I say to my husband, if I cannot rewind to last week I want only to fast forward through Friday afternoon. But when Friday afternoon arrives it precedes Friday evening, and Saturday, none of which is mapped. Without a plan, I dissolve.

And my pain is so ordinary.  I tell a woman on the beach that the ordinary feels specific and she hugs me and says it is, when it’s yours. Her name is June. Her father is dying and yet she wraps her arms around me. She comforts me. I am this helpless.

I should watch a nature documentary to steel myself but the scale feels off.

I should know already that grief exists without scale.

 

IV

I begin to filter out the macrocosm so as to meditate on my private pain. With meditation comes the promise not of healing but of hunkering. If I don’t hunker, if I am not holstered, where will I float off to? Where will I land?

I would try to remove this log from my eye, but I am trying first to count its rings, then to sit on it long enough to smooth its edges, then to watch it decompose for a century or so. I would let you watch with me if I could stretch my eye out large enough for you to see, if I could make of my iris a shawl.

On Mars is Solis Lacus, the Lake of the Sun. I exhale all the air from my chest so as to imagine myself an un-breathing sunbather on the shore of this lake. I am beautiful on the red planet, untouchable.

In the hospital I laid my head against his chest, involuntarily compressing it. I heard a whoosh of air escape from his open mouth. I said, Poppa? I couldn’t stop myself.

Once a neighborhood dog attacked a stray kitten in my front yard. I awoke to the scuffle and ran outside, chasing the dog away. I brought the kitten into the bathtub to rinse her. When I set her in the tub her hind legs splayed and I thought her back is broken, but she was still breathing, still mewling. I wrapped her in a dry towel and held her in one hand while I searched for an animal hospital with my shaky other hand. Before I could dial she stopped mewling. I put my face near hers to see if I could feel even tiny breath but could not.

I hovered for a while over the hole I dug in the backyard, holding her still-warm body in my hand. I would feel a flutter of heartbeat and put my face back next to her tiny, clean face, only to realize once and then again and again, that I was feeling my own heartbeat in my palm against her belly.

He is ash now. I must forget it.

That I am here is an accident. That I am loved is an accident. And so I take all the love in me, which is great, for I have been fortunate and so loved, and I get out of my chair and make ricotta on the stovetop.

Everyone must eat, I tell my Nana, but you, especially. She tells me she cannot eat a whole meal and I say, share with me. I heap a double portion onto my plate and we divide it almost evenly. Soon our plate is clean.

I am mostly silent but underneath I am telescoping.

Radio receiver, radio transmitter. At all times one part is switched on, one off. At all times signaled, signaling. I imagine a science strong enough to collapse me into time and then realize it is in me, inside me, as damage. What am I if not arriving, without forethought, at some other moment, some other memory?

 

V

I have made a life out of give it a little time. I sleep on everything, the everything sprouting like spring onions in my dreams. When I was younger the mornings did seem brighter. Now, too often, morning feels like a simple continuation of night. Dawn and dusk become a beckoning, not to some hooded fate-creature, but to me. Every witching hour is a chance I have to seal something into its perfect grave. But I do not. I let all run loose.

My husband got me Mylar balloons for my birthday. I am not one for birthdays but my husband is a sweet man; he says my birthday is his favorite holiday. The balloons, freed from their plastic anchor-weight by my mischievous cat, floated in the corner of our living room up high against the rafters for weeks. One Saturday I was home alone, fixing my face in the bathroom mirror when I saw someone poke their head around the bathroom door. I nearly died of fright.

But it was not a person or a poking head. It was the balloons, the precise amount of helium having been lost for them to sink far enough into the room to be caught by the breeze from the air conditioner, sending them slowly my way, at head level.

I mean to say that anything is possible.

Carl Sagan writes that the moon has been mistaken for an alien ship, that the Moon has been reported as following and even harassing the observer. And I wonder if this observer might have been a poet. How the pursuer can mistake herself for the pursued.

Other objects mistaken for UFOs: The aurora borealis; bright stars; bright planets, especially under unconventional meteorological conditions; flights of luminescent insects; a low overcast, an automobile going up a hill, the headlights moving rapidly across the overcast; weather balloons. In the margin I write, a beautiful list. Sagan goes on.

I have mistaken myself for a savior. I have imagined that my attention, my will, could stave off disaster. I have used a warm cloth to soften and remove the debris from a tired eye, as if that could give real comfort. I have read aloud, emphatic and plucky, as if the story and my voice might be life sustaining. I have been afraid to stop reading. I have been afraid, too, at what a lapse in my attention, a waning in my devotion could do.

When he died I went over and over what I had done: What of it was harmful; what of it was not enough. Centuries of reading signs in the night sky and still we get so much wrong

When I die my grandmother says. I shake my head, no, no, no. I am beginning it again.

 

X

Before it seemed like language dripped golden from the lips of so many brilliant, cow-eyed boys with angular jaws. It was as if my listening made them brighter, my attention soothed them into confidence. I was a quiet girl. I did a lot of listening.

Now mostly, when I hear a man talk I want to hold my hands gently over his mouth, nose, and eyes and say sleep sleep. I do this sometimes to my husband and we laugh. We agree I am very funny.

The boys are not boys anymore and they are not golden. I am not golden anymore. And worse, when I was golden I didn’t know. And worse, I believe that is why the boys took a shine to me.

Anything so pretty and blank as a canvas can convince, for a moment at least, that one is an artist.

I do not believe in prophecies or geniuses. I believe in the body rebuilding itself, skin covering over a wound. I believe in the itch while it heals. I believe in moss continuing to cover a plank of sodden wood, and water moving downstream. I believe in the continental divide and that I have stood atop it, my thoughts scattered by thin air. I believe in the expansion of the universe. I believe that death is final. I believe in moving home.

I believe in the ocean and in crashed planes languishing on the floor of the ocean. I cannot call it belief but I wonder if I was submerged in a past life and felt the pressure of so much water against my lungs. (I remember the air escaping, almost a breath—poppa?) I do not believe in past lives.

In dismissing the Bermuda Triangle, Carl Sagan reminds, The thing about the ocean is you can sink in it.

I believe in the ocean and that eventually it will rise and submerge my neighborhood. I believe, until then, in tending to plants and taking walks and watching the flowers bloom and die.

I am not golden anymore. I cannot believe in miracles. I cannot close my eyes tightly enough for any danger to go away. But I know there are mysteries built into this universe. I know to search for them is enough. I know to think towards the searching is a start.

My husband cuts down a scrap of wood and cobbles it together into a square-ish piece to paint on. As long as I’ve known him he’s made art from trash. When I was young and golden he made me a squid from old plastic and packing material and I hung it above my kitchen table. When he proposed I called my grandparents and my nana said I think marriage, for you, will be easy. For me it’s been easy.

I believe in rain falling and flash floods and water receding, eventually, to the storm drains. I believe, inexplicably, in marriage. I believe in human promises. I believe I am not good yet but I could become good with study, with practice.

I believe in water and in gravity. I believe in continuity. I believe in continuing.

 

 

Caroline Cabrera is the author of three collections, most recently Saint X, winner of the Hudson Prize from Black Lawrence Press. She teaches with two nonprofits, Innovations for Learning and the O, Miami Poetry Foundation. She lives in South Florida.