Our Word :: Week 1 Day 2 :: Place

by Cassie

I went back in time today. I was looking for a particular poem I wrote about a particular time and a particular place, to remind me of how it was, because my memory is faulty after years of voluntary repression — sometimes I remember things wrong, or I simply don’t remember them, or I will mix two memories together into an entirely unintended new one that mostly makes no sense. In poems and journals and prose, I leave a trail of breadcrumbs to find my way back, and sometimes the path is easy to find, and sometimes it’s eaten almost all the way up and I’m left navigating the blank spaces in between the lines, watching for witches, waiting for wolves. I found the one I was looking for — 2003 — and oh, the writing is so bad, but there they are, neat lines of almost edible memory, and on this path there’s only me and remembering and each stanza sketching inscriptions along the long bones of my body.

There, down the tibia, in light pencil lines: climbing to the top of the tower, two hundred and forty-six steps, history pressing in against our skin and a hall of heroes to stop and catch our breath, watching it appear and disappear on the air in front of us while I fought off unexpected claustrophobia. Standing in the center of a stone crown, surrounded by emerald squares I hadn’t yet learned to name — Ben Lomond, Forth Valley, the Trossachs — we posed for pictures and played the part of tourists, but the ancient air was layered with so many stories that I could hardly concentrate on the camera in front of me. It was a dinosaur of a digital camera, floppy discs in primary colors and grainy images that printed poorly; when you look at my face, wind-burned and pixellated, you can see how part of me has jumped back half a century on the wing of a passing raven.

Here, up the femur, scratches of splotchy ink: waiting for a bus in the middle of nowhere, the shelter cracked open and cobwebbed all over, and the sun was so warm for November that it burned the back of our necks while we sat side by side, not comfortable enough for grumpiness yet, tired feet touching, tired smiles trying. We finally made it back, the bus arriving five minutes before twilight, and we were giddy with weariness and the nearness of each other; an old man passed by on a bike, his face a peach pit under a faded brown suede hat, and he called out to us, “Ah! Young love!” with a nearly toothless grin. We held hands and passed under hundreds of starlings and swifts lining the rooftops and it felt like crossing a threshold, like jumping a broom; later, we lay in the hedgerow and traced our faces out in winter starlight, and our fingers smelled like beer and salt, smelled the way we tasted out there in a half-hidden wild spot.

This, yes, right along the humerus, a solid steady calligraphy: there was so much drinking and singing and the kind of boundless joy that sometimes happens in a crowd before the fights begin breaking out. Last call led us to the subway station, pizza the kind of glorious good that only comes with being drunk and starving, and we sat on the floor and shared it between us, and it was one of those moments where the mental camera clicks, and you know you’ll remember every detail of something so outwardly ordinary as if it were a birth, a wedding, a death. The bright lights, the smooth silver of the trains in their bays, the cold hardness of the floor, the tomato and flour and cheese. Later, we stumbled through the house and made out on the floor of the living room; we moved to the bedroom and everything became a blur of soft white bodies lit up with love and the moon coming in through the open window. We lost ourselves in the sheer desperate need to touch every pore with lips, tongue, teeth — we bit at each other, tasting flesh, feeling it give, giving it up, and the next day, we hid our necks but didn’t hide the way we looked at each other, the way that said we each own the other, and after ten days, I came back home, but I never really left.

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