Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Elizabeth Kirschner: Jones Beach

          It should not follow but it does; my brother is here; in the brief strenuousness, in a house like a cowl on the head. Rain falls, is a wall of birds, which wall off the bird heavy sky while the season stretches out of shape.

         “Well?” I ask, my voice, a song with hinges. In the darkest sweater I own I’m cold.

          “Spoons,” he replies. The dead bark once. We take one another’s hands, lift spoons over the gas flame on the stove, the blue of it, noble.

         When our spoons glow like eels and soften into wax, we pour hash into them, throw a blanket over our heads, breathe. The coals are blisters, rippling.

         At first I think it’s a dream—my brain like cauliflower, or cheesecake in the dark.

If it’s true what they say about memory being the weakest character in the story: then my first ones occur in a series of rooms—behind a locked door: my fingers trapped, my hair, a wild vine.

         I was five years old. If cut open, if dissected, this is what would be pulled from me: a pair of handprints, a body, fossilized. Nothing much.

        Afraid my brother will turn my smile into a knife, I plead, Look at me! Goddammit, look at me!

         I want to tell him that I know it’s hard to gaze at the night sky speckled white and not wish upon dead light, but my brother just stares at the wall.  

          An egg, frilly as an apron, has been spattered against it, the blood, a worn echo. The moral: Live life like an egg, fried.

         I look out the window, see a man’s pink tongue razing the horizon. Or is it raging? A tree, thin as a pin in the skull, tangos, spars, makes me paranoid about how much grief it can witness, withstand.

        When I was buried in the sand, what was left of me sent up a demand, like a corkscrewed hand.

          “Jones Beach,” I say, “remember how Dad buried me?”

      “You thought you were in a body bag. Your screams were so loud, we took turns kicking you.” My face, wasn’t it a pyramid—ear holes, eye holes, nose holes, mouth hole, plugged, spongy? 

       But I’m thinking about the waves. High as a church. Gothic. The color of swampy molasses. They screeched even louder than me.

       “Uncle Richard.” Dad’s sister’s husband. He went out. Into the ocean’s black maw. To save. To rescue. Didn’t, as they say, come back. Death is funny like that, precise, dissolute.

         The sound of almost drowning. A slap on the backside? A hiss, a kiss, sloppy as a jellyfish, the one that lights up before it lights down, like slashed lightning?

        Buried in sand, I was a heaved under a mountain, heaved into a cave, my blue swimsuit a train, or a star stitched into a good-bye flooding Richard’s in a sea of crystal bowls, the ring-ting-ting of water dripping from his mouth, leaks like tears from the windowsill of a house, a window opened to a bed, a small boat, a shipwreck, a current come to carry us away.

      Bodies. Mine. Uncle Richard’s. The swimmer he couldn’t rescue because water, like a drain, lurked in him. Bodies. Like a shoal of fish kept in the depths of a ten gallon darkness. Bodies. Clearly, they’re a system for cleaving until death opens for darkness to pass into. 

     And if darkness is the solution, by which I mean lots of things. As in: I won’t be like it, won’t be a shell scooped of its life, won’t be the sea glass, punished for inciting violence.

     Under sand heavy as cookie dough, I heard shouts: Richard’s body was pulled up beside mine. Pigs-in-a-blanket, the dead girl was lined up, too. Who’s who? I wondered, Who’s who?

    I kicked the sand away, sat up, swung so hard, my hand landed in the mush that was Richard’s face. Applesauce. Under cling wrap. 

     Taller than the wingspan of a heron, I stood up. Pointed. People began to gather around the bodies, like seagulls. Their footprints burned holes in the sand. 

      It was a strange parade: the dead strapped to boogie boards, followed by a flock of rowdy boys. Some squawked and flapped their bony limbs while the waves waltzed, as if in an acre of bad wigs.

     Stories. Like a top whirling so fast you can’t see it stop. Fifty years later and all I know is that my brother and I love the sea even if it swallowed Richard, like a collapsed waterfall.

      Was any of it real? My brother’s kitchen where I watched our hands turn into window blinds, cool as patients in difficult bodies.

      “Be polite,” I say, “to the windows. They know we’re beyond repair.”

       Were we? Neither of us knew the meaning of what was lost. Childhood, like a spare tire. An Uncle. 

       We knew we wouldn’t go back. What for? To see bodies, shaped like a banana palace? Bodies hard as a rubber crotch?

       The price of any lesson: to describe what happened such that it doesn’t happen again. An SOS in the sand, that was me. Crushed like a grape inside a fist. And Uncle Richard. Water, a vise, held him.

    We have gotten older, my brother and I. My breasts have migrated into tectonic flats, but I can always find hints of what used to be, and if I move with a wrongness any animal can see coming, this, I think, is better than belonging, which is what turns the wheel: the moon ghosting a hole through a rainbow, the rainbow’s effort to efface the moon, the moon sailing, slow as a ship.

     Loss. It lives in us like a question we can’t answer, but keep trying to because it feels good and the secret is that it can’t last, but does, like a pile of trash, or the chain of starfish I left plastered on Jones Beach, a bridge of starfish—arced, empty, dead as party hats, tossed up, unlucky coins turning in darkness.


Copyright 2019 Elizabeth Kirschner

Jones Beach, NY

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This entry was posted on August 4, 2019 by in Environmentalism, Personal Essays, Poetry and tagged , , , , , , , .

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