On the eve of the birth
of my guttersnipe love
I emptied my hands up
The bloody egg-whites
and the broken tea cup
seemed to mention that her death
was upon her
So I kissed her torn lips
and eyes 'til they closed
and I pulled
like the devil himself
They took me away for her murder. The child I birthed was a boy. I can still hear the sound of his first scream even still. It was octaves higher than any other cry ever. It was unnatural and perfect. It was superhuman. Three nights and two days, his cries were relentless. They demanded every thread of my body and thought.
My little love wrapped in swaddling clothes, your cries are so strange. They engulf me... I moved about, in a kind of dream tending his needs, and surrendered to what had now become a pure and deafening tone... a tiny gasp and then again, on and on... 'til they took me from him.
I remember very little that happened before I was eight years old. I was without family. At that time the woman I killed had taken me in out of kindness. I did my share of work. She was pregnant and didn't have a man, so she needed someone. She needed me. As the days passed, she became less rational and could almost always be found crouched on the window stoop, rocking on her haunches. The scene became more and more peculiar. Her hair, her breasts, the garden and her swollen womb were all growing out of control and after a time seemed hopelessly tangled, like the leashes of a bunch of dogs meeting in her yard to fight.
She began to tell me things. She told me about her father, the trim violinist. Her mother, the scattered and pensive school teacher with the largest collection of toy horses around. About her trips to the city on the train when she was a child. And about the men. About her love for the male sex. She talked about their hands and their backs and their whiskers that scratched rashy scrapes into her soft skin. She talked about the special place where the side of a man's stomach meets his hipbones. She told me about a naked man's body and the delicious terror and solitude she always felt after sex. She like to talk about sex. She called it her weakness.
I would listen quietly, slipping a spoonful of soup into her mouth now and again. She told me all about her life and then she began to tell me about mine.
I'm not sure how she could have had any true information about my past because as far as I knew there was not a soul to supply any, but it didn't matter. I listened, and I believed. She told me about my Gram and Gramp--so in love, killed in the war: about my mother and her sister--inseperable but fought bitterly at times; my father--Baptist minister, rapist... raped my mother and then chastised her publicly for carrying the illegitimate "child of Satan himself". And about the way the girl, my mother, changed them into the woman who hated, fierce and specific. To her grave not another man touched her. Not so much as an accidental brush in a crowd. Literally eliminated men from her body and her life after that.
The woman described my mother as proud and strange and she said that when they stole me away from her while she slept after the birth, they stole a little sparkely jewel from her eye that never shined again.
I began to cry. I cried into her hair. She rocked slow and deliberate. She was keeping a secret. I knew she was. I could smell it in the curl of her lip. But she just kept on like always and soon she was far away in the parts of her head that did not make any sense.
I went inside the house and tried to remember--something, one true thing that I could call my special memory, but there was only a closed box there. I went to sleep with a thumb in my mouth and the other hand warming between my legs.
Yes, I killed her. It's not what you think. It was an accident. I was loving her. I was trying to help. I was bringing a new life into the world. She was bleeding. And screaming. I didn't know what else to do. I had to save the life inside, it's feet sticking dully out the hole. She was pushing but it was big and then she stopped pushing and just started sucking in more and more air like she was going to save it up in her cheeks 'til spring came; and the little feet moving slower and slower, not much at all, just a toe wiggled every few minutes and I couldn't get her to breathe right and the thing was stuck up inside her and everything was getting redder and redder.
I don't know exactly how this next part went. I must have ripped her clean open. I just remember thinking, "Neither one is breathing. They are both dying." And her words of a week before tumbling back to me.
She had pulled me close, her breath smelling old and poisonous. "You and this child...it's no mistake...You've waited your life for its arrival...the other part of your soul...never another," she was twisting my hand, and squeezing too tight. I wanted to smack her face. A sad face. The most beautiful face I had ever seen. It seemed to plead with me to listen hard; to concentrate. "Black days...search for him... never be whole 'til you walk side by side...embarrass the devil...I prayed, you came...the wind brought you...find him. You will know him. I am dying," said she.
I remembered these things and I felt as if it was my own life that needed to be pried away from her. I felt a desperate energy rise, and then--he was crying and she was dead.
I spent the next fifteen years in a punishing atmosphere. The combination of no money, no family and the butcher job I had performed had landed me in a sanitarium designed for the criminally insane and the people who have no place.
The toughies and the better-off-deads floated angrily along occasionally touching down for a lurid display of blunder and hot-headed eruption. No doubt they were unwilling subjects in the "creative prescription" program, in which bored members of the medical staff wagered to see what would happen when a patient ingested the wrong drug for his or her specific afflictions. These were the patients you prayed never deciphered the difference between you and a post on a chair. The long coats, hand picked out of scores of applicants for their unhealthy need to control and their solid lack of compassion, never changed facial expressions. Even when they were twisting your arm behind your back or shoving your head between their legs, there was always that strange look (a smile of some kind?), as if they were fitted with invisible dental fixtures designed to reveal the stretch of brown gum lining the tops of their broken yellow teeth. There were the slow talking spitwaddlers, sweetly shaving the ends off of every word they tried to speak so that all you could hear was the soft middle part. The rest of us played dumb so that they would not have to make us that way. And I lived on and on just waiting for one sacred moment when I could be alone with my dream, my pulse, my beautiful angel, my African princess who saved me, loved me, kissed my breasts, talked to me for hours. She was my girlfriend in the insane asylum. Years went by. She grew into a woman while I held her in my arms, kissing her neck, swans neck, delicious. Shortly before my release, she disappeared.
They let me out of that place when I was 23 years old. They gave me a stiff black dress and enough money for one meal. I went into town hoping I'd find that cry-baby boy. Now he'd be almost a man
We scooped up as many apples as we could carry and headed off for better times, better times, better times.
Back to the articles page
Back to thee shrine