Growing older becomes repetitive. It would be great to break up the monotony of cells drying out like graying laundry on the line.
But nature is its own government, recycling soldiers into pulp. Inviolate, the only thing less compromising being the phantom limb of conscience (oh God, don’t get me started on how that thing feels, like sticky tape gone weak and fuzzy with the years).
Small comfort, then, that the bureaucracy is uncomplicated, the only law being death. The baby chick laid to rest in the proteins of its own egg and shiny ant confetti on the sidewalk – death’s bannermen marching on the child.
(You asked me once, not unkindly, if I could ever purge myself of military metaphors, and my revenge was telling you about the way my beloved generals smiled, their crow’s feet autumnal, the ridges of gracefully dying leaves, so you kissed me very thoroughly, taking over every little district of my mouth in your campaign, proving your own point, proving it, proving it)
War is in my blood, but I didn’t put it there.
War is in my son’s blood – did I put it there? Who can walk backward on the twisted slopes of DNA, untangle the threads from the spindle of the fates and the physicists’ strings, and give me the kind of answer that can be shared over medium-grade wine, abstract enough to not be too much to bear?
(I made up dramatic dilemmas and resolved them for your amusement. I walked in the snow to rid myself of the smell of your skin. I drank champagne from a plastic bottle on the corner of Pushkin Square, like an athlete stretching before a track meet.)
War is in my blood, but the casing is soft. It’s embarrassing to be this way, and it’s going to get more embarrassing with the years. My cells on the clothesline, being pummeled by a determined hag’s carpet beater. My casually murderous great-grandfathers, their flat gazes on me from across the distance – what would they say?
(Your eyes were a swamp and I didn’t have directions on how to get across, because there are paths between the dead trees and will-o’-the-wisps that only women can chart, and I’m not much of a woman, my education having too many gaps reinforced with steel in it.)
A lot in the past, a lot more to come to pass. A particular song will come on in the bar and the puddles on the way home will then be too deep to sail across, there will be floaters advancing across the eyes, a kettle boiling with a ding, financial indignities, Putin winking from the TV set in a way that only suggests a larger point, lovers and friends walking out of rooms they will not return to, and border towns shivering under tin roofs at night.
And through it all, the black thread of “what” and “where” and “when,” stitching incidents together like uneven, puckered flesh. Nobody wants to sleep with Hamlet, so I don’t blame you for excusing yourself early, ducking into an archway, your footprints disappearing in the blizzard made at least partially from the dreadful, alcoholic rheum of poets gone long before. Here handsome men say that you can’t take a piss anywhere without hitting a poet or two – and that does cheer me up.
(Everything that happened between us happened in parentheses and other extremely close spaces.)
We’re a transmission groping its way across the dark: the little hiccups radiating out toward the abdomen, the tall summer grass flattening under the young lieutenant’s broad shoulders, the meteor hissing in the waters of the Black Sea.
I am always dreaming that I am coming out of the bedroom. I am always coming out of the bedroom and the melted wax is running upward the old brass candlesticks. I am coming out of the bedroom and the summer wind is fizzing in the trees on the embankment and the lights are coming on though the northern twilight is typically coy and running late. I am coming to lean against the doorframe and listen to him play the piano whose broken insides have unscrambled themselves at his touch.
He’s playing a song that runs together a little, the tinkling of the fragile keys a bit close together from the champagne the air in that place is made of. He’s in uniform but his boots are already off and guarding the corner. He turns around to look at me spill out of my lace, and his gratitude and stillness gradually fill my chest and expand outward, until I can’t take it anymore and I walk toward him, not missing anyone, knowing the edges never fit, and letting it go.
War is in my blood, but at least, at last, I didn’t put it there.