All of our children are brilliant. During the speeches they find each other on Facebook. They are flushed with an experimental arrogance. The tour guides are cheerful and brisk. They are able to walk backwards in flip-flops talking to other people’s parents. And that is not all they have learned here. The Dean of This confers with the Dean of That. Yes, all of our children are beautiful. That is why we are allowed to borrow more than is usual. I pay for yet another sweatshirt. Flowers dance in their beds like highly successful graduates. We ride the trolley past yacht slips and pink hotels. On the road to the airport traffic slows and smoothly divides itself. An overstuffed chair has landed upright across two lanes. Although it looks comfortable, so far no one has taken a seat.
Once bits of soap were pressed into lumps, socks stretched over darning eggs, children scavenged coal along train tracks. The pot of soup held scraps, a bone’s memory of meat. Now there’s too much to unplug: you can’t give up the monthly plans. Think of Jo in Little Women selling her hair for medicine, a story for a new rug. Sell your forehead, then the space between your thumb and index finger, the sweat in the bend of your left knee, the way you laughed once in a restaurant. Trade the extra air in a room for a song, sing it on the El and collect the sighs of unemployed plumbers. Trade the mortgage for a spoon. Invest in ant futures and spiritual developments.
1. I went to the library but it wasn’t a library, it was a gun room. I needed a book so they gave me a purity test. I asked for water and they brought gasoline. But I walked here, I said. They wrote my name on a list. 2. I went to the hospital but it wasn’t a hospital, it was a stockbroker. He said oh yes, it’s an emergency, and gave me a prospectus. He said you’ll be fine, we’re moving your health into T-bills. 3. I was pregnant but it wasn’t a baby, it was a forest and I was the little red hen. Who will help me plant the seed? I asked and asked. They were carving the trees into ladders for the rapture. Soon, they said, we will not need bread.
I had no part in the distant shaping of my parts, no choice in the wood, the tufted fabrics. No voice in the naming or selling of me, no mind to think of my station. But look how pretty I am, back curved like a ship’s hull, slender legs hoisting a honeyed cushion into the air where so many drunken gentlemen come to perch and shout at the girls. When the house is shut up for good no one wonders about me, no one asks in a Christian way what can be done with me, so I mold and darken in the damp air till the insects find me and then fungi and then I am leached through tiny digestive systems till I am something other than chair, a new forming of parts and purposes that will barely remember later, in acids and ribosomes, just what I was in my chair period.
The first one says I am in a writing group with Dante. The second one says I like this wine it reminds me of Mars. The sixth one says in my band we used to set ourselves on fire. The pink one says I am writing a book-length poem about olives. The third one says I’m sorry I will not discuss my bird problem. The old one says the white-out key on typewriters was so useful. The tall one says shhhhh, I am listening to my capillaries. The tenth one says this is like that club that used to be a mailbox. The dead one says oh how once we hunted in the sylvan forests. The nude one says I have come so far to arrive at nothing. The eighth one says the human ribcage is adapted for flight. The next one says it has started to rain, and we need rain.
Mary Hawley’s work can be found in Notre Dame Review, qarrtsiluni, Bloomsbury Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, and Another Chicago Magazine among other places. Her collection of poems, Double Tongues, was published by Tia Chucha Press, and she co-translated the bilingual anthology Astillas de Luz/Shards of Light, also published by Tia Chucha Press.