Mattresses lounge by the trash at every house I walk past in the Bronx. Heading home through the stench of final barbecues, summer sets like the sun- flower dead on yr side of the bed. I don’t know what to pluck from me this fall. My stomach, gourd that groans to be replanted? The ability to withstand nine states that grow between yr lips & my neck? Do I need any more than what I reap from this instant? More than this bowl of Merlot? The drive through two years ago, October fields in Idaho—everything wheat-colored, sand-textured— even pumpkin guts strewn on the table— I want to be there now, in my early sweater, not sweating through the shirt I wore to leave you at LaGuardia. You may be over Boise now, pink movie theatre light at yr window, yr car waiting, foothill-shadowed— yr shoes missing from the rack by my door. I need this absence like I need this drink, my bed, the next word—
The peeled face of the Firestone on Bronx River Road reveals residue of the Sinclair Station that used to stand there. I think of Sinclair’s giant dinosaurs stationed across Wyoming & Idaho, how they watch-dog the western highways I’ve wrangled with a lesbian & a sports car. The first time my father & I traveled to Boise, he told me that before the eastern locations were sold, the Sinclairs of his Philadelphia childhood handed out plastic dinosaurs with tanks of gas. He liked Idaho for the same reasons he liked nostalgia: there, his baby could go to college & not be tempted to lick women in restrooms across America, though now that he’s not alive to see me do this, I don’t.
The bus is ten minutes late & rainwater seeps through my boots. Sirens on Kimball signify that someone’s photo albums blaze in the distance, some father’s heart has come to a standstill. I don’t know if I would have thought of this if Suzanne hadn’t told our class about the ambulance that wailed past Rite Aid while she bought hearing-aid batteries— impressed that the cashier crossed himself & kissed his fist while she thought about the traffic. Now I think about the traffic on the way to Philadelphia Airport the rainy night after my father died, my sister & I crying intermittently as the Schuylkill River breached its banks. So many floods for one June. We drove in circles around I-95 while we waited for her boyfriend’s flight to arrive & prayed in the Agnostic our father taught us in church restrooms during sermons: taxidermy, stories—that kind of eternal life. On the bus, I realize his death day is welded to me like the obsolete trolley tracks that vein Philadelphia.
My friend planned to leave New York, my boyfriend was arrested in Boise, too far away to bail him out. I spent Holy Saturday entombed in my bedroom & needed an Easter. Needed resurrection & rebirth to rub noses like the cows outside this stained glass. I’ve come to church. After two hours’ boozy sleep I slur alleluia over these occasional believers. My soprano cuts through the congregation & knowledge creeps up my stomach. Her acid reflux voice. I remember this calling—old parts clamor in new combinations & I’m eleven again, priest-like. (I wanted my classmates to know my desire for God, which means desire for love that didn’t involve Waterpik squirts in my eye when my sister & I were too loud, fat, female.) Eleven & praying through the hole in my Garfield nightshirt. My classmates didn’t like me. I fancied myself St. Teresa of Avila, ecstatic as the folds of Bernini’s statue, penetrated angelic. I learned to ignore them. Turned the sharp water back on my father but adopted his Agnostic, which lacks words for minister & communion. He taught me not to pray, not to sing. In this pew, I feel ready to listen. To forget that father. To rise, & fall, & go somewhere
Stars pushed past the power plant steam in Pottstown— A doe, two fawn pranced through my headlights, only to collide with the swing set by the gate. I drove to Mom’s house after Grandpop’s wake, distracted by how each death has been easier since yours. Two years now. Simple to project you onto each man in a blue polo shirt. You onto each passing animal—were you not once the butterfly on my cheesesteak? You, the murder of mosquitoes that consumed my morning meditation? The Ouija board must have quivered in its box beneath the bed—my skin, frantic & red— you still get under it. Did you know that? Know that after Grandpop died, a blue jay flew by my rental SUV? I could only see him as you. You seem to know when to cross my windows, remind me when I need to stop. I can never know what you want or wanted for me. I can only pretend, name my limitations after you.
Megan Williams is currently an MFA candidate at Sarah Lawrence College, where she serves as a poetry editor of LUMINA. With her writing group, she co-curates the from here to the corner reading series at the 25CPW gallery in Manhattan. Recent poems can be found in Ducts and are forthcoming in Tin House.