We lived in a valley of glacial till, a morass of moraine arranged by chance, as was my wedding to a man whose life was easy and brief, given up to the gods of excess and paunch.
He would go and come back, come back distant, then come back from his coming back angry. If I could watch myself from outside our window pry off his fingers … I often would think, but thinking is no window. Now I think less of thinking. I have broken windows.
We were married in a garden of stone, few flowers, fewer hours each day after, until darkness was our only and every hour, and every light in our home had to be brightly on. There was something I suppose the matter with his vision — he saw far, but only into himself, where he found himself looking back and laughing.
He was innocent in his proportions and in his distress. He preferred linen suits that were loose so that he could sweat unrestricted. He was huge but could not grasp himself. He emptied books of their meaning as he tried to reach through them to himself, though often he just threw the books back at the shelf. He thrashed in our brightly lighted bedroom at night, drew the white sheets in a swath to his body. He looked like one of those Roman women carved in stone. He looked like one of those emperors who thrashes once and is done.
I am not brutal, he brooded.
His head twisted off into the light: our first night together.
My arm I placed in a door. I had hoped an escape was coming. I had thought, Love must be brutal to relieve me.
Love must be gone to leave me.
Love must be a hinged thing so that it slams.
Love must be an ingot so that it may be traded, sold, stored, recast, traded again, resold. It must be common as gold.
He was in the trade of metals. He came from a family that speculated in what was barely beneath the surface.
He hated that history is malleable and can be recast and retold. He worried how it would turn out for himself and his family. He regretted that his one brother was slow. Not retarded, no. But slow to make his millions grow.
The slow brother had a telescope and liked to observe the fixed stars.
My husband preferred the gold standard to celestial mechanics.
When the gold standard was abandoned the family managed stakes in silver; when silver tarnished they ored.
Copper or tungsten or nickel. Then crude petroleum.
He thinks too much, the world is too much with him, my husband said of his younger brother, quoting from a book he’d gone through and thrown.
Naturally their business soon was standard gas.
Let there be movement among the heavenly bodies.
A motor spirit put the fixed stars in motion —
not perpetual. The wells dried, and there had to be a crash.
After he lost everything the slow brother came to stay with us. My husband left to oversee a trade.
One night this brother pushed on my door. I heard the hinge. I swung open for him. It happened again, and then he left.
By then the hinge was rusted so the door could not slam shut. But he did push it. He pushed it twice.
Both of our children were born blue and crooked. It was a matter of their bones having fused in a confusion that is the source of itself. The doctor who pulled them from me would not let me see, tucking them under his gown. Each child had reached a blue hand out of me and jammed it into the doctor’s mouth, a sign of contempt and derision.
Even when they were inside me I could sense them laughing: the first one rattled my bones, the second made me frightened for myself.
My husband did not appear to hear. In a rage one day he had stopped up his ears with wax.
His chiseled features had begun to sag so he covered them with wax.
Has-been, I remember thinking bitterly, sounds a bit like husband.
There are sources of delight in this language, if no longer in my body: the proximity of caul to cauldron. Our children were born within a year of each other, each born in a caul. The first time I saw my second I thought, My God, he has no face, he has no face! I thought his face must be still inside my body. Right away I went to the ocean. Salt collapses the wall of each cell and what’s trapped might escape me, I imagined.
I swam out beyond a beyond I had imagined would be a cue, a coming-to of reason embodied in a scream. When I saw his face in a rock on an island I screamed. I returned to find my son grown a man.
My first child had the gall to be a dancer. The river that flowed north past our yard toward the memory of its glacier raged in spring and I believe this rage was what I watched when she was dancing. She found postures that were the postures a body finds in the sinuous act of murder. At least if I were to murder I would hold my neck like that, with an insolent crook society cannot straighten. The crook the river took to carve an escarpment in its route around our home was where I often found her playing with broken toy things and my broom.
One afternoon my has-been went inside a room inside the house inside an hour. I watched my daughter launch a leap over the water. From then on there was just his voice occasionally that insisted, Leave the lights on! We did not see him again.
Well, the wind blew, and a city grew in rings around its howl. We watched our lives live themselves as if they were our neighbors, build houses, drive cars into yards. We sat on our weathered porch and were bored, very, by the ongoingness of this projection.
All that’s left of our house is a window. There’s not even a wall to contain it. My voice that cannot contain this story circles back for its self.
For my next marriage, raiment of ashes.