Reed (she/they) is a poet and essayist who received a Master of Arts degree in Religion & Literature from Yale Divinity School. Her poems have appeared in IS, Duality, LETTERS and elsewhere. Living near Portland, Oregon, Reed continues scholarship on literary and film criticism, has a special affection for the manga and literature of Japan, and writes and edits on a freelance basis for a variety of organizations.
SWIMMING WITH MOTHER
Despite being the skinny one, I float easily, like
flotsam from that shipwreck listing on her pool
noodle, her hands waking the surface like water skippers.
I let my ears fill with water and her voice, which in the
troposphere punctures life rafts and weather balloons,
condenses. I imagine it’s the holidays and
I’m dozing in a room perfumed with cinnamon,
monophonies I need not decipher float from
elsewhere like opium smoke.
Her drone, her wake, are why I come swimming,
why I float, this disarticulation of
words from blades.
We keep our bearings in this way. Her pulses:
untranslated. My echoes: clear or faint (or imagined).
As I approach withdraw, approach withdraw,
my hands wake the surface like an unmoored skiff.
We are as moles, our fleshy hands
clutching children next to empty subway
tracks and underground stream beds.
Percussions above have been hooves,
boots, cannons and long-range missile
blasts. Cluster bombs. Nukes.
We’ve been here so often our
eyes have grown accustomed to the
dark, our arms muscled from handing
just-grown boys up to the surface,
kibble for the vicious dog we can't
put down. Through ringing ears, do
we hear the All Clear?
No, we are as corpses ever exhumed.
We are dismayed feeders of
Father insists we burn them, the bones
bared like potatoes in the tilling.
We cull them from the furrows, collect
them at the edge of the field into a pyre,
arrange the femurs to form channels of air.
Father adds cut brush and touchwood,
billets meant for the house stove, cedar
slabs from the Nechacolee burial canoes.
He strikes the flint to the back of his knife,
lights the charcloth then the splint, sliding it
into the pyre like a shuttle through the shed.
The twigs catch, the touchwood, the brush,
the billets, and then the bones and we watch.
When we remember the field at Interlachen,
it will be Father’s sweet spinach,
his fear of the lakes at night,
his skill at building fires.
The moon beat against the blinds and dismembered the room into wide strips of light and dark. In the brightest of these shone the whitewide eyes of the surrogate, her mouth gaping as though her jaw had been dislodged at the joint. The wife saw this as she counted one bright stripe and the next in a useless effort to sleep, and her gaze lingered on the woman, remorse rising in her throat until she no longer knew who carried what and for whom.
The dream had come again to the surrogate, the one where she faces a gang of men on a dark suburban street. In the dream she knows who the men are but when she wakes up, she can't remember. The men throw kitchen knives at her and each lands in her throat and then disappears, blood breaking from her wide mouth. Awake, she stared at the ceiling and noiselessly practiced screaming, widening her eyes, tensing each muscle, and bearing down: push, push, hush.
The husband slept in a narrow canal of darkness banked by the wife’s turned back. The agreement he had negotiated with the women five months earlier troubled him as little in sleep as in wakefulness, and the absolute Silence the surrogate vowed to keep until the child was born had become a graft in his wife and fruited. Each woman’s voice he swallowed. Each voice both fleshed and famished him.
The wife sat up on the edge of the bed and stood and the moonlight pressed thread thin the darkness that had sheltered her husband as he slept, though he did not stir. She lay down on the futon next to the surrogate and pressed her index finger softly against the woman’s lips, forming the Egyptian hieroglyph for child that the Greeks mistook for silence. She whispered something to her and the surrogate whispered back and neither woman sensed for certain if she was talking or listening, neither knew to whom things were told. They only recognized their breaching of the agreement, the necessity of baring what had been forborne, and the swath of moonlight where their words rose as breath.