The Gallery of Animate Objects from Issue 99
Long ago, when I was wordless and alone, what did I know
of the face I held to the mirror of my mother, how space became
a feature, a form, an artifice between us. Even now as I remember
the woman lost to pain, then madness, then painlessness and fire,
I see the ghost I made and unmade like a bed. I hear her
in the kitchen, sleepless, when I wake at night and words are far away.
And when they come, if not the words then voices, glances, cries,
I call them hers, the ones she lost to pain, then madness. I call,
and because dawn burns for those it mourns and in returning turns
away, I enter a gallery of animate objects, where everything is dead
and moving. The doll with its string, the mechanical arm,
the vulva of the beaded curtain, they are artifacts of what is here
and not quite here, not quite adventure or farewell. Words bereft
of animals to speak them. The primordial mass cultured with light.
The slightest seizure more terrible than stillness. I call and I enter
the space of two lone heads—the first with its bright complexion,
the other bluish gray—and although bound together by their hair,
they do not face each other, and when they move, the bright one says yes,
the dark one no, and the theater is cold, as x-rays are and absurd
French movies, the kind my mother hated like madness, like pain.
Like all who live and do not live, who unearth a self so abstract
the person disappears, these abject gestures toward a deeper recognition
are stilted, callous, masked as shamans who, as beasts, are never
original, but ancestral beyond words. I talk to my mother still.
And what she says lives in ways the talking heads and shamans
never do. I loved her. And thus the phantom space between us
where words crossed in tiny boats with pieces of spirit who stepped ashore.
In the gallery of animate objects, I hear the ocean in the breathing
machine, the mother’s inconsolable refusals in the blue-gray
cant of no. I hear the horrors of her late age in the jaw. In raw shock
and provocation, the ah they open. And in the phantom speech
she gave. Before I knew I loved her. When I was wordless and alone.