The Views of the Widow’s Daughter from Issue 91/92
In our house, things match correctly and we don’t say “ain’t.” My mother knows how to act. This way, despite the Rushings’ dirt-eating kids – there are too many of them, too close together, my mother says so — and the Hondurans being foreign, and Billy and Jimmy’s mother being vague – she’s like a loose strand of hair – we’re sure of things and have good taste. We’re definite.
I’m the only girl at school in Buster Brown oxfords but this is because my mother knows more about growth and support and lining up the bones right.
I use a lot of bandaids not because I play sports, I don’t too much, but I go to the playground and fall off my bike. It’s fascinating to look at scars. The best scar in our family belongs to my oldest sister, who jumped off the garage roof onto a piece of sheet metal standing upright in the backyard for God knows what reason. That was back before I existed.
To be lost and gone forever, sometimes I throw my Buster Browns up in the peppertree but they don’t stick there because they’re heavy, and my only tree isn’t high enough.
In the shade of the peppertree I put rubber bands on my shoebox and strum, many times, beautiful tunes.
When I’m older my hair will be all possible colors because I’ll bleach a streak at each of my temples. Right now my hair falls without grace from the crown of my head, so that my mother pulls it tightly back and with rubber band keeps it held. Rubber bands have many uses.
My mother and I are refined. We have slender bone structures, good ones, the best kind. All the mess around us doesn’t make us common.
Our alley is green like a corridor and not a city alley, not remotely approaching. From there I spy people in their kitchens, back doors, backyards. Their garbage cans are scummy. A lot of them don’t have lids and things spill out, although nothing ever horrible, not yet.
To keep out peeping toms and marauders, I shut the windows and lock them. I pull down all the shades. I squeeze the blackheads from my mother’s back. I pluck the hairs from her chin.
I have a birthmark the size of a dime on my shinbone, and a crater scar between my eyebrows. I am the youngest, the last one left at home, and my mother’s only reason for living. Otherwise, I am unmarked in a permanent way. The hair on my head is so far thick, wavy, dark and long. If I shaved it, I could make a rope.
Lester Rushing died from a bullet. Another neighbor from an ulcer. Mr. Brown just walked to the end of the block, put dynamite caps in his mouth, and blew his head off. My father took a night to die. He was in a sanitarium, unseen. That was long ago.
In our neighborhood, all the women live. This is deadly accurate and true although I remain confused about whether, to be a survivor, I must first live and marry.
Greenland, from the air, is only black and white and nowhere green. I saw it with my own eyes in the days when I traveled, worked and lived.
On the ground it’s fjords: rivers of layers of turquoise ice. The buildings, land and men have no particularity. The frozen rivers which might crack and heave are what I remember foremost. Also, the abandoned hospital. During World War II the Allies put there men missing all their limbs, men with half-heads, and so on: all those who, if sighted by the public, would hurt the cause.
At the time I witnessed this desolation – it was the era of Vietnam – I was with a man named Hawk and a man named Marger running Scotch from the British Isles to the lonely Danes on Greenland. I’d joined them from Jerusalem, where the eyes of the Virgin Mary in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are exactly like my mother’s: purely blue, unstriated, tearless, and always open. My irises have the coward’s yellow ring and yet I’m not without experience.
I lived with one man in a garage facing an alley. We were poor, distraught, and violently alive. Another man, of the so many I knew carnally, was a powerful leader of civil rights. He’d call me late at night just out of the blue and say: Catch a cab, come to my motel room. Though his penis was a billyclub and it hurt to receive him, I did. Sometimes he made me hide while he bought guns for Sparta.
I met my husband during my days in the coalfields. He called from the Union: we met by voice. When eventually we came into each other’s presence, he saw I was not the woman in workboots he’d visualized, but more a girl. I wore unbleached muslin, cotton lace, and blue lawn. My feet were strapped in little brown sandals.
After that, I had to parse my living.
It has been clear to me I had to venture out not once but many many times, and clear I had to come back.
My myopia has greatly worsened, to which has been added, with no overall improvement in vision, the countervailing tendency to see poorly up close, and dry eyes – the latter two signs, of course, of age. My dry eyes – all paradox – mat in the mornings.
It was a bright day in April when, sure of no frost on the steps, I slid and most heavily fell. My husband said my vision accounted for my falling. He said my missteps were not clumsy, but a simple failure to see. I’ve only recently learned come a cropper describes such a headlong fall.
I live now in a more defined, contracted space. My movement is limited. Even when people come to me, I don’t necessarily see them.
But it’s enough. What’s jumped in the holes of my eyes remains. I’ve taken in things everywhere I’ve been, frozen them into frames, and held them: the green cliffs falling straight to the sea above the beaches in Nova Scotia, where the tide is the most powerful in the world, the deep enveloping feather beds of Iceland.
In my own country I was compelled north to The Adirondacks, The White Mountains, The Colorado Rockies, The Sierra Nevada, Denali in Alaska – the list goes on. Most cold places, I have been.
My husband wanted the cold, and I went along with him. Though in point of fact, even before I met him, I wanted white land stripped of details.
For all this, I love the heat. I come from a swampy place of Spanish moss, dense undergrowth, snakes, sinkholes, and a pervasive wetness. Swamps are not to my liking – I fear them – but nothing can belie the formative.
I am back to where alleys are green. In northern places, alleys tend to be narrow and paved, and otherwise bereft. Here, the alleys are alive. From them you can see more truth about the people. Were it not for the danger, I would use alleys exclusively.
My window looks out on a broad green alley. Once I went there to look for evidence of poison, for my white cat died. I could not find it, and neither could an expert. He said a death such as hers might be from a trace of poison, or from hidden internal injuries – no way to know.
Cause unknown is a hard basis on which to grieve, but it is often the case. I buried her with a marble rock I found crunched against a fence. I thought her bones would make the ground richer, but so far the dirt is compacted and stony, and neither the white lily nor the cleome nor the sweet alyssum has flourished. It may be that with more time and heat, they will.
I have dark circles under my eyes. This puts me in the company of sufferers, although a man once told me my eyes are so light he could go by their avenue through history and time all the way back to the fjords.
This man was black. To him, my eyes meant danger. He saw the wide round light blue eyes of the potential perpetrator of suffering.
Another black man told me my eyes are the color of the lakes of Mississippi. He was a Mississippi man, and loved his home.
These seeings and characterizations do not after all amount to much. Romantics say such things when they want to make love, or hurt.
They’re good to turn over in my mind, though, as if my mind held its own turquoise monkey rock, or chunk of lapis lazuli, or a sapphire like my mother wore, or the zircoin of my childhood, and turned it every which way for the facets of light and the feel.
Plainly, my eyes are not all that light. They’re more a murky, muddy blue, a stone blue, a grey. Their lashes are scant and unremarkable, their eyebrows nothing to write home about.
The eyes have been a problem – there’s no denying that – but they’ve been serviceable. I’ve looked out at the world through them, and I’ve been able to see.
Tennessee Williams said the eyes are the last to go out. The exact way I phrase it is: when the face closes down unto death, the eyes are the last to go out.