You held both my hands in yours and told me I’m an acorn. There was such sadness in your eyes. You held me in your heart and your bloodstream tasted like mountain mornings. I found a lizard smaller than my thumb once. She was pausing on a rock and looking up toward the sun. I held her in my hand and she said, “You are so, so big.” I’ve never been a song, but if I was I think the tree crickets would be louder than me. They would play me at funerals while families talk to each other about solid mahogany coffins with no nails. But I am not a song, and the wind can break me into pieces sometimes when the night is quiet and I remember your voice and I wonder why I ever wanted to be left alone.
I’ve seen lightning on the ground once, through a rain like oceans breaking open, and a tree reached her leaves outstretched like fingers and caught a light that looked more like sun than spreading veins. My first thought was fire, but before that was nothing, my heart humming static like a breath too deep caught in its valves, and I still ache today. Lightning struck a tree in our yard and I didn’t see anything but the lean body standing and the splinters fanned out in the grass. My first thought was fire, but I looked up to leaves touching sky and there was just rain, rivers sweeping sideways and the loud hurry in our gutters like when I press my hands to my ears so hard all I hear is this: the ocean in our heads is actually a bloodstream. I held a conch shell, its bone against my cheek, and heard high tide. But a science teacher or my older sister or my neighbor’s husband told me it’s blood, blood moving fast across skin from below and in spite of the drums in my ears I heard them and let the conch go. But there is salt inside our bodies and I wonder if sharks could survive in our tears, and whenever there is lightning I think of fire, of my grandmother, of a tree holding up the sun, of my heartbeat and its static hum. The rain comes and I ache.
Call me empty. Cave me in and bring quiet mice to nest in these caverns. Knock until I open. Call me yours. We met once years ago in a train car filled with butterflies. You held branches to my skin and said they were monarchs, swallowtails, and one ashen moth lost in the swarm. The train never left but we got off together. Call me home. Your bones are thinner than mine, your voice louder, so I catch the things you miss, hold a glass half filled with cream and the afternoon the earthquake broke the bank wall. I try to move aside, try to give you this. Call me open. Tomorrow hasn’t happened yet, but I tell you it will be blue. I’m swollen and aching, waiting for your broken kiss. This is forever. Have you held a butterfly and looked at it up close? Even with wings you have to go deeper. I’m a wilting feather, I’m a hundred thousand scales, I’m breathing, breathing, breathing, and this, this is for you. Come knocking tonight. I’m trying to open. Call me wanting. Call me wanting. Call me yours.
Tell me what you grieve. Hold me like your mother’s hands. Touch my hair until you find tangerines rolling into your palms. I used to hide in the space between the segments, the fruit like two cold bodies inside the hot earth. Hold me like that and tell me–what do you miss?
When I was 15 I saw a finch with one foot and two fast wings that opened yellow and black against the air. My father was there but never saw anything but the sun, like that boy who watched it curl from horizon to horizon every day as his eyes burned. Can you miss what you haven’t touched? Hold me like an empty eggshell painted with a poem you can not memorize. Hold me like a broken plate you want to glue together before you lose a piece. Hold me, a memory that clots in your throat and makes your lungs ache and your chest burn. Hold me and tell me what you grieve.
This year a chicken gave birth to a live chick then bled to death. I think of Jesus as a child, leading boys from his class to the shepherd’s field. “Look,” he said, and pointed to the sky. There a flock of blackbirds stopped mid-flap and fell like hail to the dirt. And young Christ didn’t wait until his friends closed their mouths or shouted in disbelief before bringing the birds back to life, back to sky, back to flight. As a girl I wondered if the souls waited above for the bodies to rise back around them like a thick fog rolling up to the mountain’s peak, or if they dove toward the ground, yearning for feathers and beak and blood and muscle and hollow throat bones that call into the wind. Now I think they were alive all along, Christ and his well-trained birds all having a good laugh when the boy’s ran to tell the world what they knew. This amazes us, life out of nothing. But a chicken gives birth to an eggless young and we expect only her pain, bodies falling from within hers, no shepherd in a chicken coop.
Sometimes the entire Atlantic is in my body. I can feel its tides slow around my heart, its currents passing through the ventricles in different directions. There is a whale compressing my lung. She rests heavy in my chest and moans the low notes of a lonely oak in a September storm. A jellyfish stung my stomach yesterday. She didn’t mean to, but in an ocean the size of my body there is no way to spread out your tentacles without touching one organ or another. Try to reach out your fingers on a crowded train heading down the coast toward Baltimore. The pads of your palms will find a stranger’s chest, the clenching of an unimaginable muscle beneath it. I asked the currents, “What is my heart?” “The soft, breathing body of a sea bird,” they answered. I asked the whale–“A dead fish in the waves.”
This room is full of uncertain windows that open like heart valves, like breathing, like sleep cycles. I can only see you when my eyes are closed, but I don’t know if I should call this dreaming. Sit for a while on my window sill. Tell me about where you came from. Do they still remember your name? Every time I say mine, it sounds like a mistake. I introduce myself and still they’re not sure what I’m saying. So I draw them close with my cobweb arms, pluck songs from the tendons in their necks. Their mouths open like windows and you catch their breath with cupped palms, hold it heavy and wanted, smelling like infants or nectarines or the swamp out back. When I open my eyes, everyone is gone but you and your hands. When I open my eyes, every glass door is locked and I’m holding two hammers, white-knuckled and sweating, and my right foot is tapping like the floorboards in a hollow, broken rhythm like a choking sparrow’s song. You empty your hands over my head. You open your mouth and it’s empty. You open your chest and nothing has been louder. You open each window without looking at me, still say nothing, and leave me and my white knuckles and my tapping foot and my closed lips. You open.