Learning to Fly
After the rape, I took up
with a paraplegic guy
who said he’d gotten high
and jumped off a building,
thinking he could fly.
I wasn’t convinced this
was what really happened.
But his story seemed important,
the kind of truth that might arise
when you’re trying to survive.
We slept on his waterbed,
which was tidal and complicated,
but also peaceful, like when
the wheels of a plane lift off
and you get to be nowhere,
in between places for a while.
We were both damaged.
He had learned to adapt.
I was new to it, noticing
obstacles everywhere. Curbs.
Stairs. Doors that swung out
instead of in. He had to look up
at the liquor-store clerk,
who had to look down
at him. He kept his money
in a canvas bag, its handles
slung over the back of his chair.
He’d ask the clerk, or even
a stranger, to fish his wallet
out, shimmy a six-pack in.
The bottles rattled
when he crossed
the threshold and rolled
down the uneven sidewalk.
He wore racing gloves,
the kind with no fingers,
so he could save his hands.
Sometimes I’d sit on his lap
and we’d tear down
the dark streets
of our college town,
flashing in and out
of pools of light,
past ruined lawns
and palatial houses
where frat boys
passed out drunk
on top of their victims,
no one awake
to see us flying by.
Though I know exactly where you are,
and it’s not far, it seems unlikely
we’ll see each other again. We lived
in a rented house with a kitchen so small
there wasn’t room to change your mind.
Or so you said. But you made sourdough bread
in the creaky oven, omelets in a hinged pan
you could snap shut and flip over an open flame.
You grew catnip in a pot on the porch,
and the cat curled around it to nap in the sun.
We smoked into the night, again in the morning.
Once you spilled the bong on the carpet.
We never did get the smell out. We were young.
I’m not sure we really tried. The garage had doors
nailed together by someone before our time,
scrap wood painted over but still rotten
from the bottom, a hole big enough for a cat
to squeeze through. Ours stood half in, half out
of it the morning after she was hit by a car,
made it home but had to be put down anyway.
I sold my motorbike to pay the bill. I went back
a few years ago, crawled along in my rental car
past the corner store where we walked
to buy a single bottle of beer. The house
was gone, torn down to build something new.
Your eyes were topaz. Strangers in churches
always thought you were the savior.
You’ve taken yourself away from everyone
who knew you then. Sometimes one of them
remembers something, wonders where you are.
I don’t tell. One thing I know is that you
don’t want to be found.
Mothers of Boys
One frosted her hair.
It might have been a wig.
She enjoyed an afternoon martini,
toy poodles arranged
like sofa pillows around her.
She didn’t bother to get up.
Two had a head injury
from a car accident
six months before her wedding,
which went forward anyway
out of duty. People said
her husband was burdened,
a saint, and she was shrill.
But I liked the way
she snapped her gum
and stood in the front yard
brandishing a cooking spoon
Three was divorced
and had to work
as a hostess in a restaurant.
She had black hair
halfway down her back,
black boots up
to her knees.
She had seen it all
and she was tired.
When she talked,
a cigarette bobbed
in the corner of her mouth,
and when she stopped,
it dangled there.
If ashes dropped to the floor,
they were ignored.
Four was always
wiping down countertops.
She was the wife
of an alcoholic.
Five was nervous.
She confided once
when we were alone
that she had diverticulitis.
I pretended I knew
what that was.
She was married
to a demolitions expert.
Six kept a crucifix in every room
and a squirt bottle of holy water
on the sill by the kitchen sink.
I wasn’t Catholic. I thought
it was sin repellent.
I never met Seven. I left for college,
which turned out to be a fast track
to freedom. But I swore
I could feel her suburban curses
rise up and catch a tailwind
from middle America
all the way to the coast,
where I was already learning
all the ways women find
to say no, and how sometimes
it becomes an affirmation.
For years I thought of it as a rosary,
every bead a different color. Milky
white of the coroner’s nocturnal skin,
his waxy hands clutching a clipboard.
Red-brown spatters of blood on the wall.
Amber pooled in a shot glass squatting
on the nightstand, yellow label
of the tequila bottle standing at its side.
Lapis blue jeans, crumpled the way they do
when they fall to the floor and someone
crawls into bed for the last time.
But I’ve put the rosary aside to tell you
that the police radio was what woke me,
and strange lights flashing without a sound.
That every night at 3 a.m., I was jolted awake
by a gunshot I can’t remember hearing.
That this went on for more than a year,
and all I could do was stare at the ceiling,
because I had nowhere to go with my grief,
my rage, questions I couldn’t even frame.
That I was afraid this would happen
every night for the rest of my life.
But time, in its time, brought the surprise
of morning light through naked glass. The sun
on more than one day. I won’t lie and say
I don’t remember, don’t think of it, if it
happens to be 3 a.m. and I’m awakened
by beginning rain or the slamming car door
of the neighbors’ drunken son. But memory
isn’t a bullet in my brain. It’s not a rosary.
If I say healing isn’t being made whole,
I might mean peace is a string that frays
until it breaks, and the beads just fall.
Science & Religion @ 5 am
would never have seen her
if I hadn’t heard a screech owl
hadn’t stopped in the still-
dark street hadn’t
turned around (how
senseless to look for an owl
or try to unravel the mystery
of what in us turns & turns
toward what can never be known
or known again) a streetlamp
could not be less of a mystery
yet it too was essential light & hinge
to open the way for the gift:
black outline of wolf emerging
from the ancient cemetery
a black pause in the pale flicker
I am a believer in the genome:
its continuity across & within species
how it blurs distinctions
between ancestor descendant
& living being so I knew
she was there: guardian
spirit animal my wolfish dog
dead three years yet steadfast
both of us inside the summoning
of a bell only we could hear
it was the morning of my birthday
& all day I carried the gift:
knowing she had paused in the pitch-
black shadows between headstones
watched as I walked by waited
& calculated a perfect arc
over the black iron fence
into the intersection of our worlds
to make of them one world
before she crossed the street away
Brett Warren (she/her) is an editor whose poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in various publications, including Canary, The Comstock Review, duality, Cape Cod Poetry Review, Eunoia Review, Green Fuse, Halfway Down the Stairs, Provincetown Magazine, Right Hand Pointing, Rise Up Review, Unbroken Journal, One Sentence Poems, and Shot Glass Journal. She lives on a peninsula in the Outer Lands archipelagic region of the Atlantic Ocean. Her house is surrounded by pitch pine and black oak trees—nighttime roosts of wild turkeys, who sometimes use the roof of her writing attic as a runway.