Next

by Julie Marie Wade

 

This circle drawn in sand:

This halo of string spread across the living room floor:

 

Marbles—did you bring yours?
Bright collection of agate balls
Put’em in then, let ’em go
Keepsies or quitsies—you choose

 

 

I have contributed 3 marbles: lapis we will call how topaz we will call if quartz-stone we will call why

He has contributed 3 also: turquoise we will call then onyx we will call though moon-stone we will call yet

The shooter is Next.

Surely you remember the objective of this game:

exclusion

eviction from that favored sphere
(inclusion in exchange for…)

Remember, not all can be chosen—in a church whisper, from one who believed herself CHOSEN

(…exile)

“Losing your marbles,” see, is more than just losing your mind. It’s losing your place at the common table. It’s losing your place in line. It’s disappearing—receding—right before your own marble-gemstone eyes.

(The shooter is Next.) (The marbles are captured.)
(Words are ransomed, letter by letter.)

 

 

The woman at the bagel shop has seen me around. I come in every Thursday for the paper. Order my coffee in a traveler’s cup, even though I almost always stay. Take a whole booth for just myself and my book bag. Sometimes wear headphones, sometimes not. Laugh aloud reading syndicated “Savage Love.”

I have seen her around: the woman at the bagel shop—with her blunt-cut hair, dark and thick and smooth as pitch; her flawless, Dionysian complexion. How I have studied her: easy movement through a world of strangers (who address her by name (draw up chairs at her table (stop to coo at the baby who lulls to sleep in her arms.

 

yet, how, why, if, then, now

 

The shooter is Next.

 

(Something about proximity, about ambit.
(Something about parity, about difference.

 

Do I stand accountable for all the blood intentionally shed? For the body, like the circle, left unbroken?

 

Think of the women who can’t conceive—but yearn to:

Think of the women who could conceive—but choose not to:

(Think of my place at their table)

 

 

Nye writes—“It’s late, but everything comes next.”
how late?
why everything?

 

Bodies like continents, severed before birth.

 

(Something called callowness, called merit.
(Something called secession, called union.

(progression in time or space)

 

 

NO VACANCY
NO AGENCY
PARTIAL ADJACENCY

Boy Next Door and Girl Next Door so conveniently located they need not re-route

 

 

PANGAEA ULTIMA

 

TENON                 &            MORTISE

 

Dovetail, Stork, Swan

 

Have you read the fine print?
Have you balanced the Future’s checkbook, paid out in small debts to the Past?

why, if, yet, then, how, now

Who will take care of you when you’re old?
Isn’t that what children are for?
Surely by now we have staked a better reason.

 

 

Small plug for posterity:

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
Don’t you worry where you are;
When you’re old and when you’re gray,
I will light your wizened way.
Keepsies or quitsies:

The shooter is Next.

 

First comes love, next comes marriage, next comes the baby in the baby carriage

 

“I’m scared. Are you?”—in a tree-house, if we had one, gazing up at the stars.

“Not orphans exactly. Never widows.”

(What to make of our inexpressible fate.)

 

The new word on the next generation is that we should wait:
something about abstinence, about estrangement:
something called surrender, called asylum.

 

The new stone on the old path is that we should want:
to buy into the next line of human stock:
build collateral at least, boost morale.

 

 

I see her everywhere: the woman from the bagel shop. We could not have planned it. In the supermarket: her basket filled with Gerber’s strained peas and rack of lamb. Spare ribs, Dijon mustard. French-cut greens and Vlasic dills and bread crumbs destined for eggplant parmesan. I get hungry just grazing her cart.

 

It’s early yet, and everything’s still next:

heaping plates and second helpings:

expensive boulders that gleam inside the ring

 

“You could turn this all around,” my mother writes. “You could put this all behind you.”

 

yet, if, then, how, why, now

 

(Something about sanctity—or common sense.
(Something about dignity—or danger.

“What will become of you?” she mourns, “all alone in your empty life…”

But for now, there remains this hypothesis called Next Time. Next man in the grocery store line who scans my hand for a wedding band. Next man who dramatically holds the door. Next offer to take the seat beside him. The muscle-flex, the skin-caress. Jesus, I thought you girls were sisters!

 

 

Hole in my heart like a shunted thing, like a creature that clings. (Sessile.) (Infantile.)

 

(progression in space or time)

Have you read the fine print?
Have you misunderstood the requirements?
From whence does your confusion spring?

The shooter is Next.

“I didn’t make the rules—God did.”

“The stork is a symbol for happiness. Shouldn’t that tell us something?”

“Your name won’t pass on as the only girl, but what about your genes, your bloodline?”

“She can never give you what a man can.”

“For Christ’s sake, couldn’t you just pretend?”

 

It frightens me to think how angry I am. What’s next? Is this the wit’s end, the proverbial straw and the invalid camel? Someone loses, and someone wins? (Tiddlywinks, Parcheesi.) A new restaurant in a different neighborhood. The same woman sits happily ensconced with friends. (Battleship.) Square table: north, south, east, west. They each know the direction they’re coming from, proceed like clockwork. Mile-high salads with melba toast. Watching cholesterol and waistlines. (Connect Four.) Wife / Mother. Diamond / Diaper Bag. (Tic Tac Toe.) XOXO. The platitudes we’re supposed to recite. The sacrifices we’re supposed to enjoy. But what if they’re true? What if you’ve always wanted the life you were supposed to want? (RACK-O!) All your ducks in a row, all your cards lined up in perfect chronological order. I mean, frankly, I can’t quite imagine the alternative. (UNO?) And how to respond without seeming defensive…How not to lash through the forms… SINGLE MARRIED DIVORCED WIDOWED. Where is my (LIFE) here? Where is my NONE OF THE ABOVE?

 

now, then, why, if yet, how

 

 

At home, in our old house, which we rent for a song; which swelters through the summers and shivers through the winters; which grows morning glories and tiger lilies wild; which holds a porch swing and a piece of very old, oddly beautiful stained glass, an eave’s worth of hornets’ nests—

My Love teaches me the wonder of natural language searching

We have just switched from dial-up to DSL
We have just switched from Google to Ask.com

(progression through time and space)

“For this kind of search, questions are phrased in a familiar way; keywords are factored out for answers. Nesting is no longer required.”

(Love) AND (Marriage) AND (Baby Carriage)
Is it possible to undo the old linkages, re-set our passwords, arrange for different default modes?

(SIMPLER) AND (TIME)
(ABSOLUTE) AND (TRUTH)

Or that word I like, from a class you took, that I walked around muttering for days:

DISAMBIGUATION:

  (From many possible translations, selecting the one with minimum semantic distance)

OR        (Determining which of several alternatives was selected by the user)      OR

   (Clarification that follows from the dispersal of ambiguity)

 

I pass the woman in her neighborhood. I have never seen her in mine. I walk two miles or stand on a city bus to buy coffee and a bagel at her doorstep. We exchange no animosity, neither any greeting. We suffer from a mild case of faint recognition and understand implicitly in the passing that our lives play out parallel to one another: proximal without intersecting, perpetually adjacent. Next. In the post office, our letters lay atop each other, ink smearing her monogrammed crest, my incidental flap. Her Sabbath and my aimless stroll through Squirrel Hill and onward into Oakland. She behind the wheel of her dual-airbag, eight-passenger mini-van and I—pedestrian—scurrying across her path and into her periphery, where perennially and indeterminately I reside. In the bank, our transaction slips lay atop each other, ink smearing her deposit, my withdrawal. Her Much to my Little. Her “valued customer since 1986” to my “not even born till 1979.”

 

 

It’s early in the game still, but late in the round.
I lug trash to the alley, disambiguate the lilacs.

 

What my father used to say, when we were still talking: “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about it.”

What my Bible used to say, when I was still reading: “Consider, ye faithful, the lilies of the field…”

 What will become of me?     I wonder.

 

It is not a prayer exactly. It is not even a question exactly.

Perhaps it is a natural language search.

 

The shooter is Next.

(The shooter is Cupid.)
(The shooter is John Hinckley Jr. or John Wilkes Booth
or Lee Harvey Oswald.)
(The story is a history lesson.)
(The artist is Henry Darger.) (The poet is silent.)
(“The proof is in the pudding.”)
(The garter is white.) (The bouquet is loaded.)
(Lilies make me weep or sneeze.)

Is it customary to feel so alone in the world, so at odds with the ones I once loved?

After all, wasn’t it my father who taught me to play marbles?
Wasn’t it he who passed on to me this language?

What of heredity?

That is:

Do I stand accountable for all the blood intentionally shed? For the body, like the circle, left unbroken?

Inside, it is roughly a hundred degrees. Angie reads by the fan, eating ice cubes. In a large, stylish house with central heating and air, the woman from the bagel shop is also—may be also—eating ice cubes. She wears a sweater even, because the house is so cool, and feels herself pulled in a hundred tedious directions while her husband travels across the state on business.

(progression through space and time)

Red Rover, Red Rover, Send Someone Right Over.
There will be someone watching over when she dies.

It comes: cold fact on a hot day, standing in the alley in a bee-storm.
You have nothing to show for yourself, that familiar buzz.
You don’t belong to anything, and nothing belongs to you.
(Not in any way they can recognize. Not in any way the law divines.)

then, if, yet, why, how, now

And I want to say to Katey, who is married now—whose wedding a year ago I nearly ruined—

“Forgive me, friend.”

And Becky also, whose wedding I cannot even bear to attend:

“Forgive me.”

 

And they do, and they have, but things will not be the same between us.

What were we then—place cards for each other at a crowded table?

Book marks until a husband turned the page?

 

What kind of story was it anyway—once upon a time and happy ever after?

 

 

It angers me to think how frightened I am. What’s next? Erasure? The mighty Pink Pearl and its steady effacement: Angie, my “partner,” my “roommate,” my “friend.” I can hear the strangers chatter already: Such a shame. Sharp girl, not bad-looking—why do you suppose she never found a man? How will they know? Who will remind them? When the day comes and I can no longer defend myself, my story…when I look back and the choices seem so much less my own—diminished by euphemisms, or left altogether untold. I take photographs now with my mind, obsessive as a character in a Cameron Crowe film. Polaroids—because they are precise and immediate. I write in black fine-tipped pen on each blank-white border: THIS IS REAL, THIS HAPPENED, THIS IS WHO I LOVED, THIS IS WHAT WE DID, THIS IS HOW WE PROGRESSED TOGETHER THROUGH SPACE AND TIME

(My First) (My Last) (My Next)

I find compassion now for my father. I choose to remember him as I hope he remembers me: happy.    I choose to remember us with rug-burned knees, vying for each other’s marbles. Of his tape recorder with the tiny microphone, where he asked me to record my child-thoughts. For posterity, he said.               For keeps.

“What kind of day is it, Julie?”

“Pretty—big sun, puffy clouds.”

“What’s that boat in the harbor called?”

“A ferry boat! Like fairies in the woods, but spelled different.”

“What’s your favorite game to play with your daddy?”

“Marbles!” I cried. “I love marbles!”

Because this is necessary:

Last Will and Testament of ___________________ [Testator], resident of _________________ [City]

 

 

I place my lapis in the circle. How can anything be simple? How can anything be easy?

He lends his turquoise to the circle. Then let go and let God. Then lean not on your own understanding.

 

Because we have lived and loved together, and there must be some record of this:

being of sound and disposing mind and memory and over the age of 18 years…

I place my topaz in the circle. If things don’t turn out the way we expect…If life surprises us with unconventional blessings…

He lends his onyx to the circle. Though it may seem “right” to you, or “good,” or “true,” God commands the only Moral Way.

Because I believe in the tangible and intangible beauty of this humble bequest:

do make, publish, and declare this to be my last and only Will…

 

I place my quartz-stone in the circle. Why are you afraid of asking questions?  Why are you afraid of how I might respond?

He lends his moon-stone to the circle. Man is weak, yet God forgives him.  The body is weak, yet the soul offers strength.

 

Because this is true:

Not being actuated by any duress, menace, fraud, mistake, or undue influence, I offer the following…

 

The shooter is Next.

 

For my father, who asked me to disambiguate love and call it treason

For my mother, who asked me to turn caryatid instead of human being

For this verse, the last of the refuse I thought not to save: how it returns like words in a bottle—

They toil not, neither do they spin. Yet even Solomon in all his splendor was not arrayed like one of these. Not orphans exactly, never widows. Lilacs profuse and spilling over the fence post. Not like a poem exactly. Not quite a sign. My bare feet in the high grass. My bare heart in the warm wind. Walking home again. Up the front steps. Through the front door. All the extraordinary prepositions between (Here Now) and (There Then) and (Somewhere in the Future). All the little joys of conjugation before the last amen. It’s late, but everything comes next. Honey in your tea. Balsamic vinaigrette on bright green leaves.

 

SOLSTICE

 

yet, why, how, now, then, if

 

 

“Two ways to look at this, I guess”—in a tree-house, if we had one, gazing up at the stars.

“Threshold of the longest, gateway to the shortest.”

(What to make of our incalculable days.)


JULIE MARIE WADE is the author of eight collections of poetry and prose, including Catechism: A Love Story (Noctuary Press, 2016) and When I Was Straight: Poems (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2014).  Her first lyric essay collection, Wishbone: A Memoir in Fractures (Colgate University Press, 2010; Bywater Books, 2014), won the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Memoir, and her newest collection of poems, SIX (Red Hen Press, 2016), was selected by C.D. Wright as the winner of the AROHO/ To the Lighthouse Poetry Prize.  Other volumes include Small Fires: Essays (Sarabande Books, 2011), selected for the Linda Bruckheimer Series in Kentucky Literature, and Postage Due: Poems & Prose Poems (White Pine Press, 2013), winner of the Marie Alexander Poetry Series.  Wade teaches in the creative writing program at Florida International University and reviews regularly for The Rumpus and Lambda Literary Review.  She is married to Angie Griffin and lives on Hollywood Beach.

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