The Lavoir Du Petit Saint-Jean
At seventy, Colette could still repeat the names of the village dead delivered every Sunday in the tiny èglise unsteepled by a vein of iron clenched beneath the hillock and tempting every thunderbolt to light up its hard heart. But she didn't know her catechism or love her beetle-browed sister: on these points the biographers agree. Surrounded by believers, one need not believe, or so her mother claimed, and banished Christmas from the house. The ore that kept the steeple under fire feeds its rust, ever after, into the spring beneath the hill, where the taste of snow and iron entered the cistern of the girl who would make of place itself a fount, and pluck its fickle people, one by one out of the well of kindness. The marvel is not that some things aren't real, but that the real cleaves to what passes through it. Even now, the mute light of a maybe-rain afternoon drops in a luminous sheet through the open roof of the ruined lavoir, ignites the giant Fuck scrawled on the stone, and stirs the pool from green to gray to brown-- hazel, we'd say, like eyes that borrow from the sky, and belong to she who would repeat the litany of her own village dead to beguile fat, white Belle Èpoque salons, all the while aware that the spring delivering its taste of iron and snow to the basin's fetid trickle had never been capable of washing anything clean. Jet Lag
I find him eating cold soup with the woman to whom he's committed now, globes of freshly poured wine at their fingertips, his white concert shirts clouded in plastic and slung over the couch, bags by the door where he dropped them not an hour ago. The smell of travel wafts in the room, remnants of elbows and coffee taken hours to the west, and though it's been five years since that luggage squatted in my own front hall, a rumor of the faint oils of a stranger's thighs rising in the packed wads of shorts and tees, something about this darkened room in afternoon, the cool, conciliatory glass of Oregon wine, ratchets my pulse, sets loose the sleuth in me, but I no longer know in whose behalf. Small Engines
No more grim reaper for us. Now it's a guy on an orange tractor with cool swivel wheels and blades that can mulch a whole acre of nested rabbits and drown the squeals while he's at it. Surely he's listening to Bach on the earphones and hoping that turn matches up with the place where the new row of notes kicks in. Then he can add his hope that he gets to the market before today's basil wilts in the sun. He can never decide which is more useless, the poems he's got by the end of the job, or the little number he's working out on an oboe at home. That carburetor numbered 102 parts by the time he'd unpacked it all on the basement floor and soaked the frame in Coca-Cola overnight. It was clean after the kit, but the upside- down float shot fire out the top, and the tow to the station cost more than the labor plus parts. Then he had to ask himself if the story, rearranged as it was every time he came back, really mattered enough to last. Epiphany
You'll go to your people, of course, when the marriage is done, bright stripes on chairs in the sun, bottles of white on the ledge. The eldest was first to misplace a spouse, and now you, youngest, have lost one too. Your sofa was blue, and your son, like mine, just nine when I passed a night as a guest in your bed. Your brother cannot love me anymore. He's taken up with a dentist in town, and I can't imagine the jokes they trade about drills and naughty cavities, or the smell of other men's blood on her hands at night. You have exquisite sisters with empires intact, one who made quite sure my bite of the gold Galette Des Rois contained the baby Jesus, and more cousins than you can possibly count, but I wish there were something I could give, like a wise one who's traveled ever so far to see a child he knows is only the vaguest kind of hope. The Made World
We have always been in the business of turning the models in our minds out into the world, motley, so many that don't match up, a quilt or a village of tents, towers and streets, the satisfying flash of new white curb along our route—all of it stands against what we've said a God made. Only islands restore the sense of something poured out, a coast keeling in rarified light, asking to be taken back in pieces, a word here and there with a whiff of it, the digital capture of a moth, a berry owning the name of a moss, or the tiny cone of the snail so transparent and layered I'd have said segment of scallion tossed in the rock pool. Even when the brain cannot rest, it chugs in the chill and registers the loon out of view. Is it someone else rising up in us who fears? And what even does the other supply—winter, predator, or the intimate threat of a tick leaving its murk in the blood? Who owns the given or made trepidation, this scene of an unlocked screen, the sudden reek of a man crazed with a slimy need to bury a fist or a pole in a dark well? Hell is other people, we like to joke, and escaping is an art bathed in dangers we can no longer name but flee across bodies of water, noise dropping from our ears like clothes peeled on a warm rock. Add the footfall of a woman wandering shore in the damper of a floral robe, add the knock of a pink boat on the dock, a splay of white hair on water, sweetly comic. What is such a vision for anyway? Surely not warmth or ease. There's a bright blot of white in it, signature of elsewhere, a ticket to join the guy dipping leeches from the bait tank or win a smile from the one streaked with oil and bent over the outboard in the heat. In the company of trees, we're less aware of how we appear than we'll ever be, though mirrors must have changed us as much as motors or printing presses. And lenses, what have they nicked from our ways of appraising that body inches from us in a banner of light? We live too long to make every leap, and lo, there's an invention out there waiting to undo each of us before the wrench rings against the dock, and the outboard fires up in the dark.