from In Your Absence
Before dawn, I come to write my name in your yard. To write my name in piss in the snow. I have a thick paper funnel so that I can pee standing up. I have a larger plastic funnel and a jar full of urine to complete the task. It’s quiet on your block. Blue-running-pink in the new snow sunrise. Your windows are darkened yet. Sometimes I wish I believed in a merciful entity so that I could cry out take mercy on me. I cover as much ground as I can with my tights and panties around my thighs, skirt hiked, messy business to some degree, but the steam rises up and I’m like those little boys who have just learned it’s possible. To write one’s name not as a parochial chore, but gleefully. I survey my work, careful to brush away my footprints but not disturb the little twigs, berries, bits of gravel that have blown across the canvas. Which of your wives lives here, now? I can’t recall. Which of your children will spring fresh from her bed, curly hair tumbling over her forehead, a plaintive whelp, it’s breakfast time and far too cold on the hardwood floors? I order my clothes, tug my skirt down, my parka falling over it, some comfort to my frosty ass, I’m presentable by the time the first hardcore jogger puffs by. She may be the only one. A man in a fur hat follows with two shivering terriers. I wonder if the fur is real. I wonder what the dogs know, smell. A late delivery of the morning paper. I fold the front page into a sailboat. I fold the next page into a crane. Too easy. I fold hearts and giraffes and anything I remember. I make a six-pointed star, even as my fingers numb. I drop each one in the snow, to melt there. The paper melting, the water holding steady as though a layer of powder could cover up this blemish. How is my heart doing, anyhow? Has it bled through that paper sack you call your arms? Has it begun to wriggle in your teeth when you open a bit to seek better purchase? Has it gone cold and white and clean as a saint? Is it, like me, wrapped in plaster, unashamed on its face? Put it in the attic, love. Make it a bed of rags and burlap. Give it a box with a lid and an ample dose of camphor. A few of your neighbors now, their lights on, one leaves for work and nods at me, unsure, turns back, nods again because I smile, tilt my head, raise my shoulders as though saying, oh, you know how one must do. And he smiles, too, before he sets about knocking snow from his car. He claps his gloved hands together. The muffled sound of miles to go. Do I know how much I love you? I don’t. You have my heart, my measure. Check her and see. Your light goes on. Check the sheets for stains and your mouth maybe tastes metallic, strange as a flesh penny, the sort a female body springs on you so unexpectedly. Who was I when you cupped my chin on an icy morning, on a deserted street that was secretly scheduled for demolition? We were under the wire when you looked down at me, and my skin said yes, and my breath said yes, and there is a hole in the ground where once I said yes. So I tuck the funnels in a plastic bag and along with the last few sheets of newsprint they go neatly back into my bag, a vegan bag, pretty stylish, I didn’t dress like a burglar. I reseal the jar, wipe it down, and tuck it in the snow bank a city plow has left at the end of your drive. I’m here to give, and give, and give you anything I have left. My mark and my seal. Any steam from the warmth of my body has long since drifted off, any warmth in my body is, too, drifting off. The tip of my nose has gone noticeably cold. Once a cognitive behavioral therapist told me the tip of the nose is rarely in pain so focus your consciousness there, and I do. It’s time to leave your yard, but I can’t. I’m one of its wayward winter birds plucking nothing from ice for a nothing breakfast. I’m one of its worms deep in the loam waiting for spring that may not come before my death. In the corpse of a snowman, a squirrel gnawed carrot, or less goofy just the number on the mailbox that has come loose, but still the mail finds its right home. Oh, don’t worry about me. Oh, I’m fine calling out for a bit of mercy from no one in particular, the sort of mercy a coffee delivers, and anyhow I’m a very rich person in comparison to persons with no beds and no meals. I ought to volunteer my time. If only all my time weren’t dedicated to you, hadn’t taken up residence in your orbit. I’m out of time because there it is swaying around your body as you haul yourself out of bed and straighten your boxers and spill some grinds and cajole the children, eggs or oatmeal. Can you believe this is what we amount to most days? Any number of times, before I met you, I could not believe it, and yet I performed it with such grace and still do. Excepting this morning, when I stand in your yard, my signature not quite as striking as I’d imagined, but it’ll have to do. The planks that prop my chest open, the temporary shunts and silicone valves, the morning birds and rising traffic. Everything hums as it should, now doesn’t it? I’ll save knocking on your door for another day. I’ll save placing something wet and warm in a bag on your doorstep for another day. I’ll save stringing your porch with used dental floss and brass tacks for another day. We’re not down to that, yet. Not such a thing. In fact, we have a lifetime for this, for I’ve just signed the deed, and you, unwilling thief, don’t give back my heart. Keep it, bed it, fuck it, face it, place it on ice or in a humidor or behind that book on your shelf you can no longer take down. This is my gift to you, nothing but unhinged flesh. Love me, still.
In your absence I stop taking my pills. Instead, I crush them, all kinds, and dissolve them in the hot coffee in your mailroom. Soon, your entire department is spinning. People run hot, people put their hands through the thin panes of glass in the building’s old window, people say they didn’t see it coming. When you pass out in the men’s room, leaning over the sink, soaking your shirtsleeves as you pitch forward, then crumpling onto the tile so perfectly I stop to take a picture with my phone and then to run it through one of the app’s aesthetisizing filters. Then I straighten you out. I pull your shirt down where it’s come untucked. I arrange your arms by your sides. I place a thin sheet over you, head to toe. I place a card on the tile beside you. It says your name, your birthdate, today’s date. It says: Causes: UNKNOWN. I slip down the back staircase, where I find two neatly-suited women locked in a deep tongue kiss, and feel warm. I have done good in the world. Later, when your colleagues find you, they will panic. In a maelstrom of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, on a weird mix of uppers and downers, with a blast of antihistamines and steroids, they’ll assume they’ve become the morgue. They’ll assume a killer’s on the loose. They’ll assume the worst of you. They’ll rifle through your desk looking for your mother’s phone number, the numbers of your children’s mothers. They won’t be able to crack the passcode on your phone. They’ll forget how to use phones. They’ll text each other in a panic. They’ll turn out the bathroom lights, out of respect, and someone will light a contraband candle. Sandlewood. Someone will leave the fifty dollars he lost to you in a poker game two months ago in your coat pocket. Someone will suggest everyone have a cup of coffee in the conference room, which will start the whole cycle over again.
I remove your glasses, place them in the cup holder, and then jam a pressure gauge in your eye. PSI fail. With epoxy, I secure your seatbelt forever. I cram your fists into an early twentieth-century vintage fur muff, and hook a yoke around your neck. Through its metal eyes, I thread bungee cords, and loop these through the steering wheel. You’re prepared. There’s a year’s worth of spilled fries on the floor of the backseat, and these I feed you, some clumped together around a hoarfrost penny, others one by one, a little gravel, ladybug shells, acrylic fibers. In the glovebox, I’ve stored all your letters. Not letters to me. I’ve been collecting your letters. Off hard drives. From email accounts I hack into. I don’t hack into them. I pay my brother to hack into them. He brings me your letters. You sign your messages with so much love. It’s as though you actually feel this love for a great number of people. As though you can’t sleep at night if you haven’t told them. Sometimes you spell it luv as though to downplay the sick, spidery spread in your chest, but just poorly enough that your sincere deep affection shines through. There are so many letters. When the glovebox fills, I put them in the trunk. Your receipts, receipts that remind me of you, a list of groceries I suspect you have purchased. Where is all this going? I lift the brake. I align the wheels. I clock my knee on the steering column’s unforgiving plastic sheath. I tumble over you out the door, and roll, and roll. And listen. And splash. And there you are with your tongue cut out and knives in your legs and forever turned to froth that can’t say goodbye and relies on the few moments of real goodness in children to keep its rhythm awash against the only rock you recognize. For miles around. What dirty prince led you to this? What dirty crown swayed above his head while you made such rich choices?
What did I want to do? I wanted to move my heart out of my chest. What did I want to do? I wanted to lock my panicked eyes on yours. What did I want to do? I wanted to vomit a 3D representation of my disappointment. What did I want to do? I wanted to lie in the sun until the sun baked me through. What did I want to do? I wanted to save all the moth fragments scattered around the property until I could figure out how the whole moth was made. What did I want to do? I wanted to stop. What did I want to do? I wanted to start drinking at daybreak, but couldn’t wake early enough. What did I want to do? I wanted to find myself so winded, the scene dimming, myself in a crumple on the cool grass it promised liquid it promised gray things from underground. What did I want to do? I wanted to keep it together in public. What did I want to do? I wanted to place my blessing on every fuck in my purview. What did I want to do? I wanted to create warmth and contentment for others where I had none but could not want this long enough. What did I want to do? I wanted to fail in a way that made me more like other people. What did I want to do? To refuse. What did I want to do? To wear this sulk as though I weren’t four decades into this shit. What did I want to do? Nothing, really. Who did I think I was? I didn’t know in your bed. Who did I think I was? I placed my hands over my face and counted to ten. Who did I think I was? I leaned so wonderfully into your hips that weren’t anything cinematic, we weren’t, just two bodies in an arrhythmic punt.
Danielle Pafunda’s seven books include: Natural History Rape Museum (Bloof Books), Manhater (Dusie Press Books), Iatrogenic (Noemi Press), and the forthcoming The Dead Girls Speak in Unison (Coconut Books 2014). She has a chapbook When You Left Me in the Rutted Terrain of Our Love, at the Border, Which I Could Not Cross, Remaining a Citizen of This Corrupt Land (Birds of Lace 2014). She teaches at the University of Wyoming.