The House Fell
It was like an earthquake. That shaking begins, crashing noise you don’t hear
coming from anywhere, shaking rattles, continues,
until you cannot think anymore. It is that kind of shaking
I hear and feel when I see a motorcyclist on a rainy day.
I remember the artist, Michael Fajans, and it is that kind of shaking
I think about when you leave in the morning, and I know
I have not a rational reason to worry but I do worry, will you come home?
It does not make sense, but it is what I think about.
I think about the person who at Michael’s funeral described
how there was blood coming out of his mouth,
I wondered if the red was a red he would have liked, like the red on his paintings
the painting at the airport,
I wish I could be his magician and pull him out of a hat, make him whole again
like Michael painted the magician and his rabbit.
I did not even know Michael. But Bill, you and your paint,
he was a painter and your friend.
I put tomatoes into the fish stew pot, they gurgle, bubble and mix around
cilantro, olive oil, wine. They are my creation, my work of art
my wanting to feed you, my wanting to feed myself, mother myself.
My mother did not allow me to suckle -
mothers in the 1950’s found suckling old fashioned
like making cake from scratch. Cake came
from a Betty Crocker box, the kind one egg
was added, and then it became scratch. She
scratched my scratched hand, and the scab
came off but it was not a scab on my hand as much
as in my ears. Ringing, ringing, my Mother’s screaming.
I dive into, under, the water hold my breath until
I am forced to re-enter and hear hysteria.
I dive below again hoping it stops, and it never does.
She puts black patent leather shoes on my feet,
white socks with lace and ruffles, turns me around.
I am stiff, like a corpse, quaking.
I do not move until the clash, bang, the symbol
that it is OK to move, before I curtsey.
My cheeks, red from cortisone, steroid puffy,
stiff, and stumbling, petticoats rustling, layers of tulle lined
satin lined, elastic lined under my chin, holding
my hat on through Communion and Blessings.
I am holding on.
There is no other sibling. The doctors look at me
as if that is my fault, it might as well be.
No other to look after her, whose dreams
changed and faded a red sky morning
only to look and tell what the night before might have held.
Maybe it is I who needs the happy pills, the elixirs
to cure the quaking inside my stomach each time
I get the phone call to stop, remain. Still I come running
give her oxygen, count blessings that it is not you,
dreading the time when it may be you.
I look away every time that needle is inserted into delicate
freckled, thin skin, watching the blood spurt out,
up and hating every time someone says
your mother, she’s so nice, she’s so loving.
If they only knew that loving was controlling.
I wait, remain controlled, hearing the latest diagnosis.
I stand waiting for the dancing to stop.
The great aunts are lined against a wall, linear.
Their hair all the same height, their hands folded
across their laps, their laps lined flatly,
tucked in firmly by girdles and corsets.
My mother takes my hand, hurries, jerking, twirling
me around, and I land on a great aunt’s
black laced shoe. Petticoats exposed, panties exposed
showing quality of make, brand.
I have been exposed, branded perfect, each hair in place,
loving put in place, better than the cousins’ hair in place.
My mother put my hair in place. It is that picture,
the one you cannot stand, the one in which we all stand.
My mother and her sisters, my father, my uncles,
my grandmother, my grandfather, my cousins
all six of them, and me, and you say you
have never seen a group of less happy people,
and the youngest cousin, he’s squirming.
I can tell even now though it was over 45 years ago,
squirming afraid of a belted earthquake crack.
I am looking through the crack, the one not in the picture,
the one between the closed blinds, looking out to white sand,
ocean, feeling the coming tidal wave crashing.
The latest gift of love crashed onto the floor
shattered into thousands of pieces, shattered not
to be glued back. I have no children to shatter, glue,
only you, Mom, keeping you pieced together, piece by piece
while in my mind I hear silent white space, the notes,
whole notes, resting, at peace. The fault widens,
closes, changes by the day, was it mine, yours?
Fish stew bubbles boils on the stove, blood like red
stew. I stir it. The clock ticks, its hands against
a smiling elephant, silent, hanging on the plastered wall.
Mom looks at me. I don’t know, just don’t,
just can never understand how you learned to cook.
Your grandmother did not cook,
your great-grandmother did not cook,
there were cooks.
Dad cooked, I say. Not well,
she says. He only thought he could cook.
Oh, I say. Maybe then it was out of survival.
What I don’t say is how my friend who was gay
taught me to cook, cook when we were early in college,
stirring sauces, glazes, glacé fruit, chocolate mousse.
It was a must, my only way, way to make any sense of anything,
a place to hide, be an artist. Yes, the dirty word artist,
we do survive Mom, we do survive, not holding still.
It was the earthquake that blew my husband
out of his fortress, his studio. I watched him as he flew,
not like Chagall’s angels, violins over villages, but flying into paint,
plump picture-perfect paint, painting me, painting blue.
I don’t think he will ever paint you.