by Elizabeth Kirschner
I am shopping, as shopping is my forte, more so than writing, or so I think. I work the shop I’m in the way a criminal works a crime scene, the way my cousin, Gil, a three times felon, knows how to rob a bank, is behind bars, incarcerated, as I have been incarcerated, will be incarcerated again, behind the red line, the suicide proof windows in the psych ward, my home away from home, my little getaway.
I rifle through the clothing rack, run my fingers through different fabrics—silks, velvets, cashmere—listen to the tags rustle, fondle tender buttons. A red wool dress flies off the rack and I hustle it into the dressing room, my throne room, strip off my black beaded skirt, wrap sweater. The red dress slips onto to me like a prayer and I am reborn within its folds.
I glance in the mirror, am stung by my winced look, then step out of my throne room and go over to the jewelry case. I scan it with the eyes of a murderer over a gun case, tap the glass, say, “This, I want this.” The woman who assists me enslaves me—my wrists are handcuffed with bracelets and my neck is noosed by bright red Moroccan beads. I whip out my credit card and slap it on the counter, like one who only plays for keeps.
In the corner of my eyes, I glimpse a pair of green velvet boots embroidered with a cosmos of flowers. When I inquire, I’m told they are from Afghanistan, are hand done…
…and I am undone, put them on and yes, these boots are made for walking, so out the door I go to frolic in my new frock, walk in my boots made for walking. I clutch my shopping bag which holds the clothes I bought just yesterday, clothes that will be stuffed into my overstuffed closet and soon be forgotten, like things whispered at Mass.
Outside, the conundrum of autumn is happening. Cars more than cruise by, they nearly screech and I want to screech, too, in an octave above a scream, like the trained singer I am. I practice screeching in an octave above a scream whenever the madness hits, the horrific madness with jackhammers boring into my skull, or with my husband, Dr. Robert Wolff, eating the raw egg yolks scrambled inside my brain.
Autumn is happening—the life blood is leaving the leaves, cell by cell, and in perfect parallel, the life blood is leaving my marriage, also cell by cell and mine are fried, scrambled like my raw egg yolk brains. Autumn is happening—a steely chill descends from a steely sky—and I manage somehow to step in dog shit, a heap of dog shit that clings to the cosmos of flowers on my green velvet boots.
I panic, wonder how to get them clean, pull a tissue from my purse. I want to make a tissue flower for the Homecoming float where I once was Queen-for-a-Day, but I am not Queen-for-the-Day, any day, but in deep shit and confined to the inferior dungeon in my mind.
Somewhere my husband, Dr. Robert Wolff and his elderly father are cruising the streets,
as if in a stealth bomber, their shark eyes fixed on zeroing in on me. I am frantically trying to clean my boots, but now the shit is beneath my nails, smeared on my red wool dress, caught in my hair. Suddenly I remember—and remembering is done through the blood—my mother plastering me with shit because I pooped in my pants.
She has me pinned down in the windowless bathroom with my pants yanked down around my ankles. She is wearing yellow dish gloves, smears the shit on my face, my bare, bare flesh. Not a single word is uttered. This is her work in the world, to plaster me with shit, to sculpt me with it, be her masterpiece.
Now the stench of shit is all over me, even my breath is shitty and a car slows down behind me. I know it is the stealth bomber, the headlights are flashed which puts me in the gun sights of a trained assassin. I freeze in these headlights, but not like a deer, but a skunk who has just skunked itself.
The window on the passenger side slinks down and out comes Robert’s voice, ever commanding and damning. “Get in,” he says and so I do. I hunch down in my seat, buckle up for safety. My new dress immediately turns into a devil suit and straightjacket. My brains slop around in my head like the water in dear Henry’s bucket and there is a hole in that bucket, dear Henry, a hole in mine.
Autumn is happening, the chill descends from a steely sky and Robert is blasting the air conditioning because I stink to the high heavens. Robert knows all about shit, especially my shit as well as his elderly father’s shit because he constantly loses his bowels, has projectile diarrhea. Robert is both an expert in cleaning up his father’s shit and making sure I’m mired in mine.
We drive in the stealth bomber in stone age silence. From time to time, Robert’s shark eyes appear in the rear view mirror, then disappear. I am in the back seat, the way, way back seat. We pass by a prison and suddenly I believe my cousin, Gil, the three times felon, is locked up in the hole in that prison and I want to go to him, be locked up in that hole, too.
My finger, my trigger-happy finger, starts to lift the door latch. We are in heavy traffic and I want to play in traffic, so up goes the door latch a wee bit higher. I am sure the door is about to fly open and take me with it, when the automatic lock clicks closed. Poems close with a click, but this one is deadly, traps me in. Once again, the shark eyes appear in the rear view mirror, like those of a hammerhead and I feel that hammerhead ram me, again, again.
We pull into our dead end street. I dimly remember that this is the street I have lived on for nearly twenty years and stare at the house that I have also lived in for nearly twenty years, am sure it is one of the little boxes in Vasko Popa’s little box poems. In that little box where I have been boxed in for nearly twenty years, I want to toss an eyeball on a leash, an immigrant’s suitcase that has wings, the one I pack when going to the lock-up where I’m holed up in the hole, just like Gil.
I enter the little box like the lowly tenant that I am. Inside the little box are other little boxes. I strip off my skunk skin on one little box, scrub myself down to the bone in another, know that dem bones are gonna rise again because the foot bone is connected to the leg bone and the leg bone is connected to the hip bone which is my want bone, my cradle of scars.
In the little boxes that box me in, I pay homage to the wolf, Dr. Robert Wolff, by pinning my sterling wolf pin to my left breast. There is a sky inside that breast, a steely sky in which the chill descends and pinned to that sky is a wounded bird who sings like an angel on a funeral pyre.
Although I no longer pay homage to the wolf, that wounded bird still sings like an angel on a funeral pyre, but not in an octave above a scream. Rather her voice spreads like wildfire in a sky where autumn is happening, exquisitely so, while the choirs do cry for that lone wolf trapped inside his little box where, in quiet desperation, he gnaws his paw right down to the want bone, its cradle of scars.