Heaven is a wilderness, so I remember it. A mad, damp, unconquerable. Innocent rage spiraling in the pattern of the universe. All of it Woman. Little flowers, mighty vines, trees to the height of atoms. What God creates, creates. And so God adds death in her soil. To make precious what grows. This is where I found Mary. A bud too young to preside over her own memories. Too young to warden what eyes, skin, and ears smuggle through the stigma of being. Burdened to stir from darkness a cosmos. She neither called to me, nor her I. But loosed her petals to curl me into her turning. Turning, turning, and turning. Until wildness learned to scream.
First language is sound. Miracle. Thumping and whirring. Which is like the humming of stars. Which is like the throb of notion. Which is like beginning. She wasn’t speaking to me. Not to eyes or nose or bone. But to the heat in her ribs working to warm me into something. Go on. Mary says. Go on. Of the woman’s sound, all that I will ever be is reverb. Never voice. Only echo.
Similar was being born. For all I know. To peeking through a telescope. And seeing Jupiter.
Difference possessed me when Dee Dee said, You a boy! She spit it at me. With such force, I dumbed into her pink and my blue. My hightops and her jellies. Her warnings and my liberty. I could see vigilance braided into her hair. Caution laced over her shoulders. She smiled. Shook her head in the way only older sisters can. And let me play with her dolls.
Granny spanked us with bare hands raised high enough to black the sun. Pain and lesson in rhythm. Didn’t...I…Tell…You? Not anger words. Memory words. Summoned from the earth to burn a backside. Didn’t I tell you? Hadn’t she? There was so much to tell: This is how you learn. This is how you love. This is how you protect. How to whip a callous for joy. Didn’t I tell you of all the things in between? Rape and rocking chairs. Blood and water lilies. Of all the places God won’t go. And all the places God never leaves. Told. In rhythm. Until sand filled her mouth. Until only hands remained. Same hands that pulled babies from her children. And before that pulled cotton from stems. And before that pulled lions by their mane. Old, royal hands. Capable of a stinging to outlive words. Cause there was not enough breathing in the time she had left to tell it all. Not to tell it all.
Joni said boys can’t be pretty. Said boys can’t stare long into mirrors and imagine themselves at 30. Can’t wear ruffles or paint their nails or carry Whitney Houston notes in front of people. Can’t cross their legs. Can’t dance with their hips. Can’t play house-- ‘less it’s to sit there and shut up. Can’t drink from a straw, eat fried chicken with a fork, or decline an offer of tobacco. I asked her what then could boys do? She spat her gum on the floor: everything else.
Bad, Emily said, lives longer than good.
Mrs. Steele said of me, You’re such a bright child. I suspect she knew. Speaking into me Woman Magic. God Talk. Not boy. Not girl. Not smart or fast or funny. Not good or rotten. Not even human. Bright. Less word than edict. A conjure. Bright. Something above and below my skin. Indestructible. Elemental. Enemy of limit. She had to know what she spoke into me. Bright beyond living. One cannot clock brightness nor break it’s shine into wages. It is the illumination of meaning. Bright knew history. Bright reached into the future. Bright meant I would recognize myself. In everything. She had to know I’d orbit her word forever. And that it would orbit me. She had to know. Even if she didn’t.
I cried into my mother’s shirt. Over something I don’t know. But knew. Was disappearing.
Summer’s duty is to disclose. This is it’s pact with the devil. Says to the ignorant give your favor. So we play hide and seek. Discover truths by the count of ten. Summer earth is warm on our bare feet. Busy with watermelon rinds and plum seeds drying into tiny brains. Hide with me, Tabitha asks, in the grass. Heat lived in that grass. Itchweed and dandelion; twitching with bite bugs. So much green. And in it her little white dress enveloped. Taste of fruit on her lips, she kissed me. Church doors creaked shut somewhere. Ashamed of what we found. That psychic could be handled. That summer’s blue blaze was just a softness set free. Finally. She kissed me again. And again until I knew things I shouldn’t. Old things. Tired things. Adam’s longing. Faraway, her father called. They found us. Little white dress skipping off into a sky sagging close enough to touch. Close enough to see it made entirely of feathers.