November 3 1986
8:30 PM Time Zone is CST
Spirit Lake, Iowa
Sei Shōnagon wrote as if from a world in a different layer, sort of shimmering beneath the surface of this one. I don't want to be nostalgic for its paper and fabric, for those litanies written with one eye closed, the other open, clear, traced on red paper. Shōnagon was always traveling to different palaces to accompany the Empress Sadako, to whom she was a lady in waiting. She describes the colors they wore in fall: deep reds, golds, chrysanthemums, etc. When I read my horoscope, I don't know what it means for planets to be in "houses". I think of Shōnagon in a train of ladies, as the Empress moves from one palace to another, watching.
K. spoke to me once about how at one point, when the world operated on eclipses and
droughts, when to speak of "seasons" was to speak of a kind of magic, a kind of law. K's
face is beautiful, as are his hands, which, when submerged in flour take on the quality of hands in
prayer, or perhaps a kind of solid work that no one does anymore. He bears his beauty as a kind of incident, as if it rests on a kind of fulcrum.
I walked home from Catherine's as the clouds exposed the eclipse to me. People were leaning out of their cars with their phones. I wondered about K's agrarian people: Did they drop their plows and break into a run? Did they spend all night whispering to themselves? Were babies born and left on hillsides? The world seemed less harsh, but for that red that seemed to bind the world to itself.
It isn't so much the taste of the strawberry but the color, how it grows more red as it deflates in the plastic container. I have a vague memory of going to a strawberry patch when I was a child, how the fruit was small and fell apart on my tongue. I am certain there is no significance to this moment other than joy. No significance to the strawberry but this simple, fretful joy.
I'd like to say I don't remember the red I saw in my mind that night in your blue room. I would like to say it was a red of revelation and not a red of pain. I would like to take a look into that red again, but you have passed out of my life, having caused a contagion of sorts. I suppose you know you've become an idea, that there had to be a kind of dissipation, fraying. I'll spend most of my life trying to understand the red, but I don't blame you anymore.
There was a kind of beauty to the place. A kind of flowering beneath the decaying. We heard stories of the tarantulas, but they were fairly small compared to the tarantulas in our minds. I was afraid that if my soul was bare enough, raw enough, something might be revealed to me. I did not want any gifts. I simply wanted certainty. I was angry and I drank hot water. Now, I do not blame those who travel to places with children who have belonged to flies. I do not blame those who want to believe in something. I was given no gift, not even a letter.
Claire is out in the calendulas. Her hair is braided and she is being visited by two turkeys. Her father knew all the state capitols. She lives in a red place now. Our separation is a kind of benevolence in my life. We've given one another a wide berth, and are content to remember. She has the word "Remember" tattooed on her wrist. We once made borscht in her kitchen and stained everything red.
Somehow, in Robert Lowell's "Skunk Hour", the line Nobody's here holds a damp kind of weight, like wool that has been eaten by the tiny mouths of moths, a sweater exhumed from some closet in a house that is old, like mine. I so often have to travel into the basement to do laundry, where there are cobwebs and a clicking radiator and I am always certain there are centipedes and spiders that have travelled with me to the surface when I emerge.
You'll have to forgive me for my lack of sensitivity to other colors, but I know better than to lay the blame on you, or winter, or red scarves or wine or books or
The only time I ever feared a break with poetry was the only time I saw the Pacific Ocean. I could not look at it all at once. I saw the beginning and end of every poem I ever wrote or would write, the thing from which we emerged and where we will retreat.
I have had only one dream in which I experience my own death. I am back in my hometown, I am middle-aged. I am in the passenger seat of a car, and a huge blue SUV strikes the side of the car. My body apparently breaks through the windshield, and the last thing I see is my body, bleeding on the side of the road, suffused in blood. I have had this dream several times. Unlike many of my generation, I have always had the desire to grow old. I have not returned to my hometown in nearly three years. I move from house to house, changing colors and fabrics with the seasons, writing notes I fold around the branches of delicate trees.
Denise Jarrott grew up in Iowa. Her work has recently appeared in small po[r]tions, DREGINALD, Mid-American Review, and elsewhere. She is the author of the chapbook Nine Elegies, forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press.