An unwrapped icon, too potent to touch, she freed my breasts from the camp Empire dress. Now one of them's the shadow of a breast with a lost object's half-life, with as much life as an anecdotal photograph: me, Kim and Iva, all stripped to the waist, hiking near Russian River on June first '79: Iva's five-and-a-half. While she was almost twenty, wearing black T-shirts in D.C., where we hadn't met. You lay your palm, my love, on my flat chest. In lines alive with what is not regret, she takes her own path past, doesn't turn back. Persistently, on paper, we exist.
Persistently, on paper, we exist. You'd touch me if you could, but you're, in fact, three thousand miles away. And my intact body is eighteen months paper: the past a fragile eighteen months regime of trust in slash-and-burn, in vitamin pills, backed by no statistics. Each day I enact survivor's rituals, blessing the crust I tear from the warm loaf, blessing the hours in which I didn't or in which I did consider my own death. I am not yet statistically a survivor (that is sixty months). On paper, someone flowers and flares alive. I knew her. But she's dead.
She flares alive. I knew her. But she's dead. I flirted with her, might have been her friend, but transatlantic schedules intervened. She wrote a book about her Freedom Ride, the wary elders whom she taught to read, — herself half-British, twenty-six, white-blonde, with thirty years to live. And I happened to open up The Nation to that bad news which I otherwise might not have known (not breast cancer: cancer of the brain). Words take the absent friend away again. Alone, I think, she called, alone, upon her courage, tried in ways she'd not have wished by pain and fear: her courage, extinguished.
The pain and fear some courage extinguished at disaster's denouement come back daily, banal: is that brownish-black mole the next chapter? Was the ache enmeshed between my chest and armpit when I washed rogue cells' new claw, or just a muscle ache? I'm not yet desperate enough to take comfort in being predeceased: the anguish when the Harlem doctor, the Jewish dancer, die of AIDS, the Boston seminary's dean succumbs "after brief illness" to cancer. I like mossed slabs in country cemeteries with wide-paced dates, candles in jars, whose tallow glows on summer evenings, desk-lamp yellow.
Aglow in summer evening, a desk-lamp's yellow moonlight peruses notebooks, houseplants, texts, while an aging woman thinks of sex in the present tense. Desire may follow, urgent or elegant, cut raw or mellow with wine and ripe black figs: a proof, the next course, a simple question, the complex response, a burning sweetness she will swallow. The opening mind is sexual and ready to embrace, incarnate in its prime. Rippling concentrically from summer's gold disc, desire's iris expands, steady with blood beat. Each time implies the next time. The aging woman hopes she will grow old.
The aging woman hopes she will grow old. A younger woman has a dazzling vision of bleeding wrists, her own, the clean incisions suddenly there, two open mouths. They told their speechless secrets, witnesses not called to what occurred with as little volition of hers as these phantom wounds. Intense precision of scars, in flesh, in spirit. I'm enrolled by mine in ranks where now I'm "being brave" if I take off my shirt in a hot crowd sunbathing, or demonstrating for Dyke Pride. Her bravery counters the kitchen knives' insinuation that the scars be made. With, or despite our scars, we stay alive.
"With, or despite our scars, we stayed alive until the Contras or the Government or rebel troops came, until we were sent to 'relocation camps' until the archives burned, until we dug the ditch, the grave beside the aspen grove where adolescent boys used to cut class, until we went to the precinct house, eager to behave like citizens..." I count my hours and days, finger for luck the word-scarred table which is not my witness, shares all innocent objects' silence: a tin plate, a basement door, a spade, barbed wire, a ring of keys, an unwrapped icon, too potent to touch.