Cara thought it strange that I wrote poems when most people never even wrote their own names, but I needed something to keep my head from exploding. Cracked, blistered poems did the trick.
What do you write about? she said. She never asked to read them and I never left them lying around. A reader was the last thing I wanted.
They’re about you, I said. She laughed, but I could tell it was just as she’d feared. I was weaving her soul into my black magic carpet.
Oh, they’re about nothing at all. Just weather.
The dead snuck up on me, mostly at night. We had long conversations. Sometimes they interrogated me. The dead could be pretty nosy. I banished them by writing them down and burning them.
Sometimes, though, I wrote about the honeybees and the river, and I wrote about the railroad tracks. The fact that they were still there astonished me. How many of us were living alongside these silent gleaming rails clinging to the skin of the world?
I wrote a long poem about the murdered woman we found beside the river. Her mutilated body. Then I burned it. Who wanted to read a poem about a drowned woman with beautiful blonde hair? Not me. I didn’t even want to write it, but I needed to get her out of my head somehow.
Sometimes I kept what I wrote, but mostly I destroyed it. They were just words on paper. Nobody needed them and they didn’t belong to anybody, least of all me. Burning them felt like the final act of creation.
Dan barely knew how to scratch his name onto a wall with a stone, but Cara occasionally read a book. It was one of her more eccentric traits. Mostly she made things with her hands, and whatever she made was useful, if not beautiful. She made a toilet seat. She tore down derelict sheds on other properties and built new ones out of the scraps. She made a table out of a door. She concocted the stove in the chicken shed and the place never caught fire. But, yes, occasionally she sat down and read a book. She had her mushroom guides, but she also read murder mysteries. God knows why. More than once we saw a body floating by on the river—and that was both murder and mystery enough for me.
One night she ambushed me in the kitchen and said, OK, let me read it. Normally I wrote in secret so as not to startle or offend, but she’d crept up on me. Waylaid me. So rude. Without even thinking about it, I handed her the notebook. Why be coy? I knew I was in trouble. She took it and read the words on it without sitting down.
I thought, Who reads a poem standing up? Somebody who plans to use it against you as evidence. Next the moon would fall out of the sky.
Cara started to read out loud about the girl living in the woods behind our house. I couldn’t bear it and told her to read it in her head. I wasn’t so much embarrassed as I was disgusted with myself. When she was done she closed the book and set it on the table. Then she laughed and said, At least I know where my old hairbrush went.
She didn’t ask to read another. One was enough, apparently. She went out the back door and I picked up my pen and notebook, the dead kept themselves at bay for a while, and I hoped the girl who lived in the woods might start brushing her hair a little.
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