I: Our Prophecies
I woke up feeling strange one morning and it took a while at first to make sense of it. I was lying on my side with strands of hair turning things an amber color.
I always look into the terrarium against the wall to find Brutus in there and
just to wake up. Well, this morning he must have been mad about something, or
it was too cold, because his skin was a kettle-black color and he stood out stark
against the various vines and leaves. He was looking at me with one of those goggling eyes and it reminded me of this big old lizard I found
when I was a junior in high school, four years after my father
died and my mother first told me about Foreshadowing.
It runs in all the women of our family.
My momma and my grandmother call it Foreshadowing
but—more accurately—you might call it prophecy,
certainly something more than omen.
My mother, for her part, saw my father die in her sleep the night before he was dead.
She was swimming (as though she were a fish) under an expanse of ice.
She told me the water was murky and the color of cool cough drops.
Other fish swam around her, slow and heavy as though half-frozen themselves.
So there she was in this half-asleep hibernal world of cough drop green water
when she felt a shadow above her and all that ice collapsed, shattered
into shards that splashed and crashed through the water.
Then, there was my father
scrambling, kicking and scared in the water All Alone,
sheets of ice falling apart in his hands.
She woke up to him sinking down into deeper indigo waters.
My father had been fishing up in Canada with his brother for the past week
and we had heard little from him. Sure enough, my uncle called
the next day, after dinner, to tell her my dad had just
drowned. He told her how he had tried to save him: “I tried to save him, Petra,” he lied,
“but he couldn’t hold a grip.” You see, he didn’t know my mother could Foreshadow,
he didn’t know that she had already been aware of the fact
that my father had died alone and scared. When my mother
told me all of this a while later I spat on the floor
and she didn’t hit me on the back of the head because she knew.
We didn’t talk to my uncle after that.
Before last night, I had only Foreshadowed one small occasion.
This was when I was still in high school, living with my mother. Down in Georgia,
they have these little lizards (6 inches are the biggest ones) all over the place—green anoles. They, like the more popular Old World Veiled Chameleon (Brutus), can change colors.
Well, I had this dream that I saw one sleeping on the unfurled frond of the bird’s nest fern
that hung on our back porch. So what? Well, there are two colors that hem in the spectrum
of skin shades they can assume: leaf-green and a cryptic live oak brown.
But this anole, This Big Sir, was the kind of light, dusty blue
that reminds you of those little Christmas berries where the blue rubs off in your hands—
a delicate blue that broke the vegetal spectrum of all the other anoles I have ever seen.
All of that was still a dream. On a real night some weeks later,
an auspicious moon-full night, I couldn’t fall asleep
on account of the rain pricking noisily at several aluminum sheets outside my window.
I went out to the porch with a mug of milk, without so much as a wink of expectation.
You know those mid-day showers when the sun’s still bright
and its still warm and yellow out? That’s how this was but all that soft-falling rain was moonlit and you could see clear across the lawn sparkling
in an almost gray scale the way the snow Up Here will under a clear sun.
Sitting down on the lazy chair, I at first just watched it all
dropping down on the lawn and listened to it settle in the leaves of grass. I listened
to the ping-ping-ping of it striking those corrugated metal sheets.
Then, I had this strange sense of yet-unspecified nostalgia,
but really that first cerulean blue premonition—My First Foreshadow.
I got up then, feeling like things were starting to stick together,
and looked around for something I hadn’t quite remembered yet. First, it was that blue, then the fern started to stick, transpose itself onto the still-hazy remembering.
That’s when I found him lying there,
soaking up all that humidity precipitating out of the soil, up off the grass.
He was like some long velveteen crocodile made to climb strange trees.
He was a giant and both of my thumbs together would just be the size of his skull.
His eyelids were soft and wrinkled, almost human. He wasn’t from this northern continent.
When I picked him off that hanging fern, he trembled, sloughing off sleep,
before going loose in my hand and it was all I could do to keep him
wrapped up in my fingers. He was wild. That was the one thing that didn’t fit—
my one inaccuracy.
I had dreamt him docile, almost meditative.
He was twisting his neck around, his dewlap unfurling from his neck like a sail,
all flush-veined and violent red. That’s when he bit me on my thumb,
his eye staring at me prehistoric.
Now I’d been bitten by anoles before, and it’s usually kind of funny
because they’re so serious and so ferocious and all they leave is a little saliva and a pink jawline mark that disappears after a few minutes. But This Big Sir,
when he glommed onto my thumb it fucking hurt and he wouldn’t let go.
I jumped back, swinging my hand around like a flail,
this huge lizard hanging from my thumb like some mismade appendage.
So, I was twirling around, knocking over my mug of milk, with this monster
clamped soundly onto my hand until he finally flew off into the lawn
with a mouthful of the metallic taste of my blood. The rain crackling
on the metal sheets pushed itself into my hand. My mother came out,
having heard the ruckus and the spilt mug and asked,
“What the hell is going on out here, Fiona? God Damn.”
I told her what had happened, My Foreshadow,
and she stepped close and hugged me for half a minute.
Then, she walked out barefoot onto the lawn, wearing this gossamer nightgown.
She walked over to those sheets of metal and lifted them up to lean against the side of the house.
It was just this: the light sound of the lightest rain gently drifting around the house
and my mother walking, holding the sides of her nightgown up from the grass,
across the lawn, her shoulders and the tops of her breasts showing opaque
through the rain-wet fabric and her toes stuck with bits of grass.
The purling at the bottom of the gown had turned a dark purple from the dripping grass
and stands out in memory. She left a trail of watery footprints
and broken blades of grass on the painted gray floorboards.
The bite was there in the morning. It didn’t fade the following afternoon.
Within a week, the mark had turned dark and wet. My mother insisted and I followed
her course, sat beside her in silence as we drove to the doctor’s office, my old pediatrician.
A nurse opened a pinched-skin-pink door and called my name.
Hearing her little voice chime “Fiona Laveau” reminded me, reminds me,
of those little bells you ring at a counter. Inside the office, the doctor checked my hand out and asked if I wanted a breast exam: “No, thank you, please.” (goddamnasshole.)
Well, we’re going to have to take blood tests. So, I was sitting in some hallway,
watching a tiny Filipino woman with heavy eye shadow like a queen of Egypt.
She was sorting little cups of urine,
pressing labels onto the plastic and stabbing the yellow lids with a needle.
I couldn’t stop wondering if they were warm and where were they going.
Then Owen walked up to me with another needle and an alcohol swab.
“Fiona?” He was handsome so I smiled at him in his chalky green outfit.
“Yes, hi.” I looked down at my hand, thinking of the needle, and back at him.
“Are you going to put that in me?”
“I’m afraid so,” he said. “my name is Owen.” He put his hand out to shake mine, then had to switch because of the sick hand on my end. We both thought that was funny.
“And I just need a little sample to make sure you don’t have anything in your blood.
How’d you do that to yourself anyways?”
“I was bitten by an anole.”
“An anole?” And there was an awkward moment somehow. So I told him
what an anole was and we laughed about it. He started rubbing my arm
with that swab while I explained to him about That Old Big Sir I was just talking about. Just
when I was getting to the violent part, he Jabbed that needle in and he winced.
So that’s how I met Owen.
We ended up talking, my mother serene in the waiting room, and trading numbers.
I got a call from him a week later: “Hey, it’s Owen. Remember,
the needle, the bite from that lizard?”
“Oh,” I said, remembering, “How are you? Is this about my finger?”
“I mean,” he was mumbling a bit and I remember being endeared to that,
“I think your finger will be fine, Neosporin, band-aids, that sort of stuff. But—”
“So I don’t need to come in then?” I don’t know why I was playing around
like I was and I got to wishing there wasn’t any confusion about why he was calling.
“Oh no,” he paused for a second, “but what I was calling about.
Mainly, what I was calling about was to see if maybe you would
maybe want to get some dinner, Fiona?” It took me a moment to reply.
“That would be lovely. Hold on.” I pressed the phone to my chest. “Momma?”
“Yea.” From another corner of the house she yelled back.
“Can I take the car at some point this week.”
“So where are you going to take me?” I was smiling at my hands.
and trying to even my fingernails out with my thumb. The paint was flaking off from them and left my thumbnail dirty underneath with crumbs of wine-red fingernail polish.
I dated Owen for two years after that
and by the time he was ready to try to find a real hospital to work at we were In Love
so I moved to New York with him.
For a while, it was really something—the two of us.
We moved into a little studio apartment in the West Fifties
and it was Our Space. This was something particular for me, making a nest
with someone new, somewhere new. Whereas, because my childhood home was saturated
with all the memories of our family, I wasn’t (I never did feel) essential to it.
And then, it was the two of us and I was in the real world,
living in a giant city and surrounded by all of these different things speeding by.
And all of this spurred by that first Foreshadow.
Owen worked at the hospital and I found a little flower shop that was just right for me.
We walked through Central Park together on Saturdays.
On Sundays we would lie in bed together, moving our hands over one another.
We’d get up by two or three and go out and do the greatest things.
One time, we got all dressed up Fancy Pants and went Downtown.
We took our Southern drawls and lifted them up a bit.
I let my voice ring higher, aristocratic, and we carried ourselves with all the decadence
of young Southern couple groomed in the memory of a fading tradition.
So it was easy, dressed up as we were, all composed, to waltz in
to the various galleries and be taken seriously.
I shaved Owen, slowly and deliberately (I’d always wanted to shave a man’s face),
and lightly slapped him with aftershave the way his father had when he was 7,
in front of the bathroom mirror. I parted his hair with a comb,
but it fell across his forehead in rich brown streaks by the time we were down there.
We were whispering to each other at the door, trying to keep straight faces.
I squeezed his hand to replace a laugh and a man in a pressed suit and torn shirt came up and asked us if he could answer any questions.
“Darling, we simply must have this.” It was so hard not to laugh,
or at least smile, and it makes me smile now.
I hadn’t looked at the gentleman who had approached us yet.
“Yes,” Owen said in a voice formal, full of propriety, “I believe we are interested
in that little Warhol print,” he said, straight-faced, pointing across the room.
“Of course, of course.” The man responded, wringing his hands indiscreetly.
“It is a lovely work isn’t it?”
“Quite,” I said, affecting some measure of indifference now.
We took a business card—of course next Wednesday would work for us—and walked out. Once past the gallery windows, we burst out laughing and running
and fled through the throngs of painted, pasted up hair and ogling tourists.
He was grabbing my arm and his eyes were almost too blue and somewhere in my ribcage I felt something hot and quick.
Someone might have cried from it.
I hadn’t thought about that in a while, before today.
A year ago, Owen told me he had been sleeping with one of the nurses
from the hospital and I said how cliché and moved out without a critical moment’s thought.
That’s when I got Brutus and finally really settled down in this city.
But to be honest, it’s really been the two of us since then
and I think maybe I am not very good at meeting people.
You always know the difference between a Foreshadow and a dream
when you wake up. You feel something leaving in the slightest salty aftertaste—
some strange, potentially astral vapor lifting off your skin.
And, you can feel your bones and believe in ghosts.
You would think that you might have goosebumps but it’s nothing so sinister as that. So,
I noticed that it was a Foreshadow that was the source of this strange waking up experience. I
started to remember the details: I was at a friend’s party in midtown,
a friend of Owen’s, at some yearly event she hosts.
Some of the furniture was different,
I didn’t exactly remember how but knew it would all fit when I got there.
The funny thing about Foreshadows is that there is no necessity for fear;
it’s obsolete when there is such a certainty about things.
This makes sense if you think about it: if it’s a Foreshadow, it is something that will occur, and if you remember it before, you’re going into it with that certainty
so you don’t need to worry,
so any way you felt in the dream stage necessarily has to be just how you feel
when it actually comes to you. And it all felt right somehow. OK.
So I was quite calm, affable in my interactions with various acquaintances. After a certain point, and we were down in the basement,
people playing cards, I saw boots coming down the stairs.
I knew them to be Owen’s and I walked through the people, excusing myself
out of a conversation. Somehow, everything was on its way back to how it had been
and we were going to be good together. And he smiled at me when he saw me
sneaking around another group of people to get to him.
It was all going to go back to how it had been, somehow we were going to be Right again, and
this was all going to happen tonight.
I thought to call him, and decided against it, that wasn’t how it was and was going to be.
I called my momma instead and started telling her what was going on,
and I was worried that I might be fooling myself,
putting that salty taste on my tongue through sheer force of imagination.
“Who are you?” my mother said, sighing into the phone,
as I explained the Foreshadow, slightly fearful.
“I’m your Daughter.” I said, thinking that that was the right answer.
“Before everything,” I heard her, “we have that special part in Us.
Your Great grandmother had it, your Grandmother had it, I have it, and You have it.”
She was saying, “Just because you’ve gone off and left doesn’t mean its not still There.”
“I know.” And she was right about this. “I know, momma.”
It’s kind of tiring but I needed to have this conversation.
“I know, momma,” and I pause,
saying something, “Momma, I know it, it’s always at the center. Don’t worry.
It makes me …” I heard a smile on the other side of the phone.
Something that might ease away distances.
“Just because I’m gone, doesn’t mean I don’t know
what it means to be from you and your mother et cetera.
I just wanted to make sure of things. I’m going to that party tonight.
We’re going to see each other tonight, Owen and I.”
It has been cold outside and I am bleary-eyed from the wind.
The dark lacquer walls, the warm light, make it comfortable. The waiter asks
and I have a glass of house wine, not needing another glass. Wait, what else?
“Well,” he begins describing, “we have several new …” but the phone is ringing.
“That’s fine, thanks.” And I open the phone. “Yes?”
“It’s me” (your mother).
“Hey.” I sit down sighing into the chair.
“So what happened?” There is an earlier sigh in her voice. I don’t know.
“I went. I don’t know; it was someone else. Someone else in the boots.
He left. It wasn’t all there. I left, came here,” I explain, look around again,
“I’m in a bar.”
“What do you mean? Are you sure you didn’t see it wrong when you woke up?”
“Momma. Hey,” I’m saying again, “it was a Foreshadow, it was just wrong.”
My throat hurts. “What was there, momma? What is all this stuff I remember.”
“Honey,” she is saying, “honey, you have to go back and think, you have to—”
There is an echo in the phone and I am hearing two voices.
There is my mother talking and this crackling whisper of my mother under her. It is
hard to hear her and this other, unintelligible echo raises and waxes above her.
But I’m talking to her.
I can’t make out what I’m saying, and it could be anything in the world for all I know.
It becomes this roar and underneath some watery sweet sound I don’t understand.
And I am still talking to her.
I drop the phone, or it falls from my hand, I can’t be sure,
and can’t be sure if I was doing it to stop the noises in my head.
It just begins to frighten me that “I” was talking,
that I am remote from that “I,” and afraid for myself.
I am getting up from the table.
It is now that I start to feel that strange, almost lucid stretching of Foreshadow.
Things begin to stick, things from inside and outside my head … saline aftertastes.
I understand that the man in the farthest corner, the one staring at his table,
has come here through the strangest events.
I would tell you, but it’s too much now, and the noise, and my own unintelligible voice
are still humming away at a quieter volume. I can hear the room,
but even my own breathing seems foreign—someone sighs from my lips.
That man: I remember that our eyes will meet and they meet and I have a sure sense
that he’s looking for someone without knowing yet whom.
I will kiss him to hurt someone, but I don’t know quite whom, haven’t had the chance
to sort it all out.
He will glance up, lips spread across the rim of the glass,
and glances up, lips spread across the rim of his glass.
I hear me thinking about pulling his lip with my teeth.
It becomes more than that, though. I feel another Foreshadow step into me.
My tongue is saltier, and I will walk through these Chinatown streets
with the bartender across the room. And she will play me a song she has written
in a small studio and she will play it on a coffee-stained piano and we will cry together about something inevitable in her own life. She will touch my collarbone
and wait with fingers there and her eyes sad and scared.
And another shock of salt tied to the image of the man whom I mistook for Owen, approaching me from down the sidewalk, obscured by a mist that is just now beginning
to settle in the streets.
I know all of these to be real, each one having already pushed me to where I
am now, but will I not be torn in these disparate directions?
Now, it is too late, and shock after shock fills my mouth with brine.
I am in a state of Waking Foreshadow, and it is all collapsing upon me
and I am afraid I might get lost in all of this, disappear.
I see myself stand up before myself, that cracking echo percolating through the room. There are more of them, and they are thinking, but again, the noise is too much to bear.
I see myself (my mouth tasting of so much salt) stepping towards this
bartender with sad bluesy eyes.
Five other futures of me run out of the bar before scattering through the streets
to places I am myself too scattered to see entirely.
One of me runs to go fast and another one slips on the ice,
caught at the arm by an old drifter she is already expecting to share coffee with.
Tears have stained lines down his dirty cheeks and I wonder if it’s the wind or what?
The Echo and its Roar
bound and rebound off the walls and back to me.
The man brooding on his beer across the room is stepping towards me.
Talking to me, but he hasn’t gotten up yet and I can’t make out what is really there
from what will be there. I suppose I am talking to myself right now if that’s the case.
But now, I have a rearing multiplicity inside me, each defined by their own knowing
and I don’t know what has distinguished each of us from the others.
Now, I am actually getting up to go, but I am not sure where.
The sum of my parts seems to have pooled itself into action.
My own voice seems small and meek in all of this.
Outside it is misty in the streets and the rain is light, not unpleasant,
and I have forgotten to pay for my glass of wine.
I feel as though I am a watching in my own movements,
and I see myself stopping at a door to knock, across the street, trailing strange vapors.
I almost gag from the taste. And I am so whelmed.
Now, I am going down that street I just saw.
The fog is falling down so that it holds and enfolds me
and I am in succored isolation from it.
I don’t know how many blocks it is, but I have just seen myself
feeding an old dirty man soup and coffee in a passed-by yellow-lit deli.
She was just smiling back there.
The man from the stairs, the one I had thought was Owen; he is coming up in the fog.
I can see a cigarette pulling from a hood and his arm is a darker bar across the fog.
It’s as he’s closer now that I can see the shape of him.
Loose pants and a hollow, unshaven face.
A face I have never seen before.
The salt feels like it has built up into actual grains and as I swallow,
my throat gives, my stomach gives.
Stomach empties and I try to throw Them all up, Really Concentrate …
To Consecrate …
I can feel a hand on my shoulder now and someone is asking me
in a quiet voice if I am OK. I try some response and look down
at a table running with vicious liquids.
The bartender pulls me out from the booth and takes me over to the kitchen.
She’s talking to me, quietly, and washing my face over with a cool rag.
“Oh,” I’m trying to catch up, “I’m OK really, I just got a little lost,
I don’t know this neighborhood too well.” And after a pause, “I’m so sorry for the mess.” She tells me its nothing at all Really and we walk out to the bar.
A last, lingering customer is lighting, now smoking a cigarette
and talking to an older woman sweeping the floor. We smoke a cigarette
and as I push it into the ashtray there is A Look.
It is like something, like there might be a long, strange night, but I’m not sure.
I smile, and that feels Natural, and I ease out from my stool
with a push away from the dark wood of the bar.
“Yea.” Moments of shuffling.
“Do you need a couch to crash on, it’s raining hard out there?”
It is raining hard and it seems to make sense.
Outside the wind has wound down to a light push and it’s really raining.
It hits the streets, slides down in streams towards the curb.
It’s a shower and it pours down and we run to get out of it.
I’m running behind her, the bartender, and it’s soaking my shirt through.
It seems like the rain has quickened its pace and it’s all falling close together.
Through all the roar of it, I can just hear it hitting the tin rooftops
like BBs pouring out from between your fingers.
She’s yelling something, or laughing,
but it all comes together in this mad chorus of rain
and rain popping on the roofs and her voice ahead of me.
It’s falling down cold and slanted, but I am running and I am feeling
like I did that first blue evening, when the rain’s pin-pricking kept me up for all of it.
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