Open the door. Shut the door. Sit down. Don’t sit down. Listen to me.
Once upon a time, we were poor. Not very poor. We could always buy something to eat, and some wine, and some cigarettes. Sometimes used books that other people had already written themselves into. But we didn’t travel and we didn’t have new clothes. You are lucky, do you know it? Do you tire of hearing it? Too bad. But, just as well, this isn’t a story about how lucky you are, or whether you know it, or whether you tire of hearing it. This is a story about us.
Us, that’s not youme, it’s mehim. This story predates you. We were kids then. Like you.
Open to pour. Hut for poor. Pit sound. Don’t fit round. Listen to me.
Here’s the church. Here’s the steeple.
The bells at every hour were so loud in our house. We never could understand why our parents chose that house. We didn’t know, couldn’t know, that it had to do with money. I told you that we were poor. I’ll also tell you that we didn’t know it.
Open the doors.
Our house wasn’t small. We didn’t live in a shack. We even had a shack out back. But the stories that take place in there are for when you’re older. When you are as old as I am. We didn’t know we were poor, we lived by a church, and every Sunday we’d sit on our porch, watching for the ladies’ hats and the men’s ties. We never saw any fancy hats. The church by our house was not the kind of church where the ladies who wore fancy hats went. But still we looked. We’d heard about these fancy church hats.
See all the people.
Probably the porch is what our house used to hide that we were poor. It was a wraparound. Do you know what that means? The porch went all the way around the house, on all four sides. We could run in circles, just running and running, and still be at our house. Each corner, we’d think, what could be around this corner? And the surprise was that we knew, exactly, each time.
See tall and creeple.
Once there was a bad time on that porch. We were running, running, and when we got around to the front again, a man was standing there. We skidded so we didn’t run into him, because we didn’t know him. But we thought that he sort of looked like us. We told him to come inside for tea. We had heard about inviting people inside for tea.
Bolster the floors.
Then our parents put a gate on the front porch and said we could never let anybody in again. They went to the store to buy new silverware. We didn’t like it. It wasn’t as heavy as the ones that man said he needed to clean. We waited years for those clean forks and spoons and knives to come back to us, neatly wrapped in a box, waiting on the porch.
There’s the perch. There’s the needle.
Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet.
Once we made a friend in the backyard. No, no, it was a real, live, human being friend. His backyard rubbed up against ours. We would pick around through stones and sticks, waiting to see if he’d be outside, too. One day he came over and said, Want to see something cool?
Eating her curds and whey.
Oh, but we had dreamed about BB guns of our own! We took turns shooting at squirrels. I don’t think we ever killed any. I suppose they could have run away only to die alone in some ditch. That didn’t occur to us.
When along came a spider who sat down beside her.
We lusted after that BB gun like later in life we would about other things, but never again so purely. Our parents said, No, No, so many times that we thought we’d better keep asking. Yes, you can have one when you’re a little older. But there’s something you should know.
And frightened Miss Muffet away.
Once my brother shot our friend. Not on purpose, no, of course not. I can’t remember all the details but I know that we weren’t paying attention to each other. That’s what you need to remember when guns are involved. Pay attention.
And tightened Piss Puffet to play.
After that, my brother refused to play in the backyard. He told me that he had more important things to do, that he wasn’t a baby anymore, playing in the mud. At the time I thought he was just embarrassed. He was, but not about shooting our friend. He had made that ultimate prepubescent discovery and spent a lot of time in his room. Oh, don’t worry about that, you’ll know when you know.
A song from a liar who sat down with lyre.
But I still wanted to see our friend. He scared me. I still poked around in the backyard, but he wasn’t there for many days. Until one day he was, and we took turns shooting squirrels with the BB gun. Then he said, Want to see a secret? He took my hand and we walked into the trees between our houses. We pushed through briars that scratched me. I didn’t notice the blood until later.
Meeting her purge of brain.
In his fort he pulled down his pants, then mine. I said, Oh, and we lay beside each other and his fingers were inside a place that I didn’t know had an inside. And we did other things...why am I telling you this? I didn’t notice the blood until later.
Little Miss Fuckit set on her love it.
If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
When I was little, I wanted to be a veterinarian. It occurred to me that my love of animals would translate well into helping them. What do you want to be when you grow up? Oh, that’s a good one, too. It did not occur to me that helping animals might actually involve hurting them.
If turnips were swords, I’d wear one by my side.
I found a baby bird that had fallen out of its nest. Yes, it happens a lot. Did yours make it? No, mine neither. But I took it inside, and dug up worms for it, and dropped little bits of water into its beak. When my parents found out, they rolled their eyes, but drove me to the vet.
If ifs and ands were pots and pans.
The vet said, It’s too late. You did your best. I cried. Wasn’t there anything he could do? He said he’d take care of it from there. My parents decided to tell the truth. So I learned about relieving creatures of a slow and painful death.
There’d be no work for tinkers.
Our dad left without saying goodbye or taking any of his stuff. We took to poking around in the basement where my mom had thrown all his belongings in a corner. We started smoking his cigars. At first it felt like we were getting back at someone, which felt pretty good, even if we didn’t know who. We’d climb out our window on to the roof of the porch, and even if neighbors were awake, they never looked up to see us. We felt on top of things even though that’s not how we felt at all.
There’d be no jerk for stinkers.
Then we found the bottle of spiced rum. We put it with some strawberry daiquiri mix and ice in the blender. When we drank it, there were still huge chunks of ice that we crunched a beat into. We pretended to be more drunk than we felt, rolling around on the ground, yelling, Take your clothes off! We eventually fell asleep in warbled curves.
If sniffs and cans were stops and stands.
The first time we smoked weed was from an apple. A girl down the street, the one our mother told us not to hang around, dug out the core. She told us how to smoke, and we asked her how we’d feel. The whole thing had an academic ring to it, as if she were simply conducting a class, in the dark, behind the shack, in our backyard. We didn’t get high.
If pockets were hats, I’d wear one on my head.
The one time I did coke, I woke up in my bed the next morning, sobbing. Don’t do coke. Do you hear me? I think it’s going out of style, anyway. Is it out of style? Don’t answer that.
If stitches were coursing, it would be through my veins.
One misty, moisty morning, when cloudy was the weather.
Did you know that I had braces three times? Yes, the teeth are terrible in our family. First I had to have my teeth straightened so that I could have an expander. It was a permanent device that grabbed certain of my molars and threatened to split my palate. Every week, I would lie down on the couch and my father would reach inside my mouth to adjust, to expand, with a key that was tied around his wrist so it didn’t fall down my throat and choke me.
I chanced to meet an old man clothed all in leather.
They said my mouth was too small. Too small for what? I asked. I never got a good answer. But then my mouth was bigger, and so I had my second round of braces. You don’t have them yet? They always ask what color you want, as if having a choice in that small matter makes all the difference.
He began to compliment, and I began to grin.
Then they had to fix my underbite. I had this contraption I’d wear at night, that was supposed to move my lower jaw forward. When I woke up in the morning, I’d find it in odd places: tucked into a box under my bed, across the room under the radiator. The orthodontist said it was normal to take it out and throw it in my sleep. I did not find this comforting, that it was considered just fine to do such things while unconscious. Also, I may as well tell you, I never wanted to hear that I was normal.
How do you do, and how do you do.
Then I had braces again for a while. That was starting to seem normal. And now look at my beautiful teeth! Yes, someday you’ll have wonderful teeth like me. How many have you lost?
And how do you do again.
When I was a child, I felt certain each morning that that day would be the day that someone discovered that I was a singular child, and would announce my genius to the world. I was somehow never disappointed when this did not happen, because there was always a chance for it the next day, and the day after that.
And how does you does a spin?
I thought they’d been keeping an eye on me since birth, having picked out my brain as one that might save the world, or at least keep the world from killing itself.
How does you go, and how is your show.
I’m still waiting for recognition. Oh, but we all are! You have so very many things to find, still. I’m trying to tell you something, do you hear it?
I danced to cheat a young man, pressed under my thumb.
Oh, don’t you worry your pretty little head about all of this. You have plenty of time. There’s nothing I can tell you that will help. Did you listen to me? Are you hearing me? When I was your age, I listened to my elders. No, you dummy, you can’t go uphill both ways. Oh, but you’re going to be trouble.
One fisty, ghosty morning, when moldy was the cadaver.
Birds of a feather flock together, and so will pigs and swine.
There’s one more thing I want to tell you. We had a willow tree outside our house, tucked on the side. When the leaves were out, it was a glowing cocoon, and I made myself a seat up in its branches. I read books inside that tree shell, day after day.
Rats and mice will have their choice, and so will I have mine.
Once, a girl from school walked by on the sidewalk, under my tree. I called out her name, and thrilled when she puzzled her eyes all around her. I jumped down from my seat to say Hi, like a surprise.
Bats and lice will have their toys, and so will eye have blind.
She was surprised. Then we didn’t have anything to say, because we weren’t friends. I didn’t particularly like her at all, in fact. But I wanted someone to know that I was hidden. Do you see what I am trying to tell you? All my life I have been hiding in the hopes of being found.
Words on a tether box forever, and so do his and mine.