Wednesday, July 16, 2008


She drapes the fence flaunting neck and legs in that graceful roundness of muscle. Just as a neurotic would coddle an old, dying habit. It is not an embrace, but a grudging leniency, with the back and ribs showing through, and her head twists backwards and behind the arch of her shape, all arranged by nature and gravity and the right amount of time. I see, but I don’t look closely and I keep the rhythm of my steps, with a purpose to sit and begin the book on the bench in the back of the cemetery. My footsteps, which are muted, or exaggerated, by leaves, reverberate on the headstones near the path and my sound returns to me and I begin to feel that someone follows behind. I find the bench and sit. The book is bent from my pocket and the spine has become a ragged arch where the color chips away into the leaves, showing string and flesh-colored glue. The Old Man and the Sea.

Twice Told Books
8 Pearl St.
Fortune, WI -----
is stamped on the first page. I remember the silly painted sign of the used books store. Someone has already told me how the book ends, but I thought I would read it anyway. She had said I should, even after she told me how it ended. Then she arranged the flowers that I had given her, which she would keep, dried, forever with the others.

The bench is cold in autumn. Marble is colder than concrete. Even when the sun seems to be just behind the clouds like a face is behind make-up. I remember how she is very pretty, though perhaps her eyes are too large for her head, but something in her face makes this okay. She always sees the looks I give her, like when she told me how the story ended.

“Everybody knows how it ends. I can’t believe you didn’t read it in high school.” But by then I was looking at her smile, her laugh, staring back at it, looking it in the face.

“I guess we just read other things.”

“Like what?”

“Nobody really reads anything in high school anyway.”

“We did. We had to. Mr. Aldson was so strict. I did really well in his class, though. Anyway, you’re in my way.” She saw my look. “Don’t get mad, I just have to do this now.”

So I sit on the bench in the back of the cemetery, and she is cleaning under the couch with the couch pushed all the way against the wall and the cushions stacked on the chair in the corner and the dishwasher running in her spotless kitchen. I finish the book and set it beside me on the marble. On Polly Flawson’s grave. In Loving Memory, 18-- to 19--. The dedication on the bench reads the same: In Loving Memory. In cursive. But she must have been Ms. Polly Flawson, because her tombstone rests alone in the back of the graveyard with the little bench beside it, between two cedars. We thought of it as having always been there. It was our bench, just a name and a loving memory, but kept secret for us, and Polly too was keeping the secret for us. She likes it in the graveyard. We walked through it, reading the names and talking about ourselves, until it got too cold, and then we would drive and park the car and kiss. Once we parked the car in the back and I read her Portrait of a Lady. It was my favorite poem. I recited as much as I could, then I had to read the rest from the page.

“I love it! That’s so good. What do you think it means?” And I looked at her eyes before looking back at the page. ...the scene arrange itself, as it will seem to do.

“I don’t know. I think he’s cheating with her, but not really, just in conversation. Like ‘carefully caught regrets,’ like they’re cheating only in mind, but still cheating. But I think he’s not committed, obviously. He doesn’t really try to understand her.” She nodded because she wanted to impress me, to look deep. She saw that I was passionate, saw my look. But she looked dishonest. And every time I read the poem I was impressed. Though I’ve forgotten most of the lines now.

“Oh, and my dad pointed out the opening line to me. The line, or lines I guess, from Marlowe. ‘And besides, the wench is dead.’ So she’s dead. It’s not a real relationship. She’s not a real woman.”

“Yeah. I get it.” Then something true from her, “Does he really love her? Do you think he really loves her?”

I could not have responded. So I said, “Well yeah, I think so. But he loves the cheating more, I think. The unreality, I guess. The exchanged fantasies.”

She nodded again. “Yeah, I think he adorns her—adores her I mean.”

I remember we laughed about that. She was usually so careful to saw what she wanted. But then I thought people can wear each other, to impress the world, or themselves. And people can wear each other out. So it made sense, what she said. She knew exactly what she wanted her grave to look like, exactly what it would say about her. She wants a bench, like Polly, but she hates the prosaic cursive and she doesn’t like marble. She wants a concrete bench and she said I should clean it every week and I think she likes lilies though she claims to hate flowers. I never asked her what tree she wanted next to her. I have an image of her enveloped in the twists of roots, which curve in slow and winding lines with her hair in disarray beneath the soil where gravity will not matter and the dirt rests silent on her face as under her eyes when she swims or when it rains on the blush that still rises just beneath the surface of her cheek and neck. I thought of this as I gazed up at the clouds, just covering the light which rose and fell with their rolling and I think of the sea and forget the old man. I remember watching movies with her. We watched them because we liked the scenery in them. I am not ready to return, but I stand. The Old Man and the Sea looks nice on the little bench, so I leave it and walk slowly, my shoes putting jarring life into the leaves. They shuffle through the cemetery—the leaves—but even in summer never go, like the graves and dates and names that begin to sound like poetry. Poems of the graveyard and of history. Which never was because it always is and never ends. And now someone does follow behind, and I am ready to leave.

There is a man who volunteers to manage the cemetery. He walks through the place, along every path, and once a week he disposes of the dead flowers. That’s his job. It can’t be enough for him, or a family. It’s strange that a man works for his family, but is taken away from them by his work, but he must have his family. Every day he returns, or what is he? Perhaps it is better in the graveyard, where a man can’t leave. Then he learns to live, and not to fish by himself for fish that are too big. Today the grave cleaner will have to dispose of a dead deer, and he will follow me to where she died on the fence. Adorning the fence. I see her again, draping it in a leap arrested by the wrought-iron pyramid prongs. These stand in black and staggered order and precision, half rise half fall in unison around the place where the graves are scattered like leaves along every path. And each leaf, like the deer, finds the fence.

The white on her tail is hidden, but when I approach and lean over the sharp wrought-iron prongs, I see the white blot on her neck. It stretches so the hairs separate and are yellow where the under-fur shows through, and her tongue shoves out through her teeth, as if she would just lick the grass on the other side.