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Fiction by Debra Di Blasi
 
Recital by Author
Art by JOhn Borrero

Personal Effects

Art by John Borrero

The Cause of Love, by T.S. Eliot
First, the wind. Or should we go back. Before the wind. Before Wind. Time. What aged it ages us all.
We grow old, said Prufrock.
Indeed.
First then the elm with its weather caught inside, shifted and bleeding in pulp season after season. And ah those pretty black beetles that ate clear through to air! And decay written in illegible code. And all that
is living not life.
is this wind at November's knife-edge.
is strand of fish roe trailing a mallard's leg.
is her laughter when it's real.
is that speck of blood on my wet-leather sole.
is fear stuck in my craw.
is me before I'm something that knows its name.
is death not dying.

Until it snapped. Gravity would've done it after a time, but the wind blew. The wind happened first. The branch cracked. Broke. Fell.

You forget beetles eat the dead, too. You think only of maggots and buzzards. Maybe some half-starved coyote loose from the pack. The way it chews loud and looks askance. What do coyotes fear, now that most all their predators are gone? What do you fear but some iron-bar snare you can't stick your head through. “Learn to love bones,” is what she said. “When they're clean moonlight nearly resurrects them with glisten.”

oh my darlin
oh my darlin
oh my darlin

Tom Eliot worked in a bank.
I grow old ... I grow old ...
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Memory erases the waste.
For what good is remembering but to entertain us with lies of the past? We're caped in glory then. Our ordinary lives heroic. For example, that time you surprised her with an opal pendant on real silver links. You sold your best calf for the gift. Stood straighter-backed when she gasped and gaped at the open box, then kissed you deep.

But you forgot how you yelled at her, hated her when she left the pendant on the washstand in a pool of soapy water. Forgot, you did, years ago repeating over and over how much you sacrificed for the damn thing. And she then looking a gift horse not in the mouth but the ass—

—not mule
teeth gone yellow in time. She loved what’s hopeless: the palsied cat, the pigeon with lice-chewed wing, the mule unable to walk to greener pastures. This last lost cause she brought the grass to it in sweet pungent bundles tied with twine. Every morning. Until the mule fattened. But the weight ruined its joints, and when it bent to drink from the pond, fell headfirst and drowned. You told her so, you said it would happen, you knew, interfering with nature like that. Cradled her head in your lap until it was a puddle. Each time she opened her mouth to sob you imagined the yellow teeth of the aging mule, the wet gray of drowned.

And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions

A woman falling is not like a tree felled.
Flesh softer even than spring leaves. So much water inside. Big bladder of skin and knockabout bones. Blood. But if the wound is clean and deep and left alone there's so little blood you'd think it was just the knock of wood on skull. Just the crack and fracture. Brains shook up, tangle-knot nuisanced. Leaving that dead-deer gaze, something akin to a smile. Or maybe just the joke of it all: "Well I'll be! Who’da guessed. Who'da ever 'magined!"

Tom’s old trousers cuffed under the desk.
And after years walking that same path to and fro where the whitebeam tree shed its detritus, drib by drab, his cuffs grew dust and flora full and heavy as that yellow cat curled round the house that soft October night he wrote

Let us go then you and I...

and thought it was age weighing him down.
Yes, it was.
But not all
is deep not wide.
is sleep not snore.
is house of empty gut.
is circle halved.

Chewed to dust or memory.
Your son would know the look of teeth grinding year after year of anguish over near-nothings. He's a dentist. Always wanted to be.
"Strange," she’d say. "My son, a dentist. Strange."
Oh, how she hated dentists! Well, not the people, no, the job. That tool-whine, that whiff of friction-burnt teeth! Same whiff inside a fire when her father burned diseased cattle, after the black hair was gone, after the flesh and muscles and watery guts gone, down to bone. Bone and teeth. That whiff. And so, too, in the dentist chair once every ten or fifteen years, after a tooth broke or rotted through, she'd smell that burn and think of her father sad-shouldered in early winter, smoke of dying swirling round him, mixed with leaves and early snow. Nothing gone right. And she unable to go back to comfort him, tell him, "Well, it just don't matter, Pops, not a lick of it."

Whiff of honeysuckle she loved fading. Summer ending. Things giving up and over to winter, dead, endlessness unto everness. Like wind. It never stops, just finds its way over and around. Grinning, you think now, that fat nasty grin of unleashed wind. Why?

There’s no saying.
Five years old the first time your son sat in that big fake leather recliner amid the metal noise and blinding light and whiff of tongue and spit, and the deep pain of a long needle, and thinking, I want this. All this is mighty fine.
is love not death.
is the unfortunate wren in a storm.
is my sadness and fret.
is that sound, that sound, I cannot erase.
is the final waving of my simple-minded hand.
is laughter stuck in my craw.
is singing not dying.

Strange boy. Strange man. You worried he’d kill himself someday. Gloomier he got. Wasn't the sound, odor, monotony of dentistry, but people ignoring his teaching. Didn't floss or brush, didn’t clean. Eventually he'd be pulling their teeth, molding bridges and dentures and crowns. If they didn't ask to keep what he yanked, he'd take home the teeth and drop them in a steel barrel.
He's forty-one now.
Barrel's full.
At night after everyone's gone, he sits in the leather chair and turns on the nitrous oxide and breathes deep.

She was a woman who didn’t laugh, who just smiled pretty and said, "That's funny." Then, after a time, "That's really funny." She meant well, but.

The gabardine was stained.
Thomas Stearns Eliot didn't think about clothes except their comfort. New shirts itched, new pants chaffed. After years they wore best, sensual even the wool. Moved lovely, too, like big water. And though he had few hairs on his legs, when he walked in the crisp London air and the fabric brushed against his goose-pimpled skin, it was electric. It was life full.
And he'd walk faster.
And the poem would snap like a whip.

In that bowl of pastureland
you could hear the snap of mule bones echo rim to rim. Something beyond horror: light blade in the eye, mule falling screaming. Oh, how glad you were that she didn’t hear or see. You had time to shoot the creature, burn it, plow the ashes under before you said what had to be spoken.

oh my darlin
how I love you

Fifty years ago on a hillock in May, noonday heat already rising moist from grass and fern. Pretty, they. Hard to believe—to remember—how young! And if you could just sit that boy down next to this man, you’d wonder what fell out between then and now, and what didn’t. “Love just shifted,” she’d say if she were living. Didn’t go but swung calm like the sea sailors both love and dread: no wind to propel them forward but slick surface like a gazing mirror to see all you’ve become in life so far, and love salty-sweet, and melancholy ache for what you know not.

how I love you still

What aged the wind ages us all
is death not dying.
is this wind at November's knife-edge.
is the son’s misery.
is the lover’s daydream.
is that wind at November’s dry blade.
is me in shirt-sleeves and rain.
is what’s not ever.

Trees, bones, beetle with five legs walking crooked. The woman stopped on the path to wonder the metaphor of bugs. And which am I? Beetle or ant? Mule or ass? She laughed. Not aloud. Thinking,

And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker...

Now that’s funny! And her gray hair lifted then as if your gnarled fingers were flirting along her nape. Wind trying to rise it, the way that old mule tried, she imagined, when you told her what’d happened. Much later. One morning when you were hornet-mad for wet silver already tarnished by time. And her picture of the mule, image of it screaming drowning almost too much to bear even after thirty years long as the creature’s teeth she wanted back then, from the dirt, incisors and molars to give her strange son for his tooth barrel to remember somehow the breath of a pretty horsecross, the way it half-closed its eyes in the wind as if stroked sleepy.

And in short, I was afraid.

To be standing there then on that spot at that time when time and wind and rain broke the tree branch hanging high. One snap! Two if you count the snap of bone. Crooked walking beetle her last vision before the branch fell straight down sharp as a saber. And the wood entered her skull. And she fell. And you had the misfortune, you sometimes now suppose, to look out the window just then. Oh, if you hadn’t!

Tom discovered moth holes in his trousers.
Recognized absence of not just wool but moth: absence upon absence. And saw himself sitting at his desk in a bank, bent over one knee, peering down at his own pale skin inside a moth hole: I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker...

The dentist’s final request:
His mother’s teeth. You—his father, her widower—comply, saying, Why not, nothing matters anyhow.
Then the long hideous nights the son will spend till his end inspecting the cracks and chips. The smooth glisten of her teeth ground low. Every pain he’ll judge by what didn’t fit. Like me, he’ll think, son of an ass and horse.

If you hadn’t said what you’d said all sour-mouthed and bitter. And why? All she’d asked was you to go walking with her, “Such a fine pretty day,” she’d said, “Last one maybe this season.” If only you’d said yes. Or not grumped or sworn. Not said what you’d said when she’d pleaded, “Oh my darlin, please!”

In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

The poet bends.
That evening under the whitebeam already saddened by winter, T. S. Eliot saw for the first time and after so many years the names in the heart cut into the bark. Saw the ragged edges where the tree had healed the wound of careless lovers. Bent close. And his breath failed the way the poem failed. For there was no answer, he knew, to love’s cause, only its effects scarring the world.

Strange.
Her son, your son: The dentist. What he saw
is death not dying.
when he turned up the nitrous too high, the oxide too low: mule legs snapping like tree branches. Such as sound! Such a tender fading!

* Quoted from T.S. Eliot’s “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

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