Bear & I Give You the Sun

Bear

I am a great big sloth,
lead heavy, sunk down
in an accommodating sea.

Great big tree
bears to the left from the heft
of heavy sloth.

I am a great
big sloth – borne by
great things – who cannot
bend the sea.

I Give You the Sun

It’s warm for winter –
Stare straight into the sun
Hold it – till your pupils blaze
Pulse quickens
And eyelids, like feathers
Sweep clean smiling eyes

Elijah’s father would never give his son a brother or sister. He would never be able to give him a lasting, concrete thing. Each toy or gadget would eventually meet the same destiny of every tangible object – breakage and decay. So when Elijah turned five years old, his father gave him the only thing that would last forever, the perfect gift. He gave him the sun.

“Why can’t I touch the sun?” Elijah asked his father, as he reached his hand through the sunroof. The fast breeze whipped his small fingertips. His father kept his eyes steady on the road.
“Notice how you can feel the wind, even though you can’t see it? You can always feel the warmth of the sun, even though you can never actually touch it.”

As they sat on the beach, the sand beneath them soft and cool, father said to son: “The sun is yours, it belongs to you.”

The red half-sun began sinking below the horizon. “When the sun is high in the sky, it’s so bright, you can’t even look at it. But when it says goodbye like it’s doing now, it lets you stare straight at it. Stare straight into the sun and say goodbye, son.” Elijah smiled at the setting sun, and waved goodbye.

It was wise of Elijah’s father to give him such a perfect gift as the sun in a sunny place like California. The California sun is reliable. But even California has its cloudy days.

Many years later, on the afternoon of July 13th, low-level clouds hid the sun. The sun may have been hidden, but its heat was not. The humidity level was high. Elijah lounged on the black leather couch in his living room. His skin, moist and sticky, stuck to the couch.

“How about a nice cold beer?” he asked. Her torso was wrapped with a thin white sheet. Her bare legs as fragile as those of flying geese.

“Sounds good,” she answered, spread out on the cool living room carpet. “Well then go and get it yourself,” he said, lying with his eyes shut, prayer hands cushioning his cheek.

Just hours before, their hot, sweating bodies had stuck as close as bodies can stick. Their bodies had stuck so close that he could feel her ribs almost puzzle into his. After, when she reached out to embrace him, he coaxed her arms away and slithered to the balcony alone with a cigarette.

And now, as he remained stuck on the sticky couch, she got up from the cool carpet, letting the sheet fall to her feet, exposing her small-framed, slender body. And rather than grabbing that nice cold beer for herself, she clothed herself and slipped quietly out the door.

One morning, months after that hot and sticky afternoon, there was a severe weather alert (severe for California): partly cloudy, low 56F, winds NW at 10 to 20 mph. The morning forecast had predicted a chance of showers, the afternoon only partial clouds. Elijah, having not checked that morning’s weather forecast and trusting California’s fair-weather habit, reclined on his balcony from morning till late afternoon. He had searched for the naked sun, but only sensed its subtle rays peeking through scattered clouds. So he set up his ritual: dry towel draped over beach lawn chair, a pillow to perch his feet on, and a thermos filled with lemon tainted ice water. The peeking sun incubated him in the warm shell of his body as thoughts rose and fell, co-mingling and drifting with every page. Time and its concerns were external and belonged to the sun. Within hours, he finished reading all the pages of his book, set it down on his lap, and took a long nap. Later that night, when he showered he felt the sting of the water against his cooked skin, and realized that the scattered clouds had tricked him. Times like these, when the sun left its visible marks on him, he remembered with perplexity his father’s words to him on the beach. His raw, red skin reminded him that the sun did not in fact belong to him, but rather, he belonged to the sun.

Elijah had never liked the idea of ‘belonging’ to anyone or anything. Nor did he like the idea that his father now seemed to belong to something other than himself.

Now a grown man, he visited his father at least once a month. Often he would find his father slumped over the dining room table, or sitting dazed in his reclining chair. His father, with intoxicated breath, would often weep, “Son, I’m sorry you never had a brother or sister to play with. After your mother died…” But Elijah had never felt like he missed anything by not having a sibling; for him, his father had always been enough.
Sitting across from his father one cloud-free afternoon, Elijah noticed his leathery face, a face that had seen many, many days. It looked like the moon – crater and blister scarred – but glowing just as on that day on the beach when father had promised son the sun. It struck him that finally the sun’s gift to his father was the mark of the moon. No matter. His father’s face would always glow. His father belonged to the moon.

When his father died, not long after that cloud-free afternoon, Elijah didn’t get to say goodbye. He arrived too late. Bending over his father’s body, he rested his hand over his forehead. The newly dead body still warm. He traced the scars across his father’s cheeks with his fingertips. Lines and wrinkles under the eyes, on the forehead, on the corners of the lips; wrinkles from age, from the sun, from life. Elijah locked his hand into his father’s limp one. He held it for a long time, hoping to keep it warm. As warm as the sun.

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Re-Vision

A stove is a stove is a stove. Black or white. Grey or green.
Christina is herself. Chris or Tina. Or by any other name.

When Christina was born it was a quarter past 2. Her parents had an androgynous name picked out, in case the baby was born a boy, or in case it was born a girl. That name was Jesse. When the baby slipped out after 18 hours of pain, Mother shouted, “Christina!” The name Christina means Follower of Christ. Mother did not know this. Neither did Father. Christina knows, but she is not a follower of Christ. She doesn’t like it when her friends call her Pissy Chrissy. She prefers Tina. For mere acquaintances she is Christina.

She gets sore throats often. Sometimes a sore shoulder, which reminds her that she needs a new bed. Or a new name. She remembers young lovers who used to admire her naked body with words, not with her name. She followed the advice of a self-help book to examine her body slowly, every inch, in front of a full-length mirror. Blue veins bolting like lightning above nipples. Corn on third toe of left foot. Brown bruise on left thigh she pressed with two fingers, yet couldn’t remember its source. She remembers that her body is easily bruised and forgotten. Like her name.

Tomorrow, Christina will visit her Father. For him she is ‘Darling.’ He will sit at an angle from her, on the recliner facing the television. He will shut it off for a brief chat. She will notice his overgrown toenails. Some curved outward, some curved inward, dark grime at the ends. She will stop at quiet moments and think of his funeral: Closed casket, shiny black. Underneath – 2-inch toenails on cold, blue-veined feet. Refuse to give a speech just as she refused for Mother. The idea of death makes her wordless. Makes her see pictures in her head instead.

When I had no name, between the darkness of the womb and the darkness of this world, I was what I am now.

Nameless, I was a slippery baby girl they called their bundle of joy, another miracle among millions of other miracles.

Named, I can still be slippery, depending on the occasion, and though I’m no longer a baby, I’m still a girl, a girl among billions of other girls.

When I hear someone say my name, I can’t tell if it’s meant for me, unless you say it with that tenderness, click of the tongue, or lilt that calls to my soul.
Say it again. Say it differently.
Re-envision me.