Improperly Used Tools of Parenting
I have been trimming the possibilities with a tiny pair of scissors. I made them for my daughter. When I need instead a heavier device, I swing my ignorance at my sole to remind me how sharp it is, for only the thinnest of slices is removed in this way. I am thus allowed to continue walking without feeling any loss. I am not sure if I remember to alternate these smooth arcs of removal, and I may be, in the tiniest of increments, beginning to walk in a very large circle, but since I forget, I may also be correcting previous errors.
Eventually I will have to adjust my posture, but leaning forward is not necessarily a bad thing. Leaning forward could lead to arriving first although it would be helpful to know what one is arriving at, however precise one's execution might be.
I tripped in my brain and fell down my staircase. Bumpety bump-bump. Not even mud flung gets me dirty but roughed-up is down with it, bro, right now I be droppin' down, I be under and fancy-fluffed. But even pain doesn't really pain this guy, who doesn't even sound like me.
A rough spectacle of Max appeared, scraped to mount flush against the wall as if just entering through it, ghostlike, or mounted as a trophy. Too many cues split one from one. Strict parents.
She is not desolate when attended by Max the Boyfriend, this otherwise lonely apparition, who could be my daughter. Max arrives early, and I guess I should be thankful but am not, before the projector flaps open and swallows the story. If only he could mumble like Bogart and never die. If only she could.
Brancusi's egg was wearing his dinner jacket that night, while the life train was passing another life train. Now the autumn calf is fat enough. Split and stuff it.
Something abrasive about a tragic cocktail appears while the stairway descends roughly to the clouds, ignoring the constant will of the harsher river.
I fountain, I piano, I festival, I rough you up for the conjoining. Lizard on a stick maybe. Music box. A tin drinking cup hung on Max's neck like a key. Here we are in what century?
Three lines only and the first one lost, and by returning she finally taught me grief, my boyfriended daughter, her faded yellow cardigan filled briefly with kittens.
My new lover likes to watch me arrive at such innocence, said the guilty daughter, ready for gluing.
Collapsed into only myself I found that what I had asked for was not what I had wanted. I had not known what I had wanted, so how could I have asked for it? That's what my daughter told me.
There were several dogs playing poker on the wall. They lived in a rug. I lived in a place that needed that kind of a rug on the wall back then. It was a rough place to be in. I had to translate not knowing to not knowing I didn't know. I was still trying to form words.
Still, my assumptions were fierce and lovely. And I had another friend who had different assumptions, which made mine lovelier, which made mine mine.
You had these ideas about marriage, whoever you were, and I removed them, old pal, a kind of circumcision that allowed more sensitivity and less disease. How many more times could you love a misinterpretation? You were a lot like me. Maybe you were me.
When the roof reached the floor, I seemed to have cut deeply enough. I recited the meaning of the floor. I stood up. The roof went with me.
Euclid arrived with no baggage. I smoothed out the arrangements. I pared away the excess. I hid my daughter. I did not perceive of the man as malleable, but then my daughter was a master. I manipulated no other conditions but for the swollen excess created by the intrusions of moisture and time. I was reading his book, and he probably doesn't really exist but for that because he only says things that are in print, but I was playing it safe just in case he wasn't really some old guy my daughter wouldn't like.
There were principles involved, but they did not belong to either of us.
Drive me away. Sometimes I let my resistance say that. I thought I knew what I had wished for, but the fact is easily misunderstood until the interpretation arrives. Innocence drives it to purity, but purity drives it to resistance.
Not one man but two. Euclid was an idea that appeared to be made of something else, his soft lashes of engagement coy with pretense. It spooked me a little because he was so old, and I wasn't sure he was dead yet because dead guys don't act like that. It's not so weird that they visit you, but there are ghost rules and he wasn't following them.
Of course he fell in love with my daughter, which could not have happened if she were more completely there. She was tentative and that appealed to him. She wasn't alive in the usually ways. Neither was he. He was two men, not one, and he went everywhere with himself.
We took some of our ideas to market, Euclid and I. Well, it was really only a farmer's market. I was uneasy because I hadn't been out of my room for a long time. I had everything delivered, and now I was trying to turn it around and deliver something, and I didn't have any place to deliver it, which I probably would have ignored if it weren't for Euclid. It turned out my ideas were more contemporary. His sat there like toads while mine sold. I guess they were good for something though it was not the truth they were good for, which made me give up on them.
Who is kneeling in front of us right now, at this very minute, if not my daughter, I ask myself. Is she really invisible to everyone except me and a dead guy and a maybe boyfriend? I'm afraid to test it. I'm afraid to tell her what's out there. Is she a principle of her own, a life suspended? If you do not test it, the truth is only an idea. What a foolish idealist I am.
Now I must wax poetic once more, for the world is seldom as truly tragic as it can feel. The roots of terrible events are longer than you can imagine, but I want to believe they're not endless. We could have been someone else. We could have thought about and thought about it until it was true and exploded. We could have been surprised by that.
Horned Smoothing Plane
From all parts of the world, a great traveler can acquire interests in the unique behaviors and qualities of creatures unlike himself, and is it surprising that he might wish to gather such creatures unto his own home port, so that when he became unable to travel, he could yet wander among his discoveries and participate in their lives as if he had once more arrived at a distant and enchanting destination, just as death might soon prove to be? Such was the inclination of the captain, whose age had begun stalking him.
As the lengthy voyage slowly progressed, the animals in the hold of the ship grew restless, despite the medication they had been given to turn them temporarily into aged zoo creatures. The ones with bone on their heads especially seemed to suffer from unrest. Perhaps it was a side effect of the calcium derivative contained in the medication. It was not doing its job, indeed, had begun to have the opposite effect, and the behavior of these animals with exposed bones on their heads became alarming.
The captain had been informed, of course, but he had not realized the extent of the danger and several of the more aggressive horned creatures escaped their bondage and climbed the stairs to the deck door, which had been designed to keep thieves out and not cargo in, so they easily broke it open, and they wandered about in the ocean air, rubbing their horns on the wooden surfaces and appendages of the boat as if something truly gratifying needed exactly that attention, and the effect of the horns rubbing on the wooden ship parts was not destructive as the captain expected. Instead it created a surface on all the parts the horns could reach that left the voyagers yearning to caress them.
The, ship of course, never reached port, but can you really say that a short life is never a happy one? This was not the version I told my daughter.
Once upon yet another ship entirely there was a time when the world was gray and the ocean was gray and the sky was gray and a father and his tiny daughter decided they should become closer by experiencing the wonders of the farther world together. So the father and the little daughter selected the most ornate sailing vessel they could find and went up and down the ship's cascading stairways in the grand finery they had acquired only for this auspicious and imaginary occasion. The ship's captain was a grand patron of the arts, and the several elaborate ballrooms and seats of entertainment were lined with great paintings framed ornately in gold and beaded trim to set even the most artless rich man to drooling. The stairways and wainscoting were likewise ornate, the frames chosen with the eye of a master to set off and illuminate the subtler effects of the artist. The footboards and stairs and railings were finely beaded and polished and set to just the right appearance of functionality, which the little daughter was able to observe and judge more accurately than most of the larger travelers, thanks to the patience of her father, who held her in the palm of his hand right next to these details whenever the absence of fellow voyagers allowed. Even the bathrooms were large and detailed with intense and minutely considered elaborations, and the father tucked her into his pocket to sneak her in to see the appointments of the masculine versions of surprisingly comforting excretory luxury. This made the tiny daughter feel right at home, for her father had, as anyone paying attention would know, her whole life kept her in a box outfitted with the most stimulating and unusual of miniatures, and the effect upon her intellect and imagination had been substantial indeed.
When it came time to enjoy dinner, the father had to make up a story about his departed wife and how he wished to celebrate the anniversary of their honeymoon voyage on this very ship by setting a place for her and dining romantically behind a screen. Thus the daughter could run from one astonishing culinary delight to another without raising alarm in the greatest indulgent glee and even haul on her back small pieces of her favorite dishes to her father, who always had room for one more tiny morsel.
When the father's eccentricity became widely known among the passengers, instead of alienating them and causing suspicion, the people willing to pay more for the unique pleasures of such a ship found him endearing and befriended him freely, which troubled as well as satisfied the father. Now he had a greater difficulty in accommodating his daughter's many flights of fancy without exposing her to commensurate danger.
Two of my fingers replace two of my fingers. They cannot make a corner. I point there anyway and partially arrive. Are you also a daughter? How many of you can I have?
Some vehicles carry the ups and some the downs. Too bad I can't tell them apart. Their feathers are in tatters, these arrived at, these here and gone and here and gone again. A couple of orange cones short of an occasion for renewal, something more than my houselights dimmed.
Come to the meeting of these wavelets of tyranny, and glue the songbirds back to the their songs. Optometry, ornithology, oncology, I am barely asleep, not looking for escape, but I am dreaming unreferenced now. That's how I know I've arrived at the place where one thing turns towards another and goes away.
Come then to the going away. The place where lost animals gather to disguise their loss. They does put on a feast, doesn't theys? asks the lesser part, feigning a drunkenness he longs for. A little hill full of cloud divided, stamped down and brought to the confluence of here and then there, which is here going squarely away, frightened despite these collections.
I've stolen the footnotes. Refer to former excess. Busy with the incline.
Here is the church, and here is the steeple. Stand with your hands above your head, two fingers V-ed and pointing to the same two fingers. Again now, Here is the church . . .
Around and around the empty room that has been created inside the empty room.
Above and then below the thoughts in my head. Equally empty.
A corner is only a continuation, which is not an ordinary kind of trap.
Around, between and through, by increments, an angled slice at a time, that's how. As if feet could be lightly carried across the grooves in the forest floor. My daughter and I walked the long road, the chosen one of nicks and cuts and runnels of tears, and whosoever shall travel there shall dig deep into the past and honk at the travelers still migrating.
Now coloring ourselves with the deepening of the second daughter at the edge of the white room's experience. Even this then is compacted and still hungry. Why not worship our enlightenment?
I mean the garbage pail full of breadcrumbs. No, I mean nowhere to go.
First daughter takes away her haunted numbers, her suggestive shadings. I'll take away the curlings, the confusions of groove and shavings. Now try to say how much you love me. Who am I commanding?
I marry the mark that remains. I'll marry the sink deposit. I mean the slippery fingers of God. No, I mean flippers and sailing beneath.
I mean I'll be the mess of arrangement and tenor. You be the constituency. This is what it means to have two daughters.
No, you be the scissors. I'll be the knife. I tell them this as if they were carrying around the mailbox and there wasn't supposed to be anything in it.
I mean lights and explosions of understanding. No, I mean lights.
I mean flying through the window at the stop sign. I mean I'll take the rest of where they've been. Who will take the removal?
I'll take stamps with airplanes missing from their governmental designs, but who take the nuance of pinching off of the head?
I'll take replacement of the heart.
They will frolic then, and I'll cavort. They'll take inhabited by fits. I'll take belly-hung soul and its light. Put that in someone else's mouth, I tell them. Now they can listen. Now they can believe it.
That bird's song does not mean happiness but desire. I need something, and I may want it more than I need it.
The monsters were real, but they were my monsters. Only I could make them misbehave.
Who are you then? I'm the only one here.
Oh my daughters. Oh,
Are you really the birth I gave myself?
Have these lights taken me away from myself?
Oh my daughters. Oh my lights in my daughters. Oh lovely monsters. Oh my feet in them. Oh my nearly arrived at. Oh my endlessness pasted transparently over my conclusion. What have I learned?
So you notice I'm not noticing the leaf piles you made to impress me with your diligence and determination to organize and delight, oh my attention-hungry daughter? You've smoothed out the landscape and gathered our understanding of its potential, a moment of intimacy in which the mythical Aegean salts of the old earth's tears appear to take shape in my reception of it all as a fallen leaf-sculpture of a single shuffled-off guest, the one with the white vision, living still in a room where even the weather's beard grows white and hangs down like a masculine veil.
What does the table know, holding up these speculations as I lean on them to light? What does the floor understand, tooled down like many feet had walked there already, just as they will before a new room unmarries its contents?
Sunlight does penetrate, for there is no roof, and it draws out the moisture. Then we can see what each thing really is when it's not lost inside, swimming in itself, trying to push through that which is like everyone else. We know ourselves by moving past the others in us, but the outside is complaining about the wind. Why do you always have to try to lift me, darkened impulse? Am I not the master and you the slave?
The vision must become stained and interrupted to reveal the nature of the window through which you see it. We have worked hard to simulate the absence, even here beneath our feet, where we walk as we see, feeling ahead of ourselves for a clarity that allows us to experience what is not there.
The light comes, metallic, and the light goes, daughter, in search of excess, balanced with deprivation, As if unattached, as if frightened into sharply gyred attentions, as if biting, as if descending, the movement through tall rivers of wood lies fallen and available, the confluence of plant and water, the conspiracy of its turning into.
The earth is in collusion with its notorious moody pathways. It lets you think about forward and back when there is only forward, left or right, when there is one combination that is yours and another which takes you back to the beginning. It does not look like the beginning. You are happy to be there in that strange land making choices, left or right, until one day your pockets are full. You send what's in front of you back to the surface and cut deeper, which makes you turn slower and intensify your heated efforts to intensify your heated efforts.
I stood once in my father's workshop eating a poached egg in a little glass cup. Radiant cousins were waiting in the next room for someone to appear from the other direction. More wooden odor was still desirable but I was already aging. More indirect lighting was calling attention to its secrets. It seemed to be rowing towards an island. It seemed to be dreaming of the seals as women and falling in love. It seemed to be erecting monuments to mysteries that had been there a very long time.
We begin once more to birth grand celebrations, all of us, in every distant room, as if we had planned and accomplished some part of nature. We know in the pitch of our blood that we have arrived at ourselves, a nodule of family emigrating to consciousness, the forest of the father and the ocean of the mother, leaving only what I see of you in my carefully selected box and my carefully selected entertainments inside it, my vision of myself as accessible, but beyond.
She's always starting something small, in the kind of hole in her shoebox where you'd find taxidermy mice and small wooden insects, a voice-over of a hummingbird singing Ave Maria. Mouse napkins, mouse cocktail forks. A miniature summer.
Daughter's part shallow-point queen, part richly-rewarding soft declivity, with a closet full of low budget extras and darling charlatans farting in scuba gear at the bottom of her lover's swimming pool, a temporary guy this time, like Barry or Robert, known widely as Diamondpoint. She thinks I don't know these things.
Her once-upon-a-time-not-so-long-ago-almost-husband is a fretful thing with his hair gelled, an incongruous swagger mouse with finger-cut spiked gloves, his new mistress a pale dominatrix dressed as a Chinese Pheasant named Asia Minor because he did reattach, oh yes, he reattached in a flash. By day the two of them attend to the whispers of museum donors now, those two social accomplishments. "A small place to put the artistic nail," is how they think of their newly acquired obligations.
She's my daughter, but she's the imagination of that daughter, and a small bird sounding far away, speaking as the river inside the shoebox. Patient beetle boys assemble her as their queen of preoccupation. What could she be thinking?
The first dream beyond the starting point had to be bitter. She had never known such a place, and it found her because the starting point was gone, and she hadn't considered how far away after was going to be. Time had gone missing where there had been too much of it. Like a small room emptier for how much it once contained.
I can see now the many lovers her reticence drew forth. The casual storm of ancient foot odor arrives page after storm page, reads us to only mildly disturbing sleep and the small freedoms of dripping snow, inside the smaller holes they make, these lovers that will come and go quickly while she ages.
What was the table thinking when its pins fell out? What the visitor at dinner?
The tailor's chilly amendments then, a kind of commitment, his gravid underbrush wattled out, leafy bits of tree melody falling. His joints have shrunk now, not swollen, this old wooden man we eat and drink upon, this raft of domestic travel I've become without going anywhere at all. What kind of a future will I have? What hole will I make for myself while my daughter digs deeper into hers?
His poor little house has only got thirteen dogs, this man, and they hold together a family of fallen trees. Here we are in our elbows. An absent colonial road points the way to yesterday, the way memory makes a peace of it.
What was the stain of blood raised thinking about when it shaded my scarred surface? An interruption of need with only a pausal relevance, as if a narrative concerning it could only be a thing of placement or a naked doll to play with.
The soft glimmer the trees eat becomes a kind of cerebral chic to other than the tree, as there would be in a vulture or a ferret, for example, hidden in the interior. Outside, the plainness is always exciting to a man like this, but a compelling argument can often remain deliciously misleading.
If I was the tool that contained the truth, I was not sure how much I benefited from that containment. Is it the father's function to merely sacrifice for the daughter? Is his virtue so one-sided?
Try to organize something, then, where nothing is, thinks the diligent father. Listen to space where space has been divided.
Eat then, eat, as if familial substance were possible in the fascinating little arrangement of the area in which we, my daughter and I, create it, a kind filial attachment of the areas that might hold us up to the areas that do hold us up.
In tune with the singing of his knees, the scribe that resides in the father defines his participation with lines, exclusions with arrows. No heavings of the earth. No whispers. Only the implied understanding of bony scratchings upon the partially defined areas of reception. Only our late reception.
In tune with no sound but the sound of scratching, the sound of passing unto.
Eat then, eat of next and eat of before. Eat of after. Eat of never. But do not eat of now. For now is not the counsel of scribedom in process, not the advisement of the passing. Not the innocence of cartridges, not their trajectories. Not the left behind.
The little ones, the daughters left behind orphaned by themselves and their role of reluctance. Why have they not fully arrived at their fathers? Each homeward bound mound a creature of the falling away.
Get swallowed. Get chewed up and instilled. Get persuaded by digestive juices. Get moved along. Get passed. Get anything but gone and the father will make his foolish efforts, as if effort alone where all that was required. Record them. They are not irrelevant, if unsuccessful.
Vocal chords white with dialogue residue in yet another language. They cannot agree with their own movements. This is how we create space within, slowly removed from itself, going maybe nowhere while telling you where. Fourteen intentions and fifteen directions.
Point to this one, and that one appears to move over.
It does not move over.
Once a white dust, always a softening of harsher achievements, mildly behaving, winter rabbit on a summer lawn, lonely as a definite opposite marked with softer, accurate impressions, as one thing which has become more than implied by another, which is no other but part of.
Better ants, better military, better direction of loss. You might as well mark those too. It's the kind of mark that could mean many things.
Fall down, fall down, says the reticent father, ready now to despair himself, ready to erect an inevitable downing. Contained by no more than his direction. Marked off. Detached. Erased a little by his own upward motion. As if he were a thing of beauty before it became a thing of beauty.
Are we arrived yet, daughter? Are we cautioned? Are we both drunk and trouble free? Are we taken with each other?
Pushed to its limits. Not its own limits but the limits of its operation, outlined with sneeze-aged powder. Why do you have to be white? asked the temptress of another life, the dark queen.
Buildings went up. Buildings came down.
You don't speak. You just point.
Then why are you telling me this? says the daughter in the father's dream.
What I meant was not what I was but the corners of the space between, setting itself off already from what can arrive there. I was indirect like that. I was the father, who is seldom clear enough about what he feels to be direct, even when he's specific.
What I meant to say was still surrounded by me, and I directed its movements. Post and ligament tendered, decorated unto the other to be honored and contained within the expanding appreciation.
Plates and the shifting of, wild implications of directional arrows, dry chipped teeth and tears, tension of line and decoration, its holding in and its multiplicity of cornered interpretations.
The time I fell out of a window, I was not the window but the meaning of the window as presented in a particular space and time, which it could not have been anticipated. A kind of restless holding within before the contents appeared.
A colony then, of interior edges assembled to define something they could not contain but only exaggerate. Meaning blown up without exploding, crammed in without breaking.
An affliction of travel-excised repetitions that do not hold to one country, which may appear to be many other countries. Small countries, with arrivals and departures all in one place. Countries that are inside you before you're inside them. Intimate countries that frisk you affectionately. Countries with your reason for traveling in them always posted. And your reason for coming back as if you never left. Unofficially. Just because you're the father, and the daughter is waiting for you.
Rich Ives is a winner of the Francis Locke Memorial Poetry Award from Bitter Oleander and the 2012 winner of the Creative Nonfiction Prize from Thin Air magazine. His books include Tunneling to the Moon, a book of days with a prose work for each day of the year (Silenced Press), Sharpen, a fiction chapbook, (Newer York Press), Light from a Small Brown Bird, a book of poems, (Bitter Oleander Press), and a story collection, The Balloon Containing the Water Containing the Narrative Begins Leaking (What Books).