10 Pieces

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Burn Notices

burn-notices

Until it blistered and peeled, my nose every summer. Driving down a street in Fort Lauderdale, the inside of my right calf on the exhaust pipe of Rocko’s motorcycle. With damp matches, in a corner of a parking lot in Springfield, Massachusetts, all of my boyfriend’s love letters the morning after he left me. With an unreliable iron, the night before leaving for a job interview in New York, a wedge-shaped scorch in a white blouse. As we drove through and later fell asleep in smoky haze somewhere in a campsite in South Dakota, the blackened prairie on both sides of the highway. Any candle when I got a chance. The towers and with them my psyche. My bridges ever since.

Infrastructure

infrastructure

They have bulldozed half the meadow next to Lighthouse Marina and completely blocked the view of the cove for all the tiny existing houses on Narragansett Ave in order to erect nine identical colonials, none of which has yet been sold. Two of the houses are about half-finished, sitting atop their naked foundations like teeth on receding gum lines, surrounded by piles of dirt and fill studded with stones that have probably lain undisturbed since the last glaciation. A battered wooden sign on the corner announces the building partners, the long-past completion date. I poked around the worksite today, such is my scavenger habit, looking for discarded but valuable objects. Settled on this chunk of puddingstone. It has a cleaved edge, as if sawn to fit an old wall or some other finished surface. It’s resting presently at my right elbow, holding down a note I wrote to myself regarding my upcoming high school reunion, when and where, RSVP date, etc. I really have to remember to go to that.

Curlers

curlers

There was a home perm incident, but the lack of photographic evidence suggests it did not go well. There were nights of sleeping on rollers tightly wrapped in a kerchief as my hair attempted to dry into shapes it did not comprehend. It refused to do anything except spill out from the top of my head and fall straighter than light into the lowest energy state possible. There was, I regret to report, use of a substance called dippity-do. An effort was made. There were judgments. Then the seventies dawned. Women cleared their beauty shelves with one sweep of an arm, wrote manifestos, and started wearing construction boots. Undergarments burned joyfully in the streets. Everyone gave up on their hair, and I was saved.

i want a flagon

flagon

Of ale for an exiled anglophile. Of lemonade for lackluster hearts. Of chocolate milk with a paper straw in it. Of rainwater distilled through pine needles and still tasting of the bitter faultless sky it fell from. Of dandelion wine on the beach and another chance with the boy I nearly kissed. Of tequila, sure, but forgetting that one particular night. Of blood squeezed from a sponge dragged down the floor of an abattoir. Of nectar saved for a weekend at the hummingbird convention. Of tears wept by every sentient creature on earth, served neat with a twist. The perfect container, if that is possible. Portable as a jelly jar containing morning light. Plus music, mercy, joy, regret, love.

Monad and pleroma

monad

For the purpose of discussion and a somewhat palatable geometry that can be sketched on this napkin, assume a circular boundary line. The line divides what is fenced in from what is fenced out, except that nothing can be fenced out but the great silence. Along the boundary, the single point from which it emanates is the source of space, time, matter, relation, being, even nonbeing, which is awarded a tiny attached garage. Also, everything is as full as possible but invisible. There is another point. It’s on the small circle. As the small circle rolls along on the inside of the boundary line, the point traces a hypocycloid with four cusps. For this effect, an equation can be written. Remember the spirograph kit your parents got you when you were ten years old? Change the diameter of the small circle and draw another pattern on the paper. You don’t have to believe everything the gnostics believed. Keep going. Try a different color of ink.

a terrorist

terrorist

I believe it was banana cream. “Hold the pie like this. Walk straight toward him without hesitating and push it into his face. You don’t actually throw a pie, despite what everyone says.” Thus instructed my father. An epic jokester, he knew how to handle the materiel. But his friend Paul Solomon was going to see him coming a mile away. Thus a recruit was needed, and there I stood, nearly sixteen, good girl with yippie tendencies. A promising weapons-delivery system. That summer I had not figured out French kissing. I was in the chorus line of Hello, Dolly! I was wearing ribbons down my back. It worked. I took aim. I was deadly.

Valentine’s Day spell

valentine

At the sweet birch down the bike path just past the old zipper factory. Go there on a cold spring day before these ripen. Leave a round pebble in any suitable spot. Walk home as silently as you are able.

“Constraints are more useful than freedom”

constraints

What I wrote down when the poet said so. So I had to do everything next on four legs. Legs that were imaginary. Imaginary in the sense of possible but not probable. Probable is what we say when watching snow melt. Melt aristocratically from old shaded high places. Places where I have traveled, rock fields I have trammeled, being the odd wise deliberate trammeler that I am. I am not you. You who wind more quickly upwards along a marble stair, heedless of the past. Past avarice, past joy, past all tragicomic urges, past available commentary on events unfolded so far. So far, I have waited too long at this bus station for you to arrive. Arrive, you recalcitrant protestant, at the question, the matter of, the now what.

Sayeth the ant

ant

The instant I stumble and fall in, I know: in order to grow those lovely, intricately window-paned gossamer wings and that delicately striated pulsating abdomen, in order to take to the air like a pinpoint of sequined sunlight, you will have to eat me. And so you do. You crack my bones and drink me down. Crouched and starving, buried in boiling sand at the bottom of hell, you are as hungry as you will ever be. Now. Fly free. Get us out of here. You will hardly know who I am or what I mean, but I shall be good health to you nevertheless. You take my blessing with you as a warning.

A fortune

fortune

You will not soar. Nor sing melodies from fragrant heights of fir trees, nor cross the vast empty sky with your flock under moonlight. You will not. You will keep your feet on the ground and build the softest, sweetest, safest burrow you can. You will raise your chicks and get your living from paying attention to what is right in front of you. Draw a low profile, pay your accounts, honor the commons. All around you the strange lands roll out toward far horizons in every compass direction. Resist them. Fire thou a will. Defeat give scorn. Believe thyself divine.

 

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About Author

Karen Donovan is the author of Fugitive Red, which won the Juniper Prize for Poetry. Her new book of poems, Your Enzymes Are Calling the Ancients, won the Lexi Rudnitsky Editor's Choice Award from Persea Books and was published in 2016. These 10 small essays are from a collection called “Aard-vark to Axolotl,” written in collaboration with the engravings in her grandfather’s 1925 Webster’s New International Dictionary. Other essays from the collection have appeared in Diagram, Sweet, Web Conjunctions, Conduit, and Smokelong Quarterly. She co-edited the prose journal ¶: A Magazine of Paragraphs and works in Providence as a writer.

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