Females of one kind of firefly imitate the distinctive flashes by which females of another kind attract their mates. A male attracted to the false light is caught, eaten.
The wife begins
to mimic moans
of husband’s lover—
a lament seductive,
and soon he will
by all that is submerged
below her mouth.
[Having almost no mass] makes [neutrinos] ideal for probing the most inaccessible corners of the universe but also makes them almost impossible to detect.
If my mother had me by cesarian, she would cherish the scar, would stand arms over abdomen at cocktail parties, pinky cocked from highball and stroke the razed tissue through her skirt. She’d wear bikinis to suburban pools and crisp her belly, the white scar gleaming like an exit sign.
I am forever scarring my mother, attributing her grace to women in parks and supermarkets, women I’d surely sleep with were it not for their deformities: twisted lips of a once-cleft palette; melanoma-like maps of climatology; pig-nose, dog-ears and eyes like an Eeyore: sad beyond mortality.
Like my mother, I wanted to be a scientist, wanted to travel to Earth’s edge of nothingness in search of something. I’d dig with supple hands a half-mile down in virgin ice to measure the near-imperceptible, the spittle of supernova kiss to cold lips of northern sky, and ensuing passage through Earth’s core. I’d record everything: the nothingness that everyday bombards our heads and hearts.
Our house was a riddle that the fiddler had spun out of control in a nightmarish freak show. Sense was replaced with insanity. And my mother— did she have sense or, was she the true freak in my show?
Her eyes wide, lucid with a blank staring gaze, occasionally a flicker of dazed happiness or fits of blinding rage would cross my mother’s face. Birds: green, yellow, blue, orange, every color, every species one could fathom surrounded her. A single parakeet would perch on top of her head, a dove on her shoulder, and she would be feeding a baby finch from her mouth. The parakeet would relieve itself in her hair, she never noticed. The pantry was filled with birdseed and maggots had begun to fester while our food rotted away.
Besides the birds, mother’s only other prized possession was the room of mirrors. It was originally supposed to be a dinning room, the table still resided, but the chairs lay dusty in the garage. The walls, from ceiling to floor were made of glass, mirrors to be exact. Reflected in the glass walls were tiny wings, feathered, stone, wood, flowing gowns of satin and pearl and staring back at you were the dead eyes of hundreds of angels. They had flown to her from all points of the earth. Many of the faerie-like angels touched the ceiling with the very tips of their wings and some of them were as tiny as a button. Nobody was allowed to touch them.
Every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday we attended the white chapel. A sterile, “safe” environment for the youth of these dark days. I was in the church choir and played the part of church camp counselor, a missionary of God. Until I was kicked out of church, for smoking and listening to non-Christian music. A fiery sermon was preached on how the unholy ones that turned to the devil, would burn forever in the pits of hell, so be forewarned, “Stay away from that devil child. She is cursed!”
As punishment, I was put under lock and key in my attic room, “You shall not come out until you have the books of the Bible memorized and I will quiz you on them. So know it, by heart!” she yelled. There was a little closet, a dark hole, warm and safe, so I crawled inside and fell asleep. I awoke to soft layers of clothing wrapped around my shoulders and draped over my knees. The floor was carpeted and warm underneath. Eventually, I crept out and looked at the twinkling stars as they peeked out at me, winking, from the parallel skylights that were over my bed.
What to do? I glanced over to the corner of my room and something caught my eye. The metal, hunter-green tool box full of oil paints my grandmother had entrusted to me. I had never given them much thought before. The rusted hinges groaned as I opened the lid and peered in. An array of colors in tiny metal tubes greeted me. I ran my finger along the twenty-year-old bristles of the wooden, horsehair brushes. An old yellowed canvas jutted out from behind my drawing table. I pulled it out and propped it up, and stared at it blankly. The first stroke hit the canvas with a bit of uncertainty and then it flowed like liquid from my hand. Burnt umber, outlined in thin black lines formed a cross. White and golden yellow illuminated the wood in a brush of sunlight, hitting it like the morning dawn. Lush, green hills rolled, with a sprig of flower buds. In the foreground, the earth was blackened with soot and the trees were ashes, surrounding an upside-down cross, withered and decrepit. The painting engulfed me for a week’s time, or more. I never left my attic. My sister brought offerings of tacos and bananas, for nourishment, which I would forget to eat. In the end, the painting was crude and beautiful all in one, a masterpiece in my fifteen-year-old eyes.
I hopped down the stairs into the depths of the house below and into the study where mother sat, with a bird on her shoulder, working on her private “Jesus Loves the Children” foundation, she had started (which eventually would put us in debt). “Look,” I said thrusting the painting at her, “I painted it myself!” Silence. I waited for her praise.
“The devil has stolen your soul. Now you shall truly burn in hell!” What did she say? I was back in my attic, throwing things into a bag, climbing out the chain ladder on the second floor and out the window. By the time my feet hit the ground, my best friend was waiting in the driveway. We sped away, down the scorching asphalt road.
Time passed and went by, with a wave and a toothless grin. Finally I decided to go home. I brushed the long walking sticks, that gathered like winding tree branches, away from the keyhole, turned and with a click, the door squeaked open. The voices of birds greeted me. The house was empty. I looked back at my friend and she frowned, and decided to wait in the car. I tip-toed up the stairs.
A cross rested on the front of my closed door, which I had left open. I took a deep breath, and swung open the door. The walls were barren: no posters, no sketches and no drawings. Of course, my masterpiece was gone. The only things that marked the walls at all were the oily indentions of crosses in holy water. I opened my little closet, my clothes were gone. My books and music were, all gone. The only thing left, besides my bed and dresser, was the Bible and the Precious Moments Dolls. I screamed.
“Hi, darling!” my mother appeared beaming, “it’s so nice to see you. I was wondering what happened to you.”
“What!? Where is my stuff?”
“Oh, those things. I burned them.”
“Everything? Even the clothes I made?”
“Oh, well, if you want to call those tattered things clothes, yes. We will go and get you some nice blouses and skirts. It will be fun.” Her face darkened, “Those things were the devil’s anyways. You don’t need them. Do not worry, Emily and I blessed your room, so you are safe now.”
At that moment, something in me broke. I grabbed the Precious Moments dolls and started flinging them over the balcony. She might not have wanted me, but her delicate angels did. Their heads lopped off with ease and I wound my slender fingers round their hair. Now for the birds: I hated them most of all. But they were to hard to catch and in the end I set them free.
I watched them soar away, like I never could. In the background I could hear her speaking in tongues as I walked to the car.
“Well the moon is broken
And the sky is cracked
All your cryin’ don’t do no good
Come down off the cross
We can use the wood
This is not my home
I’m just passin’ thru
Come on up to the house.”—Tom Waits