The Story in the Binding
The year I was ten, my grandmother sent
two Nancy Drew mysteries each month.
Bright, blonde Nancy on every cover –
her surprised red circle mouth,
her shocked arching eyebrows,
the result of high-class distress
in pretty New England towns. I wrote
down everything I suspected was true
and wrong about myself on folded squares
of paper and forced them into the spines
of those books with the certainty I was
already too perverse to live, my mouth
itself a sinful fissure in my face
addressing God in his stainless heaven.
When I left for college, my mother gave
every book to Goodwill. I hope the girl
who found them found also my story
in their binding and learned not to listen
to the bastard preacher in that mobile roadside
church as he damned her every Wednesday
and twice on Sundays just for being a woman
in her body. I hope she left the South – and that
trained belief in the wrong God, the one they say
made the hell and the falling always towards it –
escaped daring any but the sinner to follow her.
First understand that days have not always been numbered
on this cycle, have not always been counted up
this way. Ours is not the first calendar. Steady yourself.
This is not the first day of life’s essential fire.
You can always restart your eyes – their half-lidded, rapid
opening and closing slat doors. The unseen is, in view,
unknown, then known, then shut blind, then forgotten
and again. I am telling you nothing new. We are not yet
moving forward in the story. Do not bother trying to shut down
your life. There is never an ending that ends it.
So nothing begins at one very beginning.
You were born, yes. You grew a skin around the all of God
and screamed out your first breathing. There will be
your death, yes, but not an end to the rest of the living.
You’ve been growing and dying along a self-drawn lifeline
this whole time. Only when you become
tired and afraid, afraid and tired, do you know it.
So restart but stop counting down the calendar days.
There is only ever God in the sightless unknown,
and you returning, me returning, us returning
to the unbegun, unended all, spoken holy.
Sometimes it is dark in the day,
I told you, the light draining like dusk
but the sun still fading you, your face
in profile in the driver’s window
as if finally we were outrunning ourselves.
I never told you this, what I hoped
for us. The blackened sides of the sky
slid against us across both Carolinas
that night. We almost didn’t get through,
the narrow lives they tried to choose for us
letting in only thin reflected light.
I searched the rural highway, as if I knew
what I wanted, would recognize it on sight.
Maybe that’s how anything gets made –
history, the road behind us returning to where
we’ve been. That was the other option,
turning back, but I can no longer act
ashamed. The car’s downturned lamps divide
white and shadow like a turning moon,
like a whole month, a life, seen only
in darkness. You thought you felt a girl
break under the wheel but you kept going.
What you see is water, blue-edged water,
carrying its dead to the shore, releasing the
shed shell, the dislodged tooth, the piece
of a creature torn from its source.
What you understand is how the ocean brings
these in and in all night all day towards the dry
sand for burial, fills itself in so quickly,
it is difficult to displace. No emptiness
made will remain. Some things heal themselves
without thought or intention. So the dead arrive
on the human staked shore as if we land walkers
were sea widows waiting at the waterline
to begin the grief rituals whether or not
the dead thing feels itself gone or is sad to be.
And I know I am one unknowing how much longer
will I stand here letting the evidence of my losses
surge back at me, uncounting how many fragments
will I have to lower into the earth before
I let the gone go on, let even my knowledge of them
disperse, their energy return into the endlessness
of ocean, constant ocean which is god here.
Ashley Crout was born in Charleston, SC, and graduated from Bard College and the MFA program at Hunter College. She is the recipient of a poetry grant from The Astraea Foundation and has received awards from The Academy of American Poets and the Poetry Foundation. Her work has been published in Sojourner and the Saint Katherine Review, among others. After eleven years in New York City, she returned to the South where she currently lives with her hellhound, Hud.
To read Ashley’s Blood Oranges, click here.