I, i: SPLIT VERSION
I, i: SPLIT VERSION
I've always been the one to take up where she left
off. I hefted her pack,
the threads of her, to Memphis. I can't trust her. She didn't mean it.
went on the road to get thin, she made up the names of towns. I thought
while I'd go to Georgia. Red clay country. Paint myself new.
There's no more water at Atwater. The lake
dried up, no one knows why. I
walk across the bed. Once mud to your waist if you dove that far. The
water's in houses, where I don't go. A short woman asked me in. I was
Her clothes wore down to webs. I stole some off a line at night.
This is one side of her first call home:
Where are you? Are you at the hospital?
Jesus Christ! Well how was I supposed to know?
Look just tell me where you are. I'll
I said I was sorry. I said that.
Look I just couldn't
Are you at the hospital? Tell me.
Well if you don't tell me how am I supposed
No. No, it won't be okay.
No. I'm sorry.
That was a long time ago.
I did take up for her once before. Vince
Goodenough spit a tooth and I left
before he did. They called her into the office till everything was her
If I had only stayed with her. If I had only been with her then.
She lives with her mistakes but that doesn't
mean I have to. I can't even
see the greasy swing of his hair or the mole just left of his bellybutton.
don't even think them. I did some reading in a library in Ralston Arkansas.
says that girls who do what she did often do what she did. Girls who do
or get things done do things to themselves. Sometimes on the road.
She did thin out but her skin got bad,
her pack heavy. I took it up. She's seen snow, she used to love to swim.
Not me. They say it snows sometimes
in Memphis but I wasn't about to wait around to see. I left her there,
listening to hard love. Left her crooked in the heavy arm of a song and
on. All day she can sit in the half-light, or stand in the doorways with
men. The cars will pass. Doorways keep you safe during earthquakes. I
that once too.
Has she made me afraid? Memphis is behind
me. Or maybe not by now. Maybe I'm sneaking up on her from behind, instead
of the other way, and I don't even know. And she doesn't know. All the
way to Atwater I was looking for that thick late sunlight. She thought
it would fix her if she could stand in it.
I like to remember feet as the only things not
moving. Water wore
everything down and even sanded the light. Making guitar hands that thicken
and slow time. Too dumb to get hungry, they said that. Too dumb to get
hungry. I sing to myself. Take me down, pass me around.
Memphis is in its doorways. A Beale Street
woman sings in a green dress.
They don't talk like this where I came from but they did on the way down
sometimes. Truckers with thick spit, bandanna-marked, on their way, like
me. Sometimes, on the way down, I fought them off. Now I'm white in Memphis
with bones like a horn player's hands. One of the old.
I hear the sound of cars where no cars
last long. Passing through. She is
before me, how long will it take before I catch up with her? Sometimes
remember who lies behind me. Lies so I can't turn around, only double
back. I'm in this place, always dusty. It's supposed to change but I can
You want a hot dog honey?
Some potato salad. Just a little scoop.
I'm fine Mom.
I know you're sad about breaking up with Ray but --
I'm not sad.
you can't justSorry?
I said Im not sad.
In Memphis we changed for good. I didn't mean it.
It didn't matter. In
leaving him she left him with me. In leaving me. My eyes the size of the
just left. Big and brown as nights in a city left on. I wonder where I
Where she is. Saying no to someone somewhere. I hope for her.
The name of this town is Hopkinson Ohio.
The name of this town is Little
Ridge Tennesee. The name of this town is No Direction. The name of this
town is Atwater Mississippi.
She stole for me from a line of ghosts.
If I went back would mouths flap in
the breeze from window to window? But it wasn't the flapping I worried
about and she knew that. It was the breeze.
Who has made me afraid? Everyone wants
to know whose side, which side, the other side. But what makes them think
if they knew the other side they'd know any more? These are my feet on
the lake bed. The sudden water around them makes them look like they're
Some time ago I worked for a 24-hour sexual violence counseling
and crisis response hotline. Anonymous voices laid out for me isolation
and division, decision, what you have to do sometimes. We carry our weaker
selves or leave them behind, offer them to the past for cradling or look
for them in the future. The speaker began life as one young woman, but
listening to her I heard a series of different possibilities and fractures.
In answer to a voice on the other end of a hotline I once said: whatever
you feel, that's the truth.