Remnants – II. Burn, Float
God, I am supposed to love you. Instead I look for myself in photographs of other people.
In a field, or in a backyard strung with clotheslines, the children gather and huddle. They squint and tilt their heads away from the sun. Half closing their eyes in order to see better, they are trying to look at the photographer. The heat and light push their necks down, push their heads down, like punishment to which they are accustomed.
A cape of light, in the hot afternoon.
These are children who all look the same. Who all look like me. Who all looked like I looked, but for a crook in the nose, a thicker brow, a narrower lip, a more slender neck.
Their heads emerge from one white mass of clothes; they gather close as if they are in bed, sleeping together for warmth; a nest of offspring. A litter. A bed of straw and limbs. I see my face. It disappears.
The girl holds a bag that shows a picture of a child holding a bag. The child on the bag looks like a clown or a scarecrow. The children are scarecrows, frightening but not dangerous, which is more frightening. But they draw other children in because other children liked to be scared. They draw me in because I am scared.
Their thoughts are ragged, dressed up and torn down. The figures are wheat-doll effigies, already smoke, already ghosts.
The sun is whole; the sun is partial. The black shadow of the moon overtakes the sun, the hand in the photograph covers the flash. The shadow holds the children in his hand, hides the woman in the hat. She is pleased to be behind everyone, holding them up like a scene.
The smudge, the shadow, the mistake. The children tilt away from it. It’s always there.
The girl holds up that bag so it fits inside the frame of the photograph. They went apple picking. They went berry picking. They went for a swim and the bag carries her wet clothes.
These are children who went for a dip in the pond, splashing their white reflections:
All of them went floating, all of them tried to sink to the bottom: holding their breaths and losing count, pretending they weighed nothing, descending in the brown night of water, elbows and heels and backs hitting the cold green silty bottom and then in a flash swimming upward like a shuttle, speeding upward towards bright air, ready to inhale the clear blue sky and look around to see if they are triumphantly alone.
Up and down, in and out of the water, panting, mussing their hair until it curled, tangled and matted like dogs. They escaped when they felt themselves become waterlogged, scrambling onto the mud and grass and sliding their wet feet into their warm dry shoes, and slipping their cotton jumpers and smocks over their wet shoulders. Their cotton clothing attached to their clammy skin. Dark blue transparency blooming.
Would they see me there in the water: standing, watching? Would they feel they’d forgotten something, feeling their pockets for their money, and their heads for their hats, and still look back?
Is it like this: death?
This standing. This watching. This looking for eyes.
Is it you?
The eyes are not here. There are no eyes here.
My gray feet are real,
are cool and actual like clay,
in the shallow brown water along the far bank.
First, she is hidden,
then she appears.
Not mother, not sister, not cousin, nor aunt.
Secret woman, where have you gone?