Suppose you pull this drawer and release the knives, which have been waiting like spaceships rumbling with energy for the atmosphere to open. The filament fizzes in the lightbulb, a fish frenzied in a too-small bowl. The physical therapist says there are two types of muscles. One melts in his hands, lying down on command like a good dog. The other is concrete. The driveway in your neck runs steep from your first rib to the gate of your brain. It is time to forgive the tender meat of your heart its bundle of nerves. The loveliness of this cherry cabinet which holds its spices like a womb. How a child changes everything though she be but a fleck on the earth. How early in life you learned to wait for the bomb to go off before screaming, so as not to embarrass yourself. Imagine the release is meant to feel like coming upon a street on your daily walk, the nub of the dog’s tail twitching its phantom wag, when suddenly the concrete bursts into hundreds of grey-winged moths lifting on the wind. The dog barks and barks. Forgive things their tense vibration. The knife is only looking to launch into the dark cadaver of space, far from this world. It only wishes, as you do, to dispatch from gravity, to feel weightless, reflecting this exquisite blue marble in its blade.
You could have been counting the foxes tapping their claws across the street at night. You could have been counting diamonds hardening into ghostly fists that knock at the cellar door. The white bulbous shells on the lakeshore among the many needle-sharp spiraled ones. Such a waste, hours lost to counting the windowpanes in this room. Even as the eggs chip open in the arm of the cottonwood tree, and the nest becomes an instrument of golden- mouthed horns. Counting in a pattern so the edges never touch, bouncing from translucent rectangle to translucent rectangle and back again in your mind, so no one else can see, as if this ritual would safeguard order in the world. But the baby bird is dragged off by another bird. Your daughter’s small hands fill with more needles than she can carry, and inside them, she hears the whispering oceans, all of them far away from you. Counting rungs on the banister, steps to the landing, the fingers of your own hands again and again, a steady humming stupor like being carried off in a stream, bumping your head against the muddy banks as you go. You might have had a brilliant mind. But you were busy counting the four wheels beneath your bed. Often, come morning, you wake counting the lobbing paces of your heart. Have you done this all night long, in your sleep? There is a sort of grace in it, after all, counting yourself lucky to be alive.
Cynthia Marie Hoffman is author of Call Me When You Want to Talk about the Tombstones, Paper Doll Fetus, and Sightseer, and recipient of fellowships from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, Civitella Ranieri Foundation, and the Wisconsin Arts Board. Poems have appeared in Lake Effect, Smartish Pace, The Los Angeles Review, diode, and elsewhere. http://www.cynthiamariehoffman.com