March 28, 2010

The Number of Things

There are twenty things in the room. One is a shirtdress, made of chambray, that you would like to wear at a sidewalk café sometime. You’d hold a beer to your lips in a glass. One is a braid of wheat-colored hair, your boyfriend’s, from when he cut it off. One is a thin gold anklet that your mom had on when she had you. Another thing is a shallow, ugly saucer handpainted in Mexico, holding cherry pits and cherry stems. There is a magazine that you tear pages out of to feed through the typewriter because they’re lighter and softer than regular paper. There is of course also the typewriter. A tiny Ziploc bag that contains your baby teeth is there. And there’s a T-shirt that reads, “Sure, I’ll take the Pepsi Challenge.” A fern whose fronds spill generously over its pot.

There’s a VCR. On top of the VCR is a videocasette. Every time you fall in love you put the video in and count how many times the person’s name appears in the credits. The video is called Big Trouble in Little China. There’s a short tin cup holding a candle, its green wax clawing the edges like fronds from a fern. There is an unopened package of almonds that sits like teeth in a bag, and a photograph of your dad wearing a T-shirt. He’s hosing off his truck, cool and oblivious. There is an amber ashtray from a steakhouse. It holds cigarette butts like a dish of discarded cherry stems.

There is a list of things in the room, and a golf pencil. There is a phone, a phone book, and a phone jack. There are other things in the room, too.


The woman on the other end of the telephone line asks for you by a name not everyone knows. Your long shirt is pilled and stretched from where you pull it over your knees. Your Venetian blinds are bent in a way that’s disappointing, and a bedside photo of your son seems to say, “This is not the hour for Chinese names.” You breathe hard into the phone like a brainless child who doesn’t know how to use it. Her voice sounds bright like money when she says that you are the listed emergency contact for a man called T. You don’t know him so you ask where does he live. She tells you the name of a very long street that could be anywhere: Cherry. You say sorry, you say you cannot help, and you retreat to sleep. The blinds and the bed. The blinds and the bed and the light.


I dreamed you cut my hair and it came back coarse. I had a dream of it. You’re my mother and I dream about your filigree. A ball, a bead in the eye of a volute—the perfect bracelet on the hand of a dead Etruscan. Lost, but for a reliquary cross or the corner of a book.

These words snap me awake: Shogun, chigger, revenant. A force cursed this house—a coryphée, that’s what—until we fled, sheltering our heads. I say it to you. Blood came out of my eyes. I tell you it. It doesn’t scare you. What scares you is a glacier. A jagged colossus, looming in the dead-quiet. This cool mass of ice, like a lumpy heart, just sits, impends. And worst of all, tranquil water. Endless glass, it waits for whatever will sink.


Crawdad in and out, in and under.

And we flung things into the river with loose arms.

They probably flailed; soft fronds like in a terrarium. I had a fit near a cliff’s edge until you put a stop to it.

What fishing? No fishing.

I just plucked hard periwinkle from a slick rock, I just asked you things.

At dusk, dark bats hover and hang over that kind of water.

And that’s the point of dusk.

Your name is all over the place.

Crawdad crawl in, in and under again.

Scenes From a View-Master Reel

To the byre, to the bull in the copper thicket. At cock-crow the king carries his daughter on his back to meet the deathless, the colt, and the yearling. She wears her wooden gown, she wears her iron mortar, and flings the ox-hides over her father’s head. The rat catcher, the bushy bride—they watch from behind.

Submarine voyage in sickly aquamarine: a nightmare Easter Island statue stares back. A trio of nubile mermaids floats in liquid space, closes in on a bearded Neptune. It looks like God but you know that God is really made of abalone.

Now you’re in Yellowstone. All wild geysers and superheated ash. A man and woman strip down to nothing and do it in front of a seething spring. There are no elk anywhere.

In the lighting aisle of a home store, fixtures crane their necks to look at a young man with a huge birthmark. It starts at his right knuckle and sprawls like a slow continent over his shoulder, up his neck, and covers one eye. He has just picked up spackle which he will apply in neat, clean squares on his wall. The light fixtures hover and glare like oppressive stars.

Erika Wilder lives in magical Washington state, where she earned one B.A. in Creative Writing and one in Linguistics, both from the University of Washington. She currently makes her living writing lavish catalog descriptions for an online retailer, and in her spare time is trying to figure out what is prose poetry anyway. At this very moment she is considering a few M.F.A. programs for poetry. She loves tacos and just barely has a blog:

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