Beyond The Floating World

BEYOND THE FLOATING WORLD, published in PoetryandStory, 2002

The first time I came to the lake, it was summer. Azaleas bloomed by the roadside, bees crept drowsily from the chrysanthemums, and the air had a marshy smell. The road wound above brown gorges with muddy streams and waterfalls. The path climbed steeply, and then descended quickly towards the lake, ending at a ledge with wooden stairs. I could see the cottage down there, nestled between two peach trees, a rusty fridge lying on its side by the front door.

* * *

There are hills above the lake, a convenience store, small farms, a pasture. A horse trots up to the fence and leans his head on my shoulder. The breeze is wet, the sky darkening. Summer lightning, waves gathering on the lake, water filling a moored boat. I awaken hungry, strangely empty. Yesterday I cut my toe on a rock, and sucked it clean. The water was cold and clear, the bottom brown.

* * *

The lake has only a few speedboats this summer, coming and going like fast-moving clouds. Mallards bob on the water. Sometimes it’s very choppy. The blue heron fishes here, water lapping at his legs; on the porch a rabbit pauses, listening. The other day a young couple dropped by, from a cabin on Barton’s Point. Timid at first, they soon bustled about, helping with insulation. Recent graduates, looking for work. Doug Parr, a
retired insurance salesman, stops by now and then with his daschund, who clambers eagerly up my leg. He tells me this lake is America’s best-kept secret. At night I watch the spiders tidying up, adjusting their webs. A giant daddy-long-legs staggers up the window, his probosces sweeping. After several trips, he hides near the ceiling.

* * *

On the lake in moonlight, the air cold enough to hurt, the water still, a small boat glides silently by. I’m losing weight, a bag of bones, a man from the tropics freezing his butt off. How well I remember my tropics: night walks through towns smelling of incense and fish, temple halls lit up by fiery torches, priests intoning their mantras and offering me flames. Hands in prayer, tempted by fire, lusting after salvation.

* * *

Yesterday a woman came to call, a real-estate agent. Roberta wore jeans and a leather coat, brown eye-shadow, a Brooklyn twang. The cottage has a buyer. I talked Roberta out of it, but felt a twinge of regret as I watched her disappearing back. Alison was like that, her back disappearing on me, sucked back into the ether. When we were together, she was kind, though inattentive, perhaps because she knew we couldn’t take it anywhere. We went through the motions, tossing out diapers, taking in in-laws, dining out, wining in, throwing away money on bright Benzes and gleaming Buddhas. The girls watched on from the back seat. Alison came unglued and is now a memory, a red-haired girl playing the flute in the brightly lit room where we first met. Her lips blow gently, eyes closed in attentive repose.

* * *

The lake changes by the minute, weather fronts moving in and out. It’s still very cold. The blue heron didn’t come last spring. Roberta came by with ground coffee and a pie. People are wondering about the new millennium. There is a sense that the world is full of energy and rushing forward, a brightly painted orb wafting giddily through space. Meanwhile I remain tethered here, alpaca-wrapped, dreaming of tropical suns. Then I am back in a garden with jacaranda trees, chasing dragonflies, running after chameleons. Laughter and summer shouts, teeth sinking into chutney sandwiches, hands brushing away flies, women gossiping, in an afternoon which could last forever. Someone pours tea into pale blue cups.

* * *

The child is the mother of man. Hop over a stream, sandals in hand. A ball, glistening, soars through the air. She raises her arms and is gathered up. Sunlight, eyebeams, mascara: fingers, lips, dreams of sweat. Fortune favors the bold. Chasing after it, so many paths through the grass. A cobra slips away, zigzagging, an egg in its mouth. One day all will be revealed. Shed your skin and what’s left. Easier said than done. The jacaranda has flowered.

* * *

Back with Alison, having her baby, push hard, a little mouse, her mother’s hair and freckles. It will come to her easily, all instinct. Go on, spoil them, lift them up when they cry. When in doubt, consult Dr. Spock. Reach for the cake. Swallow the universe. The lake has been getting cleaner. The bottom is getting closer, flat green stones, forming a mosaic.

* * *

As I turn to sleep, the snow arrives quietly, snowflakes gently tapping on my window pane. Snow sails through the trees, a white dress falls on a black bedpost. My chest aches: what would it feel like to stop breathing? I hear the water lapping suddenly, as if the lake just switched itself on. I hold on to the sheets. I am at last in love, sitting under a willow, hearing the murmur of a faraway flute.

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