You think the package is a gift but it encloses a violence, a rupture that took place even before your awareness of it. A carelessness, tossed from one overseer to another; which then delivers bits of broken glass to puncture the flesh on the tip of your finger— That's all it takes to set the blood loose: your own undoing, they'll say, as you open the box to see if you can finally claim what it was you thought you purchased. You wince at the momentary pain before pressing a dish towel or bandage strip across the wound— No matter how familiar to the tired of disappointment, disappointment keeps showing up like a history that keeps repeating itself.
Don't apologize, said the dark-haired poet who is no longer in this world. She meant the rooms are not too small or cramped; the roof doesn't leak right now. There's something to offer the unexpected guest: a hot meal, a spare room, a pillow for her head before she goes back on the road. You remember her words at the most unexpected times. Light passes through the narrow necks of glass jars on the kitchen sill. You choose from the drawer a knife that will slice a tomato into even wheels and cut a sandwich into neat triangles. At night, you slide a prayer with your finger down the long, graceful bone crossing from one shoulder to the other of your beloved before you both fall asleep.
You know how to pretend you have no heart. It's dangerous to wear it, bright red and soft yellow, out in the furrowed plots of your green flesh. Sometimes the one who cuts you open twists each half of you in opposite directions, then strikes a knife into that woody globe, trying to lift it out clean. But you never want to be so easily taken, to be scooped up, rind scoured, put whole into the mouth. You hold out sometimes. Long enough to spurn the blade so it twitches, lodges in another's skin.
There's always still a row of shoe- shine boys next to the lottery ticket counter at the market, which your classmate Mario's father used to own. Mario drowned in a swimming accident. Perhaps he's buried in an ocean region where yellow boxfish are holding a secret Yayoi Kusama exhibit, since the afterlife is only another room in a largely unexplored museum. Perhaps his fortune is to look at the moon behind a blue veil of water without being charged the standard entry fee, while we spend all our lonely coins on the dream of a future without chains or jails or for- profit insurance. The shoe-shine boys sit you on a high wooden stool and hand you a copy of the day's newspaper, but you fall asleep. They'll slick the tops of your boots with wax and brush them to a glossy shine while humming salidummay. When you open your eyes, all the windows along the avenue are lit as if with fire. Don't worry, it's only the ancestors brandishing their torches at the apocalypse.
It took years to acknowledge I didn't want to stay. But not in the way you think you understand. To do that took all of the last gifts I'd been given. Now my world is the constant re-assemblage of before and after. What's left over: a kind of moss I use to pad the bottom of this terrarium. Everything I've ever had to prove of worth, gnawed through to the core by river rats that came into the house at night until they became familiar.
"No geology is neutral." - Kathryn Yusoff Divide, they said. And they divided valleys into troughs, separated water from its native names, our people from each other. Collectors flapped their arms under the canopy, marveling at the ruffled crest of the umbrella cockatoo while thinking up possible carnival routines. The tiny footprints of chevrotain disappeared in dense carpets of moss. Domesticate meant: make a hole large enough for a body to occupy, so the work of expansion continues from inside. Mountains hollowed for silver and gold, for copper vein. The opening in the land a skylight for all the dark bodies dropped into it, made to extract their most sacred elements. In time, the land publishes every incursion— Open any rock face to read the overlapping tables. Make a pin map of every place where matter was atomized for some kind of conquest or consumption.
There was the one lost shortly after being discovered; it was the year a man smashed his SUV into the front of a St. Paul Planned Parenthood office, on the 36th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. Not there, but in Virginia later that spring, she found herself waiting to be examined. The doctor remarked on how all the women that morning seemed "of a certain age,"in that time when the body starts playing tricks on you. She was sent home to wait another week; too early. Then that weekend, in the shower, a dark red memento slipped with hardly a spasm from between her thighs onto wet tile. Perhaps her body was no longer a structure with strong beams or working viaducts. Perhaps a wound is better left alone. Perhaps another body orbiting in space blinked faintly before deciding to go its own inscrutable way.
No matter how much you want to, you cannot do the work for others. Where did they go, those cool pine-scented nights that breathed so quietly you believed no harm could come to those you loved? Boats melt into the bluegreen dapple of evening; a fountain turns itself on somewhere. The water as tender as a new wound— How long and hard you've prayed for some kind of angel to scatter the dark birds that keep coming to rest in your children's hair.
A sign at the Asian grocery: White Coconuts $2.95. As if to reassure you buy the sweet white flesh there, intact beneath the green exocarp, the dense middle, the hard woody layer enclosing the seed— In that scene from Minari, there are no actual coconuts where Jacob persuades the greengrocer to buy produce from him. There are most likely packets of dry noodles, bottles of gochujang sauce, barley tea, foil-wrapped snacks. Bok choy and daikon. Back on the farm grandmother walking sets the shed on fire. There is no rind or layer to the hungry flames that lick at all the fruit stacked lovingly in crates. In the morning, white ashes on the ground under which the water, so difficult to woo in this land, winds its selfish way. A coconut, and all drupes, have three layers: the exocarp (outer layer), the mesocarp (fleshy middle layer), and the endocarp (hard, woody layer that surrounds the seed).
So many stories of unfinished business— A deadline or curfew always looms at midnight. The young gallants must return their dance partners to the dock before they're discovered missing, before their boats sink or dissolve in sunlight. To break a spell, the girl's flashing fingers must fling the woven garments on the flock as it rushes into the air at dusk. Don't ask why one has an arm that drags like a broken wing though the rest of his limbs are whole. Don't ask why the sole of the shoe wears thin night after night and why no leather can withstand the chafing of desire. Ask instead why no one opened the door to let the orphan in, instead of allowing her to crouch outside in the cold; she struck match after match against a flimsy book until not one stick remained, not one red flame making promises.