The Blindness

By Sarah Crossland

1. THE HISTORY AND THE CIRCUS

 

My father first took me to the circus

to acquire new theories of colour—so that

the way his mustache fluttered, small grey wing-

less butterfly, when he said words to me

ending in -ous: for the feet of the horse:

castaneous, for the ballerina

of the air who as she concentrated kept

her lips cretaceous—that faded from red,

hungry for blood to rush back up in them

when parted slightly for a kiss. We threw

the popcorn in the violet trenches where

the short men waddled nightly in gauze shorts.

I ate my fingernails—trimming along

the white moons until each of them was gone.

 

What type of citrus? my father would ask,

would best resemble the flames burgeoning

from the fire-eater’s mouth? A grapefruit,

shaddock, citrus paradisi. Even

in my bedroom fire was the forbidden

fruit: I was six and lit candles as if

I could burn down a house and all of its

outbuildings with a single tilted wick.

 

 

2. CAPTIVITY

 

My mother in the trundle bed smoking

until she fell asleep—now, this is when

I stole her lighters, and then one by one

at night I would display on my old quilt

the holy marketplace: the red, the gray,

and the yellow, translucent as a peach—

veined plastic, silvery-knobbed, safety-latched—

I broke through those so early—then as if

conducting a parade: the three-ring act,

the flick after flick after flick. I held

the light hostage as if it were a husband made

to dance, the palatial places of his

colour: blue unhourglass, the outline

of it, the mountain of blond and of heat, so like

a cone, my lips drawing closer, closer

until I stopped and slowly drawing back

my tongue, I held my breath and blew it out.

 

 

3. HAIR STORY

 

My mother went blind the night I cut off

my hair—what was once the russet of cooked

tuber, imperial and expansive

as a vetch, long enough to sit on, to

burn by accident on the elements

heated redly on the stove—ends coiling

up secretly, only to be noticed

later as I lay in bed, combing it

with my fingers. I had no desire

 

for boyishness. Which is what my mother

called it—whispered to my father before

I’d even set down the shears. How will she

fall in love now? she demanded, weeping.

How will she plait it, how will she turn it

round and round until a bun? It was then

that she blinked her eyes and did not again

open them. Her eyelids—always a smooth

lake, unswimmable, replaced her seeing—

and now, in less of danger, I began

to play with fire as one plays with a man.

 

 

4. ONOMATOPOEIA

 

So she resigned to imagine vision

by its sound. A long garden of midnight

Jessamine became the cull of the wind

filtered through a thousand pointed petals.

The rusty blush of my cheeks when we passed—

walking arm in arm—each streetlight blazing,

each beeswax candle lonely and erect

in a baker’s shop window: the faster trot

of my heels, quickened heartbeat, nervously

my voice—ugly creature—We’re almost home.

 

My father learned to touch her forehead first

before a kiss. Otherwise, she’d startle.

Otherwise, she’d swat him away as if

fruit flies disturbing in large quantities

the dark nest of her hair. She prayed nightly

that I would dress myself accordingly:

my bodice whaleboned tight, the arrasene

embroidered with sugarberries—leaves tamed

by winding vines—my pink undergarments

unmentionable. I still could not play

the harpsichord. I knew about flowers

almost nothing. And each evening after

supper, I sat by the fireplace, hands cupped

one to the other, my body nothing

but itself. Expectant, soaped clean, untamed.

 

 

5. VESTAL VIRGIN

 

I did not call it Agni and I did not

wander with the smallest sprigs of my hair

leaping out like sparks from a pink laurel

of kindling. I did not arrange offerings

of beans, of dried calla lilies and their

stamens, pressed. Ours was a purer love.

My father, to care for my mother, stopped

bringing me to the circus. They spent hours

candlelit, in bed, my father trying

to describe for her each shadow casting

itself to the wall. To her, they sounded

like silence. And this is when I removed

what thin clothing I wore—as they were up

among the blankets—this is when I slipped

cold-shouldered through the door and went outside

in search of perpetual lamps, forever

ashless, starved for the wood of the hawthorn.

 

 

6. BRIGHT STAR

 

There is very little to be said of

sacrifice. That it is difficult but

desired, a matter of readiness.

Of preparation. For seventeen days

I practiced watching the cirrostratus

clouds, waiting for a break of yellow light.

I fashioned no devices—fancied no

mirrors, poked no pin-holes through cordovan.

I merely went outside. I merely looked

up at the sun, shining like a fire

opal, contained within itself—I stared

and stared and stared. The breath in me captive

as the seeds at an apple’s core. I walked on out

through the sky, as if along the tightrope

of the driveway, my eyes closed or open,

my heart a hundred versions of itself,

burgeoning again, again in the dark.

 

___

Sarah Crossland is a Poetry MFA candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she teaches creative writing and serves as the Managing Editor of Devil’s Lake. Her website is www.sarahcrossland.com.


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