Bird, the plectrum, some taut electric line hum—

by Chandler Lewis

The series of subconcussive blows, the small stash of memory secreted from each day, stowed beneath the hinged dinette bench, the sound of gunshots at unnameable hoot owl hours, the stench of my breath as I relate this story to you. We sat on a beach. We walked up a mountain. We rode our bikes through lawn sprinklers. We buried each other.

The clutch of this shirt’s silky thread, my taut purse strap’s indented line pale like a cold noodle on my tan-specked shoulder, where the bony shoulder blade protrudes, flesh a newly washed bedsheet spread over a line to dry, the one curl of hair against my neck, wisp of fuzz in the sun, how sound washes deadened in a certain afternoon’s light. We drove the Trans-Canada Highway. We took diving lessons. We made tiramisu.

I read all your letters last night lying across the back seat of my car, smoking cigarettes and grinding my nails down. I read all your letters again this morning at a bus stop in Binghamton, New York. I grew my eyebrows long and learned to fly airplanes and became well adjusted and paid my taxes. The archives eventually went to the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and I was buried in a cemetery in the Hudson Valley. The letters were somewhere else, had become someone else’s, maybe in California. We wrote by hand. We texted each other gamely. We Gchatted manifestos and one liners.

The burning monk smelled first like gasoline exhaust and then like his clothes and then the smell of meat grilled at a summer barbecue. The crowd shifted, and I noticed first no one was looking where they were going but back where they’d come from, feet and heads opposed, so the shift was a confused and directionless wave of bodies that seemed simultaneously pushed and pulled, that dark smoke all the while blown through their arms and legs and commingled with their hair. We watched Mad Men. We watched The Wire. We watched America’s Next Top Model. We watched The Weather Channel on mute backwards in the mirror above the bar drunk.

The police cruiser that never had a cop in it parked along the highway, the camera mounted just outside the vestibule where he smoked American Spirits and always snuffed the butt in the sand of the ashtray, even in the winter when it was frozen impenetrable and dense, a granular mass, the security officer’s walkie-talkie hissing static in the hallway beyond the frosted glass office door, the flashing green light of the router, the small black button-like lens atop his computer monitor, the engines, all engines, revving in between buildings, the pages, all pages, with redacted swaths of black, the congressional review committee’s Sunday golf game, the police cruiser parked along the side street that had a cop in it, the traffic camera swaying in the sea breeze, the helicopter’s percussive rotors behind the roofline, the television’s browser cache, the slight wooden creak in the middle of the quiet afternoon. We walked the dogs on every street in Altoona, Pennsylvania. We watched Shakespeare in the Park drinking Citron and 7 from a three-liter bottle. We wore our heels down dancing at the Holiday Inn.

You said he’d be a treasure in hard times. You said he’d be remembered when the sun grew golden in its smolder and the winds turned in from the breakers. You said—your surfboard erect and jutting from the sand—let’s get lit and think about his fuckin crazy ass. You said he shouldn’t have banked on the gods’ favor. You said the bridges we burn heat our blood for battle. You said he’d be an ember left over from old fires.

You said in that trembling voice of yours how much you felt when you were young but all that is done gone now. You said you owe me for gas. You said it’s always darkest after you’re dead. You said what the hell, no one ever got rich by being poor. You said watch the news sometime and you might learn something about patrimony. You said money ruins everything, and by everything you mean people. You said forget the gas money, you can drive the Ohio stretch. You said see where that leaves us. We washed the car in the middle of the night. We shoplifted steaks from the Fairway. We contributed to public radio.