J                                          O                                          A                                          N



I was born atop Lake Michigan on the westbound ferry between Muskegon and Waukesha near the Wisconsin shore. Once the boat docked and my mother and I tidied up, we were met and carried by car to a red brick house at the corner of Grove and Grand. My father drove. Nine months later, in a dry hospital bed, my sister was born.

J                                          A                                         N                                          E



“You were named after the sound of the ferry’s horn,” said my mother when asked if I’d been named after her sister Joan or her Aunt Joan or her best friend from high school Joan. “No,” said she. “You were named after a sound – the sound a horn makes at irregular intervals when crossing Lake Michigan in October.”

And Jane? My almost twin? What is the sound of Jane?

“Don’t be silly,” said my mother. “Jane is not a sound. Jane is a name.”

After that, I called Jane “Bug.”

Bug was born with one freckle only at the tip of her big left toe. I suspected it. She fell to earth lamenting; early mewls swelled to squalls, bleats to shrieks, dimple-foamed screeches thundered from tiny, gummy lungs every day and all night. Like a bucket brigade from an older time, my brothers and I formed a nightly purling line of cooling water from the bathroom sink to the shuddering edge of Bug’s cradle.

“She’ll grow out of it,” said my mother bundling herself, then Bug, then me in fading flannelette. Away we flew to a downstairs’ couch where Bug was rocked and we all sang along to a subdued red radio. When a full moon rose, I explained it to anyone listening. (No one was listening.) And my mother told me the secret of the number nine.

JOAN WRITES A LETTER TO HERSELF STARTING DEAR JANE


Dear Jane,

I was born young and bald, but that changed soon enough. By the time I was nine, all traces of youth behind me and with an overfull head of hair, I faced what was left of life bravely, defiantly, and lipsticked, a cigarette stucken to that red red cave. My red red cave. It’s the truth. “The only truth,” I tell myself while doubting others turn away. It’s also true that, for a time, I called myself “Hiawatha Beausoleil.”

LOVE IS A CRAZY FEATHER PART ONE

I dreamt that my father came running backwards out of the ocean carrying five links of an anchor’s chain. He looked irritated and Chinese. In another dream, my teacher gave me two postcards commemorating the event: two identical silhouettes of a fancy man, perfect white ovals woodenly carved appeared where his faces should have been. It snowed all last night out of the southwest. I got up to pee and saw it. When I got up later, there was even more. That’s the way snowing is. If you put snow in your pocket, it will melt, but you won’t know until you look and find that your pocket is empty and damp.

LOVE IS A CRAZY FEATHER PART two


Before I grew hair, I had a father taller than me and from where I stood or sat or lay sleeping, bigger and snow-capped. He was a volunteer fireman. That meant volunteer fireman picnics watching adults play water ball while eating moist hotdogs. I’m listening to snow being shoveled. The shoveler is working the shoveled like a pup worrying a bone or some such worrisome legend. There’s an autistic boy living in the apartment next to mine. Guillaume is fourteen and not one of those high-functioning autistics that you see expertly playing the piano on TV. He’s a head banger. His only language or – not to put too fine a point on it – word is “no.” Occasionally, and for no apparent reason, he strings his one word together forming his one sentence: “No, no, no.” Three times a week a man named Mallard teaches Guillaume how to take a shower. My bedroom shares a wall with their bathroom. Behind the wall, the showering: gentle water and murmuring. Guillaume giggles sighing as he comes clean. Clean as the rest of us.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED SO FAR

Tenebrific stars cause night.

WHO KNOWS THAT I AM SLEEPING TO WAKE ME?

 

I once lived in a remote rural area of Illinois called the Driftless Region and knew of a crone who lived alone in a great house older than even she in the Fold of the Vale of Galena. We were neighbors. It was rumored that she was the last of the family to own vast amounts of acreage within the Fold of the Vale. I, too, owned Fold acreage though mine numbered only five. And it was rumored that she kept bees and because of the plentitude of lilacs near her hives, it was rumored that her bees’ honey was pale and blue. I, too, kept bees though mine made a golden honey circumscribed by an amber wax. And it was rumored that she was related to the founder of Dickinson’s Witch Hazel and had, as a wealthy child, played along the Connecticut River’s banks where the factory’s water wheel paddled. I, too, am rumored to be related to the founder of Dickinson’s Witch Hazel, but know that rumor to be not true.

Confirmed walkers, she and I daily trod the only exfoliated passages through that pleated terrain: the trails left by the cloven-hoofed. And with so much else in common, it was to be soon enough that we met along a dainty path. She instantly invited me to tea. When tea day arrived, I did too, and found her yard-bound and waiting, wearing wing-like, her companion, a Great Black Cormorant she called “Lookee.”

“Lookee does a sort of fan dance,” said the crone starting things off with an arm raised above the tree line and pointing into the late afternoon sun. On cue, Lookee shambled wrist ward from her shoulder-perch, claw by claw, until, upon seizing the carpus, flesh etched and bleeding, the bird began its choreography. In that instant of wingspan unfolding, like a lid flung open, I beheld the elongation of inferior planets circling that other different country, an inky hollow, into which I, too, plummeted, sun and memory of sun cancelled.

 

Boxcar Devotion Pretty Pretty Pretty Over There Too Thirteen Moon Dove Road Flower Atmosphere With all that She is She Desires to Give ... Hunter's Moon She Listens in Caves
In the Palace of the Night Heron ZephyrZephyr The Architecture of Honey One Among Them The Language of Birds Adjustment Drove Road Other Work Labyrinth The Charioteer

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