Elaine Bleakney: from “For Another Writing Back”

This week, THERMOS presents new prose from Elaine Bleakney, whose writing has appeared or is forthcoming in American Poetry Review, Gulf Coast, At Length, and others. She edits At Length’s art section and teaches creative writing at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida. (The painting in the piece is by Jim Mattei.)

From For Another Writing Back

One step and we’re on the platform. One step and we’re on the platform again. How another step goes down in the fast painting. Every time someone falls the Times has to cover the person who jumps in after—I know him. I know this time where he’s from, the town. The Times lights his face. Another man, someone I used to see by the lake, disappears with his thermos and gun.

I follow his boot marks in. Grass veers in ice under pine. We get to the blind. I used to hear a scrape before I went in, no stench in the boards—rot-black in sections, straight after straight toward being a stand. Nothing. Michigan. Where hours and lake wind wend.

Jim unrolls his painting on the floor. I catch myself: a grove in the middle of my chest or the shuttling luminous sound of the subway. Anyway, someone makeshift, riding. Jim trying to give me space inside his painting. He starts to talk: See this guy, then this guy again? They keep trying to make structures. Some of them aren’t plausible. He smiles. It’s okay.


Get out of my car, she screams. I don’t want anything from you. Our neighbor, I don’t know her name. He palms something from the dash then burns past her into the house.

She surfs. Seared into her salt-blonde hair. One Saturday she sits outside, selling paintings and things released from the house. White waves on orange sunsets. Paul buys off of her a board with a cylinder underneath for learning to balance. You set yourself on top then work in air until steadiness fills you. When? She’s stickered it—something juvenile, desired, and vexing.

Another morning she’s in a wet suit with her board and a leash drifting near her ankle, dripping into her door. How it makes waves, says the poet about a poem she likes. While we drink coffee and consider it. We lose ourselves in what we’re reading until we’re talking about men and women again.

Dripping into a door. The wrong door, how many times? At the one on Graham I stood rising and sinking, ringing his buzzer. He lived with two women. One with her room like the stillness in a magazine. The other in a gorge between her soiled and clean mountains of clothes. She worked in fashion. When anything went missing or dirty she caught their heat. Fumes from the nail salon at street level rose up and set in. The summer night the messy one cut the neat one’s hair too short. Overjoyed, she kept touching what was missing until we dragged her down for drinks.


This sand fails, says Carla. Too gritty. Not the sugar sand of the Gulf where she got the pineapple tatooed into her ankle. Before it, a snow leopard she saw on a wall, mouth filled with the lily. I had to have it, she says. Down my back. It took forever—the Spanish cut through this place and what about their blades? And the ones before them.

Timucua, ones who kept their dead closer than us. North of here, someone dug up the long wooden owl they made. Intact, eyes smoothed into dilation, the kind of dream-find my sister, the crew chief, wants where the pipeline will go down. So she can say stop. Somewhere in Wyoming before the ground hardens for snow. She gets to hold up her hand to the man in the gnawing machine, cordon him off, if the machine touches any evidence of people before.

She talks to him later, a nice one in the local bar. Maybe, if he doesn’t give off what’s famished, she shoots pool with him. He touches her shoulder. She doesn’t call me for awhile. Carla presses the pineapple at her ankle when I ask and says, I knew I couldn’t get his name in me.

A pineapple for the name of the Gulf-side bar where they met. He played there, she says inside their first gaze, its accuracy. How we tend to keep certain ones endless before there’s even any heat. Sugar sand sweeping against it. The potential of one other: after he cheated she couldn’t abide the sunlight where she said a few years before, I know it will end.

I knew it would end. A sound, a structure splintering back into itself. The white clapboard thing by the lake. We stacked canoes on the far wall. Children led by older children. Grass drifting out of the corner: no one else can see; can they see? What we are inside.


By now they’ve gone in, cut where the cancer could grow. Having grown once, having shown how her body could field such a growth, they advised this. I pass an abrasion in the oak. See what the rain did: some kind of fungus, budding, part of a drafting through the grove.

It can’t be called a bloom unless this word includes all the rage, change, and indifference. In the room after my first death I shut the door. Water trapped in the glass wasn’t water at all. What is lymph? I didn’t ask the adults. The river near Yarnell. Picking shards with her. How to isolate in the scatter what’s wrong? Then delimit the will to erase it.

The body. Marcela takes up clay after her second surgery. A medium foreign to her, disconnected from her project. Instead of lopping it onto a wheel she writes about being alone in back. Working shoulders, a head. It’s hard to maneuver. Kind eyes under a scowling brow. A long time before she emails: heartbreak. He was smashed by someone unloading the kiln.


The wave.

The waterwall when the plates off the coast of Japan shift, one determined under another. We watch from here. Elizabeth and John live near us. Steady under the arbor they started years ago. My mother used to do this, Elizabeth says, my family, families back in St. Louis. They moved their chairs underneath for the summer. The breeze would come or not, crafted through the draping green and stay.

It may take a hundred years to cool, for the shaken reactors in Fukushima to reach cold. The summer Elizabeth and John’s son was born it was too hot to move. He could hold his breath. Since a very young age he could hold under the water longer than anyone else.

An incomprehensible form of water. The helicopter hovers above Minamisanriku and we watch it eat. Houses, cars, masts snapped out of life. Maybe they remove the images of bodies or we’re too high or the people are removed and safe. Elizabeth and John hear from their son after John calls him at the wrong time. The night before he’s supposed to travel, laughs Elizabeth, a stiffness there, private; what repeats between them? Then the next week he’s arrived. He’s posted the pictures on Facebook. A blue in Sumatra unlike any other. And he’s found work, says John, making videos for a resort, spearing fish.

I buy a book by a Japanese poet translated into English. She writes in Japanese but gave up Japan for Europe years ago. There’s a feeling in the later poems that she’s gone through them, many relationships, to encounter someone else. What are you reading? asks Elizabeth. When I look away the room isn’t anywhere, floating and dim.


Up Wilhelmina Rise after school. Where a window would be gone, a section in the wall, a way or the wiring exposed. Mirah’s father did this. Something never finished. Her mother dyed fabric a deep vinegar blue in the yard while her friend, the poet, drank tea. Air across Mirah’s bed washed into dunes. Her stereo. Underneath we talked about everything, how a man could be dying for it.

Bewildered, one lover said to me, I want it more and more. Something in a family about not spending the night in a certain house. Then a divorce. Handsome. The long gaze at his body in a pool. Then a friend pressed against a wall, raped in a foreign city. Meanwhile falling in love. A dry kiss in a swimming office. The deadbolt in the bedroom door. She has her son install it, first thing after her husband dies.

Before he’s born I want one story for my son where I can be found. Once there was a tree outside our house, white splitting buds, a wax to the green going dark. You could tell by the color of the fruit what had happened. This is clear to me.


Then someone hits a dog on the road, moves her body into the grass. No other pups, or they all disappear. One attaches himself to a house, wagging at each door until the father inside says whoever lets him in, he’s yours.

We pass a hitchhiker and Paul says I would pick him up. When I see the young woman with the sign for food, money, help I imagine asking her in, letting her use our shower. A fresh fraying towel. But the idea shuts down. She smiles at my son. On the days I have the car I blow by her like a car.

So many of them have bicycles. They lean against the library until it opens. Then they tie or lock the frames, head into the air-conditioned computers and stacks. My son touches the mouse in the children’s section, its tiny red eye. Let’s find a book. When I hold out my hand he calls up through my heart. Handy, handy.

Sometimes they hold the door for us but we never touch. I meet another mother in the playground and she advances a theory: some of them aren’t as poor as they want us to think. She’s seen them standing at the corner all day, they get into a van at night. As if poverty can’t include this. Some of them have a hard time looking at me or I can’t look or we look at each other wild-friendly when I push him in the stroller crossing into Davenport Park. But it must be easier here, I tell myself. They don’t have winter. We don’t have it. The birds arrive.

One woman sets herself to the side then cracks between the eyes down to her teeth saying get your dog away from me now. I shift. Someone rifles through our unlocked car. A house on Dufferin has a sign with a pink bow in a window: Be Nice Or Leave. Above all else, writes the poet, people are bound to people by love, hate, compassion, fear, admiration, loathing. A list, his enclosure, and the way he sends us through its parts. A block away, brick steps and ferns attending a marker for the family who lived there before the house was firebombed. The Robersons. All the black families who lived on Gault.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by peterlippincottatkinson on December 7, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    Nice. Thanks for posting.


  2. Wow, amazing woman!!


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