I wonder what my life would have been like had I not been afraid of so many things. Sitting on that school bus, I was afraid (in no particular order) of amputation, nuns, God, the devil (especially the devil), certain diseases but mainly leprosy, and my nannies — all of them, even Mary Red Socks, who only came on weekends. I worried about saying or doing something that would make my mother or father love me less, or that my parents or siblings would die, vacuum cleaners, killing someone, getting lost, and grown-ups in general…
I heard pretty first, then
party: my ninth birthday—
perched up on our garden wall,
hugging my wounded knees.
Jump the other children shouted.
Don’t I thought, and did, and
tried to laugh it off, to move.
Heads bobbed above me like apples in a tub.
Pain, I thought, is French for bread.
Cooks and nurses carried me to bed.
So tender I thought polio
that sport of skipping hooves;
thought I was getting a pony.
At the highest attainable level of the tree, the massive trunk parted and branched up toward the sky, forming a nest. It was to this place, above the rooftops of Beverly Hills, that I brought the small pets that had passed through my life —the dead hamsters, lizards, guinea pigs, birds, and turtles of my affection, each in an open box covered tightly with Saran Wrap. I placed them there, among the branches, and over time, with deepest respect, I watched them rot.
my head poking out,
magician’s assistant —
but this trick will be: making me whole.
I’m ok I feel fine now please
but the walls swallow my voice.
Clock’s hands row the slowest boat.
Sirens scream then suffocate.
Shoes squeak like (I imagine) mice.
It makes no difference if I die —
Purgatory’s just like this
:a box of screaming children
waiting their turn in this iron lung
such a Frankenstein thing
We’re kept alive by lightning of a kind
But are we children still?
Later I’ll find out they burned my toys.
And later, much, the day will come
I’ll even miss these still, green nights,
will so need even more than then
some great machine to help me breathe.
Tour buses crept up and down the streets of Beverly Hills, pausing in front of each celebrity’s house while a guide chirped starry anecdotes into a microphone — you could hear them coming a half block away.
So for the folks on the buses, our shows were frantic, in the broadest, operatic style. We spattered ourselves with ketchup-blood that was stored, along with the rubber dagger, under the rhododendron bush. We strangled, stabbed, staggered, crawled, rolled, and writhed. And we howled and screamed at the top of our lungs.
:that counterclockwise pesach—
bloodied door, and firstborn dead…
My family is a flesh Winchester House
of shuffled names, uncommon skin;
some tender fort, a
demon-baffling labyrinth I thought
My shorn head
rippled on the blade,
a cameo ghost
I pierced that silk one with terrible care
Then gravely dealt out the stamps,
A patient game.
Today, arms crossed, I stare out from the porch
at the usual trees & last year’s birds,
here in this new century
(once unthinkable without him, without her)
I am now as I was then:
A pair of eyes on a stalk
From a distant fragment somewhere in the mind of God I was shown a different Earth, a giant orb, howling out its long symphony of pain – all the sounds of mortal anguish, in the silence and indifference of the stars
The children scream for ponies but I tell them
(hauling up another weary pail of air)
God can only hold our empty hands.
(Italicized excerpts from Mia Farrow’s What Falls Away: A Memoir (Bantam: 1997)