A bird buried alive in dark earth, beak open to sing silence. Wings pinioned, eyes blank wide. Claws a superfluous anchor, digging in deep. Our home built on hers. Could crumble in, sometimes does. We move carefully, fear our vibration. Eyes blank wide on us.
We dug her in with small red and yellow spades and wait to be forgiven. Sometimes it is months before the earth is breached. We hold our breath, waiting, waiting. We wait.
Returned, she lives pulled back. Returned, she is called back. And not until we are grown do we know how she fears the dark’s descent, the dark descent, her descent into dark immobility. And that it was not us. We were, after all, just children who lived in her beautiful shadow.
These are two related pieces about a time in Venice. The first is new, the second appears in Between Dusk and Darkness.
Pen and ink
This could only happen in a foreign land.
I peel away from the blinding midday sun, from you, and dip my head beneath the heavy stone lintel.
I take a long time choosing.
The Campanile. Dov’era, com’era.
She stretches up and touches my face, incensing the air as she leans into me.
Did you see me step through? I have to go. The pads of her fingertips are black with age and ink. We will not meet again.
Mi dispiace, I say, as if she were mistaken.
Outside, you take the drawing from me without curiosity and wet your thumb to wipe the smudge from my cheek.
Now I know it was there.
It’s easy to blame you for this rush of desolation, my clean fingertips.
They are soft leather, but don’t quite fit. Remember? The tips of my toes touch the ground as I walk. Where were we going? Coffee and bread, something warm and sweet, a rising cry. The drifting signatures of unseen lives. I trail my hand along rose-coloured bricks. Our footsteps echo and I look back. Your eyes are bluer here. We move through pale amber, resinous and slowing; this street is endless, we are fixed here already.
You gather my hair, slowly, and slowly wind it over and around your hand and lift it up, slowly, above the nape of my neck so I am cooled; the day is hotter now. A cyclist weaves a silent semi-circle, a tyre brushing the kerb; it is we who should have moved, but in that moment we were sculpted there.
We turn and retrace our steps, upward-sloping, and on the stiff white sheets the bag of oranges spilling open. You returned with them before I was up; the day stretches back and back. This room with its pale walls and long linen-covered bolster and crumbling stone balcony where later we stand, leaning out into the day, segmenting oranges, one after the other, the juice sweet as sugar and the tips of my toes black with the dust of Venice.
My father is old and weeps when the morning is new because he knows too much, is soaked with wisdom. I tell you this and you nod and your eyes film with tears.
And something else. Look, I say. The shadows of the leaves are still, like held breath, but the thick tree trunk bends with the breeze. You see it too.
You can, even now, infiltrate these strange hours, interweave yourself with me. How do you travel back when I send you so far?
I didn’t mean to make you wise so soon, like the oldest of men in the new of the morning.
But when things are quick between us like this, slow noon is far away.