Sharing a Rented House

The parrot up close to my face grumbles, rolls her orange eye pupil wide toward me.  She bends to bite the neck of my sweatshirt, ripping, and I turn her upside down against me, a new game. Beats her wings free, growls, dangles from my hand, snapping.

 

Kay walks through the room.  Good morning, I say, and the sun shines through the big glass doors over us all:  me in the old gray sweat-suit I sleep in because the house is cold, the bird clambering up between my breasts gripping my hand flashing red and blue in her wings, and the tall woman glancing at us.  We have been playing morning games, unlearning fear.  Hard lessons, for aliens.  Hand and beak, claw and skin, slow trust.  (She’s a punk, said the dealer, but you know she’s smart.  She’s a punk because she knows she ain’t got no reason to trust you. )

 

Talk to me, I said to the woman, months ago, before I bought the bird.  I can’t read your mind.  She looks at me now without breaking her long stride—turning away while I smile, stiff, false, inflexible.  Good morning.  She is gone.

 

The bird has climbed into my hair and I untangle her, pulling the strands free of each claw.  I lift her in front of me, reaching to pet her.  We are both afraid now.  She takes a finger in her beak, grinds down, warning.  The centers of her orange eyes narrow, throb.  I pretend she can’t hurt me, scratching her throat with another finger, rubbing back the edge of her skull under her soft loose skin.  Her hard beak parts slowly; she leans into my touch.  I breathe carefully, quietly, trying not to frighten her.  This is the breakthrough, and all our struggles now will come back to this, this slow quiet rubbing of dry soft skin.

 

The woman’s sharp voice comes from the end of the hall, talking to her son.  The bird bites down, hard.  Her footsteps come back.  She appears in the door.  She comes in and walks through without turning her head.  In the path she walks from hall to kitchen she must face me, walk toward me and  away, but she does not see me.  Her eyes are carefully held not to see me, her neck is stiff with the effort of not seeing me, and this is breakthrough too.  To be hated and be in the same moment free.  Free of her hurtful pressed-lip silence and the wall built hard in her sharp blind face.  The parrot climbs back into my hair, beating red and blue and yellow in her wings.

 

Elizabeth Evans

Copyright © 1984

Previously published in We Accept Donations, #1 Spring 1984

The Second Mile

I.

We were told to go,
spread the gospel,
preach Christ crucified,
the resurrection of the body,
and we loved one another
truly
for love is of God
and he who loves is of God and he who loves not
must be loved anyway

but it wasn’t easy

at night the steep green waves
the whole big curve of the sky falling over
and over us
my friends floating dead.
When I went in the surf to prove it a dream
their faces reached up from the water.

Psalms will help you sleep at night, they said,
read Psalms.

But Psalms never helped.
David was a bitter man, bitter,
crying for the death of his enemies.

Beloved, let us love one another,
for love is of God. You must learn to love your neighbor as yourself,
or more, and if you don’t love yourself
we don’t know what’s wrong with you.
Read your Bible an hour every morning.
Wait and see what a difference it makes.

If you don’t feel loved
we don’t know what’s wrong with you
and you probably need professional help,
but the shrinks are against us.
The shrinks will turn you from the Lord.

II.

They played a game
where if we are the Body of Christ
what part of the Body are you?
I was the offending eye,
and I wouldn’t play the game.
When I went home I lay down on the floor,
the offending eye plucked out,
the stiff branch cut off fruitless from the vine
and cast away, my mouth stuffed with bitter leaves,
curled up, closed tight,
arms     legs     eyes     mouth     mute     immobile
no prayer left in them.
I lay down by the stair,
and that was all the prayer I had left in my body,
that when I stopped walking
it was there, where Anna would find me,
put her arms around me,
teach my mouth to pray again.

III.

We shared a house and the house fell down
the sky      split     red and black       hurricane
rain against the windows a gray river        shining
between the house and the University

strangers forded it
a refuge set up in the science building
damp books      bodies     carried in from the river

We waited, the world cracking around us
bombs in the sky at night
end of the world, we stood in the kitchen,
arms around each other      calm

end of all and his voice calling    we ran
through the flood waters       shouting
calling       to him      to each other
stumbling       splashing
seeking the bright beloved face

the sky over us noisy with light.
From the window I shout Anna, Anna, he’s here!

(Last night again bright light hurt my eyes,
woke me suddenly, completely       shouting Lord!
Is it you? Stupid heart pounding hope I pressed
my face to the window
saw the moon through the vines.)

IV.

His hand meets mine in the middle of the couch.
They snuffle like animals, sweaty
forbidden mating of fingers
while we talk semantics,
the meaning of love in every language but our own.
Angry words in my own tongue
tear my throat, unspoken.
I want to say, I know you hate me for my body.

You keep calling me sister
but I won’t be your sister if sister means
you are afraid of me.

Sister is a sexual word, like brother,
woman, childbirth, breast–
If you want to neuter me call me sibling

and be done with it.

Forget we both have bodies,
forget the cup of blood,
poured out for you, brother,
forget the resurrection,
the body made whole.
the resurrection pounds the walls of my body,
shouts to you that I am beautiful tonight

but sister in your mouth is fear.
Sister is a stone between your teeth.

Women went with spices in the morning.
When they saw the stone was rolled away
they were afraid.

In the cave your slow words build around me
I am screaming.
I can walk out, a meek stick person
in the morning, or wait
until someone hears me screaming
I am a woman, and alive.

V.

I come in at the back of the meeting
watch the faces turn toward me.
It’s been a long time.
They are remembering my name.
I want to know, am I their friend tonight
or a lamb astray, returned to the fold,
a moral lesson?
I lift the gleaming armor of the Roman,
waiting to walk the second mile
under the heavy armor hot with the sun shining on it,
falling in step,
but I am not now a sheep in woman’s clothing
but myself in my own skin,
bending, rising, straightening up,
knowing my own strength,
knowing the anger layered in my shoulders,
choosing to walk against that anger,
walking toward my friends.

————-

Copyright  ©2012 Elizabeth Evans

Previously published in We Accept Donations, San Diego.