Things I Can Remember


Jeff Whitney

The name of the bag of sugar I carried around for two weeks in seventh grade
because it was my baby. The stampede of cows my brother and I teased to chasing 
in New Mexico the year a wildfire nearly swallowed the block. Standing
in a line with neighbors tossing shirtfuls of sand into the flames. The wheelbarrow
that caught fire, then the tire swing, and not long after, the house of our neighbor
whose name I can’t remember. That there is a language for screaming and it lasts
as long as language. That The Book of Error is as large as The Book of Love
and please let The Book of Not So Necessary Suffering have poor marketing
slash distribution. I remember the two hundred hearts of god are always breaking,
what god wants is not what god gets. And my father, curious orangutan,
writing reports in fields, appraising bluegrass, bringing home sheep skulls. 
I remember how my brother held me once by my ankles. He could have killed me
so many times. I could have killed him so many times. Likewise my mother
who maintained the face of a dignitary in spite of our childish sleights. 
She could have snuck a pillow over our faces at night. Instead, she gave
years to us, baby birds, just dropped them like something to keep us warm, the rodents
of our bellies happy. I can remember a cartoon where the heart is a bear
struck by a bullet, but it’s the smallest bullet possible, so that what leaks out takes 
a long time, decades or so. A tree erupting from the murdered man’s stomach
from a single seed. I can remember actual adults in an abandoned school on TV 
talking to ghosts they swear they hear. They left a music box and boxing gloves. 
Our wants it seems are knowable but we lost the key. So the monkey climbs to heaven 
on frayed rope. I remember writing that line, “The monkey climbs to heaven
on frayed rope,” and wanting to show Phil, because he’s a sucker for image and non
sequiturs. Facts are goblins that don’t care how hard you worked but Phil loves
poems and goblins and a number of other terrestrial things. He shows me how to love 
the sweet and unlasting. Like my father, who I remember left once on an errand
to overhear my brother say to mom, “Now that dad’s gone we don’t have to do anything 
you say!” How quickly we turned kitten when he came roaring back around the corner.
He could have ruined us. Instead, over the years he was as patient as faith: asking 
hard questions, persistent in belief. I can remember or I think I can remember 
an astronomer who stared at the sky while meteors slipped by behind her, in some 
other sky. The difference between a car crash and bad machinery, the bull and 
bullet, the fiddler and the roof. I think I remember writing fan fiction, Romeo 
and Juliet Versus Alien Versus Predator, and being satisfied with myself for a little while 
at least. I remember the riddle, though not the answer, of the woman 
who must cross a river with a thirsty mouse, a hungry fox, and a bowl of milk. 
When asked what he wants, my mother said My teeth good roads dirty dreams. Hallelujah
to that. Beauty is a horse of maggots writhing around saying we are horse  
we are not maggot. Or it’s a house of maggots. Either way, I remember something about
maggots. That we’re always somewhere between one form of madness or another, 
strapping what we love to the tracks and expecting something like thanks for the opportunity
for change. In New Mexico I was chased by fire and cows, and now they’re here again
like a primordial attempt at drowning, like the first stab stabbing back, like
misfortune taping aluminum wings to a child saying this is how you will feel
when I am gone only without the stupid wings. The bag of sugar’s name was Darren.  
He lived for two weeks. Then he was gone. Like most things in The Book  
Of Beautiful Happenings, where seven children are dancing on the very human eye  
of an octopus, at dusk, shouting hosannas as the ships come in.

Jeff Whitney

Jeff Whitney’s most recent collection, Sixteen Stories, is forthcoming from Flume Press. His poems can be found or found soon in 32 Poems, Adroit, Cherry Tree, Kenyon Review, Pleiades, Poetry Northwest, and Sixth Finch. He lives in Portland.

Art: “The Other Places, No. 7” by Vaiva Kovieraitė-Trumpė, Mixed media

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