A Brief Ontological Investigation

What can I say to cheer you up? This afternoon the sky is like five portholes between the clouds. The unidentifiable weeds are tall and still unidentifiable and I miss the cows in the field, where have they gone? Sometimes one would wander then stand in the middle of the road and I’d have to stop my car and wait for it to decide to finish crossing. I am drinking seltzer through a straw because of my injury and I have inexplicable bruises on the side of my thigh and I just spent the last five minutes watching a bird through my window sitting in the small crotch where two phone lines x together though it flew off before I could take a picture of it. In the urgent care waiting room this morning there was a magazine with a proven neuroscience article on rituals that will make us happy and the first was practicing gratitude but when I tried to think of something right there next to the guy with the walker and the woman with gauze held to her cheek I came up blank. Because I am a terrible person I will tell you that my neighbor does this thing I hate with her kids called heart-bread, where they’re forced each night before bed to go around one by one and come up with a moment of gratitude and I want to tell her that we can thank anything—the crushed cans in recycling, my wristwatch for keeping time, the rainstorm yesterday that had water pouring from the gutters. I mean, we all overflow; we all feel an abundance of something but sometimes it’s just emptiness: vacant page, busy signal, radio static, implacable repeat rut where the tone arm reaches across a spinning vinyl record to play it again, rest its delicate needle in a groove and caress forever the same sound from the same body. Which is to say that the opposite of ennui is excitement and I’m not feeling it either today even a little. Not in the CVS while browsing the shiny electric rainbow nail-polish display indefinitely while waiting for my prescription. And probably not on my run later no matter how bucolic the mountains seem in the 5pm heat. The second ritual in that article was to touch people, which is easy if you’re with people you can touch but I’m in too loud a solitude and can only touch myself which reminds me of that old Divinyls’ song and I’m pretty sure that’s not what the article meant. Buber says you has no borders but he’s talking about god I think since this is not true of us because we all have bodies which make us small countries or maybe islands. If summer means our bodies are more porous perhaps we’re also more open to this inexplicable sadness that hangs here from the cinderblocks, drags itself across the barbed wire fence. What I’m trying to tell you is that I’m not cheered up either. That bird, before it flew off, I like to think of the crossed wires, the impenetrable conversations rushing under its feet. 

More by Erika Meitner

Untitled [and the moon once it stopped was sleeping]

and the moon         once it stopped         was sleeping

in the cold blue light          and the moon          while the wind snapped

vinyl siding apart          slipped around corners          whipped the neighbors'

carefully patterned bunchgrass          our snow-filled vegetable boxes

the house unjoining              the moon       our yard strips          covered with

hollow shells          of hard remnants               ice      and my son's breath

contiguous               static          a shard of green light          on the monitor

wavers with coughs                     the Baptist church                     in Catawba

the only place lit up          down the mountain          past midnight, someone

waving their hands             at something          so quiet              you can hear

the wind tear          at the houses          you can hear          the neighbor

coming home          though he's .18 acres          away          it's too late

for that feeling          (possibility)          the night       always   held

the wind                   is at it                    again            cracking

paint            on the walls              one day          it will            unroot us

one day        the wind        will tally        our losses

but        not yet             the moon        not yet

Non-lieux

Hand-painted on the side
of a shack we pass
on the road to Ohio:
what this world comin to?

This is not haiku. This
is more like fog and we’re
socked in and your body

is invisible and right
across from me
simultaneously.

How much ammo you got?
says one guy to another
in the cola-chip aisle
of the Food Lion.

The fortitude of rain
hitting the roof:
percussive sadness.

Almost-saved is not
good enough, says
the church sign. We are
out of ketchup again.

Did you see what he
put on Pete’s grave and
what he put on Junior’s?

says the woman in
the Bob Evans bath-
room stall with a cane.

It was sprained, not
broken. From high up,
from far away.

He was still working
at that bar in town,
after all these years,

assigned to a circum-
scribed position, like
the supermoon, like
employee parking.

In the dark 7-Eleven lot
two officers approach
a white van, flashlights on
and held overhand.

The church sign says
living without God
is like dribbling a football.

The light—it was
too bright to be captured
in an iPhone photo

where people are not
the urgency of the
present moment.

Did you get it squared
away?
asks one man to
another at the Starbucks
condiment counter.

One of the officers
has a hand on his
holster. What is he
saying to the driver?

The church sign touts
tonight’s sermon: Entering
the Miraculous Zone.

There were no grounds
for prosecution. I left
before I heard
the answer.

Ghost Eden

after Anthony Haughey’s “Settlement”

              Garden of rock.
Garden of brick and heather.
              Garden of cranes with their hands raised
as if they know the yellow answer:
              to gather together—safety in numbers.
Garden of drywall frames, holes for windows
              punched out like teeth.  Garden of bar fights.
Garden of rubble and gaps,
              spectral for-sale signs knocked
from wooden posts, bleached down
              to numbers ending in gardens of overgrown lots.
We are falling into ruin, garden
              of scaffolding and shale and gravel—
give us back our peace: a half-built garden
              of theft, treasures hidden in darkness,
newspapers crumpled on subfloors telling us
              to hold fast to that which is good.
Garden of rebar and saplings with trunks
              encased in corrugated piping
because many animals can girdle
              a tree’s bark quickly:  deer, stray cats, rabbits.
Garden of Tyvek wrap loosed
              and flapping like a ship’s sail
in the gales, in the sheeting storms.
              Hanging laundry left out in the garden
past darkness, fruit from the tree
              of human-ness: socks, shirts, underpants.
Garden of long exposures, half-light, traces
              that empty themselves in tire treads running
like ladders through red clay mud:
              the dirt from which we are formed
and crushed and formed again.

Related Poems

Astroturf

Before my son was born, I had been inside my home often and, one spring day, sat myself on the astroturf behind a playground close to my home. I laid back, allowing the plastic grass to prick my arms and wrists. A few feet away, three girls sang a string of songs about heartbreak, all the while the lyrics broke and remade themselves on the edge of each spring leaf. I listened and I didn’t listen at once which felt like my fullest attention. The girls were so casual in their beauty, legs entangled in one another, fingers braiding each other’s teen hair. They seemed like one animal of burnished light and I tried not to stare. It was the kind of beauty that held its own attention, needed no validation, long eyelashes and pale arms gestured toward wholly bright selves. I closed my eyes hearing their laughter. I heard, too, from afar someone approaching. I heard a small thud and a boy’s voice. They talked, they joked, and then a silence that made me open my eyes. After a longer pause, they asked him to please leave. I now saw the boy was black and I registered an expression that was slow rain coming down hard as he grabbed his backpack swinging it so fiercely, it almost hit one of the girls. As he walked away, they laughed past him. Their laughter was the long shadow that followed him for years, their laughter forced him to round the corner, almost gone from view. Before he disappeared, he yelled, “Bitch,” but the memory of him left not a trace. The girls continued to sing except now there were thorns falling on the imagined grass, some of which landed close to me. When I sat up, I felt a strong kick inside me. My boy would be here soon. Six more days into the future I would meet him. I touched the area that moved. I waited.