This Was Supposed To Be A Poem About The Doppler Effect But I Can’t Stop Thinking About How Loud Abandonment Actually Is
I check the weather in Los Angeles. Which is thirty degrees
warmer than it is here, in case you were wondering.
Partly cloudy. Here, thunder fells the neighbor’s
doddery elm, stripping the powerline from
the pylon. You can imagine the darkness.
New York offers vigor where it can’t
offer comfort. Pathetic fallacy;
here I go again. Some animals
prefer this wet, its violence.
Not just amphibians, some
flyers too. Vultures are
nearly waterproof. Their
oily feathers allow them to
inhabit a world void the rest
of us chickens. I read somewhere
that snails can feel the ground trembling
before a storm. I find it hard to believe this.
Just think of all the times you’ve been walking
around and all of a sudden the sky goes dark and
cracks open, as though it’s only decided to on a whim.
This still being the same earth the snails are talking about.
The visibility in Los Angeles is 10 miles, which is “good”
according to the meteorology app on my phone. Damn,
it better be. My imagination can’t even see ten miles.
Ten miles! Picture it. What desert can stretch the
mind ten miles. All I’ve got are walls. Eventually,
somewhere, there must be mountains. Where I
am, the visibility is 6 miles, but when I stand
at the crook of the sinuous country road
that swerves past my house, I can only
see as far as it bends. After that it’s all
green. What good is transparency
when the trees get in the way of
the view. Call that a forest. Do
you miss––beneath a sky so
blue, & brutally relenting––
the NY rain, its gray, wet
violence? Because, & I
am sorry, mildness
is a luxury that I
Take the List
1. My godmother suffered a near-fatal heart attack in the parking lot of her apartment complex.
2. She sunk into a coma for several weeks. Waves of children bandaged like mummies poured
3. past the triage windows. It was Halloween. When she regained some muddled consciousness,
4. she underwent a series of invasive neurological and cardiac procedures to stabilize her organs,
5. after which she was transported from the hospital to a long-term rehabilitation facility where
6. she sits in a chair facing the window with a view of the Schuylkill River, though no one knows
7. whether she is capable of comprehending, or even seeing, what she is looking at. Several times
8. a day a nurse practitioner comes in to check her vitals and move her limbs up and down, then
9. side to side. She cannot yet move on her own. She is not, however, according to the brain
10. scans and reflex tests, paralyzed, a medical anomaly which continues to perplex the fleet of
11. dour, high-ranking doctors. Her immobility, it would seem, is a choice. No one can tell us why.
12. She cannot speak intelligibly yet, though sometimes she expels a swarm of words. They fly
13. tangled from her tired jaw. Her inability to form sentences causes her great distress. Often,
14. they must sedate her, which they can only assume offers her reprieve. One morning her
15. husband visited. He replaced the dead daisies in the vase on the sill with a fresh bouquet.
16. Sensing his presence, her eyes spasmed, rounds and rounds of machine gun blinks, shot
17. through his chest. Take the list, she said. What list? he asked her, heartened, kneeling before
18. the chair and leaning forward expectantly, hopeful for the first time in months on account of
19. this perceived lucidity. He even motioned to the nurse for a pen. Take the list, she said again,
20. her faraway, rheumy eyes not quite grasping his gaze. His ready hands fell to his sides. Take the
21. list, take the list, again and again, the intonation robotically uniform, take each time punctuated
22. with the same spastic, deaf urgency. It’s okay, honey, he whispered, rocking back on his heels.
23. Take the list! she shouted. She was growing more agitated every second. Her head shook
24. violently. Take the list take the list take the list and she was beginning to cry and she was losing
25. control take the list until the words sundered themselves from meaning and became take the
26. list sounds take the list saliva bubbled on her bottom lip and dribbled down her chin take the
27. list but could not seem to stop her tongue from its tic, a mind trapped in a pull-string doll, and
28. as fiercely, lovingly as he labored to, he was unable to puzzle out the cipher, no longer able to
29. retrieve her intentions through the translator of practiced intimacy. This was how their
30. marriage fell apart.
31. All marriages the same way.
There is a certain barbarism involved in attempting to capture you on the page. A small murder, that imprisonment. One cannot ever know a person so entirely. Language cannot ever know a person so entirely. Language cannot ever know a person.
It is something like this, arriving at knowledge. The way oobleck refused my penetrating schoolkid fingers. In fourth grade science class we filled tupperware containers with cornstarch and water. The non-Newtonian fluid looked like milk, and the teacher told us that if we reached inside, there would be a surprise. Children are chiefly curious by nature. Each of us plunged our hands into the containers, hoping to extract a hidden prize, a magic-expanding toy or treasure which would have somehow snuck in with the powder without our noticing. Each of us was struck by the same discovery; when our jackhammer hands reached the surface of the oobleck, they were halted. The oobleck refused our trespass. A chorus of gasps. It’s like the milk grew a forceshield said Carter. Yeah mine’s broken added Martha, who was a triplet. Our teacher, Miss Keene was grinning from the blackboard. I want to see if you can figure out the secret. One boy picked up the container and tipped it onto the counter, unconvinced that we weren’t being pranked and that Miss Keene hadn’t frozen time in order to replace all our solutions with hardened plaster. Languorously, as though being roused from a gentle sleep, the liquid spilled from the lip of the tub. It moved at first like molasses, and then honey, and then olive oil, finally accelerating to an even flow across our papers, ruining them, as though someone had knocked over a glass of juice, white fluid pouring down the table legs onto the carpet. What the heck said Delilah, who was shushed by Paul because he was the preacher’s son. Keep trying. I watched the mess thin out across the floor, then turned toward the liquid I had mixed myself. Like the first brave boy I lifted my container off the countertop, but unlike him, I did not tip it over. I observed the way it moved. Like it was dreaming and did not want to be jolted. With insistent care I lowered one corner of the container and watched the liquid glide toward gravity, then I seesawed the other way. I placed the container on the table. Gusts of frustrated groans. A few girls in the back were stabbing their insolent mixtures with pencils, big pink erasers, a protractor, anything they could find. Of course it wasn’t working. I hovered one finger over mine, and glanced around the room. My eyes found Miss Keene’s. Her knowing smile. Her wink of a half-nod my cue, I lowered my probe, which descended so slowly it was trembling, down, down still, ever unhurriedly down into the container, hesitating another second more before kissing the surface––the surface which, when I reached it, was forgiving; abided my access. The depths were cool and alien, and I knew that if I withdrew my finger too fast I would break the spell. Whispers as my deskmates began to notice. Soon, the shuffling, indistinct chatter, of crime-scene voyeurs. Everybody gathered, gaped in amazement. There was no smugness in my quiet victory; instead a wide sadness overtook me. Patience should not be the last thing we try. Why can’t we wait for the powder to thaw?
Language cannot ever know a person.
hannah seidlitz is an mfa candidate at nyu, where they edit nonfiction for the washington square review. they studied semiotics in college, so they think they’re some sort of “hermeneutic expert,” which is to say they’re dreadful at cocktail parties. you can find their stories in lithub, longreads, electric literature & elsewhere.