Kerri Webster

Little Ornaments


Not that I did not know fantasy; rather, that I reached
my life's equator with an understanding that certain
needs, when met, removed the necessity to dwell
on past or future; that if I slept without wedging
in the chasm, day would remain sufficient. So came
the equator. I walked its pencil line with arms outstretched,
unencumbered by husband or child, unmortgaged,
tethered to a certain region but otherwise content
to land—wherever. And landed in a brickwork city
where she dwelled discontent; she, whose fabulations
centered on land with proximity to water, grand
houses, and the scouting of real estate, wiping grime
off leaded panes to see flocked wallpaper. I have never
owned most variety of kitchen implements;
at the time of this writing, own exactly none. My needs
were met with admirable precision by an old riverman
back West, and by the mountains, which showed me up
as foolish whenever I thought of linear time.
At the time of this telling, currents track winter in.


Because my dead were not yet dead, there was no need
to commune with them. I wanted to yell how the ballroom
would fall finally into the cellar, but, knowing uselessness,
sat on a bench and talked to a stray child and learned
the lock system by which the river remains level
as the barges displace tonnage—learned it so well
that I might even now, as party trick, construct
the system in miniature with shovel, garden hose,
and some toy boats. In any regard, when I slept
I dreamt, and thought, waking, of a notion no bigger
than that creditors might stop calling. When no sleep came,
I didn't think beyond the riverman; when the prophets
stared down from the walls of a rented house, they
seemed ill-groomed, not holy.


She drove our expeditions, owing to my lack of navigational
wherewithal, my desire to wade into the Mississippi,
which enterprise would have slowed us down
considerably, currents being such a daft thing to collect—
better stamps, figurines. So: in such a manner
and with only a little vandalism, we saw the finest mansions
the bluffs had on offer, jangled doorknobs, admired
the tuckpointing, then drove home, me to a bare apartment
where what scarce visitors came were generally compelled
to stand through insufficiency of chairs; her to a coffin
of a house. It was the custom of that country to nail
the windows shut for protection, that amulet of enclosure
with which we are all familiar.


What does that matter?
Some do not distinguish the living
from the dead and so lived haunted. She held to signs,
such as crows tunneling from the sky meant certain
toothache, whereas I believed in the reversal of subject
and object brought by scale's enactment on the figure,
and a certain apocalypse not so much foretold as crafted
by large-brained monkeys. I thought the burnt out church
installed with a thousand lamps (the number grows
in telling) said something of simple kindness, and that
the airstream lodged in the birch tops spoke to a happily
opiated maker, and that the temple was just another
purple, though I removed my shoes—which is all to say
that I have never in all my half-life stumbled on a house
and felt myself meant to live there. When I am lost—
as frequently—I feel it neurological, not godly; I pull over
and call for help; I scan the landscape for useful markers
and, finding none, wonder at all our foolishness, that—
boy prophets or no—we should drag ourselves across
a continent and build waystations amid such flatnesses.


In this world, there are display cases lined with the skins
of yearlings holding gloves lined with the skins of yearlings.
I think fear our truest food. A brick that says Hydraulic;
Listo pencil leads; typewriter tins; slit pods of poppies;
wisdom teeth in specimen bottles. Some things I wear around
my neck, but don't pretend to know yoke from adornment.


Water which previously pushed into tusks froze ragged,
the littoral species—shy, yolky—wintering elsewhere.
We ate and, I think, tipped well; we saw a yellow house,
a miniature holy village (blacksmith, aviary, pageantry,
prairie skirts). I'm conflating episodes like a plastic
telescoping cup, collapsing days together that I might
open up and stretch them, knowing it does not matter
in the grand—she would say scheme, I would say
mishap— does not matter in what season we hid
from nuns, in what season I lined the windows
with elixir bottles, or on what deck, sick with citronella,
a good woman mistook fireflies for shooting stars and
I saw finally how misapprehension need not frighten.




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