This is music: Birds scratch a line from treetop to roof. The struck spine rings like a sealed room. A person could identify leaves through the shoulder blades. The tongue glacial, the arms strips of light.
From the right direction, houses billow and curve.
Years later, the man awoke, not remembering his eyes. They were a particular color, he knew, and when he wore a certain shirt, he could leave the house without shaving.
The woman, too, once had eyes.
He painted them for her, the only detail of her face rendered mistaken. Snow falls, and the picture is grainy.
I am old, he thinks, though this doesn’t help.
The birds that chattered in the trees above the school have left us with the sound of wings and the smell of smoke in our hair. For three nights now, only one star has graced the curve of the moon. The sky is silenced: We cannot move, who gauge our way by stories lit above our heads. Before dawn, a uniformed man tossed a wire loop around a stray dog’s neck.
For the first time, I remembered my fear. This is a city where teams of men shout at once, then return the fields to their usual calm. No letters arrive. The doll left as a gift for the previous tenant is faceless as I am, as pale.
Robed in mustard and red, she has no features, her head smooth as a spool. I love her best for she has no arms: She holds another no better than I.
The doll will crumble if left at the door. Already, ash powders her hair. At night, we call our solitudes equal, one as still as milk, the other gentle as the dust that mutes her. We have become a town spoken of in stories. One forgets there are actual stones to bruise the knees when we fall.
Copyright © 2002 by Malinda Markham. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.