First Year in the New Landscape
for Meredith Duncan
XII. The heart can be a succulent of muted iridescence, deceptively smooth, yet coated with a lanugo of spines that will lodge under the skin to sting and itch a thousand-fold if you cup your hand around it.
XI. Christmas finds you once more as a soloist just slightly offshore from the chorus, the orchestra, the conductor. You can sing the difficult passages of atonal and joyless sixteenth note runs perfectly, but the sea sweeps in. It has ruined your velour chamber singers dress. The coast is eroding. The water hisses, the sound like unraveling aluminum foil drowning out the civilization of which you were never quite a part.
X. This year, I met a staggeringly beautiful man who is fond of advent calendars, and he called me one when I made him laugh. I will pour chocolates into his open arms forever.
IX. One thing that crossed over from the old landscape to the new is the grief. It bothers daily, extruding my chest with its arrival, drawing and quartering me with its departures. The grief is a devil with a standing appointment, and I fear the memory of your vanishing act 28 years ago will remain with me forever, that there is no justice or that God is deaf, dumb, and blind to the way you sodomized your own character to attain trappings, trappings, trappings, but O it was so worth it because, you know, the life of the mind! O mouse. O dog humiliated in its own suit. O limited person I loved above any and all. I bounce back faster these days. In the new landscape, the sorrow doesn’t vacate, but the bounce backs are like impeccable dismounts from the instruments of torture.
VIII. Every Sunday night in the new landscape, the first boy I ever loved calls. He has put away the dishes. He has brewed a mug of Bengal Spice tea. He has an infinitely patient wife. Trappings are not his thing, nor are they hers. He has a trowel and some chicken wire and some mortar she has mixed up in their kitchen from scratch. He puts these to good use when he says, “It’s time for my favorite weekly cliffhanger on TV.” He smooths in layers of a new foundation where the center was once only chest cavity, bone fragments, and a death rattle. He reassures with lessons from the work of Marshall Rosenberg. And every night, when I feel ashamed that there is so much damage, he tells me, “You are my best friend.”
VII. The most striking aspect of the new landscape is that my own best friend is nowhere to be seen. I’m not sure if she hates the drought-tolerant scenery, feels ill at ease without a map, or is allergic to the lanugo. It may be that here is where the path diverges for us after 40 years. I am helpless to coax her along, for the journey is mine, not hers. Autism forces me through life without a map. She got a map at birth. Either she will like the new landscape, or she will not. For me, there is no turning back.
VI. Doctors say the following. “You are the brightest patient I’ve ever met.” “You are the highest-functioning autistic I’ve ever met.” “You have the best dreams of any patient I’ve ever met.” “You are the most socially adept little Aspie I’ve ever met. How did you learn to make eye contact?” “Jesus, I have never heard that joke before.“ And “No, I’ve never known a patient who has so much strata of heartbreak concentrated in a single life history. It’s quite remarkable, actually, that the love survived at all.” And this, the only observation that mattered in the end: “There is no question that the angels were working through you when your family needed you most.”
V. Rage has become my constant companion. I assuage her by telling myself, “Pause and take the breath.” When I cannot, I can destroy a saucepan with the flick of a wrist. Don’t fucking test me.
IV. Mom and Dad had to die before they finally understood me. Visitations are as rare as red double auroras or albinism in crows. But they came from the Great Beyond to see their child, at last, for who and what she was. Shock in Maman’s eyes. Comprehension in Dad’s. They witnessed the unasked-for affliction, the unending effort, and they realized that she was no one’s special snowflake, no one’s hothouse flower, no one trying to be exceptional for the sake of being exceptional. She didn’t know what to do. They didn’t know what to tell her. No child should have been that bereft of hope by the age of five. Before they vanish, Dad tells Maman, “She’ll find her way.”
III. A woman, who shares a name with the advent calendar man and the dog who married the mousetrap, put a toy fox on my head and unveiled a thing unseen for a double-nickel lifetime. Look, for I am beautiful.
II. An angel visited me and peeled my sternum apart to liberate a hundred billion childish sketches of hearts the color of pale fruit candies from their ossified nursery. They swept across the new landscape, encircling all within reach with their joyful purpose, then filled the sky with a promise only children can recall believing. And the angel sang, “Broken-hearted child, you have forgotten who you are. Raise your head. You are the love of the world entire.”
IIa. Later, when I asked the poet Michael Paul what kind of person could be so magnanimous that she would wish the mousetrap protection from her own devices, I screamed the name of my Creator as suddenly I knew the answer. For I am everywhere, radiant and blooming beyond every horizon from every dimension, and the border of my being is nothing but God God God God
I. People in hell want ice water. Two weeks ago, someone brought me a cup with extra ice. I am told there will be more.
Birds With Keys
Yesterday, I drew a picture of a hand
over an older picture of a hand
and I colored in the name
of the hand I wished I were holding.
No, I am not in love. For a change,
I am merely glad to be alive.
If our hearts are battlefields, mine
is a graveyard in Pennsylvania.
The eternal struggle between
the right side and the left side
wages anew in my body.
The right side tells me he will
try to choke me with his hands.
The left tells me the truth,
that in real life he said he would
never hurt me. And he took my
hand in his when he said it.
So many things transpired in
Pennsylvania. Battles. Desperate winters.
Crop circles. Cheese steaks.
The birth of a monster
who resembles me, but only superficially.
Now it is my hand only,
extended at the level
of a blood pressure test,
waiting for the next bird to alight.
A Milkshake, Then?
When you hunger for a food
that does not exist
you often forget to eat anything at all.
What gnaws, though, is not
the lack of nourishment
but the understanding
that in the whole, wide world
there is nothing
that hungers for you.
Los Angeles native Amélie Frank is the author of five poetry collections, and her work has appeared in print and on-line in numerous local, national, and international publications. She founded The Sacred Beverage Press with poet Matthew Niblock, producing the acclaimed literary journal Blue Satellite. She has served as a director of the Valley Contemporary Poets and in multiple capacities at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center. In 2007, the Los Angeles City Council honored her with a certificate of recognition for her work in the Southern California poetry community. In 2012, the Board of Directors at Beyond Baroque voted unanimously to bestow upon her the Distinguished Service Award. Tangentially, she is a veteran of the film trade and a musician. Her biography appears in both Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who of American Women. The saga continues.