fine print

Grief can be a heartbeat

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I know the feel of you. The ridges like callouses.
They can knot, you know. The dark parts of the heart
can knot like fists and knuckles. But it’s the
fine scrape of the whorls of the skin we remember -    
a wash of sand against your leg.
Memories of summer shores and the
fine-boned limbs of children
all soft and unknowing of what is to come.

We call them fingerprints –
the map edges that track us,
the way we are pulled into ridges and crests
the flood plains of our forearms
the valleys behind our knees.

These traceries your bodies make and that make your body?
You find them under the crust.
Follow the tunnels of your bones and the
edges that your fingernails make.
Follow them in. Deep. Follow them under.      


And so, like this, you go back-in-under
To the things you remember
that smear against your skin.
We talk about memories like they are
our own. But usually it is
not so easy to detangle them
from those of
other people.
they bleed forward and we can’t not
breathe them
even if we had wanted to leave them.  

Sometimes it takes a lifetime to learn this.
To learn what is yours and
what is not yours.

What I’m saying is
it is more than our bodies that bleed.        


Somewhere, in a place you will probably never know
a mountain range has taken the shape of
the blueprint of your palm
is traced into
the mother of pearl that lines
an unremarkable shell on a beach
you will never know
the name of who you would have been if you
hadn’t been born in the place you were.

In this way, we circle down and into the crust.
Do you see? Do you see                                                                                    
how we follow the lines on each other’s
palms until we find ourselves
back in the centre of our own hand
which is where
we started.

Do you see the veins there, under your skin?
This is the greatest gift you will receive. To
glimpse what is beneath, what makes you.

Remember the women who
walked and bled and walked and bled.
The audacity, the simple pleasure
of just being
in your body, on the earth,
the soles of your feet uncluttered by someone else’s story and
just touching
as you pass over the earth, shedding into it
cycling through yourself, your tides reflecting
the salt water far away and the constellations far away
and the small heads of the flowering grasses at your feet
closing in as evening settles and
breathing out when the light comes back.

If you are lucky, you will know that this is enough.
But there were times, weren’t there,
when someone went digging.

It might have been you -
might have been, but most of the time
it was someone else.

There are some scars that can be seen
only by those who bear the same ones.
Those who see the way you are flayed
open, see how you can never imagine
a healing from this
but know that
you will never stop asking for one
because you cannot.

We have gone into the crust now and no-one has said
maybe you shouldn’t.
But that isn’t true.
There was always the voice that
said no.
There was always someone who knew that
the surface is there for a reason.
You cannot live in a body where nothing is kept secret, sacred
left to breathe gently in the dark.
We need to rest, breathing, gently in the dark.

You said no, have always said it
from the moment we began to dig.
It’s just that
we didn’t listen.
We heard
and we didn’t stop.

This is how it happens.
When the epidermis is no longer there
when it has been scraped back
peeled open, under, left asunder
left unarranged in the most terrible way.                                                          

The skin is what provides protection to the body
from what is outside.

And this is what happens when it happens.
The radiant blast breaks the crust
blows the red sand apart
writes a book from the blast and says thank you
we got what we needed.


How should a body recover from that?
How could it be asked to try?

When your foot falls through a wet crust of a tideline
you leave prints that disappear as you pass them.
The mollusc of memory that you temporarily expose
to the air sees the salt and the light and
sinks back to where she wants to be.
There are ways for what is beneath to surface.
You rise and fall and the water rises and fills
where you were and then you are gone.

But some marks
do not fade.
Some crusts
do not recover.
And sometimes
grief can be a heartbeat
that blows itself apart.

Now the red sand glitters with
pieces of the desert that
melted into
poisonous green glass.

There is no green glass in the
history books on classroom shelves.

Sometimes there is a silent ring
that grows around the bombsite of
your grief. The radius is recorded in
white cabinets but this
doesn’t help the small shoots
of grass
that are trying but
cannot seem to grow.

Sometimes your grief is carried on winds
to a coast and like you
they will know
even there
the sweep of sticky thunder
that passes on the breeze,
eats bodies and
turns a desert into glass.

And this is what we remember:
the grains of red earth
that cling to the skins
of the bodies that carry us
across ridges
through bone-lines
between edges
into whorls
and then memory
and dust.                                                                                                


Melanie Pryor. Photo: Thomas McCammon.
Melanie Pryor. Photo: Thomas McCammon.