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Smeary Flowers, 1983 photo


All I wanted was the haze of a worn gown
                         of sleep after the scrape of that
      honey-sipped night. I laid back
on the seat to the space around thinking, to the stitch
             of each parcel and limb. That night

of my uncle's second wedding, I was
                         afforded small space in the bark
      of the city’s indifference, given
the middle of the road as the ambulance threw
             black rings of sound toward

the ear of the borough. Something needed
                          breaking. My soft wrist
       on the reed of my arm. From this distance
of decades, I know that was the side
              of my life I was wearing. The wavering       

 silk. The tender demeanor. Canting night,
                            it was nuzzling tendons and bones
         as Dad drove, and the wheels strew
in the drizzle. I had lapsed into dozing
             the rippled bowls

and gold coins of the belly dancers'
                            wide centers unwrapping eddies
        of notes — circular, pulsing,
a physical singing. When the frame of our car
     stapled its metal to the side

of another, the road
                          painted sky with lights on the back
        passenger window, a shower of smeary
red flowers. Blood glistened
            like small buttons from a gash

on the downhill side of my father’s
                          steep forehead. Someone moaned,
       someone in shadow—my mother perhaps,
adding to the dissonant drone
              of the city, the violet danger,

its crisscross of midnight. And winter
                            kept speaking. That night
        was never bent on farewell. It continued;
the doctor washed his hands
              before stepping back to the traumatized

hall, to the reign of one hospital’s fluorescence.
                          That’s all there was—
       After my uncle’s second wedding,
my family’s brown Buick spun
            slowly toward home. I was slumped

in the back, my brother beside me
                          in the hem between seats. Us,
      in our childhood, the division
of heartbeats, and the ever slippery
             dark, cascading through windows.


image: Aaron Burch