Blake Hamilton

Three Months

Blake Hamilton

MONTH 1:
You can do no wrong and you are a miracle in my life
before you it was drinking from 5 pm until I couldn’t stand up
every night
before you I knew only rejection and hurt and nothing like this
has been in my life before, nothing
What do you need? I’ll give it to you
let me rub you all night, even while you’re asleep, let me
hold you, run my fingers over your skin
Do you need some water?  Are you hungry?
let me make you come, come with me
What do you need?  I want you to have it
I made a heart on the beach out of hand picked shells,
it took me an hour and
I wrote your name in it

MONTH 2:
You can do no wrong and you are a miracle in my life
what we have is rare
I would like you to meet my family, my friends,
no pressure
Too soon?  I understand.
let’s go to see my friends in a city a few hours from here,
it’s on me
Do you need gas?  Are you hungry?  Come with me,
let’s eat
Have you seen this film?  Let’s read together by the water,
in the sun,
our place
we have a place now, you and I
I’ve told your friends, and now I’m telling you,
I can say it cause it won’t stay in any longer I’m telling you I love you
I love you
move with me, move with me where we can be happier than this,
I’ve got a spreadsheet, all detailed, the financial holes are filled so nothing
can follow us, nothing,
and I would like to pay off your car, can I do that?
I bought you something today, an ipad, and a case to go with it
I know you’re doubtful-
Get used to this, get used to me,
I’m not going anywhere, not going to leave you, wouldn’t
do that to
you

MONTH 3:
You can do no wrong and you are a miracle in my life
what we have is rare
come to the moutains with me
in the sky, above us, on the desert road
clouds split apart
and we agree it looks like a crab
Yes, I love you, very much
No, I’m not in the mood, that shouldn’t be sad
It’s my Ex, he texts me, wants me back, but I ingore him
I don’t want to be mean
You and I, we both have bad dreams
I am reaffirming you, you are attractive to me
This is how I am, you should know this by now, I’m not
distant
I’m not unattracted to you, we got sex out of the way, it’s not
a big deal now
Ideally, yes, you and I will move together, ideally
I love you so much
back from the trip and six days together and I’m calling you
on the way (somewhere)
to tell you, I love you again
and the next day I only acknowledge you in sporadic
jolts
and you’re asking me if everything’s fine and
I say I want my space, and when you come
back to my house and want to hold me I say if you want to
and we sleep
in the morning you ask again
and I tell you
I say, I love you.  As a person.  I don’t see you in my future.
and you’re crying, so I join you, clinging to your back, my hands
like pincers, but not because I’m sad
but because you’re crying
and I see you out later, at night, the same bar
and you’re still crying, and I say to your friend that
you seem so sad
you ask why? and it’s appropriate.  I expect it.
and I say, I have no reason, and if I knew
I’d tell you, it’s not the end of the world, it’s not the Ex, it’s not, it’s that I felt
pressured and
you’ll get over me eventually, isn’t that how these things work
I’m going swimming with my friends, and we’re going out later,
no talking between us
for at least 2 weeks, and we’ll be great friends, great friends
you’ll see

THE CLOSE:
You were great, you did nothing wrong
you were great, back to being alone
for me, that’s all, that’s all

(the sky over the same road, in the desert, is clear blue.  Nothing marks it.  And it goes forever)

On The Edge Of The Bed

Blake Hamilton

It is a step,
—mild desperation
to attempt
to memorialize you
in a poem.
You don’t deserve to be
memorialized.

Hanging
half bent over
the edge
of my bed
a swimmers back,
bare,
three brown marks
like thumb prints
pressing up your spine.

“They’re starting to feather.”
You say this,
fingers flipping onion thin pages;
a ruined text
describing the best way
to approach Marxist
criticism.

“If it’s melanoma, I’m fucked.”

Your criticism for me
is that I am
too Passionate
and that I talk
about my Passion
for you.

In public, you and I
ignore each other artfully—
subtle glances now
a firm reminder
of how much of you I took in,
samples.

And you and my
enemies
have vigorously
nailed me up
—wrists and feet—
without the chance
to tell you—
despite your collection
of hammers and tape,
your variety of drills,
walls of ropes well knotted,
that I had such love
for you.

The Suitcase

Blake Hamilton

This is for you
and
the train ride—

we got off
together and walked
through the neighborhood forest

you have suitcases buried
in more than one place
I know about them
when we talk about your

—expeditions

you like to tell me what you included,
the letters you wrote
and how you imagine readers -
constructing their discovery
of the things you
buried for them, a list of contents,

“He traced my spine” is
something you would hold out to me-

if it were in a book
or a poem
and laugh
because we needed something
to humiliate

when you left I pawned your guitar
and went out
I didn’t tell you this
when we met again
because I was pressed
up against you and your arms
cut a firm X
across my back tracing my spine

you mention the burial and
I have to tell
you it’s gone
−    they’ve built something new there
your face is regret plain
then your arms again and everything and I am loved
here I am loved
here I am loved

Someone Will Find You

Blake Hamilton

Our instructor handed us a blue sheet of paper. At the top, in bold, it said Field Trip. All of the continuing education criminology students were required to attend. The instructor said it would be one day a week for the rest of the course, an all day thing; this phrase incurred a series of nods from three of the women sitting in front of me. Kathy brought out a palm pilot, tapped something viciously into it with a stylus, and adjusted her jacket. I’d missed something. One phrase had communicated volumes to these women. They knew, now, what to do with the rest of their lives while they spent a few days, next week, at the coroner’s office and the morgue.

I didn’t own a palm pilot. I knew where my life would be while I spent time at the morgue with four other women. I remained on the periphery of our small class. Watching them, I felt a spike of pleasure and brittle shame from the smirk I held inside. They took the course seriously. Their note taking betrayed them. I didn’t take many notes. Pauline wrote endlessly from the start to finish of the class. I watched her hand move across the page diligently trying to capture our instructor’s smear of words.

Pauline, Kathy, and Susan wanted to write bestselling mystery novels. They sat in the same seats every class and shared stories about their children. During breaks they handed out crafts samples to each other, then to us, me and Saundra. To illustrate points during discussion, Kathy often cited CSI or Law & Order. It was obvious the others never watched these shows. Kathy knew it, too. When she spoke, the room rapidly sucked in around her, while the others nodded at her inflection. Pauline and Susan observed her with boiling interest waiting for some morsel, something left behind that they could snatch, devour, and alchemize into their own offering by next class.

Occasionally, I glanced at Saundra. She was removed like me; we didn’t need each other’s acknowledgement. What I wanted, why I was there, was unknown to the others. I didn’t want it to be known. I suspected the same for her and ignored the comfort it provided me. I had to pretend I needed nothing when what I needed was a way of my own to find my son. Kidnapping wasn’t a topic on our syllabus.

Our instructor finished telling us the details, explaining the hand drawn directions at the bottom of the blue page. Kathy, Pauline, and Susan shook their papers with excitement. I imagined them just having won a trip on a cruise together, or a two-day stay in Las Vegas at Treasure Island. Their skin gained a new, unfamiliar glow: something the serums they dutifully used couldn’t give them. It spilled, filled the room, made the air thicker.

“We’re going to the morgue!!” shouted Kathy, her newly whitened teeth a beacon between the other two.

I looked back over to where Saundra sat. She was gone.

After class was dismissed I walked to my car. Pauline, Kathy, and Susan stood together in the parking lot talking and gesticulating excitedly with their papers next to Kathy’s light blue mini-van. I got in my car and drove past them. For a moment I wanted to look and somehow absorb what had grown around them. I wanted to know what it was like to be on the verge of something.

I drove to my mother’s house. Every Tuesday she made dinner and I joined her. It was not the house I grew up in. My childhood was in sections like a series of bones in different lengths joined at incorrect angles. It formed something but it was inconsistent. My mother moved my sister and me through many homes. In each one we were something different. We were three women but new people. When we left for college our mother moved behind our backs. She would tell us later, her voice always low and distracted as if she’d just bought a new plant.

I pulled into the driveway. The yard had not been cleaned. Leaves like bright wads of yellow construction paper saturated the grass under the two oaks flanking the house. I walked through the debris to the front door, rang the bell, waited. The door opened and I saw only the side of her.

“Come in, come in. I’ll be right back, I’ve got to check something,” she said.

She was a flash of movement away from the door as she entered the kitchen. Baking garlic bread, old wood, and vanilla candles combined in an almost suffocating scent everywhere. My attention went to the living room. I shut the front door behind me and walked into it. All of the furniture was the same. It was just arranged in ways that made it unrecognizable. The brick floors were waxed and led to a sliding glass door that showed the back yard. In it was a swing tied to the bark stripped branch of one tree. Beyond the tree was a dilapidated terracotta birdbath. The swing was for my sister when she visited, not for me.

“Julie?” she called behind me. “It’s ready.”

I walked into the dining room. The dark burgundy dining table was covered in white plates offering large chunks of salmon, fist-sized slices of garlic bread, and pâté on Melba toast. Neither of us said anything and sat down to eat. It occurred to me that we could have just met at a restaurant and had decided to join one another at the same table between flights on our ways to new locations; she could have been anyone.

“A bit too much,” she said to herself. She lowered a piece of garlic bread from her mouth to the plate then made an effort to sit up straight. She cleared her throat.

I ate quickly and sat in silence while she finished. She brought out coffee for the both of us. We drank it among the mess of plates on the table. She lit a cigarette. The daylight outside diminished. She left the kitchen light on, which gave everything a bleached appearance.

“Do you like your new class?” she asked, picking something out of her teeth, sucking with her tongue, trying again.

“Yes,” I said. “We’re actually taking a trip to the morgue, if you can believe that.”

“Your sister’s coming into town next week,” she said, sipped her coffee. “I’ve got to get this place in order.”

“That’s wonderful,” I said. “How’s her new job?”

“You know that Tatum is almost as tall as this table?”

I shook my head, a knot forming in my throat.

“I can’t believe it,” she said. “They just grow up.”

I didn’t respond.

“You, however. You and your sister. You grew up slower, it seemed.”

There was a pause. She smoked.

“I’d like you to meet Sarah, sometime, if you’d like,” I said. My voice was accusatory, which surprised me. I felt caught and ashamed and hoped it was hidden in my frozen posture. “She knows a lot about textiles, interior design. She’s an architect. You would like her.”

“Do you think your sister would want me to do a cook out?” she asked, gently adjusting the plates in front of her. “I’m thinking of getting a pool for the back yard, for Tatum. He would love that.”

“Yes,” I said. “He would.”

She looked up at me.

“You look good,” she said, flicking her ash. “Have you spoken to Mark?”

I looked at her, waiting for her to withdraw her question but her expression implored me to answer her.

“No, Mother,” I said. “We aren’t married anymore—”

“Oh, I know, I know,” she looked down. “I just wanted to know. If you’d talked. That’s all.”

“We don’t talk,” I said. “That’s over.”

“He’s just such a sweet guy,” she said, her voice flat. “He’s still trying, you know? He hasn’t given up.”

I haven’t either. I thought this but couldn’t push it out of my mouth. The knot at the base of my throat had grown and threatened to explode out of my face. The dinner was her punishment. And every Tuesday I went. It was her way of reminding me of my sister, that her successes were inarguably my failings. I let her have the dinner. My accomplishments were my own. I was a good mother. Was it enough to know that even if no one else believed it? What happened was not my fault, but every Tuesday I let her believe that it was; someone had to be blamed.

It was a backwards way of asking for forgiveness. I wanted to prove to her that I was like her. She believed she was a good mother. I wanted her to trust me the way I trusted her when I was small and moved with each of her shifts from place to place, unerringly. I wanted her to see that I was still a mother trying to find her child, that I had never given up.

“I hope your class is informative,” she said. “And fun.”

“Thank you,” I said.

She smiled. We stood and I gathered my things. She walked me to the door. We hugged and I left. I drove home fast but told myself I was taking my time. The clouds were purple fists, broken and split apart, rising up over the highway. I flipped on the wipers. I hummed to a song on the radio then noticed it was off when I reached to turn down the volume.

Home for me, now, was Sarah’s. She owned a condominium in an affluent community for older people. She was one of the youngest since she was in her early forties. I was younger than her by a decade, which didn’t bother her. The chasm between my marriage and Sarah is unmarked, undefined. I found her, or rather, she found me. It was not a decision made out of preference. There was no decision. Three years after Mark sold our house and moved, Sarah invited me to share hers. She never asked for explanations from me. She seemed to accept that the rest would come when it was supposed to come.

When I walked inside the condo all of the lights were off except for the orange glow of a small lamp in the kitchen. I took off my shoes and moved quietly down the hall to our bedroom. Sarah slept, her body divided up in folds of the comforter. The light from the blinds covering the balcony doors drew the black arch of a shoulder in the dark. I crawled onto the mattress, slid in against her, carefully. I wanted to be light next to Sarah. Without waking her I wanted her to know it was me. My arm wrapped over her middle, my ear pressed against her back. I listened for the slowing of her heart. When I heard it, I knew she was aware that I was home.

Sometimes, when we went bed together and were both half asleep I asked her to tell me it was going to be okay. If she were almost asleep, she would say it. If she was still hovering between both worlds, but more awake, she would tell me I’m an adult. I never responded to this but curled up next to her. She always pulled me close and her breast felt soft under my head, her waist small in my arms. When we woke up, I was always positioned like a fetus, my body aligned with the shape of her ribs and side, her arms cradling me along my spine.

The next morning she left early for work. I woke clutching the space that would have been her. I took a shower and dressed in clothes I thought would be appropriate for a morgue, although I wasn’t sure if there was such a thing as morgue etiquette. I drove to meet the rest of the class. My stomach felt cleaned out, my arms numb. When I pulled into the parking lot I strangely wanted to see Kathy standing outside with the others, her legs and ass stuffed into a pair of jeans, bulging under a blouse she’d bought on sale at Layne Bryant. I wanted her to have new crafts for us. This desire passed once I turned off my engine and walked inside the building. The emptiness at the center of my sternum remained like a small finger pressing further and further into me.

The foyer of the building had two empty benches with a dormant ashtray on either side poking out of the wall: a holdover from when it was first built. I expected to see the others here, waiting. I took a seat on the bench near the entrance. Across from me was a dimly lit hallway of offices. I heard voices, small and muffled, leaking around the corner from one of the open doors. A man in gray slacks with thick, black hair and silver rimmed glasses came directly towards me.

“Hi, are you Julie?” he asked, smiling and lowering his head, hand outstretched. I shook it and stood up from the bench.

“Hello, yes,” I said. “I hope I’m not late.”

“Not at all. I heard you come in. I’m Dr. Carter, the coroner here. We’ve got everyone in the meeting room. It’s this way.”

In the meeting room everyone sat in chairs facing a dry erase board. Dr. Carter sat on a stool next to the board facing us, hands folded between his thighs.

“I hope everyone’s doing well this morning. Thanks to all of you for coming and making this a part of your studies,” he said, nodding. “You’re here to experience an aspect of criminology that most consider not so pleasant. But it’s a large aspect and you have to keep that in mind.”

A mutual rumble of timed laughter from everyone followed this, but I didn’t understand what was funny.

“I hope you have come prepared to see some things you might find very difficult to look at. But as burgeoning practitioners in your field,” said Dr. Carter, a subtle layer of irony in his voice, “you will need to become hardened to these kinds of things. If the news hasn’t done it for you already, I’m here to help.”

He smiled. Kathy cackled and shook in her chair.

“You’ve got that right!” said Kathy, emitting another series of laughs. She rubbed her thighs, hands flat, the sides of the chair invisible behind the bulge of denim.

“What we’re going to do first,” said Dr. Carter, “we’re going to take a moment to go over some of the terms we use here and then we’ll show you some pictures. This room kind of acts as my office for now. I have this one here and another office across town.”

Kathy and Pauline nodded and looked at each other in stern agreement of this statement.

Dr. Carter excused himself and left the room. He came back with a manila folder for everyone. He said each one had the same things in it, including pictures of the corpses we were about to see. He said that he wanted us to take a moment to look at the pictures and familiarize ourselves with some of the notes. Dr. Carter explained that this was how some things were accomplished. I watched as everyone opened the files. I opened mine but I didn’t look at the pictures. I watched Kathy and Pauline take notes, their faces etched with forced grim expressions. Kathy seemed to adopt the posture of a character on CSI as if she were about to crack the case from something previously undiscovered in the photo before her, something only she could find. Susan stared at the contents with her hands pressed flat at the base of her throat, her skin drained white.

Saundra text messaged someone. Dr. Carter seemed lost in the file, unaware we were all still there, his forehead creased.

Finally he shut his folder and surveyed the room.

“Are we all ready?” he asked, his voice was leaden.

They all said yes.

“Okay, everyone follow me.”

Dr. Carter stood and walked, legs brisk gray slashes, out of the conference room and through the bare steel door at the of the hall.

I followed behind Kathy, Pauline, and Susan. Saundra was behind me. Kathy and Pauline were practicing deep breathing techniques. Susan squeezed the manila folder in her left hand, her right remaining at the base of her throat. From the side her expression seemed to float. The fluorescent lighting behind the steel door unveiled the rings under her eyes like crushed, smeared charcoal. We moved into a lengthy hall. The cement floors held small elliptically placed drains in the center. The white tile walls contained a stripe of pale green running down the middle.

“Look at that,” said Kathy. She directed Pauline to what appeared to be a steel gurney against the wall by the door of an empty office.

“My God,” wheezed Pauline.

“Can you imagine?” said Kathy.

“I’m just covered in chills,” said Pauline, wooden bracelets rattling on her wrists. “I just got a great idea for a new scene in my novel.”

Oh, share it with me at Starbucks at lunch…I’ve got one too.”

Dr. Carter led us into a room on the right with benches. A few lockers lined the walls. He asked that we put on protective clothing before we enter the morgue. He showed us a rack of lab coats and boxes of latex gloves in different sizes. He said he would return in a few minutes to take us into what he called the Remains Room.

We all got dressed. Kathy went through three different boxes of gloves until she grudgingly settled on a pair of large ones. Dr. Carter returned and led us back down the hall to another steel door behind which was the Remains Room. Inside the walls were dark gray with lamps hanging from various points in the ceiling. Six gurneys filled the space, each at a different angle as if they had been wheeled into the room and left abruptly. The one closest to us was covered with a green cloth, vague shapes pushing up underneath it. We stood clumped on one side of the gurney. Dr. Carter stood on the other side facing us.  He drew back the cloth.

“This came in yesterday,” he said, arms casually at his sides.

No one made any sound. He spoke as if he were discussing an artifact, furniture. On the gurney was a severed head. Blond hair lay around it like stained, tattered plastic. The skin looked rubbery like dried egg. The stump of neck looked chewed. The jaw hung slack, lips curled. I noticed the eyes. The lids looked stopped in action as if she couldn’t decide on something.

“This one was found on the river bank off of the highway,” he said. “Since then we’ve discovered other parts, which we believe to be her. She hasn’t been identified, yet.”

“You mean, she has no name?” asked Kathy.

“We call her Jane,” said Dr. Carter. He pulled the cloth back over the head.

He led us to the other gurneys, one after the next, pulling back each cloth to reveal another set of parts, unrecognizable; forms, shapes, people at one time.

“I’ve got my mind on one thing,” whispered Kathy to Pauline. “Green tea frappucino.”

“Oh, I know,” said Pauline.

Dr. Carter looked up at them then continued speaking. We stood before the last body, a burn victim. The limbs looked shrunken, bent. The torso seemed elongated. It was so black no part was distinguishable from another until we got closer. Black triangles over the head were the arms, the knees pulled upwards, as if trying to block something.

“This one,” said Dr. Carter. “This is a ten year-old boy. He was locked in a shed by his mother, which she burned to the ground. He crawled out of it, somehow, and died a few feet away.”

Everyone listened as Dr. Carter discussed various terms and techniques. The shape before them was just a shape.

When everyone left the morgue for the day I drove to my mother’s house. My sister’s Lexus filled the driveway, gleaming. I drove on, past the house, to the highway, to my home. I wanted Sarah to be there. But when I arrived the condominium was empty. I threw down my things and walked to the bedroom where I sat on her side of the bed. The smell of her was strong. I stared forward at the balcony doors, through the tiny gaps in the blinds. I watched the movements between them, trees motioning back and forth; fluttering green light on the backs of my hands.

My son didn’t have a name. I didn’t get that chance. I had waited too long and someone took him. I only got seven months. Whoever took him, what name would they give to him? Would he know, somehow, perhaps intrinsically, that it wasn’t the name that was meant for him? The name that was meant for him was from me and I didn’t have it.

I realized I wasn’t asking Dr. Carter the right questions. I wasn’t asking anything. I was supposed to ask him how you find missing people. I needed to know what my options were now that I had none left.

I stretched out in Sarah’s place, head on her pillow. I closed my eyes. I did not feel like I was a part of the room, or that I took up space. I could be anywhere. I needed Sarah to come home so I could be there again.

The next three weeks at the morgue continued in the same fashion except for Saundra. She’d stopped coming entirely. No one seemed to notice that she wasn’t there. I wondered if I should say something since no one else did. I stopped looking for her car by the fourth week.

On our last day with Dr. Carter I waited in the empty conference room for an hour before he saw me there. He stopped and stood in the doorway looking at me, coffee mug held up in his right hand, head tilted down. He was quiet and I thought I might have done something wrong.

“I’m surprised you’re here,” he said. “Did no one tell you?”

“I don’t understand.”

He nodded, entered the room and stood across from me.

“Your class has been canceled.”

“Why?”

He waited, looked towards the door.

“I don’t know why no one called you.”

I smiled.

“One of your classmates. She passed away.”

He seemed to want something from me that I couldn’t give him. I almost didn’t ask who it was. I was sure I knew.

“It’s Saundra,” I said.

He motioned with his cup.

“Saundra.”

“I don’t remember her,” he said. “What did she look like?”

I started to answer him and stopped because I couldn’t remember her, either. She was there but I couldn’t put her into words. It was as if she were constructed of different pieces, but unstrung and incongruent.

“Kathy,” he said.

“Who?”

“It was Kathy. Your friend Kathy.”

I didn’t say anything. I began gathering my things.

“She was found dead on Saturday,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

“What happened? I mean, where was she found?” I asked.

“We don’t know, yet. She was discovered in a field just a few miles from here, actually, before the intersection by the old grade school. You know the one? We don’t know what she was doing there, or if she was taken there.”

I nodded and stood from my chair. I walked to the door.

“They cancelled your class because we have her… here,” he said. “We didn’t think it was a good idea to—”

“Do they know how she died?” I asked.

“No,” he said, clearing his throat. “Not yet.”

I thanked Dr. Carter and left the morgue. I didn’t take the highway. I drove towards the intersection Dr. Carter had mentioned.  My cell phone rang. I answered to my sister. She asked why I had not yet come to see her at our mother’s. She asked where I was. I told her and hung up before she could speak again. I drove faster.

Mist began to fall. Ahead, on the right, rose the stained brick of the old grade school. Before that was the empty field where Kathy was found. Thick, tall firs walled it in from every side except the road. I pulled over onto the shoulder and got out. A barbed wired fence protected the field. I surveyed it for an entry point but there wasn’t one. Carefully, I climbed over it. The grass pulled across my jeans as I moved towards the center.

I felt the prick of burs across the backs of my hands and thighs, the slow drag of leaves. I started looking. I knew that if I could find one thing, a knife, a bullet, I could help Kathy; and, at least it would be something, wouldn’t it?

I peeled back layers of grass. I got down on my knees in the wet dirt and dug through roots, old stones. I could make something change if I just kept looking, digging. My jeans were soaked through at the knee and thigh. Mud coated my hands, splattered my throat and shirt, my face. I tore through the roots, going faster. My hair became knotted with dried leaves and dirt. My hands shook, felt raw as I continued. Tears rushed from my eyes to my lips, salty in the wet air. My lungs felt scraped. I let hours pass as I did this.

I heard my name called. Someone came towards me but I paid no attention, just kept looking, hunting. It was a woman. She asked what I was doing. I looked up. It was my sister. I ignored her and moved forward until I stood before the wall of firs. She asked me what was wrong. I could hear something in her voice I didn’t remember, something similar to the sound of compassion.

I stopped and stood in the place between where I was and where I could go. I let myself drop, slowly, as if I had decided to let the ground absorb my legs, and eventually the rest of me. From behind me came my sister’s arms. She held me, her hands tight across my chest. We stayed there, motionless. Wind pushed across grass and the tops of the trees. I looked at my hands and thought only of my son, of where he could be and whom, if anyone, he loved. My sister pressed her face close to mine.

“Come home,” she said. “Please. For me.”

I nodded and we helped each other stand.