He digs a hole: I am of the earth,
I understand its substance. In dreams I have a pebble in my mouth; a
stone lies under my head. I know the way in: my muscles drive into the
substratum; sunlight spills in to fill the gap. Again and again, stave
and spill, widening the breach. The rhythm of labourers, the heart, of
sex and drums. I could fit in there now, I could curl up in the dusty
cup and let them bury me, the sods jarring my jelly flesh, soil sifting
into cavities. That is how the wives of great men used to die, sealed
into tombs with the sacred corpse, their breath stopped by the rising
Not my wife, she lives in modern
times, and I fall far from great.
She does the washing up:
My hands swim like fish among the
dishes. I wash these plates daily, erasing the stains of ten thousand
dinners, restoring whiteness and order. I rub and rub, the glaze wears
thin and cracks appear, the clay crumbles and disintegrates between my
fingers until the sink is full of a brown sediment.
Through the kitchen window I see
him bent over his excavations, busy with mud pies in the back garden.
He has forgotten us; only when the children come home and run shouting
and happy to see him does he raise his eyes and remember who he is.
The hole gets bigger:
The heat rolls off the great
mountain of my body, washed away by stinging streams that flood the
plains of my chest, the small of my back. I have found an old bone and
pieces of china, objects that survive our broken lives. They are
precious to me, reminding me of my finiteness, my fragility, the
permanence of the earth. I shall keep them in a jar in the garage in a
corner as I did when I was a child. I would mine for hours in the field
next to our house looking for treasure. I found a brass catch, a
marble, a broken chain and pieces of painted porcelain. My mother found
them and threw them away. Few see the value of broken and discarded
My children are home, they tumble
out of the back door and clamour around me. Their eyes are bright, like
prospectors tracking their dreams. With their spades they pry open the
soil. They are like two flints I keep discovering anew.
Dinner gets cold on the table; I
carry a stone in my chest. Every morning I make a promise: I will not
argue with him today, I will not expose my need. Every day gravel
collects in my mouth; the stone expands to fill my chest. If he looked
he would notice how silt is filtering into the house. He would see how
my legs are tired of carrying stones, of wading against the flow. He
would notice that I am in danger of sinking.
At night I dream my bed is made of
a thousand hands; a multitude of people carry me high and safe. Like
the wind they carry me softly over rocky terrain; so high no dust storm
can touch me, no mountain can bring me down.
He goes to bed:
She has turned off the light and
lies in a dark room. I cannot tell whether she sleeps or waits. Even in
sleep she wears a mantle I cannot penetrate, even as we make love I
cannot touch her. Tomorrow I will put the last rocks in place, the
earth will settle, the cement will dry. We will plant ferns and lilies
while water fills the pond, then my children will release the fish:
golden ones and black. I will ask her to come outside and look. When
she sees she may smile; if I put my arm around her, perhaps she will
laugh. Together we will stand and laugh while our children feed the