how do I get back now?

The long street in the dark, the branches hanging down low over the pavement, the lights and their yellow pools, the neighbor’s dog barking in her deep, slow voice, the other neighbor’s dog answering, the call going out, relayed across fences and through hedges, alert, alert. Danger, Will Robinson. Remember when Brazil’s National Museum burned? We didn’t see it, of course, but felt the heat, despite the distance, the oceans, the entire continent. We cried together in the living room for all that was lost. Notre Dame burned today. Something else tomorrow. There was an opossum on the porch earlier, digging its nose down into the recycling bin. I watched it for a while through the kitchen window. It seemed neither bothered nor curious about the barking next door, and went about its business licking out the empty tomato cans. I came out onto the porch later, but it was gone. It lives down underneath the porch. Now that the dog is dead, we have all sorts of animals in the yard. We had to build a fence around the gardens. Your mother designed them, and I helped build them. There’s nothing else happening here tonight.

When I’m out there, I’m never sure how to get back. I’m not sure how to get back now. I’m not sure I want to get back. I can go out to the tunnels or follow the trail down through the marsh and across the bog and down toward the industrial park and wander around in the Urban Forestry Center, but then I’m gone too far and coming back is a math problem that can’t be solved. When you’re deep in the Urban Forestry Center at night, you can see the MacDonald’s arches glowing across Route One. You can smell the coffee roasting at Port City Roasters. You can hear the crackling of the power lines and the ringing of the buoys out in the bay and airplanes coming down at the airfield. You can walk to the edge, and it’s like you haven’t gone anywhere at all.Down in the tunnels, I make my way to the iron door that’s welded closed. You can tell someone has been trying to get in. Someone has been hammering on the door with a rock or pipe. When I’m down there, I never see anyone. Someone has scratched an eye into the door. You can hear something coming from the other side, water maybe, or roots growing, or animals burrowing. The tunnels are broad enough for me to stand arms spread wide. Someone has spray painted in giant letters: Welcome to the Jungle, You’re gonna die. There’s one branch of the tunnels that I won’t go down. It splits from the main tunnel. It’s too dark for me, darker than the dark I’m already in. I leave it be. Once I sat down across from the other tunnel and turned off my light and just listened and I couldn’t hear anything. It was so dark that there wasn’t any sound.

I can go down through the bulkhead and into the cellar and get lost around the back of the furnace. Or crawl into the old coal stove someone pushed off to the side. I know the way through the fieldstones and the sand. I know the path beyond it all, but it’s different going out than it is coming in. The light is bright under the coal dust. There is a path in the sand that leads to a door with a name carved into the wood. I can see the name and the grooves made by the knife. I can trace the letters and slip in between the curlicues and lines. This is all alone. This is not here. I can’t get there. I can’t go. Once I’m down into the light, I can’t see anything. Once I’m gone, I’m gone. The only way to get back is to keep on going. Then I’ve got to go down into the rock, way down below the sewers, way down below the skin and scars. I’ve got to get down to where the bones are teeth are thick. It’s one layer after another no matter how far I dig. I’ve been down there, and I’ve been back, but it’s not something I can do now. It’s not something I want to do twice. Still, here I am. There I go. I’m not looking. I’m outside the door and down inside the teeth all at once. I can’t let it happen again, but I can’t stop it either. I can’t see any other way home.

These are the things I can see: our street; the trees across the street in Mitch’s yard; four gourds hanging in each tree; Mitch holding one of the fallen gourds, looking into the hole he drilled to see if there are any birds, or eggs; I can see the bridge; I can see the highway, barely a car going north or south; the remnants of a poster that said Welcome Home Joey; the American flag caught in the wind over at the Alternative School; the softball field that always has puddles; the fencing around the fish-stick factory; the coils of wire down by the power lines; the Great Bog and its trails; the train tracks down near the industrial park where I fell while walking a few years ago and scraped up my legs and side. I can see the hills past the Walmart and then I’m basically to the water. I’m almost there. I’m down near the marshes. I’m crawling through the rushes. The water is splotchy with oil. The birds are quiet in the trees along the edges. I’m down low. The wind is above me, cattails rustling. I’m down by the ranger station. I’m down on Cable Road. There’s no one awake. I’m past the ice cream place and the place that sells sunscreen and t-shirts to tourists. The path is thick with beach roses. The sun is just breaking the line. The terns and gulls coo and preen near the tideline. A sandpiper calls to me, drawing me away from its nest. He dashes past, hopping over the rocks, looking back, chittering once again. I say: I’m not here for your eggs, little one. The sand is cool. Rows of seaweed tell me where the tide has been. I’m down in the water. I’m up to my ankles. I’m up to my knees, my hips, my chest. I’m down in it now. The ocean is very still. I can see all of this. I can see all the way home.

Advertisements