All This Wind
This is about the dishes, isn’t it? I can do them if you want. We’re only at the beach house until Hanukkah is over, so one of us has got to do them at some point. A dish is not like a bone until it is. The excavated half shell of a turtle, a porous half-olive, a wad of barfed up dune grass that Midge left on the kitchen tile in the shape of a plate. You’re not paranoid, you’re just paranoid. Your gift last night was lovely, don’t you know? I want you to know. Trust me. No one gives their partner clearance stickers from Michaels for Hanukkah—that’s why they’re special, Gill. They’re whales, Gill. Whales! My favorite! I spied one yesterday in the air, which was as much a gift as any for our first night. The menorah wasn’t even lit. The week’s weather aims to be sublime, rain rain rainy rain. The waves of clouds are made of whale fat, bulbous barnacled museums of ocean crust. I put all my stickers on the window above the sink. The drizzle makes them look like they’re crashing against the glass, their neon skin blotched with wet. Smiling. The horizon is a blank expression. A straight, effortless line. The house is creeping toward it, through the sod, the ancient wild grasses. We ought to go down to the farmer’s market tomorrow, buy some clams, mango, beets, a phalanx of spices. I’m doing the dishes. I’m doing them now. They’re going to be so clean. We’re going to eat so much off these we won’t know what to do with our stomachs.
Okay. Look. You don’t have to read it all while we’re here, but just this one? The poem’s only half a page. It’s indented, just how you like them broken up and molded, like a kinstugi bowl. A poem is like pottery. No, my gifts aren’t all themed—hey! Don’t shake that! It’s not more ornamental pottery, I promise. Just read the poem. This guy’s virtually unknown. A cult classic. Richard Siken doesn’t sound like a poet’s name! What does that even mean, you hill-billy academic. I’ll read my favorite bit aloud, like it’s supposed to be, just to give you a taste:
I take of my hands and give them to you but you don’t want them, so I take them back and put them on the wrong way, the wrong wrists. The yard is dark, the tomatoes are next to the whitewashed wall the book on the table is about Spain, the windows are painted shut.
What’s wrong? Your face is sopping wax. Admit it! No, don’t. I’ll just leave it on the end table, for your hands to pick up. You should read it before Midge does; she’s a smart puppy. I can’t believe her sometimes. I brought the wagon along in case you wanted to get loads of produce from town; I know how much you like your local finds. It’s tradition. Midge rode in the wagon instead, a sheepdog being shepherded by me! She’d hop out to collect ghost crabs in her maw. By the time you were done shopping we had a hundred piled in the wagon. You didn’t seem to notice. Honestly, I figured you’d be mad, sternly asking us to stop embarrassing you in public. Can’t you seem a little happy we’re here, Gill? I guess we know now which one of us isn’t superstitious. There’s nothing wrong with a little speculation. If you could see, the crabs look like they’re trying to pinch at your shorts. But what I see is them reaching out their claws to you, as if they were consoling you, as if they were pleading to be saved, as if they were beckoning.
A new picture frame! A coffee mug! You really do love me, don’t you? Not that I always need proof from you. Midge is pawing at the screen door, or it’s the wind. Been picking up a bit the past day or so. Bet the sailboats are gobbling the wind all up, their canvas teeth bloody with storm. This reminds me—my gift is outside. Come on, I’m tugging at your wrists, heavy as deadbolts. Tada! It’s a painting, one of a billion little points. Like a Leon Viorescu. I stretched it across the sea, shot down all the gulls, fished out the spinner sharks. Paint costs so much, so don’t worry, this didn’t cost me a dime. I only spent two nickels. Don’t look at me like that. Two halves don’t make up shit. Point your dumb face to the sky and see what I did. No ghosts. All real. It’s not a holiday if I don’t give you the world, you, my world. There’s no blood (I know how you are around needles), no profanity, no excess. I painted wind that sweeps your hair, its tassels of muted bright. Even the bonfire pit, a tower of dead grass I finagled into brushes. Midge is here, too. Pet her, no, not that one, that one. She took me the longest to paint—I just wanted her to be perfect, you know.Is this how twins are made? Maybe for me. I can tell you need a moment. Take them all. All the moments. The sharks will not gnash. The ospreys are made of 3,200 dots, seven wings, and a whorl of discount yarn we had leftover in the hallway closet. Dinner will be ready when you come inside, even as you lead me back up the shore.
Sandpiper’s End. That’s the name
of the beach house. Their toothpick feet
all gather at the farthest
point, where the shore recedes
like the tail of a comet into
space. You bought
the property from a guy
whose divorce left him with one
thing. A house he never vacationed
to. Said he named it after reading
a David Sedaris story. You wanted
your mother to move here after she
split ties with her partner—Danielle? Yeah.
My phone’s in the kitchen, I could invite
her now. I’ll give her the rest
of your presents, since it seems
you don’t want them. Maybe we shouldn’t have
tried to make love as the sixth
candle withered. Though it was pouring
outside, your preferred ambience,
neither of us could wriggle
into a condom. I don’t know why
you’d think I’m not telling you
everything. I’m the talkative one. Let’s get
this straight: your gift was a Ziplock bag
full of snow with one drop
of blood in it. The haystack is a needle. It’s
sharp, like blood. No matter how close
I held it to my clavicle or the flames,
it would not slim to water. We don’t
know what to do with each other. Giving
you the most imperfect gifts feels like
I’m always constantly dying. Quit handing
me knives and corkscrews. A jar of sea glass
is like you just want to prove that you think
I’m crazy. So what if I am? I don’t need to fuck
you to love you. The jellyfish are wrapping their
limbs around the stilts of the Sandpiper. Hundreds
of them. Wind isn’t carrying things away
from here, Gill. It’s offering to us its own
gifts. Hanukkah isn’t just for us. Whose
blood is it, Gill? Whose blood? You’re looking
at me as if I’m a dream. I know you
don’t. I was awake at 3:00am last night, and I
could hear you flipping through the book
of poetry I gave you. I don’t want to know
what you think of it. The stickers won’t
stick anymore. No matter how much
I hammer them with my palm.
I had a dream once, or it was a memory, or it was a reality elsewhere, or it was happening now, or it was just a fragile hope. You held me from behind, your breath a tincture of kale and rib eye. There was no sky, there was a question mark in the place of the ocean. Midge skipped like a stone across the sand into darkness, where I heard splashes of something thicker than water. Minutes later, she’d drag up the shore giant squid, angler fish, rotten ship keels, empty conch shells. I could feel the hair on my forearms magnetically reaching for the conches. I glanced at my fingers, which spiraled into the shape of tornadoes, willing themselves to fit into Midge’s offerings. Our dog prays to us every time she returns the branch we cast, Gill. I wished we prayed. I don’t care if you’re agnostic, if there’s too much hate from your biological Catholic dad in your veins. I’m here. Hate me. Hate me so much that something happens. Something could happen, and you wouldn’t have to touch me to prove yourself. Your hand isn’t a hand, your love isn’t love, your ghost isn’t a ghost. I’m sorry. Maybe that’s why you can get dressed without looking at a mirror. You’re right. It’s a burden just to believe in aftermath, in formlessness. I can conjure ghosts for eight days but I don’t know what to do with all this wind. I can’t hold it, Gill. I’m a leaf that can’t fly. I’m frozen in place, and you’re crushing me. You’re the space between me and me and I have no stitches left. I’m all needle, all blood, all whale. Look at me flounder. Look at me struggle.
I solved the problem, Gill. The sandpipers are always swallowed by a wide-cheeked wave at the end of the story. Wait. There is no story. I’m retelling it because I changed it. The legs came off easy. A bird that doesn’t need to land is one where home is a meaningless syllabic sound. The stilts hoisting the house up are another story, however. There are so many stories, when we just want ending, ending, ending. At one end of a wooden beam is a beginning, at the other a beginning. The point of the menorah is so you cannot burn a candle at both ends. The point is that we’re the ones burning, lingering against what extinguishes us. Your gift is in the car. We don’t need to stay. I’m over it. Unwrap the legs and plant them in the sand before the tide erodes it all away. Don’t worry about the ocean. It knows how to find itself after it fails to reach for us. It’s our last night. Blow out the candles, and let’s go home.
Liam Strong (they/them) is a queer poet, essayist, and music critic. They serve as Chapbook Coordinator for Michigan Writers Cooperative Press. You can find their poetry and essays in Impossible Archetype, Lunch Ticket, Rathalla Review, Ghost Proposal, and Glass Mountain, among several others. They live in Traverse City, Michigan.