Nicole Stansbury
(for Deb McGhee)


Once on t.v. I saw a stigmatic. This particular one was chanting and all aquiver, her eyes slitting out everything but bliss while the other believers, clay-footed, looked on. It was a girl, and after not too much time the camera zoomed in on her palms, where rust-colored marks had appeared. I thought it was fancy that the girl was earnest enough to give birth to the spots. I for one have been enough of a yellow-bellied chicken liver to give it up only at night, so that the next day my friends point, drag their fingers sadly along the flesh saying, what happened? What happened here? They are remarking on swatches of green--sometimes on my shins, again on my forearms--dotted dark around the edges, like sliced kiwi fruit. I can't think to say that my body, twitching like a dog's leg through dreams, is basically taking the rap. An imbecile, fertile and bone-laden, horny and ridiculous, this body couldn't spot a metaphor for anything. It's the bargain fruit, like the rotting but fragrant bananas whose capture my mother used to put us kids in charge of, the ones piled in an extra cart at the end of the aisle.

Here has been the big question: how many times do you have to get scared in a life? before you just say fine, I will be a cannibal, thank you, may my soul eat me from the inside out, may I languish like an old woman among many cats and buildings of old National Geographics just so long as I wake up every morning? I'm trying to say how lately I've been noticing people in pieces: or anyway, with pieces gone. There's a girl at work, a janitor, who looked at me the other day through the tiny square glass of a classroom, smiled lopsided, and you could see the difference. Once she'd been a student of mine and these days she was someone else, her eyes liked to look off to the side and her speech was looser in the limbs. I don't know what must've happened. Maybe hit by a car. Maybe fallen from a motorcycle. And now a whole other person.

Then I saw a lady with a suddenly bad hip. She didn't used to walk that way, so that you have to be amazed by the survival going on in the world. She went up on one stiff foot in a white leather sandal like it was dancing. Her husband, I noticed, had learned to walk slower. He strolled now with his hands behind his back, taking some time to stop and smell the roses, since he had this new girl. And when my mother gets her headaches, words on a page just disappear. Just fade away and collapse on either side, until all she has left is a syllable.

You have to wonder, after that kind of parting out, what the point is. Memories, like the corners of my binder, is what my mom--mad at Barbara Streisand because my dad thought she was such a dish--used to sing. And later the melody would break her heart every time, since she thought of it by then as their song. When it came on we'd try to whip past, and wonder about it when she insisted, when she had to sing along and cry, making it look happy. It was my mother teaching me not to be vigilant, to forsake her so she could sing, what's too painful to remem-HEM-ber, we simply choose to-HOO for-HOR-get. And her face was more beautiful than I can speak here, and her rendition always brought down the house.

How can I explain? I have suddenly in my life, this heart. She has a crooked nose, a drawl. She is sulky, she bites, her hair hangs over her cheeks, she is essential. I have this theory that she walks like a hound dog, which is to say in a hurry the way such a dog might be, roaming a neighborhood, loose in the legs. Across from me in booths she looks for outs, for driveways or an alley; and hauled close, her nerves are shot. You can feel both of us jangled, breathing hard, so that anyone with any sense would know to separate us. We are terrified of each other, see, and crazy in love. Yesterday, having noticed one of the greenish nighttime love bites, my newly beloved--to make a point--lowered her mouth to my shoulder and gave me a hickey. A laying on of tongue. Not that the woman on t.v., who let the spirit seep so cornily through, was anything but fabulous. But yesterday, for the first time ever, I had the nerve to watch my girlfriend walk away. She got small, and when she waved, her hand in its white glove looked to be floating. Hallelujah! I wanted to say. Because if you could see for one instant the way she moves through this world-- her face dipped and attentive, her hair sliding; her gaze off and away, scanning for ships and lovers and tiny black silhouettes--you would know my shipwreck, and the gesture of sheer stupid faith such a girl would inspire.

--originally published in Prism, Summer, 1995

Fixxion and Poesy -- Missile Anus -- Mission Control