American Fractal


We are like two chasms,
a well staring up at the sky
          –Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

two mirrors face each other            my hands over my face            the

porcelain soap dish            an angel’s wings & a mile of its offerings           

pink on pink on black tile            I’m in the bathroom            close the door

shut the light            down the hall the tv too loud            bob barker & the

price is right            shut that out too            I’m on the other edge of

something            of adulthood            of a gulf            a canyon            looking

down down            no vultures circling picking bones though            no

heaped bodies to climb over            no fall to cushion            or to be

cushioned            not the body that matures this time            just this

hollow wooden door            the lock my parents could pick with a belt-   


hook at any moment            the hot glare of the vanity lights making

my pimples glow        I said shut the light            shut the light            the tv

too loud mother won’t get up            get up!            the friend visiting

from florida            her baby james sucking grapes            he wouldn’t eat

anything else            just the grapes            the seedless orbs like eyeballs           

sucking them            each green globe with a little pop            a little giggle           

wouldn’t take the formula            wouldn’t take the mashed carrots &

peas            brown mush from a jar            the rubber spoon an airplane           

but still nothing            a silent protest maybe            maybe reading into

things too far            we fed him grapes for three weeks            he kept               


giggling            sleeping in my bedroom            a crib of blankets in the

cedar hope chest at the foot of my bed            grapes & grapes & the

husband flying up finally to take him home            to take her home           

a quiet man            a mustache            all five-foot-five of him fumbling           

down the hall the showcase showdown            the systolic bleep of the

wheel slowing to rest            a dinette set            a new car            flashing

lights            cheers & screams from the audience            mother’s best

friend in the intersection held her baby            cat-walked the dotted

yellow line & then sat down            the baby crying            the headlights           

horns            she sat down            then the police call at midnight            do you           


know the father?            then driving home holding the baby while my

father shifted & swore            the soft skull            the soft neck            way

past bedtime            past due            stay up!            stay up!            his head so

heavy            mother on the couch again won’t get up            won’t blink           

a crack in the ceiling holding her there            mesmerized            like the

root of that word something animal            doctoral            doctor mesmer

on his glass armonica            the women in tubs of glass powder           

iron fillings            the magic of the wand            relax relax            my sweet

baby james            singing from behind the curtain            go to sleep            go

to sleep            they had words for it back then            hysteria                                           


distemper            the doctors in the waiting room more mysterious           

more clinical            we had clinics now            post-partum depression           

they said            bipolar disorder            they said in their white robes           

behind their stethoscopes & clipboards            their shoes so soft they

moved soundlessly down the long hall the price is right on a

television hanging from the ceiling            I sit down in the bathtub           

how can you blame them for sitting down            things getting so

heavy?        for what do we hold onto eventually?            eventually

what don’t we hold onto?            mother in the living room            on the

couch            shake her shake her            wake her up            & father            at the       


bar he says            late at work he says            & the bathroom with its

cheap lock            that convenient clasp            & the light on            & the

light off            & the mirror into mirror into mirror            that silver-

backed glass            looking like her            looking like him            the images

playing off    themselves in the glass            divide            divide            & how

could they know            each one            each image into infinity            how

could they know?        each image one moment behind the last           

catching up & catching up            until the last            & finally letting go

the last            like a leap into no faith            letting go    that smallest star           

that grain of sand            that simplest & finest point of light                                       


–from American Fractal
first published in Runes