Estrangement

by Brent Fisk

How it happens: Somebody leaves without saying goodbye. You are talking to an empty room. You put small grievances away like bits of string. You know you will use them later. There is a dog your parents said ran away, but you know what lay in the street. It’s why you don’t return phone calls unless the person says that they are dying. This does not skip a generation. It is not a recessive trait. Your grandmother was warehoused when her mind broke down like an old stick of furniture that couldn’t bear weight. You visited her once and walked past a green aquarium that may have held fish, a small diver at the bottom never coming up for air. Some lady in a wheelchair asked the television who it was. Somebody yelled for help deep in a darkened room. Philodendrons twisted over curtain rods, through dreams and medications. Your grandmother smiled at you but her eyes said lost balloon. The bare branches of trees. A wind that blows the birds off course. Once on a boat trip your entire family looked for whales. The captain apologized for their absence, but you watched a small bird that had followed the boat. It grew exhausted and fell into the hands of a man, made a nest of resignation, waited for what came, blinking, blinking. We build whole cities from what we could have said. Someone christens you. Decades pass and you can still give your first phone number to any stranger who asks. You ask your mother where she keeps her wedding dress, but she says you aren’t the kind of family to hang onto such things. You hang onto such things. Somebody sneaks from the house without permission. Grudges are held close, small birds dead in a shoe box. Faint star no one knows the name of. Small dog barking beneath the house. Your mother goes to look for it, and suddenly you have a dog for Christmas, a scrap of rope imbedded in its neck. You remember how your grandmother gathered the hair at the back of your neck, hands so soft. An eyelash. A bird that’s lost. Whales that dive deep, sing songs we never hear.

Brent Fisk is a writer from Bowling Green, Kentucky with over 300 poems, essays and short stories published so far. He has an B.A. in English Literature, and an M.A. in Creative Writing from WKU.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Estrangement”?

    I’d been trying to find an avenue into the idea of estrangement—how it happens, the odd ways it crops up, and the way a person’s absence, the memories of those people, can haunt you. At first I tried a direct approach, dealing with the specific estrangement, but that didn’t take me where I wanted to go. Once I settled on the lyrical voice, feathered in specifics to help ground the piece, things clicked into place. It pretty much fell out of thin air as is with only a few tweaks the last few lines to make sure the ending was right.
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