M

Cuttings

by Carol Guess

Sometimes I lose myself washing my hands. Look up from the sink to find skin rubbed raw. Don’t remember what dirt there was or where it found me. If sinkhole. If blood.

Sometimes I walk the overgrown coil of the greenspace that buffers the Burlington Northern. I tell myself the houses are moving. I say trains stand still while we whistle away.

#

You told me while we were walking the dog.

“I’m in love,” you said, and I thought you meant me. Then I thought you meant Buster, pine trees, or autumn. But her name was Nadine, and pretty, you said.

You wanted, you said, one night a week. The day of the night and the after day, too. So many days in a marriage, you said. It was something for you after too much of mine.

My friends were shocked, or not shocked, which was worse. “Of course,” each friend said, “of course you should (stay) (go).” The friends who said no called it an affair. The friends who said yes called pair bonds outdated.

If I didn’t say yes. You said leave; you said me.

Thursday, you said. And home Friday night.

#

The first Thursday night I was away on business. Came home Sunday. You’d swept, made the bed. I took a shower, trimmed my bangs in the mirror. Soft sound of falling, spent cells on the floor. The next morning while I was brushing my teeth I saw bits of my body spackling the trash. Reached into the bag for the furred fringe of bangs. Tucked my hair in my pocket. Crunched toast while I dressed.

Buster pawed for his everyday walk. Shivering with cold, I let our dog lead me. We made figure eights on the path by the lake. No one around, stoic birch in a line. I took off my gloves; used a rock and a stick. Into the hole went a handful of hair. Dog in the leaves, unbuckling dead things. I caked dirt over twigs over rocks over hair.

#

Later, you texted a mouthful of smiles. Twin hearts, rich red. I love you, we said.

#

Thursday night. Home Friday, you said, and you were, sometimes ferrying take out or flowers. You’d showered (my rule): geranium soap.

I took to cutting: fingernails, hair. Tucked clippings into my jacket pocket. On Friday mornings while I walked the dog I waited until I was alone on the path. Then I’d find a spot, dig a hole in the dirt. Bury bits of my body in front of magnolia. Bits of my body in front of hydrangea. Hair, nails, skin beneath willow and ash.

#

Then the basement filled with water. We learned to live with it, as we lived with everything else. Maybe if I stopped wearing yellow and you stopped wearing blue.

Our flooded house was across from the arboretum. Sometimes it was also across from a truck. The truck was yours but the park was public: children on leash and dogs on display.

Sometimes the curtains in our windows were yellow and sometimes the curtains in our windows were blue. The only green was the flood in our basement and the tornado sky, which was actually gray.

When we imagined a family, we imagined a child. You wanted the child to come from my body. Instead, this flood; trouble rising to meet us. Green like your eyes and taller each day.

Carol Guess is the author of numerous books of poetry and prose. A frequent collaborator, she teaches at Western Washington University and lives in the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle.

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

“Cuttings” was written specifically for a collaborative short story manuscript titled True Ash. So many elements of this tiny story were meant to connect to the larger narrative of the manuscript. However, by the time my collaborator (Elizabeth Colen) and I finished revising the collection, this short piece was on the cutting room floor. I revised it to stand on its own, and now I’m thinking of using shards as part of a prose poetry collection I’ve just begun. I feel an affinity to this narrator: her losses and grief, spoken through burial. I have hope that, through returning matter to earth, she’ll experience renewal.

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