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The Missing Always Leave Something Behind
Jen Town

A caterpillar, born in a vase of decaying roses,
becomes a white moth circling your kitchen light. On the windowsill
a spider crawls, seconds old. A woman in a black dress stands
at the sink, peeling oranges, her hands fists of pulp,
as you watch the spider scuttle towards the sill’s edge, drop on a line
into the sink. An unrecognizable voice seems to vibrate his thread, asking
if you remember the first time your skin broke against
the earth’s rough back. You remember it was cold.
You had just failed at something you tried more
than once. Perhaps you wanted to tell the story of your dead
grandmother, how the nurses bathed her that last time.
She slipped into the tub as if she were a love letter slipping
into an envelope. You wanted to describe the hallways in the heart,
lined with numbered doors. When you hit the earth, it was too hard
to explain adequately; the only image you could hold
was the spider spinning down towards the sink. The woman
in the black dress squeezes oranges, and leaves the pulp
in a juiceless pile in the sink, and the spider crawls inside.
He doesn’t understand orange. He thinks this is a kind of cathedral
where others like him go to pray. It is solemn as sleep
inside, and full of light. He believes he will never leave.

Your mother is the woman in the black dress. The white skin that stretches
over her clavicle is carved stone. At night she listens for the wind,
which always sounds like the footsteps of a lover leaving her.
Missing hands touch her while she sleeps, and when she wakes,
fingerprints mark her skin. She knows the missing
always leave something behind, imprints of their bodies
hanging in the air through which they once moved. The white moth
flies through one of these empty spaces, and the weight
of absence sends him hurtling towards the floor. At night your mother
walks through a field of mint, stripping leaves from the plants. She holds
the mint leaves to her lips, feels nothing. She touches them to her cheek,
and feels nothing. It is only when they shrivel, when they lose their scent,
that she can taste them dissolving on her tongue. She tells you it’s strange,
sometimes, what we choose to love. The spider is more of a believer
than either of you. You save the stories of your grandmother,
and the description of the heart, for later, though you know your stories
will alter everything. You think it is memory, something that imitates
truth, that leaves your mother so broken, and only your words,
and the knowledge of the spider inside his cathedral of orange, will save
her. Your words are heavy, maybe as heavy as absence. The two of you
begin to walk in the field together at night. The moon is a hole
that has taken in the day’s light, and the field
is becoming something foreign. In the distance you hear the ringing
of a carillon and what sounds like a child
calling. To a woman afraid of wind, your words
sound too much like prayer.

Cimarron Review
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