By John Greenslade Skewes
All that winter you stayed by my ribs, under my arm, protesting the cold. We lived at Jillian’s while she was in France. Made love in her bed, read her books, played her records. Time fell the way dominoes do, in a proper sequence, black and white tiles clapping through curves, then lying still as a map. The places Jillian ate, where she drank. These were our haunts. We walked her streets. Showered together. My mind cogs, turning over and over to search moments for a moment, and now my battery is too weak to hold a charge. I’d swap it out if I had a spare, light the walkway, confront myself, “Hey Lover! Love only works if lovers stay.”
Sitting close on a bench we watch tugs guide a tanker through the channel, “If anything hits that ship,” you tell me–
“Boom,” I say.
There’s been a hiccup. One that reset the clocks and left me stranded between ticks. We were in love; every hour had meaning. Having no faith in the future I wanted to die, what I’d seen of it was a disappointment, like there’d be none of it for me.
Rain streaks the window, unfocusing my view. In the condensation I scribe, CLEAN ME. Then pray to be clean. I longed to live a final moment with you. Erase what was to come; glow of taillights receding, a final scene, a fade to black. Leave things cast like that I thought, your warm palm–my young face, black hair crossing green eyes.
I received soiled letters from my brother, ones that arrived from the war. Read them in my bedroom that looked out on Thirty Acre Pond, its fringe of cattails, and chorus of frogs. In the barren winter before he shipped out, watched by the stars, we skated the length on magical blades. Gliding at speed we passed through barriers of time to become gods. Our edges carved new constellations. We became immortal, defied our fates, my brother and I.
I’m back there now, shorts and shirt piled on the grass, nude as a swan, floating on the surface spitting geysers at the sun. Diving under the boat I descend through curtains of light. Spent air rises. Missiles of memory burst at the surface. Drifting to the leafy bottom, I dream of departing.
Cars wait at the light. You are at the breakfast table in bare feet, wearing Jillian’s robe. A woman in a heavy coat labors onto the bus carrying all her things, a line of riders shuffle behind. Brakes release. I read a book by the dirty window. The driver pulls from the curb. Sun is on your graceful hands, your hair is the chrome of raven feathers. “What?” you ask when I’m caught staring.
“Click,” I say, gesturing a snapshot.
In Jillian’s apartment above the grocery, the clocks have stopped.
No more sorting I tell myself, just put things in the order they happened. But my deck is incomplete and hopelessly shuffled.
We’re together on the pier in the menthol wind. Gulls hover over bait pails. Commuter ferry wails its horn, you listen without attention. Your teeth and sticky fingers pull salt-water-taffy. Pastels fold, then fold again. Forever and ever-on. Pistachio. Watermelon. Banana.
John Greenslade Skewes is a writer and photographer who lives in the Seacoast Region of New Hampshire. He can be found most afternoons, camera in hand, walking the wetlands and forests with his spotted dog. Works have appeared in The American Journal of Poetry, Into the Void, Ariel Chart, and The Molotov Cocktail, The Folded Word, and other journals. See more of his work at his portfolio site and on Instagram at John.skewes.
Hero photograph by John Greenslade Skewes.