Daguerreotypes of Jackie
What’s the difference between a confederate flag
and a broken window? Bring a thermos of coffee and we’ll walk
the battlefield. What new amalgam of dusk light, eyeshine,
and dismemberment can be captured in a glass plate
negative, how long must we stage the landscape
before we can know in the present moment what to salvage
as artifact? The answer to a handful of riddles:
artifacts have no present moment. I know of no society
which values a scar across the abdomen more than money,
but I have dreamed a greenhouse of repurposed plates
from which I watch your form in the bloody grass emerge.
Marching drums approach. We hum nothing of retreat.
What’s the difference between a quest and a journey?
If the gate to the field is locked
and we jump it, if the humidity
gets inside us before midnight, then show me the stone
I’ll threaten to throw through the visitor center window.
The stone is a buzzing phone in your jacket pocket.
Say don’t. Say my name, Virginia. Call me
Dead Eye—even if I could stop myself I wouldn’t.
In the middle of all this galloping, centuries of it,
spread our blanket. In the echo of hooves, only the soil
and the ghost of us. Animal body,
moth breath, your hand is freezing.
Which answer leads to fewer questions about the origin?—
of my leaving, of our wanting, or whether your/my hand
is ever warm enough. I was born in a northern valley
where any crumbling brass mill not yet demolished
nobody dreams. We ask about history and nightfall
to hear a familiar phrase come down the tracks
in the breaking hour. Blood in the grass dries outside
the hour, outside the battle of its cause, but not outside
the range of your voice calling as a coal train beyond
the battlefield. With your thumb, retrace the Mason Dixon,
my surgical scar. Ask where I learned to swear like that.
Let me pretend you don’t know. The hour is breaking.
What’s the difference between a secret and a mystery?
Over my valley, five states north, a V of geese points
toward a fieldstone wall, the distinction between backwards
and reversal. Because brightness is a symptom
of certain absence, I borrowed this explanation of solstice
from iodine fumes and a lateral sense of this field, diminishing
memory of my light-filled room. Who could stand
sitting so still so long, in midday sun, in her best dress.
To arrive in Virginia in terribly fragile condition.
We never. We drag a stick along the perimeter, we bask
in nightfall—this waking dusk made of grass
made of blood. Once the light knows you I won’t.
What is the difference between “black” and the “dark?”
Mason Dixon, vague distinction. Will you forgive me
if I mistake the absence of light
for the absence of color? Everything was a gross yellow
until I broke the floodlight with your flip phone.
I can throw a fit and still nail my target.
My heart is a thermal collector is a sick joke
and you know I don’t want to hear you fake
knowledge of the supposed science of heartbreak.
If physical matter is infinitely subdividable, then
a tiny amount of light enters each point of contact.
Hold the warm hand that I love to my throat.
Why did the Union soldier cross the road?
If I interrupt your anecdote
about some long-ago boy’s finger in your mouth
to piss behind a tree, will I lose you, would you even take me
back from the shroud of night sounds and shadow.
Overhead a jet crescendos then decrescendos
and there are no crickets for a minute.
Talk me back, then hold my breath
for another twelve seconds so our faces assume
a level of detail that, like the wings tattooed across my chest,
can’t be known in morning light. We relive
where the Blue Ridge Mountains begin.
What’s the distance between a question and its answer?
Spell of cloud cover—moon gone for a minute prolongs exposure
time and lengthens the expanse between my valley of cinderblocks and cigarettes
and your Idaho of I don’t know. I have drawn a map
of my vulgarity. Trace the valley with an icy finger, walk
across my back. The hour breaks like a rib. How do we separate
without injury, how do I leave us
without blood in the grass getting in your hair. Must I
remind you that none of this is fair or easy—a felled tree
lies at the edge of the battlefield until it becomes a raccoon
and an exploding planet. Unrequited we shall orbit
the raccoon from a tropical planet beyond the exploding planet.
How many one-legged ghosts does it take to defeat terrorism?
Asking me to tell you the battlefield’s history, about
dawn, is asking me to say
Jackie. Lead me across the breaking hour
as though we could even think of sleeping
without the sound of birds.
Why should we
when we can go so much lower with everything else peeking up.
Saying each other’s names breaks the minutes
before sunrise, before sleep. I cannot silence these questions.
How do I release myself from the valley of bleeding knuckles
or hold your breath for another twelve seconds.