Standing By A Stone Wall

1.

We are standing by a stone wall

My brother and I

My brother and I,

Are standing together,
By a low wall made of stone.

We are standing by a stone wall,
On which I have stood, walked, jumped off, sat, spit, upon which I have bled, vomited
Pissed on, ran down over, cried on, dreamt about, made forgotten
Promises never kept with friends half remembered. Upon which I have fallen in love and
Thought about committing suicide.
A stone wall
On which I proudly balanced for my dad
Camera in hands younger than the age of mine now,
On my first bicycle.
A stonewall my mother and father passed a hundred
Thousand times as they pulled in the driveway.
Where the wall is higher on one side
And we hefted snow in winter as kids.
A stonewall where I sat and sobbed after my rabbit
Honey Bunny, died when I was eight,
And my mother wouldn’t let me hold her
When comatose, my brother lifted my black and white rabbit from the cage
And held her on the way to the vet.

2.

In order to understand that nothing stays the same
Just go back to the place where you grew up.
Never any of those times was I aware of anyone seeing me,
No sense of anyone watching from the endless houses that lined the street.
Part of this is that it was my own little girl universe
But even so it was a different place then.

Quiet, it was a quiet place then.
The stones told no secrets.
And, I was too young to see the bleeding land.
We sledded down from the top of the road
And out into Chestnut Street where now endless traffic thunders by,
And my mother has to wear earplugs to sleep
Even though she runs the risk of not hearing
My hard-of-hearing wheelchair-bound father
If he falls transferring from chair to bed.
Chair to desk chair he likes to sit in.
Chair to toilet
Chair to lift
And all back again.
My parents watch the world go by looking out windows on Amherst Road.

Were there no old people then?
Or are they always this invisible?
Were they all sitting in their windows fifty years ago?
A whole group of old people, women and men,
Watching and
Telling stories to their middle-aged children
About the lovely people and their two lovely children
Across the street?
I can only assume a resounding “yes”,
I was never as alone as I felt,
Accompanied all those years by
Strangers I did not know,
Watching.

3.

They are old old old now, our parents,
46 years after they bought this house for twenty-six thousand dollars
This house now worth something like five hundred thousand and twenty-six
Dollars, dollars to add to the pennies they have saved all these years
All these years they have scrimped and saved
Painstakingly, withholding from themselves everything except food
And dental care. Now they have piles of pennies, to see them on their way
To the next leg of this journey,
Unfortunate because soon neither of them will have any legs
To hold them up at all. And they will sit in chairs like both of their mothers before them,
Staring, waiting, while my heart breaks in unimaginable grief
At the injustice of it all.

4.

My brother and I are standing by
The stone wall on which Audrey and I sat, best friends
When we were ten and thought we would never be parted.
Two little girls in a 1960s Barbie doll world.
We couldn’t imagine anything other than
Being wives together, in houses side by side,
And I was sure I would die before I was twenty
Because I knew I was not going to be somebody’s wife
And live in a house so close to another you could throw
A stone and break a window,
Or a wrist. (I did.)
And if I couldn’t imagine anything else
What else was there
But death?
Death is what we see when we see no alternatives.

So, here we are, my beautiful brother and I,
We are all grown up.
He used to be ugly and I was the gorgeous one
But things have changed.
Not sometimes but always and eventually, if you live long enough
We become our neighbor, our neighbor’s wife
Our neighbor’s mother, our neighbor’s dog.
In the end it is all an interchangeable
Matter of coincidence.

5.

So here we are, my bb and I.
We have left our parents inside in the excessive heat
(They get cold so easily)
Raced out together into the suburban air.
Perfectly matching products of these people, two bookends.
Different genders, different ghosts haunt us from
This place, but we are both filled with outrage
At how simply fucked up, meaningless, this journey.
This ride. This trip.
Our matching Subaru Outback wagons parked tail to nose in the driveway.
My brother’s six-year-old golden retriever in the back seat,
We are standing on the sidewalk in front of
The stone wall where Tom and I sat and pledged to marry
When we grew up.
(Even though we were first cousins.)

6.

This is the same damn stone wall my dog Cheena —
An eighty-five pound Alaskan malamute,
Not some fluffy lap dog or another one like all the others
But a dog that looks like a wolf
And half the time thinks she is one.
A dog as wild

As I want to be, —
Flew down from off the edge
Like she was a bird.
Before the neuropathy
When she was young and finally, I, at forty,
Had a companion something like the horse
I spent my childhood longing for.
A dog, who, when I looked in her eyes,
Reflected back my father and myself, sorrow and fierceness.
We are standing, my bb and I,
By a stone wall over which my dog jumped, not long ago, when
I took her up Amherst Road for a walk,
Told her my story.
I’ve told many others but she is the only one who
Sniffed or peed in all the most important places.
I showed her all the houses.
The house where Audrey lived.
Next door the brick house where squirrel-murdering Vinny lived,
He haunted my childhood
Hunted and tortured me like I was one of those squirrels.
Before his still prepubescent body stopped breathing
In that house that burned down in the middle of one night in my 13th year.
(We stood there, my brother and I, a couple dozen other neighbors,
In stunned fascination of bearing witness to tragedy,
As they carried out all the dead, one after another after another.)

Past then the only farmhouse in the neighborhood
Maybe the only farmhouse left in Waban
Still with chickens in the back.
Built when grizzly bears and rattlesnakes still roamed the floodplains.
Past the old weeping willow, I used to climb.
Then over the crest of the hill and around past Leslie Quint’s house,
My best friend when I was four, Leslie who
Died before she was thirty-four.
Her mother said I was a bad influence and made us stop being friends
A bad influence at four, because I spit and my hair looked like a bird’s nest.
My parents called me The Wild Girl of Borneo.
We found each other later,
She by Cleveland Circle in Brookline.
The town where I was born.

Where my parents and grandparents lived at some point
In their journey through life,
From the cradle to the grave.
Then, past Fay’s house, that bitch,
The first girl who ever touched my breasts,
When we were ten.
I finally found her
At forty-eight
With two kids and a husband,
After I asked her if she remembered those days
In the basement on the couch across
From her father’s wet bar,
She never wrote back.
Finally my dog and I, up to the aqueduct
The aqueduct,
The Dike,
Bringing water and salvation.
Where for so many years I went and sat and cried, cried,

Cried, cried out to the earth and sky,
That there had to be something more.
The dike, the only freedom left.
The only little piece of freedom left
In that suburban wasteland
In this world of cages.
And back down again,
Past a dozen other memories
All entrusted to my dog
As we walked.

We are now standing, my brother and I, next to a stone wall we have
Both walked past for almost half a century,
A stone wall over which I leaped screaming,
Throughout all the years, I lived there, in that house,
In a rebellion that began at three
When I first ran away,
In Hancock Village, ran away into the then woods of Brookline,
Hating so, wearing that frilly dress and
Up on a chair for my grandmother
As she hemmed it.
For almost half a century we have
Walked on the flagstones up this walk.
Past the stone wall.
In front of the house in which I grew up
And left, dreaming of fire,
When I was twenty-one.
Where my parents have lived since 1959.

7.

We are standing by a wall of stone, my beautiful brother and I.
The smell of spring is in the air.
Only faint the burning bush.
Suddenly the air is crystal clear and
It is like that day at the ocean when we were kids.
We had walked across a sandbar in Chatham
And discovered an uninhabited island
With endless white sand and blue sea and stretches of sky forever and
As we rounded that bend on the back of the island we stopped dead in our stoned
Behooved tracks before millions of swarming sand crabs,
Probably on their journey from eggs to water or water to laying,
(Although we didn’t know it at the time).
The beach too thick with them to do anything but walk around them in the water
Or go back.

I dream the bush under my parents’ living room window is on fire.
My mother doesn’t notice that the flames,
About to consume her, are the flames of death.
She just can’t see anymore, won’t listen
To anyone but the man she married sixty years ago.
If she could see the fire she would take more risks
Stop being so afraid of doing what might hurt her,
She is 87 years old and afraid of so much, pain medications that could relieve her constant suffering,
Driving with anyone older than 80,
Driving faster than 35 mph on Rte. 9,
Eating things that might raise her cholesterol,
She is consumed by the minutiae and can no longer see the whole, the fire vivid, orange and red, reaching up.

In my dream, I am pulling up bulbs beneath the burning bush
First I was cutting them, desperate to save them, before it dawned on me
Like the first light of dawn,
Of saving bulb as well as flower.
Finally, desperate, in my dream, I drench the burning bush.
Then decide to rip out the whole damn shrub.
Bring that singed bush with me wherever I go.
If I could, I would take the whole house,
Attach it to mine here in The Highlands
Like the old 1834 schoolhouse
From Eagle Bridge, uprooted and taken from New York to Bennington, Vermont
To be attached to The Bennington Museum.

I settled for a clipping
Rooting now in water,
To be planted here in Goshen, in this place the Jews were slaves.

I am looking at this handsome man, my only bb
Standing in front of this stone wall
Someone who is so much like me and so much not.
Seeing this fiftysomethingish man,
As only an adoring baby sister can and
Knowing it is only a matter of time
Before the people who live in this house,
This white cedar-shingled cape house with the gray-shingled roof, two dormers,
The moldy apartment added in 1971 in which my grandmother lived
For a half dozen years,
Only a matter of time
Before the people
Who live in this house built in 1927
On the south side of the street
In this suburban Boston town,
No longer open the door to us.

For now, the storm windows remain down
Winter, spring, summer and fall.
Like all the houses of old people.
My parents’ house has become their parents’ houses
And their parents before them and one day it will be our houses.
All sisters and brothers who ever were
And ever will be.
The place we all end up living.
Musty dark sanctuaries to a life that once was.
If you live long enough/
There is no escaping/
The inevitable/
Swimming/ through the dirt
Like it is snot, mucus, a thick gelatinous mass of
Embryonic fluid.

©  Susan Lynn Gesmer, Standing By A Stone Wall, 2012

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