Terrestrial, Baby

What you say after making love to your wife can crash-and-burn
a marriage—or save it. Count what I said last night as a crash-and-burn.

We had just made love for the first time in a long time. We were
just rolling around our bedroom, laughing like we had the whole world
to roll around on. About five minutes later, I go and say I don’t feel
nothing. Yeah, you heard it here. All Sharon has said since: Take out
the garbage. Do you think you can rehang the front door, the one
you busted last month? Maria needs Huggies, and Me and Maria
will be spending the next month at my mother’s. Her mother lives
in Maryland, two states to the north. Merry-damn-land, which it ain’t.

I used to think love would save me from all the sad and tore-up feelings
I’d always had about the world. So I put everything into me and Sharon.
We’ve got our sweet one-year-old, Maria. We’ve got this little A-frame
we built ourselves at the north edge of the Combahee Swamp. We’ve got
12 years of marriage, the last two real messed up. We’ve got love getting
smaller in the rearview. From the get-go, I tried to tuck the Milky Way
inside us because I wanted us to last all and forever.

I’m on my nightly run through the Combahee Swamp. About every night
for the last two months. Sharon thinks I’m seeing someone. I’m not seeing
nobody but myself. Just driving my ‘71 Bug, checking what’s out here.
Most nights there’s not even another car. Nothing except the red eyes
of some critter—a possum by the road or an owl way up in a cypress.
For a second, they’re in your headlights, and then they turn away.

Tonight’s run is to Swaim’s Taxidermy, Taxes Done, and Everything Store
for something for Sharon. White wine? Flowers? Some of those fashion
magazines she likes? Some Chinese incense, the type she burns after a fatty? What?

I reach up and rub the rootbag that’s hanging from the mirror.
The bag’s about half the size of your fist. Mulviney, the black rootwoman,
fixed it up for me. Painted the suede leather this fluorescent green color.
Inside are snips of mine and her hair, some crushed lavender, a dried-up
clasper off a hammerhead, the wax cast off Sharon’s wedding ring.

The color of Love, Mulviney said. I think it was just the only color
she had left. She’s got a place in the southern tip of Combahee Swamp,
where two dirt roads make a crossroads. Always makes me feel cold,
a dirt crossroads in the middle of nowhere. Her place’s got no running water,
just a woodstove, some books piled in a corner, a new off-road bicycle
leaning against the front of her cabin, a jug of fluorescent paint on the porch.
The paint’s already cracking off the bag and dropping little bits of it
all over the dash and floormats—they pick up whatever light there is.

The thing is Patience, Mulviney said. But patience is like waiting for Jesus
to show up, just for you, and then he doesn’t say anything. Because you’re scared
of a mute Jesus, you don’t say anything. And quick as he comes, he goes.

I cut off my Bug’s headlights, so I’m steering by the full moon coming
right off the yellow centerlines. Feels like you’re a kid coming home
from the beach. Parents’ voices soft up front, you lying on the backseat,
staring out the rear window, and the moon follows you over the mountains
and down into the valleys. You believe that the moon’s yoked to you.
You believe in some kind of good life coming your way.

Mulviney said, Count your blessings, count on what you got now, count
on the terrestrial, baby. I go to count up these stories about me
and Sharon being in love, but they’ve snuck off. I’ve looked for them
everywhere: in my glove compartment, under our waterbed, in the jeans
I wore back when I used to have them, under Sharon’s eyelids.

There’s enough light coming through the moonroof (I cut it out by hand
with my acetylene torch) so I can read the speedometer. The needle’s
swung around to 60. Too damn fast, what with all the curves and no shoulder
out here. Just a two-foot drop-off into black water that’s full of cypress knees
and water moccasins too thick to squeeze through a tailpipe.

You don’t even know what you got. Yeah, I do. I’ve got some old
love song about me and Sharon I.V.ing through me, but a mouth
that can’t sing it. I’ve got this road ahead of—and behind—me, cutting
across the belly of the swamp. I’ve got this one night about
to bust apart on me, like all the stars decided to drop at once.

Charles Israel, Jr., teaches creative writing at Queens University of Charlotte. His poetry chapbook, Stacking Weather, was published by Amsterdam Press. He’s also had poems and stories in Field, The Cortland Review, Crazyhorse, Nimrod International Journal, Zone 3, Pembroke Magazine, Eleven Eleven, Journal of the American Medical Association, Waccamaw Journal, Loud Zoo, and North Carolina Literary Review. He also likes playing tennis and urban bike riding.