Nonfiction from Jennie Ziegler
RUBBER SNEAKER SOLES. Basement bars. Something out of Cheers. Glass bottles filled with amber, glinting dully against wood polished by arms, hands hammers on bartop. Billy Joel is crooning from a corner speaker, a low undertone. I sit under sticky tables, small hands swimming in wide stolen drums of bobbing maraschino cherries.
A bite of red teeth.
Outside, pine needles spread like rivers through red maple and white oak, dogwood and box elder. The Lehigh Valley, nestled deeply in Penn’s woods, is a scented sachet of gasoline, snow, and earth. Bethlehem Steel Stacks, the lone steel mountain against the river, is dark among the bright nights.
New Jack Swing on the radio. Hips begin to move feet, shoulders, arms.
Dusty trolls, with great gems for navels, stand mute, scream in color.
Watery panes of thin, aged glass rattle in peeling, painted frames as bass vibrations crawl through blacktop, concrete, brick. Pressed fingers leave smudges, the small prints like lingering scents in an empty room.
The Italian boy, hair so black it rings violet in the sun, a rough bell of laugh. He tells us close our legs, goose pimpled under tartans and knee-highs—it reeks of fish.
A Southern vacation moon is lake green. The only one in miles of summers.
Wooden skies scratch glassy waves, two legs push a trembling first stand. Dale Hollow, Tennessee. A buried town. Geodes for gravestones. Holiday fun.
Adolescence is hungry, inhaling these last moments, last months. That great pearl hung low, a lone bulb illuminating the dark water. Time’s hooves are felt, are heard even, closer and closer. I cut across the black waves like I am flying, the ski path erased as if by swishes of a broom.
Grab the cord that leads straight to my stomach, and pull it taut. Eclipse.
Knee socks stretching towards plaid. Rosaries worn like necklaces, like taboo talismans. A prayer swallowed and incense inhaled. Pigments, brighter than paint, than real life, bleed from glass onto worn cobble stones, moving by the will of the sun. A hum, a collection of throats, buzzing with life. Tongues twitch in their warm caves, resurrected by pipes. An Autumn Mass.
First kiss under scaled lips. Two lizards parting.
Water everywhere. Breath as Grail. Muscles are reaching, reaching, reaching. Legs fly and hands push. Back to the water, to the primordial venue, bleachers and benches and chairs, plastic or metal or wood. Blood duty. Survival of the fittest with an audience. Whistles, clocks, futures appointed and bestowed. Bodies shivering, pressed close together, skin the outfit, the costume, chlorine the perfume. Medals our charms.
I call this now “the time before.”
But Diana soon collects her disciples, bleeding them by month. Arrows keep us in her sights.
Leather jacket and opaque eyes. I fell for you, Persephone whispered in the dark. A private hell, tasting fertility, a love precipitated of heated earth and frosted sky.
Women were first to roam, to move, to wander. The moon arcs through darkened sky, scattering us like the cold glitter of starlight.
I went first into the woods. The moon did not light my path, but hung like a ripped smile behind me.
Feet among the grass and wheat, then sand and stone, then sea and shell.
Cool ceramic, worn smooth with use and time and hands. Tile painted, forgotten, chipped, discovered in dirt, rubbed clean with a cotton cloth, placed inside; a return.
Patterned lace. Quaker lace. Buttercream with age, with years stored in cedar chests. Awoken in the light, bleached by machine and sun. Gold ringed around my finger.
Found items: neon shoelaces, jars swollen with coins, toys left behind books, a box filled with letters and stubs and cards and something else I dare not let out.
A collection of narratives, of stories, of tells.
Ghosts saturate my bones, take up space in my ribcage as grandmothers, aunts, cousins press in, whispering, whispering. Bells that warn. Water sloshes in my veins. Blonde hair. Blue eyes. Long nose. Faulty heart. Crooked toe. Crooked back. We’ve all seen this story before. What we all become in the old tales.
In the end, I am not divided into siblings, children. I am strung by the bow’s string, a papered marionette. Knees ache and crack. My house never left the woods. I whisper pages when I snore.
And I am preserved. I am used. Never finished product. One star in a greater assembly, one day to die and dim, scattering matter for reinvention.
Jennie Ziegler completed her M.F.A. in Nonfiction Writing at the University of Arizona. She is currently an Instructor and Outreach Consultant at the University of North Florida where she teaches fairy tales, food writing, and adolescent literature. You may reach her at jennieziegler[at]gmail[dot]com.