Author's Note: "A Little Life" is among the poems in my first full-length collection, Wild Domestic (Pearl Editions). "Treehouse" and "Vehicle" are in my new chapbook, Along the Fault Line (Picture Show Press). Both are available on Amazon or they can be purchased directly from me -- just email me!
A Little Life
My sister gently tosses across our double bed a tiny gray ball of fur that I catch and then carefully toss back. We laugh, amazed: It’s a little life! she marvels, A little life! After a few more tosses we let it fall softly to the mattress where it stands, shakes its furry young self and scurries off to find a place where we’re not. Now my sister’s child harbors her own little life: a tiny thing still, the size, perhaps, of a grapefruit seed? A seahorse? A thimble? That something so small could cause such a storm! One day he says Keep it, the next he says, with more conviction, It has to go. She wants to save him, wants to do as he would like, but the images, the words her mother gave her all those years have settled like the kernel in her womb. She wishes she were like the others for whom this might have been an inconvenience, a fork in a road not taken. But all the time her boyfriend frets and wavers she knows what she has to do. There will be no tossing of this little life.
My father nailed some plywood up in the mulberry tree so I could have a treehouse. I spent many lonely summer days among the dusty mulberry leaves reading and watching ants crawl along the branches. If I climbed higher I could see the train snake along the valley floor, watch vultures circling in the pale desert sky. In time, I saw that the tree’s flesh had begun to grow around the nails and the plywood too; the tree accepted this addition as part of its life story.
Here is my body’s younger self crouched on a rock. Those feet are the feet by which I have trod the earth, but the photo was taken before living had given them bunions and fungus. The hair that falls in a hazy fan down the shoulder is this hair before it took on shades of silver and gray. The face in the photo is turned away, watching the winter sun settle beyond the mountains while the future crouches behind the rock, waiting to climb the young back, this same back with the turn in its spine which forms the little hump where for six decades I have stored my slights and sorrows. All that I have ever thought or dreamed or done took place within this scaffolding of bone.
©2022 Tamara Madison
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