Mudlark Flash No. 64 (2011)

Eating the Seed Corn
by Risa Denenberg

After Ben Lerner

It’s 2011.

I think stating the year is important although 
it’s often omitted. February flight from Seattle 
to Boston: snow strewn across the belly of a nation, 
geography dotted with symbols, jotting short 
in-flight word-strings on college-lined pages

in a composition notebook with marble-blue cover. 
B says (2010): don’t take my voice, or some such.  
Maybe: hold these thoughts like cupcakes. Time 
feels virtual, but my heart is corporeal. So I go back 
to the foreword to find: don’t throw my voice away.

Not a womanly idiom, although B has sampled 
the contour and clothing of a woman. Shall I surmise: 
a man throws, a woman takes? Still, I prefer stillness. 
Until she strapped it on and entered me (1978) I couldn’t 
predicate, although I dreamt (and this is a point—

on my  actual birthday—but which one?) that she 
dumped me down a garbage chute, walking 
arm-in-arm with another. That summer, my heart 
could pump, and I felt nothing, puppy love. Compare 
it to the awful love that weighs me now. Sorry 

I didn’t care about your orgasm and couldn’t fake it.  
B, thank God you have your A. I’ve told anyone who 
would listen. I was born sanguine, what year did I 
turn liverish? When did my heart congest? I opt
to live alone. You don’t believe it when I tell you 

my life is drawing to a close. Even those who long 
to believe in an afterlife know it’s only a wild card.  
I recognize dust when it settles on furniture. What 
can it mean that I fell in love with a lean volume 
of poems? How to express gratitude to a font 

of intertextuality? That I felt its wind enter my anima 
and cause my veneer to burst open? Can we ever
wholly stake our claims to each other? What sort 
of mother wants to make her daughter feel inadequate? 
She insisted to have said nothing of the sort. Perhaps I

misconstrued and turned left instead of right, 
stumbled upon a life I never should have known. 
Now I take medicine apart and find its wings, hidden 
under the carapace thorax. The group interview 
for the PhD program @ NYU (1997), when my mother’s

illness beckoned like a siren, my heart blocked, 
these deans and professors an anchor to the city. 
What did the question signify? I wore a dress, 
the next-to-last time. Could you unpack it please?  
Winds blew me up and down the I-95 corridor from NYC 

to Silver Spring every weekend, but I forged my way back. 
I never could arrive because distance cannot be reduced
by more than half.  On my 50th birthday (2000) I wore
an ankle-length Chinese shift, having dinner with 8 friends 
at a place in the East Village called 

But this was a short smoky A-line jersey from the GAP,
worn with a fetching red sweater.  One professor asked, 
Isn’t this a bit like War and Peace? And because I had 
never read W&P, I hung my hat, gathered my books, 
and retreated from delusions of academia. I wore black

silk to my mother’s funeral (2001); that was the last time. 
It’s just that my heart is bigger now, flabbier, and I look 
lousy in dresses. Do not bury me in a gown, please. Do 
not bury me at all, leave me on a rock for the vultures, 
burn me in the pyre, eat my ash-torn flesh with your hands. 

Do what you wish with the body, me being the dead. 
Make me your home, turtle-shell. I’ve told anyone who 
would listen. After the third breakup, you don’t show 
your face. Standing at the front of the room with the 
women at ACT UP NY meetings at the Gay and Lesbian

Community Center, 14th Street, Monday nights (1987-1994), 
those lesbians and gay boys sleeping together—what 
moxie! I came to New York (1988) seeking sex and left
celibate (2006). My best friend J died at St. Vincent’s 
Hospital in the West Village (1993). Before he stopped

speaking he was light enough to carry from bed to bath. 
His last words to me were: Shut up R. Some said we 
were like an old married couple. But we weren’t old  
and the bitterness of his dying shrouded everything. 
Now (2011) my heart is weak and my aging ugliness

appalls me, I don’t wish to look. He repeatedly 
instructed us to burn his body in the street and eat 
his flesh. I put a bit of his ashes in the coleslaw, six 
of us reciting Mourner’s Kaddish one year later (1994) 
on the beach at Cherry Grove—N, C, J, B, &

It’s hard to remember names if you don’t write them down.
Location is also relevant. The spaces we can’t see, tiny 
metrics between electrons, their loneliness, our distance. 
I can’t imagine the heart that once loved him. We fear 
what is unknown: cloudy eyes that see but do not see;

hair so dry, so oily; strange food, unfamiliar textures, 
wanton taste, odorless gases. A boy sitting next to you 
on the school bus slyly inserting finger, where? Did 
it happen in the bathroom? Was it a short story? I have 
not forgotten B or J or any of my infatuations, not even 

my first boyfriend D (1964) who years later (2004) 
told me I reminded him of a cat—amusing and fickle. 
My first woman-lover L (1975) committed suicide. I want you 
to know how much this means to me, but have no way 
to tell you. I’m afraid I will die without discovering how

it plays out, without remembering to burn my journals. 
We are in such a hurry, running out of time, snacking 
on seed corn. From the periodic table I take carbon, 
oxygen, nephron. I have a poet friend who is blind 
but reads via absence of vision, substance of clouds 

or cloudy lenses sharpening her lens to foveal pointillism.
Everything arises from the uncertain arrangement 
of electrons, their locations—undisturbed, unseen. 
Everything we know is matter, everything we feel 
is light waves. All the words are wrong, they are fictions,

sucking the core, leaving the skin dry, lizard-like.  
Although I never meant to tell you, when the leaves 
turn next time, I will leave you. Although I tell you often, 
you don’t listen. Although you don’t believe in God 
or angels, the blank of blanks, I will leave you. I never asked

your permission. I have forgotten my hungers, I am dry now, 
prepared for the suffering and the emptying. I have made 
certain promises, but only to myself. You’ve asked 
for my story, and I shan’t disclose puny miracles. 
Why start with birth when death is so much more 

captivating? I delivered my son (1969), squatting 
on a sleeping bag at the Noor Hotel, Kabul, Afghanistan. 
There, now I’ve said it. Make of it what you will.  
If you are seeking your one-and-only, I don’t think
you will ever be sure. There will always be a nugget 

of doubt. Biological tickles, mutations, gingivitis.   
Is there something beneath the pattern? Could you 
remove the patina, unearth the primal cave drawings? 
We mean nothing if not what we mean. The old are young 
forever, learning the longhand view of epochs and dynasties, 

dinosaurs and the Garden of E. Flashes of insight 
like hydrogen bombs, craters of nameless damage 
reaching the surface breath by breath, floating bodies 
dying. Already dead. Time does not reverse for them. 
I didn’t know you would not hang around while I waited

for someone else. I begged you not to lead me on, 
if you weren’t going to stop seeing her. Then you said: 
I haven’t stopped. I won’t. Time is coming fast. Hard
to ignore relativity. It’s noon in Seattle, 3 in Boston. 
View from the train window, roaming on the Amtrak

Downeaster, Boston to Portland, trees fly by at different
speeds depending on their distance. Time is space, 
I can see this with my own eyes, even at this age
of failing sight, even with hearing loss, I try to hear
between the lines. A quarter-century of hypertension.

My father’s mother’s apoplexy (1935). Four drugs.
Will it work? Incant: Please, please, please. There 
are mending words in the air. They are free. Clip 
them like coupons. I should plant cornrows of hair
before I die, leave something for my grandsons,

my brother’s children, that future we hate 
to acknowledge—the one without us. I can see 
how this is going, read the handwritten progress 
notes, taste the stale bread, smell the twice-brewed
coffee. I’ll need to hurry if I’m to get all the chores

done. It’s 2011. When will I have the stroke?  

Risa Denenberg is an itinerant aging hippy currently living a solitary life in Tacoma, Washington. She earns her keep as a nurse practitioner and freelance medical writer. She has written poems since childhood, some of which have been published here and there. More importantly, she reads poetry ravenously. She is drawn to themes of suffering and death and their intersections with medicine, art and religion. Risa blogs about poetry, aging, death and other matters at risaden: a piece a day and posts a daily poem at Word Poems.

Copyright © Mudlark 2011
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