Heath Joseph Wooten
Yes, we’re in the dream now—see the mink-slippery
walls, the water slicking from every surface, ice on the countertops. But where is the
promised man, the prodigal man—prodigal only for me? He’s in the promised
home—yes, we’re in the home now, and we watch the painting of the heron
swamp its mythology of green reeds and inexplicable purples
across the entire bathroom. This now is not
a dream, this is where I, the teenager, first wanted the man, and if only this man was
more solid than a promise. Imagine him taking shape with me: the callus upon the hands,
the pink swelling of the lips, elbows. Yes, it’s a dream again and we’re still
in the home, but it’s a different home. It’s a bedroom with swollen
ceilings. It rains in this bedroom. A man sits
on the bedframe, but he’s not the imagined man. A better man, and upon the floor
a magazine takes on water until it is a wash of color like the painting of the heron.
Here, sympathy takes the shape of liquor bottles and urns, and somehow
we can imagine that is sufficient to expunge the flood, can’t we?
In this dream another home waits for entry, but we
do not go inside. See, this house is devoid of problems. This house thanked
me for coming inside and then left me with a dozen memories,
a dozen splinters of porcelain that have forgotten
their memories of plates.
The sun knew one window in this home, and over the window hung a white curtain
except the sun sprayed it orange, and every other window was either not orange
or didn’t exist to begin with. Sorry, you’ll have
to trust me. In this dream I am grateful for nothing save this house which
denies entry. There was tile in the kitchen I never wanted
to touch. The fridge was white, the oven was white,
these memories—save the window—
are white. I swear, the curtain dressed in orange, and now I’m not sure this house
even exists. The walls did not know the heron, the bed did not know the man.
You see, I cannot finish these stories because they have
not told me the ending. Who cares about the myth of heron, the prodigal man. Here,
come into this room. I am not grateful for this room. Anyway, the heron.
When I was a child, there was a painting of a heron in the guest room
bathroom, and I was not allowed into this bathroom, which made
me sneak to this bathroom every day after school. This bird
was a little god in my secret religion. And from this ugly painting, the man was born
as a new, shiny god. And this god and this room and every room still infect
every dream. Do you understand yet? I do not appreciate these gods,
and I do not appreciate hope. Let’s go back to the flooded room.
Pockets of water balloon around the outlets. Mildew memorizes
every fiber of carpet and fissure in the sheet rock, and the gods persist like the milky
stains of dust upon the mattress. I still have not escaped. And follow me now
to the final room, and inlay me in the sheets like a precious stone,
and leave me now to dream of the stale air in the next room.
Let’s talk about anything
but this game we like to play. The one where every
stratagem takes the form of a shadow, a shallow
trick of the light. A bluff, a smirk over a garbage
hand. Here are my rules:
I walk away from all talk about flowers. I would rather watch
your fingers bloom from your palm than discuss the daffodils
one more weary hour. But if you insist, I will eat every
ream of yellow this paper beauty can muster. This is not a game
of poker, but if it was, the May queen tightens in my fist. I always had a way
with spring. In fact, the whole royal court of spring is tattooed
to my hand. I will always
win. We can only talk about stained sheets, the strange
ways in which you have tried to convince me I am something
to be learned—for example, let’s pretend
it’s fishing, and I have the rod and you are the pond. Or maybe, you’re
a book that is too old to have an uncracked spine. So I’m going to crack
you and read you. And if those musings weren’t tacky
enough, try this: You know
the beginning of my inside, yet I’m sure you’ve found
a maze of flesh is harder to navigate than one of leaves.
What I’m trying to say is that I can’t escape and you can’t either. What I’m trying
to say is that I could blame
you if I wanted to. I could blame
the quiver of the sheets like hummingbird wings in the wake
of your snoring. At least that you couldn’t stop.
I changed my mind, we cannot talk about sheets. If we talk
about sheets, the bed will purl
like kudzu up my body, and neither of us wants
to navigate that tangle. I haven’t actually decided what I need
to say—as long as these words figure
into a form unlike a pillow we are safe. So maybe instead of talk about
every stupid forsythia bud and their convulsions of carpenter bees, I’ll die here
and haunt you. Okay, we won’t talk at all. You don’t need to know
every detail. Just take your feet from the bed and walk
across the mealy carpet and open the door and leave. I give you
permission. I’ll cut away my veins and craft
the key from that, or something
with similar drama and red. Let’s say it’s Valentine’s
Day, and you have given
me a dozen roses—the roses are the key. What I’m trying to say is that I couldn’t bloom
for you like they do. What I’m trying to say is that I am an unseasonable
cold spell and no blackberry will survive this spring, and they never
should’ve been bold enough to enter in the first place. Okay, so you’re the blackberry.
You know what I am. The roses are the key. What
will you do with them?
Heath Joseph Wooten is an MFA candidate at Northern Michigan University, and he holds a BA from the University of Mississippi. He is an avid collector of cassettes and other obsolescences, and you can find his work in or forthcoming from Adroit, perhappened, Dishsoap Quarterly, Lammergeier, and Lumiere.