Non-Grata

Heath Joseph Wooten

           I

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?


            II

            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.


            III

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.


Bedroom-Speak

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.

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