The photo which must be the most upsetting one because it’s on the bottom of the pile, the last one looked at. The ruination risked by going back to look at it again.
The foyer where he knelt and held up the lavender bike she tried to balance on. Or that whirligig he spun on with her at Disneyworld, with his yellow Hawaiian shirt on. The crib in that sweltering London hotel room which she begged to be let out of, how monstrous he felt for not letting her. Or the close-up of the note she attached to a jack o’ lantern telling bad people not to steal it.
The pictures of each parent only taken when their daughter was also in the frame. The passing stranger in Montreal or Orlando they never stopped and asked to take their picture all three together, a family. Never solo or trio.
The woman in the green sweater leaning over the baby below the Christmas tree. The apron with the funny saying. The cracks in the wall next to the headboard. The lubricant she applied that may have been a rebuke to the husband. The hammock next to the house that left diamond-shaped hatchwork on her bottom.
The mosquito’s slow emergence from its underwater egg. The lullaby of wasps in the nest as the tiny camera panned. The tufted orb of a dandelion flexing in the sun. The counterfeit rain the photographer spilled from his watering can.
Have you ever sketched from memory
A picture of a jaguar-woman, on all fours,
Prowling in just a crimson half-shirt and bikini,
Drawn it cold, inside of ten minutes
And then stood back, looked and felt
The breath of hot Gauguin embellish your blood?
Myself, I never get to be a human witness.
I have had to sneak my way into her life
As a golden-collared macaw.
In her orchid bedroom I sit inside a cage
And try to catch some sight of her,
To whistle coy motifs whenever she comes in.
When she steps out of the shower
I leap up and down and have my episode
But she tosses towels over my cage, blinding me.
I’m hopping like a toy wound-up too much,
My beady eyes beshrouded in the shadow vault.
In terms of what the other sees
The whole arrangement slants in my direction.
She remains a gorgeous, stealthy feline
While I teeter on my trapeze, above a snarl
Of shredded paper, grey incontinence.
Once I saw her well enough to reconstruct her
But I was stranded in this cage.
Once or twice I was taken out, I sat on her shoulder
For an afternoon. Could have flown up to a tree.
But now I’m back in here, with my fruit, seeds, towel’s dark.
She’s probably in her cage herself, herself.
Pacing or sitting, doesn’t matter, when everything
You see you want’s a cage’s width away.
I DON’T / CAN’T / WON’T REMEMBER
For my pre-teen I played, off my phone,
The lullaby I’d sung most frequently
From a prehistory of bedtimes
When she was a baby in my arms.
At age 11, finally hearing the original, she said
She didn’t remember it, never heard it before.
No fluttering eyelids or yawns.
No delayed trace of my singing’s effect,
no echoing amygdala or
How forked is the cable-spring
Of associations. The vibrations
Slink along its length to hit
Home or skitter down the stray
Tributary into a lower stack
In the memory library. Remember
The unfinished basement where the kid
Watched cartoons with his brother,
That midcentury folklore baked into art:
How apparitions, risen up out of the remains
Of dead cartoon characters, transmitted
A notional afterlife to the childish audience
Which adults commenced to undermine
With careless jokes. The living will witness,
But the memory is a null ghost
Striving to recover its home.
Tribes giving old testimony, the dead spokes
Of starfish strewn by angry seagulls
Across the grotto must rejoin
And return to life for any memory
Of tumbling surf to be usable.
Every mind crystal must line up
For the laser to be let through.
Will we miss things when we’re gone?
Will we miss all those sorted away
By angelic turnstiles snatching some
Individuals through but not others?
I fear I might not afterward remember
My fond relation slipping away from me
Down the branching assembly line
Like some uncomprehending farm animal
Shunted belt-wise to its ending.
Jesse Hilson is a freelance newspaper reporter living in the western Catskills. He has appeared or will appear in AZURE, Maudlin House, Deracine Literary Magazine, Pink Plastic House, Pulp Modern Flash, Close to the Bone, Murderous Ink Press, and elsewhere. His novel Wet Up is slated for publication by Close to the Bone in 2022.