Hurricane Harvey has come and gone. She stops searching the Houston sky, the blaze of dark blue that has drunk all the leftover dew, and spits it back. Rain, sheets of rain. No sun beginning to bear down that by noon would burn like the smoldering fevers of settlers. She floats on the air mattress with her umbrella and poodle, Trigger. It is day but the color of night. Her big-boned roustabout body has gone small as a wrinkled child’s, the marrow boiled slowly out of her. Not like her house’s sudden demise, as though a murderer had hidden in the flood. Drifting here on the far side of the moon and sun, she feels strangely at peace. Trigger does, too, in the falling rain and the question of goodbye.
Goodbye to Richmond Avenue, to yards of duplexes and flowering pear, goodbye to no zoning and used auto parts, goodbye to the salvage yards of exhausted fuel pumps and batteries no jumper cables can spark, goodbye to the night magnolia, the creamy blossoms opening and closing like the rise and fall of a rib cage.
Her mind bobs like the air mattress past the downpour, the flash floods the city enjoys, to her remembered treasures. The girl who was once her (decades gone) traipses along a wooden fence that encloses an empty lot where men stand stiff as planks of wood, unmoving except for the paper-wrapped cans in their fists. The girl crosses Washington Avenue and hurries into Cleveland Park, staying close to the creek. She is leaving her foster mother’s bungalow in The Heights early, heading in the opposite direction of school. The humidity growing and the birds whistling and singing and she whistling back at them. Her daddy taught her bird calls. The daddy the truant officers have taken her from, has taken her baby too. This way seems the way away from him.
Goodbye to my carefully tended wildflowers, all red. Goodbye to scarlet beardtongue and scarlet sage, goodbye to scarlet musk flower and wild poinsettia. Goodbye scarlet leather flower, my darling.
Word reaches her that Daddy wants his daughter back, meaning he needs comfort. The girl has to retrace her steps when she spots the truck, the one she grew up in, hiding in the trees. She knows it may never stop coming. A field opens in her mind, a red space where wildflowers wave. A year and more ago, the truant officers surrounded the girl and her half-brother after they jumped from the truck. The officers could smell their odor—dirt sweat of their riding weeks with only rest stop sink baths. This she sometimes forgets. The girl was pregnant. The truant people take in the tall shirtless man, salt-and-pepper hair on his lean chest, sunburnt skin, a warm clay. They see him grinning, his hand stretching to shake theirs. A friendly man who would give you the shirt off his back. A man who knows the names of things that grow untamed, who picks coral honeysuckle to make his daughter a bouquet. Daddy. The pickle jar on the dash gives off the dream color of a too-blue sun, the grass too green, too bright in the mind. The pickle jar holds the girl inside its green water, holds the bed of the truck rocking all night.
Overhead, helicopters are beating the indigo clouds with machetes. Trigger knows not to bark and upset their cart. She would like a coffee, to savor the hot black wordlessness. The Mr. Coffee still plugged in for the home invaders. Milk bones fed to the water wolves.
Goodbye to the experts who believe that unresolved and untreated, the trauma sufferer will seek out the traumatic experience to recreate the original injury. Whether an attempt to gain mastery of the event, or to recreate it, trauma becomes addictive. What beautiful home was I in search of? What does it mean to feel nothing? Full of space and light and walls of windows where I dream of birds and smell the junipers and taste the dusty purple fruits.
The three of them sleep on the side of the highway. The pale brother and sister bite their nails, they eat deer sausage and saltines, and they smoke Bugler tobacco. What happened to your mother? the truant man asks. Which one? They shrug. Sometimes Daddy has a full-grown woman on his lap. He tells endless stories about women in Korea, Mexico, and in the length and breadth of Texas. He’d fathered nineteen children. The girl will bear his 20th.
In the truck the girl knows to take paper towels from rest stop bathrooms, to use them between her legs when she bleeds. The blood dries to the rough paper towel, a crumbling red velvet plume. All the truant officers hear is the man who happens to be her father is the father of her baby. The Texas plain shrinks into a sultriness of the flesh. The girl has no words to answer their questions with. Too hot in the sun, he takes her into the shade of a live oak. The rape tree. She lies under him, her eyes studying the leaves buzzing with black flies and mosquitoes, gnats madly propagating, the tree jittering with instantaneous life. The girl listens to Daddy’s swagger. He brags to the truant officers about his Rocky Mountain oysters. Two pounds of bull testicles in his jeans.
Goodbye to the city where I read Sky Above Hell and God’s Fifth Column and Black Tickets, where I memorized Stevie Smith’s “not waving but drowning”, and loved Glenda Jackson as the poet in Stevie, where I saw the Australian film The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith. Goodbye to my downy paintbrush and scarlet peas, goodbye to my pincushion daisies and fire wheels.
The white-haired woman in the rain hat looks as if nothing is unnatural about the blue-black armadillo in the sky weeping. About this feeling that pours into her throat, all the strangely silent heat and flood. The sorrow of Trigger’s eyes. They are on their own–woman and dog.