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Lydia Gwyn

The Highest Point/Emptiness, Standing Still/
All Dreams Speak to Life

Landscape with Red Figure by Wassily Kandinsky

The Highest Point

The rain saves my husband and son from mowing the lawn, and everyone in our family retreats to their corners–my son to his friends on Discord, my daughter to her mean girl movie in the living room, my husband to his D&D novel. This summer day when the trees are flushed with leaves, a time we call the no-neighbor season, I sit on the back porch and half-listen to the rain, half-read a book of poems. The poems are laced with toxic plants, sweat stains, applause, a baby swaddle, plastic cups of applesauce, and funny things like visible panty lines and camel toe. The word apogee appears, and I have to look it up. A climax. A culmination. The highest point. Soon I’ll be taking annual leave from work and will have swaths of time to sit outside and read poems or work the garden or check the beehives or walk the woods. I might meditate more. Might pull away from my mind’s chatter over and over again, falling back into the quiet, true self. But nearly every time I try to find her, there’s a turnaround and I end up downhill or back in time. A child again with my old friends–one sock inside out. I might see myself writing up a clubhouse charter with yellow highlighter on white notebook paper, creating a government of rules and hierarchies, or I might run across the campus quad while my dad teaches summer bio. Go back to the quiet, I always remind myself. Stay in your seat. But over and over, I end up popsicle-stained in the yard or hitting golf balls from the tees my grandfather kept in a suede pouch or sitting on another porch, a porch back in time with my then-living younger brother. We might watch the glow of our grandparents’ bug zapper, waiting for the sizzle of fresh kill. That was a big one, my brother might say. He might have a plastic sword. He might swing it too close to my head.

Emptiness, Standing Still

All the facts swallow me. I read my textbooks and skim over my handwritten notes, which are fixed in thick binders. I relearn the useful French verbs. Avoiretre, finirdonnersavoir. I relearn American history, art history, astronomy. And colonial times are full of passenger pigeons again. Skies blacken with their migrations, forests weep with their weight. In Europe the Rosicrucians are back at it, slipping their secrets into the ears of poets and painters. And outer space is colder than anyone can imagine, the temperature just above absolute zero. An infinite emptiness, standing still. I’m in my residence hall, and it’s nearly Christmas. It’s nearly finals week. And when I lie down to sleep, my brain won’t stop. Planets wobble in silver orbits and the verbs come in their perfect Parisian clip. But also something else is there, the edge of grief. It’s been a year since my brother died, and there’s a heaviness that sinks through me whenever I lie down as though I’ve swallowed granite. Tonight, I smell the smells of home. My mother’s Minute Rice, the honey bells she orders from Florida this time of year. The fire my father builds and stokes and leaves to die overnight. A house which now seems off-axis. Full of the quiet turning of pages and the empty gaze of deer heads on the wall. I remember another house, an old house several houses ago when my brother and I were small. There were yellow flowers there in the spring and snake berries and white-capped mushrooms and under the jeweled leaves of wild ginger plants, my brother and I would find little brown jugs, flowers with no petals, a calyx tube instead. We’d pick them and hold them like chalices ready to sip. We were characters in our own mythology. And there were Castles, talking animals, gold in our hands, snakes rising up from the earth to slough their skins, and the bending of time, as when my brother left his body, and time circled back to swallow its tail. There on the floor by the bedroom window. Floating up into the point of an antler, into the shine of a marbled-eye.

All Dreams Speak to Life

And so I lead a group of teenage strangers into one of my childhood apartment buildings. Off the bus, down the rain-drenched sidewalk, through the parking spaces, the furthest of which shimmers in an invisible heat wave like rings in a glass of water when someone walks across a room. Loblollies stand in the oval of the parking lot like professors in their field, clasping their hands, bowing their heads. A bed of slippery needles. Flecks of bark that beg for picking, for lifting the skirt and seeing what insects wait on the damp under side. Someone has left the door open, and so it feels perfectly correct to step inside a building which is no longer mine, and into the pleasant breath of the lobby, which smells of roasts and baked potatoes. Plastic wreaths hang from the unit doors as though this were a housed neighborhood. There are door mats for wiping parking pebbles from shoe treads. Long gone is Mrs. Delpan. The stacks of magazines towering around her, the smell of moldy onions from her pantry. Gone too are the Gupta children and the long afternoons pretending to be married–a husband snoring in bed, a wife dressing for dance class, lacing up slippers, pinning up hair. I climb the stairs and everyone follows. I walk from one end of the hall to the other, and all the teenagers do the same. I touch my hand to my head, and they touch their heads as well, but I feel something there that they can’t feel. I feel the gash my brother received when he kicked at me, and I pulled his leg and he fell into the door frame behind the door of the very apartment I stand before. We were alone that day and about to have our elderly neighbor drive us to the hospital when our mother appeared in the doorway with bags of groceries. There was a thunderstorm and everything was wet. The plastic bags, the cereal boxes, our mother’s hair and hands. The pinkie finger she crushed in a car door years before, permanently creasing the nail there. At the ER, they shaved my brother’s head and sewed three stitches to close wound in his scalp. And he covered for me, telling our mother he’d slipped on a dishrag. I walk every hall of the building, and there are no empty apartments, no doors left unlocked. And my brother is long gone like a mythic prince in an epic poem.

About the writer:
Lydia Gwyn is the author of the flash collections You’ll Never Find Another (2021, Matter Press) and Tiny Doors (2018, Another New Calligraphy). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in F(r)iction, Midway Journal, Anti-Heroin Chic, The Florida Review, New World Writing Quarterly, and others. A selection of her stories and poems is slated to appear in Ravenna Press’s Triples Series in late 2023. She lives with her family in East Tennessee, where she works as an academic librarian.

Image: Landscape with Red Figure by Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944). No medium specified. No size specified. Public domain.

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