Lisa Trudeau


Night Landscape. Egypt by Matiros Saryan

Swaddled in an iron bed, cold as a cage. Her parents rattle fricatives. The doctor halts them, palms clean and pink, asks her to translate – though fever flushes language, though she is only eight. Other children listen through gaps in the wall. “Polio” he says. Everyone understands.  Harrowed by pain and numbness, she is too young to know which to fear more. In the heat of dream she sits in summer grass paring a ripe peach calling forth stinging ants and bees. In the heat of dream she strides down a city street, a lead white dress collapsing her chest. Her father shifts the iron bed to the corner of the room where her mother hangs rags – for privacy, for protection. “Quarantine” is the word the Doctor reports, along with “squalor” and “poverty”. It is printed in local newspapers. The family will feel its shame for generations. Her back her arms her legs her neck. In the heat of dream she floats the river behind the house, mossy stones bump her toward the mill where her father works, toward the dam where she falls into roiling water and darkness that wakes her screaming but only breath enough to gasp. Her mother wipes the sweat from her face. Tightens the damp blanket. She lives in a house made of snow. She lives in the cup of the crescent moon. She lives between stars in blackest space, in the eye of an unnamed god. She will never feel warm. All her life she will long for palm trees and scorching sands. But she doesn’t know that yet. She knows that someone sings to her at night. Old songs, broken and sweet. She knows that to change the sheets she must be rolled on her side or lifted from bed and both are agony. In the heat of dream she enters a church, its walls blushed by roses fragrantly crowding the altar where a woman in blue waits for her, arms open, petals falling from the tips of her perfect fingers. She catches one and in its heart is pure white flame. She feels warmth wipe through her body. The world returns to her in birdsong. The wind in spring leaves. Sunlight across her arm. Her brother and sister arguing. Her mother removes the hanging cloths. Her sister helps her sit up in bed, and although she can’t yet walk she presses the soles of her feet to the floor. It is summer, and everything is warm. Her brother brings her a bruised peach. She lives in a house made of scrap wood and metal. She lives in the palm of the sun. She lives with a back forever bent. She lives.

About the writer:
Lisa Trudeau is a poet and former publishing professional. She lives in Massachusetts.

Image: Night Landscape, Egypt by Matiros Saryan (1880-1972)Cardboard and tempera. 18.5 x 26.7 inches. 1911. Public domain.