When it became clear that no button mashing
could factory reset the residually frozen parts,
I asked around. There was a lot about plants
breathing, a lot about tending, dirt on skin
as homeopathy. I watered things looking out
the window and braced them with chopsticks
when they flopped over.
Everyone said don’t
fall in love again right now, like they didn’t
know me at all. The ones who knew me said,
well, okay, if you’re in the soup of it, better
take it slow for all your sakes. Pandemic
helped and didn’t, as with all things that
should and cannot be put on hold. I asked
how do you be a person after becoming an
alarm system? My lover dried flowers
and sent them to me in the mail, stayed on
an island in the other ocean, which bought
us some time. I turned away from poems
[Even now, it is all I can do not to
go make breakfast, text my sisters unsolicited,
update my operating system so that we are held
in further abeyance.]
When I visited the farm,
to farm and to friend, they said I had a real
recently liberated POW vibe at first, or a
stayed in the bomb shelter too long vibe,
my eyes wide, speech quiet, not too sure how
to be around others, sitting on a couch inside,
inside my mask, inside myself.
I can do not to go clip my toenails or find
some other mode of control, of ctrl alt delete.]
My lover comes back to the city, and it is
stripped to its studs but alive. I dream
my friends are covering up murder, I dream
my friends are trying to hurt me, I never
dream about who engaged the alarm in me,
their volume, the domestic objects thrown.
[Do you remember mowing the lawn?
The smell of a green beyond green, ultramarine
but for green. Go back to that. Go to that
when all the systems flash their pop-up
warning signs begging for shut down.
Go to the smell of sweet plant matter
matted in little clumps across the yard.
Remember, there have been homes where
we played in grass enough to stain ourselves
green at the knees. There have been homes
where we pushed the heavy machine
back and forth as an act of care.]
comes back and I am in love; therefore
I am alarm and sometimes frozen. But I
am thawing, I am watering, I am breathing
in the night when I wake up and tell her I feel
the panic in my body. Pillowcases printed
with green fronds and I worry this is tacky,
but I’m trying not to play dead with what I like.
I wake up in the dark and the rushing white noise
machine and the marine gurgle of the running toilet
have me drowning.
Everyone said time. They said it
just like that. Just time. No one said take a job far away,
no one said it should be a three-day drive from
the love you are melting toward. My lover
has just come back, her dried flowers around
my room and I am leaving.
On the morning
of my leaving, after taking the plants from the
sill and delivering them into her stewardship,
she explains how this could be good. At least
necessary. We allow it some time. The invisible
fence around the yard. We set aside hours, weeks,
to punch codes looking for the one that will disarm.
We become a self that is dad with the mower
and metaphor, that can sit patiently with the poem
scrubbing at the grass stains or working them in
indelibly deeper, unafraid of the work and
the small drowning it puts in us.
Alicia Mountain is the author of HIGH GROUND COWARD, winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize, and the forthcoming collection FOUR IN HAND. Her work has been published in American Poetry Review, The Nation, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. Mountain is the 2020-2021 Artist in Residence at the University of Central Oklahoma. She earned her PhD at the University of Denver and a MFA at the University of Montana in Missoula. She is a lesbian poet based in New York City. @HiGroundCoward.