My brother insists that cracking melon seeds bears relation to speech. The only content has been eaten. Shell empty, no content remains. Live action then silence or, at the most, echo. We fill bottle after bottle with husks. When we are on our own, carving our names into trunks in the lychee grove, he cuts his hand. The knife slips, slicing his thumb and forefinger. As blood covers his arm, my brother is firework and flag, bright pain and strange happiness. How does one work with chaos as a material for life? I can’t predict how the sap of the tree and the blood of the fist will behave! I perch on the branch, touch my heel, grasp my right foot in my left hand, hold cold foot in warm palm and think Now I know myself by heart. Now I know my heart, too. The palm shows the measure of the trunk; the trunk the measure of the torso. I distinguish the layers of my fingers; I feel areas of pain, plumes of pain. Do you see these living figures? I ask. They are flashes of lightening that resemble ideas. They make me understand from there to here. On our way to the hospital, we meet a woman sweeping the street. She picks up a wrapper, spits on it, and presses it to his cut. When she was a child, she says, buying flowers was very bourgeois, but she bought tissue paper and brought it home to make roses. Ropes of bright red firecrackers hang the length of the skyscrapers. Lit, they rip across eye and ear with delicate violence as the smell of gunpowder floats back. The real beauty of the Roman candle, the bottle rocket, or the fire-flower is that, when you ignite it, it fans into new forms. If you hold it in your hands when it lights, fingers become petals of paper and flame. All these symbols—paper, gunpowder, pine trees—I hold these elements in my hands and I ignite them to see what may be. In the hospital, he shakes with pain on the dingy sheets. I curl up at the foot of the bed. If I shift, the mattress exhales a scent like earth, an inner malady of the sea, a city that has invaded a sleep incautious and entire. I love this flow of sleep that comes down on me like snow as I play dead. Death curdles around me. I hold his foot to comfort him. His attention stops at the thin part of the world. Linen becomes sand and milk, becomes a caress on the skin of my brother who, by playing dead, becomes all child and enters a new experience of home, the tributary of his sources. The resting child is encircled by the impersonal. To it, he owes his sudden firmness, perpetually destroying, perpetually rebuilding. Blood, too, is a tissue. “姐” he mutters. Sister. He sucks red ropes back into sleep.
Mary Hickman is the author of Wildlife (Ahsahta Press, 2015). Her poems have also appeared in Boston Review, Colorado Review, jubilat, and elsewhere. She works for the International Writing Program in Iowa City, Iowa and is at work on an artist’s book.