Swamp Lessons

  1. Cigarette butts in the sink look like swollen slugs. This is a weak simile (I know fourteen Portuguese poets who would tell me so), but I live in a swamp and many of my similes are slug-related.
  2. Other things that look like slugs:
    1. Dave’s cigars in the sink.
    2. Dave’s uncircumcised penis, soft.
  3. There are swamps in Northern Ohio. Did you know that?
  4. Some days Dave will come over and it’s hours before I notice him on the porch. Normally I smell the cigar through the window of my office, where I sit most days and translate Portuguese washer/dryer manuals, correspondence between pilots, textbooks, poems.
  5. Sometimes my first words to Dave are in Portuguese. He’s been coming over for fifteen years and knows only the words most people know: obrigada, saudade.
  6. I have a catalogue of two hundred insects I have found in my house. Today I saw three centipedes in three different locations. There is the possibility that there is only one centipede who is following me from room to room, but I prefer to believe there are three. If I think one is following me, it might be loneliness, which I will not admit.
  7. I have not seen Dave for sixteen days. There is the possibility he drank himself to death.
  8. A selection of household swamp insects, March 1994.
    1. Tree bug (4/2): fell into my coffee, my fucking coffee.
    2. Silverfish (4/10): Dave killed two but did not clean them. Legs pressed into the wall like fresh fossils.
    3. Moth (4/10): Dave left and the moths came. Turned off all the lights except the office lamp, watched them swarm and flutter. Opened the windows and closed the door. In bed now, imagining they are still there, around the lamp.
    4. Carrion Beetle (4/13): abhorrent.
  9. I occasionally write poems and send them to three of the Portuguese poets whose work I translate. One writes back: Carinho, write novels instead. Another: I don’t believe this. Is it supposed to be a love story? The third: Yes, but why so many slugs? [translations mine]
  10. Do not show your poems to poets. Do not write poems about your son, or about moving to swampland only for him to decide that he would rather live in Cleveland with his father. Write poems instead about the carrion beetle of Northwest Ohio. Write poems instead about the stories Dave tells you from the auto shop: the mother of four who came in and would not get out of her car until she had smoked half a pack of cigarettes; the coworker who drives a Cadillac he built himself, just like that Johnny Cash song. Write poems that sound like Johnny Cash songs.
  11. Seventeen days. I’ve left the butts in the sink in Dave’s memory. The ash has washed away and now the filters are bloated, enormous.
  12. Dave has come back married to a girl from Defiance. Asked if I was angry.
  13. A selection of household swamp insects, August 1998.
    1. American Oil Beetle (8/3): identified by Insects of Northern Ohio, birthday present from Dave.
    2. Boxelder bug (8/6): five of them near the gutters, black lined with red. Look poisonous but the book says they aren’t.
    3. Thread-waisted wasp (8/15): horrifying. I should move!
  14. Frank calls from Cleveland. Kenny wants to come over. Kenny prefers we call him Ken, but the one thing Frank and I agree on is the diminutive of our son’s name. I say yes. I say: why don’t you stay the night?
  15. Frank stays the night. He sees one of my translations and tells me good work. When we were nineteen, I began learning Portuguese so I could speak to Frank’s mother. She died two months after the divorce.
  16. When the ex-husband stays the night, Dave comes over at three in the morning and sits on the porch. He must’ve been too drunk to notice Frank’s car. I wake to the smell of his cigar. I stay in bed.
  17. Today: the house is empty. Can’t write any Johnny Cash poems. Can only write about silverfish and slugs. I don’t know if I will see Dave again. I call Frank, and when he doesn’t answer, I translate a hundred-page industrial oven manual. I don’t sleep.
  18. A selection of insects observed from 2AM-7AM, March 6, 2013.
    1. Daddy longlegs (2): one on the toilet paper roll, another in the sink. I’m leaving. I should sleep. I should move.
    2. Spider, unidentified: I shouldn’t have thrown away Dave’s insect book. This one looks poisonous.
  19. Did you know there used to be bobcats here before they dredged the swamp? Now there are only 10 square miles of swampland.
  20. What is left as of March 25, 2013: slugs, beetles, poems, me.
  21. The thing about Dave: he tells me that he didn’t want me to know about AA, or the girl from Defiance. They were six months sober together. I ask him about the wine at my house, the whiskey. He says he’s decided that whatever happens on my porch is off the record. If it happens on my porch, or in my house, he does not feel the need to discuss it.
  22. The thing about poems is they ought to be about slugs.
  23. The thing about slugs is that they really are nothing. They are so aggressively nothing, so awfully amorphous, it is as though they were afterthoughts, emerged from greasy puddles to slink along the undersides of leaves. And yet, when they mate they are beautiful. They curl around each other like rope, hang upside down from a strand of their own fluid, they copulate in an instant and then drop to the ground, and they stay where they fall.  
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