Putting Our House Back Together
Did you know we are born with about 270 bones
that decrease to about 206 by adulthood after
they fuse together? In elementary school,
I memorized the skeletal system only to recall
the mandible, phalanges and fibula now.
I am bothered by how the walls of our home are
permeable like skin, full of passages through which
liquid, gases and microscopic particles pass through.
And then there is what is happening behind those
walls, inside your body, your brain that isn’t visible.
I believe crazy is transmittable through the heart, so
I spend the better part of my days mudding drywall,
I need to get back home, even though I know home
is ephemeral, that no matter how carefully you patch
every hole, what you don’t want will find a way in.
Starting in the Center
My husband begins at the center of the room, spreads thinset mortar
then sets tile. Somewhere I read that when you write to an incarcerated
loved one, you should ask open-ended questions like: How do you feel?
What are you doing to keep busy? I want to meet the writer and ask if
he ever wrote a letter to a loved one in prison. When I ask my husband
why he starts in the center, he explains that the job will look better if
the cuts are around the outside edges. Phone calls are easier like
vinyl floors opposed to ceramic tiles. Tell me how to start this letter,
tell me what is left to say to my younger brother after 1,273 days of
incarceration? You have to work fast, get the tiles down before cement
dries; you have to write faster, get your thoughts down before you start
rethinking them. With his fingers spread, my husband pushes down with
a slight twist of the wrist. This is how life goes on without him. While we
are on the phone, my brother talks about college classes he’s taking,
algebra and natural disasters. I start from the center of the room and
circle outward as he talks. We have to talk fast, get the pleasantry out
of the way before my daughter is in high school. Outside the sun and
inside mortar sets. How do I start the letter telling him that no one is
waiting for him? When we walk across these tiles, we won’t remember
the sore knees and achy back that they induced. We forget so quickly
all the things we don’t write down. Over 7, 500 days to go. I am in the
corner when the automated system says we have sixty second remaining.
I am looking down at how perfectly my husband cut the tiles, how level
headed he is when it comes to laying down the foundation we’ll walk on.
Opening Up the Walls
When my husband opens up the walls, he uncovers
leaky pipes, yellow jacket nests, mice droppings,
snake skins, a compact mirror with white powder residue
and a razor blade nestled inside. On the surface,
everything appeared fine. My brother was anyone’s
brother, son, friend, nephew, cousin, father, two eyes,
a nose, a mouth, ears, but when the walls were
opened up there was a labyrinth of wires and hidden
junction boxes behind a fresh coat of flesh. To think we
were never alone, like my brother wasn’t, the voices
were digging tunnels in his brain the way the mice dug
through our insulation. Looking back, you could say
there were signs, a musty odor, scratching, unjustified
paranoia. But when you live in it or with it every day,
it’s your normal. Sheetrock and skin, wood and bone,
insulation and blood. Nails. love. All the work
that needs to be completed before moving back in.
Rebecca Schumejda is the author of several full-length collections including Falling Forward (sunnyoutside press), Cadillac Men (NYQ Books), Waiting at the Dead End Diner (Bottom Dog Press) and most recently Our One-Way Street (NYQ Books). She is currently working on a book forthcoming from Spartan Press. She is the co-editor at Trailer Park Quarterly. She received her MA in Poetics from San Francisco State University and her BA from SUNY New Paltz. She lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with her family.