Her Book of Difficulties

by Renée Ashley

[Everlasting passion] flower she thinks kiss my ass She has a hypothesis about love & about everlasting But too poor me too poor you too & too I’m alone Nobody wants to hear it She has a formal photograph—its painted backdrop of richesse—printed in the San Francisco Call when her grandmother divorced First divorce of the new year Front page news On the back of the photo in the girl’s hand taken around 1916 Three figures mother daughter son You’d never know The little girl standing on the toilet seat to pee & her foot slipping In almost up to mid-shin Pee water in the high buttoned shoe her white stockings dripping & the photographer waiting The boy looks unsettled His round face & high forehead Was unsettled all his life Poor boy Poor girl There’s a vein of it in the human race Poor mothers of us all Our Mothers of No Consolation Our Mothers of Fury & Shame Our Mothers of No-Man-I-Ever-Loved-Loved-Me Love she thinks It won’t save you in the end She thinks Everlasting & Uncle Harry on her father’s side an electrician at Alcatraz Remembers her Mother of Ashes-Dispersed-and-Swept-Away-Beneath-the-Big-Orange-Bridge

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[The dream] does not wear her like a shawl or a sheath but nests in her like a heart or like a bullet in a heart & either way that heart becomes a beggar-bird & broken & she cannot shake her body of its terrible dusts She dreads sleep now & in her waking dreams tries always to be in motion: Some firemen flooded a field & the field froze So that after the tragedy children skated there & could not fall through It was brilliant the way a lake’s peaky surface is brilliant in sunlight & wind Water rises & falls It has its fluent declensions & when you break through its liquid surface it heals itself before you’re fully gone Outside her hotel the crows go insane in the refuse-strewn & dried-up swamp They are fighting over the moist entrails of the newly dead Their heartlessness more than a restless idea

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[In the brand] new sunlight & the mud pits that were grassy late last spring the dogs—black dog & brindle dog—play hard Play serious They are waves cresting as one Are tremblors shaking the needles from the spruces Harbingers of all things golden—daffodil forsythia the yellow Lenten rose—while all around them bare trees comb the wind & release their chilly songs Crocuses bloom without a lick of help from us The green ears of hyacinth rise above ground & the scant aconite which never really flourished in the bed around the fountain is at its apologetic peak Winter has been long & boring & things—all things—are beginning to move in the new light The noses of the dogs catch them Black dog & brindle dog have already crapped on the snowdrops Dug for voles where the thick moss used to grow The bleeding heart they love to pee on will go next & the sky is still as blue as the blue sky the woman in green left behind half her long life ago & it is the year of the cicadas their piercing Bolero their last-fling Habanero She hates them Because she sleeps alone she will not sleep at all Because the noise will drive her past the stop for crazy Their husks will make her weep This will be the real new year: spring & the summer that will follow Some of us—our eyes wide open—will go blind & some—squinting like hell in the sunshine—will still be trying to see

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[The other] no longer raining down redundantly Funny not to die every day your head held under Still everything interpreted by water Once on the Picadilly Service to Cockfosters she met a broken man who had his history in his bag & he showed her Another from here & there was drunk & loved the word fuck Yet at Bath Spa a simple man’s face was bent like the bowl of a spoon He was wide-eyed & never looked her way If that was a lesson she’d learned it before Now she’s in a borrowed house Outside dry gray lichens cling to dry gray stones & the white-tailed deer she’s been warned not to feed stroll the gentle incline of the road The trees are wearing nothing & the sky’s just a pencil sketch of sky in which Icarus never seems to fly Maunder means to talk or act in a rambling or meaningless way She has some books but her alphabet keeps starting over She’d like to tie it down & make it squeal She wants the three-kingdomed lichens to batter her heart Wants to throw the deer some apples & watch them in their joy She’s faintly catastrophist But believes in the long slow now Water’s falling Also springing up All things so seldom seeming equal it’s taking back the world

Her Book of Difficulties (Extract)

Last updated March 29, 2023