Laurie Blauner is the author of five novels, eight books of poetry, and a forthcoming creative non-fiction book. She won PANK’s 2020 Creative Non-fiction Book Contest and her book, called I Was One of My Memories, will be available in 2022. A new novel called Out of Which Came Nothing is currently available from Spuyten Duyvil Press. Her work has appeared in The New Republic, The Nation, The Georgia Review, American Poetry Review, Mississippi Review, Field, Caketrain, Denver Quarterly, The Colorado Review, The Collagist, The Best Small Fictions 2016 and many other magazines.
I Was One of My Memories
The animal and I breathed on one another in our sleep, our exhalations meeting at some invisible center. He adjusted his head to his best advantage. Yes, he was appealing, his fur a soft nest raked by my fingers. I rested my face on his cushioned ribs, soft pillow that he was. He smelled slightly sour like the last century. A paw stretched then covered his blue eyes. Back then I knew what to do with myself. And I knew time as a human process that continued tangling itself biologically. The animal, my elderly cat Cyrus, died several months ago and my longing is slowly growing smaller.
On television every day I watch strangers dying on the roads of foreign countries like abandoned machinery. All surfaces have become impossible and fraught with meaning. I play back the animal’s gestures, his eyes meeting mine, his utterances, on my devices. I have a box of his found whiskers and I still see him everywhere he used to be.
I concentrate on one detail at a time, a white paw with a black spot, his blue eyes fragmented, looking as though his iris had been dropped and shattered. He was watching me, the cracks in his eyes from age. I recall his movements, how he desperately wanted to catch a crow, which would hop away or fly at his approach, or a squirrel. But one time he ran behind a squirrel that was turned away from him, eating something, and he gingerly sniffed the squirrel’s tail, then walked away.
I, too, have wanted: an ant farm, but I finally let all the ants loose; a stuffed beagle, with big eyes, droopy ears, and a sprouting tongue like a rose petal that quickly fell apart; a gold necklace that turned out not to be real gold.
Flutter of One Dream inside Another
The gods would move closer, if they could. I let blind, sprouting scarlet Japanese maple leaves stick to my face like dried snakeskin. Geraniums, purple and red rhododendrons, wisteria and lilac petals bloom everywhere, draping everything. My fingers are small and thin in the earth. I walk where I want, remembering how I needed to run home to you, how I hope to see you now in a different form, a streak of white with black in a field, behind trees that appear unhinged from green grass. They make me tremble. I am kind to the others, the old stray cat, the friendly neighborhood animals, volleying birds, although they aren’t you. A staggering pale moth makes me look toward it hopefully still. Even though I know he has gone, the way all of us eventually will, dragging our beastly wants. Occasionally a rabbit will save me, a brief glimpse and a bewildered contentment rises inside me.
The world is different, setting itself on fire for no apparent reason. It’s a season and all species have them. New growth is built upon the old. Humans thrive amid frayed or gone trees and vanishing animals. The surfaces change. What will the earth do when it is done with us? Bump around space telegraphing its needs until they are met? It’s a body after all. I want to say that since he is gone, everything appropriately slides through my fingers while I’m deciding what to become.
What is it that initiated everything breaking open with color? The soil under my feet is squeezed, sifted, and sung to by worms. The bleating rain arrives, followed by startling sunlight with its slow warmth. The busy sky and ground gather and empty both enormous and microscopic animals that spread richness and seeds. A landscape is created.
I could fall apart at any time, my right eye throbs, my back aches with its strained and sore ligaments and muscles, but the world grows routinely beautiful. Sometime later the world, too, will disintegrate, in its usual seasonal times. We’re both cyclical.
A Brief List of My Ingredients:
I am citied but miss rural sights and settings.
Machines can make me forget everyone, temporarily.
My family’s voices contain abandonment.
Stones are my friends.
My cat once stumbled through my pastels and emerged blue and red.
Flies inform me about glass and the illusion of escape.
Too much stays inside my face. A cat listens.
My friend disassembles and studies a skull as if it’s a clock.
My sister rains, surrendering.
My mother is a machine gun unavailable for further comment.
Clouds smile when they expect less from the sky. Clouds dream about lost balloons.
I am developing muscles to be used like curtains. I am atomic yet visible.
An old stray cat kneads my hair as if I’m his mother. I am no one’s mother.
I am unsure what I need to say with words.
Talk wanders, puddling in my house.
Seeds are warnings about the future.
Something sad is happening.
What If I’m the Only One Not Taken?
The electricity in my house goes out, soon turns back on again, exploding through the walls and appliances. A disturbing wind sweeps through the city, and the sky is filled with pets and acquaintances, who don’t like me anymore. They are floating.
My doorbell rings and something outside the curtained windows is gleaming too much. It’s night, and I want to lick the floor, call for my husband or sister or someone else I know.
They are gone, and a dim light enters the barricaded and locked house through cracks and keyholes and door thresholds. My dinner sandwich haunts my mouth, suddenly tasting bad. I don’t understand how to stay in one place.
I want to discuss this. Everything nearby is shrinking. I want to say that I do have an intergalactic mind, but nothing escapes my mouth.
1. Cabbit, Japan. A cross between a cat and a rabbit, which is genetically impossible.
2. Cactus Cat, Southwest America. At night a bobcat with a long spine and armored tail that slices open cacti, drinking the fermented juice and screaming until morning.
3. Chimera, Greece. A female lion composed of a goat’s body and a dragon or snake’s tail. Seeing a chimera heralded disaster.
4. Hombre Gato, Argentina. A human/feline male that scours rural areas at night for animals and people.
5. Maniticore, Persia. The body of a red lion, a human head with shark’s teeth, bat wings, a loud trumpeting voice, and a scorpion tail. It leaps far, repels magic, speaks as a human, and eats its prey whole, leaving nothing behind.
6. Matagot, France. A spirit in the form of a black cat, which, given the first bite of food at meals, will produce a gold coin the next day.
7. Mater Cattus Horribulus, America. A female cat/human hybrid, with sharp teeth and claws, that destroys its own offspring.
8. Neman Lion, Greece. A lion whose gold fur is impenetrable and whose claws slice through everything. Killed by Heracles.
9. Sea-Lion, Phillipines. A lion with webbed feet and a fish tail, who fought terrible storms and won.
10. Wampus Cat, Oklahoma. A woman cloaked as a mountain cat who spied on the men in her tribe. The medicine man punished her by making her half woman, half cat. She still roams the woods.
11. Yule Cat, Iceland. A large, mean cat that eats people who don’t work hard enough to earn new clothes and offer them to the cat by Christmas Eve.
A Bird Hovers. I Think It is Something Else
Everything is not what it seems. One thing is masquerading as another, a caterpillar as a moth, a fleshy seed as a twitching flower. Small things grow big then shrink again. All that rose’s redness isn’t held inside. My cat had once comforted me, knew me well. I had done the same for him. I am scraping together and reforming what is left into someone I want to be.
My god can hide in greenery, fur, or skin.
My full name is waiting for me. I am dressed in ribbons.
Time disappears and is found inside.
I wear friends around my neck.
I build another self-portrait out of leaves.
My bones are sticks.
My new lyrical earrings aren’t enough.
I tediously swallow someone.
I stop wobbling and conveniently choose a side.
I am out of character as myself.
My heart petitions for small things.
I witness rain with small syllables. Everything tiny demands attention. All those miniature experiences, objects, living creatures, build our lives, make them larger. It’s a slow process that seems too short in the end, the stunning flower, the ghostly curtain of snow.
I will exert myself across the surface of events until I find what I’m missing, that weightlessness like fingers lifting my hair or water falling excitedly from a great height toward more water, robust companionship, the extension of my purposes.
Ghosts and Mirrors
Are we a transitory species or its conclusion? We are always looking for something better. Once three or four other human species lived here concurrently. We aren’t the only ones to have resided here. (Smithsonian online, “What Does it Mean to be Human?”) The DNA of all varieties of human beings is 99.9% exactly the same. Every cell in our bodies date back to the emergence and evolution of humans in Africa six million years ago. We nearly became extinct 50,000 years ago, decimated to 10,000 adults, until we adapted. (Smithsonian online, “One Species, Living Worldwide”)
The past ignites the present and can’t be changed. Ghosts are synonyms for the past. The smell of other animals and a penchant for answers is the present. The future is someone just out of reach who could be right about everything.
Recipe for Fur
(Makes two servings)
6 familiar animals
2 tails (or substitute 8 ears) in another bowl
One large cylinder of whiskers
½ cup insinuations softening
Stir the ingredients, then slowly add the mysterious ones. Mix well.
Add animal opinions.
Pour into two clear pans and bake for ten minutes in an oven. Remove and let dry. Pat your skin with everything remaining.
This Didn’t Happen
I was talking to myself in a room of books in order to understand another person. There was nothing about a mirror in this action, nothing to hide, although everything that happened later had a story about me. Does the form that evokes this vary? Would the story grow more complicated?
How I would love to have what I once had, the exact duplicate of the unfolding plant resurrecting itself seasonally. There are so many variations and influences, windows that don’t open or close in a room, sky simmering with stars at the front door, a bed twisted grotesquely, nothing more written on the walls of the room brimming over with books.
Move the room to hovering over a sea or gliding toward an ancient castle no one knows.
Still Life with Other People and Animals
What can be rescued from the world is a who. We live in intervals, people, or cats, returning to tell me something, offering or taking something. One of my memories was of reshaping myself to my childhood, when I dressed as a blood-sucking woman at Halloween, just before my father was banished to a nearby hotel by my unfaithful mother. They both liked to exercise themselves on others, most of the time they forgot my sister and me. I learned to live closely with animals, evolving around each other. The first witness was Beauty, a tiny black poodle. Later I knew I was missing obvious attributes. But because my cat was gentle I left my head in his small mouth.