ISSUE  1   2   3   4   SUBMIT

When They Write the Book About Me, There Will Be a Chapter Called Bird Island


Amanda Katz

We’ve got to get on the Della Lewis bandwagon.
White rooms are home to us, their floors strewn
with red sand. We’re sleeping like spoons
on a raft of foam rubber. Every morning
comes with white light and her calm brown face.
Downstairs, Della and Gloria
are making their art for hours, and laughing.
 
Laughter comes from an act that follows
in two contradictory sequences
and can be interpreted as part of either one.
The dudes have lots of advice on the road: Pour water
on the hot part. Stop every half hour. Drive as far
as you can (but you probably won’t make it to the island).
The pump burns, the fan belt snakes out beneath the van, the van
rolls off the road. The daughter-in-law is driving. The dude at EconoLodge
lets us watch the World Cup. Another dude leaves his golf game
to bring us a car. The dudes are so kind.
The wisdom on the deer is, Steer toward the ass, and at the last minute, accelerate.
The wisdom on the moose is, You’re fucked.
 
The bed is draped with a cone
of mosquito netting. I hide underneath.
You’re a freakshow, she says.
 
To find inexpensive bottles of wine, and to try them
To find a place where they pour wine out of spigots
I heard you should try the Nova Scotian wine
Della: I picked this bottle, and I’m so proud!
Gloria: Listen to my alcoholic daughter-in-law: she’s teaching me wines.
 
The daughter-in-law speaks every language.
She hates the cheese to be cut wrong,
to ruin the pie shape. There is a right way
to eat and drink wine. She makes mayonnaise.
She can tell they’re gay just by hearing their voices.
The daughter says, I’m the Pie, but she’s my pie, too.
You and she are pie’d up.
 
Della: I love her books, though my women friends
to whom I’ve recommended them find them
depressing. To me, they have one theme
which she explores through every novel,
and that is loneliness.
 
A birdcatcher walks into the bar. The bartender says,
there’s a colony of birds that has its own island.
You can walk to it, waist deep in the water.
I have cruisers for the yuppies, the woman says, showing us
a barn out back full of shiny Schwinns. Some of them
have baskets, because they like
to put their sandwiches in there.
 
Out behind the strip mall we catch
the dyke from the fish counter
on her cigarette break. She startles, confused,
when we round the corner.
But later she sells us such sweet mussels
and is gentle when we ask her if they come from the island.
Fresh that morning, she tells us.
We want to know if she’s coming
on the pub crawl in town.
 
The cheese here comes in old, or extra old.
She says, I will eat anything double or triple creme.
 
Della: I like to read about her life online, a life
full of men and going out, because it’s the life
I always wanted.
 
Over dinner: My sister ran away with our cousin.
Well, my sister ran away with his sister.
My sister just ran away.
Della and I could live here year round, Gloria says
partnered, but without the sex
except in winter, maybe, says Della.
 
The farm house turns its face from the sea
its back to the island winds
full of books, gathering its barns in close.
 
Do you mind if I ask you a personal question? says Della.
Asked how we met, she grows sad
her body closes and turns violet,
cold now to the touch.
 
Put on this genuine dirt shirt
trodden authentically in the mire
The jellyfish spotting the beach
like great stranded eyeballs, irises ringed
with red hairs
they only tingle a little, Gloria tells us
you put wet sand on the burn and it goes away.
Oh honey, are you afraid of the jellyfish?
 
She pulls back my hair with one hand
forcing my head back
pressing down with her hips
I made a promise, she said earlier,
looking for a secluded spot
on the beach
 
The daughter-in-law cooks the mussels.
Della: These are the best mussels I have ever tasted.
Gloria: I’ll never make mussels my way again.
Della: I’m so proud of him! But we don’t speak anymore—
He is “lacking in garden-variety logic”
It’s “akin to herding cats”
Gloria: I went out on three dates and on the third
he said: Don’t you ever eat anything but mussels?
 
There’s loads of cancer here on account of the pesticides:
breast cancer, uterus cancer, and for the men it’s prostate.
Lots of fertilizer, and the potatoes—
when they harvest them they use an herbicide
to kill off the greenery. Then they dig ’em up.
 
We eat new potatoes with chives and sweet butter and pepper
and fresh peas, anyway.
 
The roads are red.
She says, I’m a sucker for hills. I see it and have to run up.
You can see it from the beach.
Look, it’s our friends, the red arctic jellyfish.
We climb up a cliff of wet red sandstone,
flake it off with our fingers. You look
like a mermaid up there, she says.
She puts a flat gray stone in the ring
of my bikini. It could stop a bullet
if someone shot at my hip.
 
Della: Is it important to straight women of your generation
to be as competent at so many things
as you all are?
 
After taking bets all week
on who will be at the pub crawl,
when we finally get to town we find out
it happened two days ago. We get ice cream instead
and drive back over the hill.