Lynn Kilpatrick

The British Museum

Collected in one place, the his­to­ry of Britain’s plun­ders: Elgin mar­bles, Egyptian mum­mies, Darwin’s finch­es, and maps of unknown ter­ri­to­ries. Here, my skin qual­i­fies as the cartographer’s ter­ra incog­ni­ta. I pay two pounds for a cup of tea and cry qui­et­ly as I imag­ine the topog­ra­phy of your palm, rivulets, val­leys, plains.  When I see the Mayan skele­ton encrust­ed with turquoise, I sur­ren­der word­less­ly to the dreams of the dead. What we know of the past we ignore and what we can­not know, we invent. I call you from a pay­phone wedged beneath the stairs and the crack­le of air burns up all the oxy­gen between us. At such a dis­tance, what can you know of the beau­ty of cold stone?

The British Library

Sylvia Plath, you could not know how the black ink would pierce my heart, for I am a moth­er too, or sure­ly you would not have writ­ten such things. Now I under­stand the weight of moth­er­hood and London and such long­ing as not even words can con­vey. You are here, nes­tled among Shakespeare’s man­u­scripts, the Guttenberg Bible, codices of Eastern the­ol­o­gy, and the Magna Carta. But you already knew there was noth­ing to believe in, not words or Gods, and cer­tain­ly not men. Sylvia, I pic­ture you kneel­ing on the floor, your hair unkempt, your kitchen messy. And what I feel for you is not the sym­pa­thy of a sis­ter, but the anger of a daugh­ter. Oh, do it already. Put us out of our mis­ery. But even that does not bring the rain to an end, and when we emerge with our parcels, the gray sur­rounds us as it must, even now, cov­er you.

Kew Gardens

The flow­ers are orchids and the clouds look like unruly chil­dren chas­ing each oth­er across the blank lawn of the sky. The real chil­dren behave, sit­ting neat­ly on bench­es eat­ing crisps, not spilling or cry­ing. I traipse through the Japanese gar­den just to feel fur­ther dis­place­ment, the way the Ginko trees must feel in this for­eign clime: rain, rain, rain, then today, sud­den­ly, sun. Even the bon­sai tree, trimmed to resem­ble a crane bal­anced on one leg, appears sur­prised, as if caught in the act of escape. How can you feel fur­ther from me here, where all dis­tance is rel­a­tive? In five days I will kiss you again, press my lips to your col­lar bone and cry. But for now this melan­choly feels like a vari­ety of weath­er. A cac­tus in a green­house in a gar­den in a sub­urb of London. Does that describe me? I lie on the grass, mem­o­riz­ing the rela­tion­ship between bough, blue, cloud. The stu­dents cir­cle around me. I want to stay here all day, I declare. I could live just beneath this tree, for­lorn chil­dren shar­ing their neglect­ed sand­wich­es with me, get­ting to know the pea­cocks and their unique brand of dis­dain. How can I miss you, the arid moun­tains, pine trees, bright, painful sun­shine and almost miss here, too, this place where I am? The clouds saunter past.

Betrayal

Was it that I came here alone, with only one pass­port? Was it that I ate Thai food with­out you? Or was it the wine, Spanish and so expen­sive? Was it the way I made eye con­tact with the clerk, his blue eyes and Pakistani accent? That I tried, dai­ly, to see him, though I nev­er told him my name? What genus of betray­al is that? It was not the kiss so much as the after­math, the look­ing out into the wet London night and fear­ing what hap­pens next. It was the ter­ri­ble French fries and the green line and the movie, the whole thing. I learned that betray­al is not so much a deci­sion you make as an esca­la­tor that moves you whether you choose or not. I learned that the smell of you can bring me to tears, even on anoth­er man. I learned that if I run fast enough, even the sky dis­ap­pears.

~

Lynn Kilpatrick’s essay, “OC/D” is forth­com­ing in Creative Nonfiction. Other essays have appeared in Ninth Letter and Brevity. Her short sto­ry col­lec­tion, In the House, was pub­lished by FC2. Her fic­tion has recent­ly appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and Hotel Amerika. She earned a PhD from the University of Utah, and teach­es at Salt Lake Community College. She lives with her hus­band and son and German Shorthaired Pointer in Salt Lake City, where they often think about out­door activ­i­ties. She is cur­rent­ly is not work­ing on three unfin­ished nov­els, but instead is work­ing on writ­ing very short essays which she then tries to make even short­er.