Three Moments Upon Waking
i. The Pageant, 1945
When I was five, my mother stood me on a dining room chair and used her
best stick of mascara to paint a large blue star across my upturned face.
Her breath filled my mouth as she tipped my chin up and held it steady
with one finger, concentrating on her work. I got to wear my sisterís
Communion dress, white with a white satin sash, its crinolines crisp with
dried sugar water. She fixed wings of gauze and stiff wire to my waiting
shoulders, and on my feet, golden shoes.
I stood looking up at the ceiling where I saw a stain. Once, my father
brought home a hinged rectangular box covered in soft leather the color of
a birdís egg, edged in gold filigree. When my mother opened it, the crystals
filled the room with lights. I saw them, dancing there, where rain has
leaked through and left its mark, the brown-edged map of an undiscovered
When she had finished creating me, I walked to school. I saw a robinís
egg splashed open on the sidewalk, a partially formed chick, bulging eyes
sealed shut, its unfeathered body slick with a mysterious clear liquid. I
had never seen the glistening white interior of a birdís egg before, how
the blue outside looked like a nugget of soft summer sky that had formed,
solid, and fallen down through the atmosphere, not like something spilled
from a nest by a marauding cat.
And then I accidentally stepped in a pile of dog mess that curled up
around one golden shoe like warm, half-cooked fudge. I saw myself, a
marked child set off to wander a long white path of squares that led all
the way to St. Agnesí, and felt that now my clothes wore me and I was
being drawn forward by a star. I left white statues in my wake, so many
little girls, crystalline mannequins, littering the landscape.
I imagined that when the parents in all their houses finally woke up
and came out to lift the dayís news from the dewy grass, they would see it
everywhere, the evidence of change. But I was wrong. They noticed nothing.
ii. Sleeping Birds, 1965
They fall like oblong pebbles, like stuffed grape leaves, like objects
The sun is just rising as she lifts the ladder from a notch of branches
and accidentally dumps them, so many sleeping hummingbirds, little fat
Cuban cigars, onto the grass.
She picks one up and cradles it, inert, in her palm. It wakes, unfolds
itself, its chest a flash of iridescent green. Its wings, its tapering
body, are tense with energy, vibrating. Its small head and beady eyes and
long tapered beak remind her that she is a foreigner, terrestrial. It
wants to leave, take to the air, a waiting wilderness.
Before it is quite ready to set off, she wonders, should she give it
something sweet to drink?
iii. Watering Rocks, 1995
He believes his guest is still resting when he slides open the shoji
screen and walks out into the garden alone.
He bows and kneels. He has knelt down here every day for fifty years.
It will never be over.
Two of them, one larger, one smaller, touch, perfect granite spheres at
rest on raked sand. He dips a cup at the end of a long slim handle into
the water. He lifts it, pauses, then pours.
She sees the dark stain. She feels as if her own fevered head,
unprotected under a relentless August sun, begins to cool.
In a moment he dips a second time. Lifts. Pauses. Pours. The small
stone changes color. Its mottled surface darkens and now they both have
turned a smoky gray, as if a storm has come, as if an illuminated night
has filled them and they can, for one moment, see what is inside.
Once, rushing, afraid, he ran past a woman who begged for water, a
charred hand extended. He looked briefly into her eyes, in which he saw,
too clearly, his own reflection, the ruined child silent in her arms, and
His No a motion only.
He might as well have lifted them both onto his back and, stooping,
carried them slowly with him into eternity.
Bodies floated down the boiling river.
She lay down at the end of the bridge with her child still in her arms
and was quiet then.
These are thirsty rocks. Their stony nature will never let them drink,
find relief. Their perfect curves, twin earths seen from a distant moon,
mimic what we all might lose.
He is not responsible. He did not make the fire.
Still, he cannot forget that he had a choice and left her, and her
child, too. So he chooses again. Again, his choice is motion. The slow
dipping of the long-handled cup into a pool of blue disturbs the surface
calm of still water reflecting unblemished sky.
In this way she lifts him daily and, both her arms now full, carries
him for all time through a watery darkness.
It is Japan. Of course it is Hiroshima.
His guest was not sleeping. She had heard something, a slight
disturbance of air, and awakened. Standing just beyond the paper screen,
her bare feet registering the cool of the damp grass, she saw him. He
never knew. Now she will carry this with her back to America, the land of
forgetfulness, this echoing bowl, memory.
Patricia Klindienst lives on the Connecticut shoreline. For the
last three years, sheís been traveling the US collecting oral histories
for her work-in-progress, the earth knows my name, Gardens and
the Endurance of Native & Ethnic America, the first book to document
gardens created by Native Americans, immigrants and postcolonial peoples
whose stewardship of the land is an expression of their desire to preserve
their cultural heritage.