Frances Lefkowitz

Buckling, Gasping, and Dead

The trick to falling is to do it in the up direc­tion, betray­ing grav­i­ty but fol­low­ing the wind. Try it six times, in a hur­ry, as if you were pour­ing cof­fee from the unsta­ble top step of a lad­der, the musky smell of clove and skunk ris­ing back toward you in a splash. If you fail, don’t wor­ry. Some would con­sid­er you lucky and pure, as you are unable to part­ner with the dev­il. Whales and fish, of course, fall up as a mat­ter of reg­u­lar action. You have to won­der if they even have an up and a down, or a side­ways or a round and round, if their flu­id world lacks any and all shape and direc­tion, if they can even fall at all. When you take a boat out to sea, the sur­face lies flat or crin­kled like a fence between water and air. It is lungs that keeps us on top and them below. Or is it us out­side and them inside? Though we have dreamed up so many ways to enter their domain and stay in it as long as pos­si­ble, it is only their mutants who test ours, and most of those end up buck­ling, gasp­ing, and dead, unable to out­wit oxy­gen in the ratio which feels like opi­um to us. Which is exact­ly what hap­pens when we drown. There’s drainage of some­thing cru­cial, and the body floats up, fol­low­ing grav­i­ty, betray­ing the wind. When this hap­pens to you, wheels on a cab will stop short, late at night, the man in back hav­ing caught a glance of your cleav­age, not yet ugly but bright and plump as moons in the street­light. He and the dri­ver will stand on the edge of the dock, one hand on the rail, one hand shad­ing their eyes from the lamp, mak­ing up wild sto­ries about how a woman, who is rapid­ly evolv­ing into a body, came up short. Through injury? By acci­dent? For lack of love or mon­ey? They will start out on your side, but end up harp­ing about schools, par­ents, and kids these days, wag­ging fin­gers at the way things are. Later, in the cor­ner booth, the dri­ver will opt for a snack instead of a meal. He will have an urge for warm mel­on, fresh from the gar­den, stem still on, like his moth­er used to slice. Gravity will not enter his mind, yet it will keep his feet on the ground and pre­vent him from falling up to what­ev­er fence divides the air from the sky. He seems to be one of the lucky ones, but one can nev­er be sure.


FRANCES LEFKOWITZ is the author of To Have Not, named one of five “Best Memoirs of 2010” by She has been nom­i­nat­ed for twice for the Pushcart Prize, once for Best American Essays, and once for the James Beard Award for Food Writing, among oth­er near-awards. She is at home here.