sporklet 10

Emma Binder

Singing Lessons

Joy’s affect gives a boy’s voice a lilt. Bismarck showed me how to fake it. Just open, he said, and tap-tapped the rock between my breast and breast. The pillar that kept my heart well-notched. A pine stump in the grasslands.

Maybe we are not just pieces, he said for not the first time today, maybe instead we are one big piece and every little calibration affects the sound. One tentacle watercolors the next. Like how rainy leaves make plates out of leaves, a banquet, you’ve feasted there. My jacket was snug at the shoulders, Bismarck noted, would I like to take it off?

Okay. Winds flattened the sawgrass, he plucked a hair, he lipped it and played the green like a cereal toy. Let’s dance, he said, let’s box. We staircased our feet like Muhammad Ali, punched clouds so their eyes got stars. I threw my hat like graduation. Planes leaked spider silk across the sky.

You forgot this, he told me, you once knew because everyone knows how to do this in our mom’s body. It’s in her body and her mom’s. And our dad’s and his dad’s. Bones are supposed to clatter like pick-up-sticks. You forgot this. Birch branches are veins with no fat, they bleed into our fingers, you can point at a leaf and it points back. Even the rocks are dancing, just really slowly.

Sunny fat dripped into our hair and ashed us pink. He made my mouth a drawstring bonnet, now a glowworm. Moths bridesmaided us as the sun sank, we salt and peppered on our toes, which came hard to me—I kept avalanching—but Bismarck insisted that I knew. I had known.

Before your accident, he told me, you were a singer on a big stage. Now you can smell the origins of comets and speak to cows, affix new names to your stump, drink mud, whatever. You just have to trust that what you lost is still encased, you’re a beach bird in winter. Your tide is going out. And a fox threw its laughter to the wind.

I knew he was a go-between. He wasn’t painting, just pointing. So for hours I set my glasses down and watched the leaves through bandage gauze. Everything a scale in the big fish. Everything shimmery. Light was a hunger in my spine, my valves. Gills opened up in my palms and fed me.

You forgot this. Born in the sand, an escalator carried your voice up and up, higher and higher without trapping. I roamed the forest for a day and a night, alone without Bismarck, crying over my reset. My heels and back ached like open palms. My big chest, a barrel ribboned in ice. Bismarck was trying to uncase me and it hurt.

When I returned, he wore my jacket. He held pictures in his hands. I’d lost my glasses forever, so I couldn’t see the movie behind his eyes, his ingredients, his words’ footwork.  It’s hurting, I told him. Where? he asked. I showed him my pine stump, my roses, my shoulder-cliffs and knotty spine. I carted water I couldn’t drink. Hurricanes swarmed me.

You don’t worry me, he said. Darkness planted beadwork in the sky. Bismarck was already grinding his foot in the grass, throwing his hands away and whittling a rose. His voice was just that bright. He told me: all the metal in your blood and tissue is a way of saying thank you. Not thank you like it’s your big day and everyone came. But like a thirsty person says thanks for the water they can’t drink yet.

Emma Kay Binder is a writer from Wisconsin, currently working in immigration law. Her fiction and poetry is forthcoming in Pleiades and DIAGRAM.