ust like that. chawkalit. sweeeeeet. hmm mmm. sun’s rise.
      “she’s up already.” that’s daddy says.
      “since dawn.” mommy says.
      “mom I don’t want to go to school.” that’s petey. petey petey petey.
      “stop that phoeberino. do you want to go to school?”
      phoebe nods with her mouth full.
      “you’re a nerdhead,” he says.
      phoebe stands delicately on her chair and shouts, “school!” she jumps down, takes her bowl and hands it to her mom.
      she walks into her classroom and she does not remember her mother leaving the room. Ms. Winslow.
      she is pretty. she has white hair.
      “you’re pretty,” she says.
      phoebe is the first girl to arrive, but the second child. there is a boy sitting in the playpen.
      she walks over to him and says, “nerdhead.”
      that night she splashes in the tub.

It made the children laugh and play
laugh and play
laugh and play
It made the children laugh and play

      the water is thick with bubbles and a child’s smile.
      when she lies in bed she feels hidden. quiet. when the dreams come in the middle of the night she crawls into bed with her brother. she hears the baby crying and she feels reassured. because somewhere out there a baby is crying, and it is not her. she presses against him.
      “move over nerdy,” petey says. he does not push her away.
      when she wakes near dawn she dances. she will remember waking in the middle of the night as well, years later, when she will no longer dance, dancing in the middle of the night. somewhere out there a baby is crying.


*          *          *


In the morning there is the fire that will ignite the stormthat will never cease to burn.
      In the morning there is no longer dancing and chocolate.
      No more Ms. Winslow.
      No more Peter.
      There is only the silence that permeates the air and ground and snow and ice and it is no longer quiet and she is no longer hidden and there is no one who will not push her away and that is all she remembers although one day in a city she has never seen those memories will be called back to her like notes in some fairytale song whose words her mind will only then feel safe enough to utter.
      It made the children laugh and play.
      There is the last sign in Iowa City before they reach the bottom of the hill and trail the river into the impossible distance of her future. There are the brown trees across the river and the gray pavement and the swish swish swish, which is the sound of the trees at sixty five miles per hour and also the sound of the white dashes that speed by beneath her backseat window. Which is also the sound of sprinklers in the summer as they scatter their pseudo-rain on front lawns, and then also there are the colors: green of the grass, white of the house, yellow of the flower, red of the rose. But there is no sensation that is the red of the rose, and green is an impossible color to tell you the feeling of. White is ice. Red is warm. Yellow feels soft. Blue is the feeling of bath water. Green is she does not know what. If you close your eyes then green feels like the warmth of the sun that comes through the leaves when you lie at the bottom of the tree.
      Phoebe is certain of that. It is a pleasant feeling and that is exactly what green feels like, with your eyes closed. But when you open your eyes there is no green feeling.
      She will attempt to bring these imagemotions to mind years later. Years later she will attempt to feel red and white and yellow and blue. She will attempt to uncover these buried treasures. But there is no map and she has no key. She will cry out for the white house, the yellow flowers and the red roses. She will cry out to feel the water sprinkle on her skin, to feel it evaporate in the lazy heat, to feel her brother push against her chest, to feel him push her closer. To feel anything. She will scream out to feel the warmth of the sun as it passes through the leaves when she lies at the bottom of the tree. Because the swish swish swish is also the sound and emotion of the wind as it brushes softly through the leaves of old trees, and of tall stalks of grass, and of October storms that scatter rain like dark blue stones upon her windowpane. She will die to feel anything. Anything at all. But she will only feel the green that is the green with open eyes.


*          *          *


Mary had a little lamb,
little lamb,
little lamb.
Mary had a little lamb,
Its fleece was white as snow.

Everywhere that Mary went,
Mary went,
Mary went.
Everywhere that Mary went,
The lamb was sure to go.

It followed her to school one day,
school one day,
school one day.
It followed her to school one day,
Which was against the rules.

It made the children laugh and play,
laugh and play,
laugh and play.
It made the children laugh and play,
To see a lamb at school.

What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice,
And everything nice,
That’s what little girls are made of.


*          *          *


The road slowly creeps over the horizon. At first there is the dull cement. It transforms itself into a glittering sheen, quicksilver and then blackness. It becomes invisible. Over the horizon. Where the rest of her life sleeps. Where it is already dawn.
      She has never understood the world more clearly. The truth is, the world is a turtle.
      When had she first become aware of the world? It was either the first day the sun set, which is her fondest memory of her father, of red October, or the day her teacher wrote these words on the board:

Mrs. Gamelgarde’s 3rd Grade Class
Robert F. Kennedy Grade School
Iowa City
Iowa City County
North America
The World
The Milky Way
The Universe

      And things had only spiraled out of control. When had the world become so complicated? What happens when you say “Iowa” five times quickly in succession? It could be learned to be done. Anything could be learned. Except for nerdheads. What is after that? The Universe. Her teacher says the universe is everything. Imagine a box and all the universe is inside. Remove the top of the box. Now remove the bottom of the box. Remove the sides one by one. All the galaxies are floating inside. Everything plus a little more. Plus a little more. Plus more.
      Looking at pictures the earth is water. Blue green. Aqua. It’s a color, too. And that is good. That it’s a color too, because Phoebe has never seen so much water. She has seen the Iowa River, and that’s more water than she can count. She cannot swim. She has never seen the water.
      Now as the highway and the future and the blue green ocean lie invisible beyond the horizon she tries to place herself in this traveling world. It is easiest to believe the world is a turtle and everything that happens in the world takes place upon one small square of the turtle’s mighty scute.

Phoebe Raine Ford
The Highway

      “Where are we?”
      “In Ohio.”
      “I don’t know. Peter will you? Yes. What exit is that? Do you have to go hon?”

Ohio State

      “Are we still in the USA?” she asks.
      “Of course.”


      “Are we still in the world?”
      She knows the answer to this question, but it is the first time her mother speaks without crying in days and this is cause for conversation. To say anything. Anything at all. Because somewhere out there her mother is crying.

The Turtle.
The Box Without a Top, a Bottom, or Sides.

      But this picture of the universe is sad. Startlingly. It is so sad that Phoebe quietly cries into the McDonalds napkin on which she has written her place in the Box Without a Top, a Bottom, or Sides. It is her turn, now, to cry. It is her turn now and her mother and Peter listen quietly in the front seats.
      Because the world is a turtle, and she is riding on its mighty back. Because if the world is a blue green ocean she will drown. And if the universe is a Box Without a Top, a Bottom, or Sides, she will fall right through the bottom. She will fall right through and never stop falling.


*          *          *


She will dance through various notions of RightWrong.
      She will see her own theories melt like spring snow, slowly beneath a sun of criticism. Things like Justice, which she is told is Only A Point of View. A POV. A Prisoner Of Vision.
      Or Truth.
      She will develop a sense of Infallibility, since everything is a Person On Vacation, there is no RiskyWilliam. No GeorgeBernard. No LemonDrop. No reason to claim the upperhand. There is no moral highground. But as the sun draws near of sixteen years there develops a Law of Consequence. It is certain that this will happen if that happens. If… then. And Phoebe supplies this new sentence structure everywhere.
      If x, then y.
      If I go shopping, then I will buy a dress.
      If I buy a dress, I will wear a dress.
      If I wear the dress, I will look good.
      Therefore, if I go shopping I will look good.
      You may supply your own xs and ys.
      If I x, then I will y. Or, should I x, in order to y. In order to y, I may x.
      Could. May. Might. Should.
      The possibilities are endless.
      There are new days.
      The first to notice the infuriating and ceaseless use of Phoebe’s new logic is Mr. Riordan. Trigonometron Extraordinaire. He notices and comprehends. It is logic, the only thing he has ever understood. It is clean, neat, and simple. It applies to everything. Even women. Even the sky. He nurtures it. He uses it. He begins class with the sentence, If we do x, we can expect y. He focuses this logical schema in the language of squares and triangles, gnomon and perpendicular. In mathematics. The Universal Language.
      And he waits. Quietly. Serenely. Without seeming to. He waits for the day that she will arrive in his windowless, grey world and supply color. Red. White. Yellow. Blue. The fall passes into winter, and each unknowingly stares out their windows at sundown and wonders what would happen if they did x. Y is the future. The Indefinite. And it is written in The Useless Logic.
      The second to notice is Jordan. He does not know anything about the Law of Consequence. He does not know that If x, then y. But Jordan notices the consequences of the Law of Consequence. Phoebe sits up straight in school. Phoebe’s grey eyes are bright. Sparkling. Phoebe smiles. Phoebe has color. Phoebe smiles. Phoebe stands behind school in the sunlight, smoking cigarettes, telling jokes, smiling. Phoebe appears at night, for him and with others, privately and publicly, but always alone. And he notices that none of the other guys seem to notice. And he slowly gravitates towards her, like a flower to the sun. Like yellow to gold. He follows her to class and watches her eat, like a shadow or a ghost that longs for life. That longs for What Is Missing.
      And he waits. Quietly. Serenely. Without seeming to. He waits for the day she will catch him in the hall, bump into him on the street, at night, or in the meadow, and supply Meaning. And she is written in a language of rhythm, rhyme and reason. Rivers Running Rapidly.
      When winter break is over she returns up Broadway. She rides the M7. The city is covered by spiderweb clouds. Silent and bleak. As if great spiders rule the world and everyone is trapped in their web. And who or what are the spiders? Something has been tugging at the strings in her heart. Strings she did not know she had. Strings attached to the buildings and the clouds, disappearing violably into the grey sky. And what is most troubling is the sudden, inexplicable knowledge that the strings are attached to I Don’t Know What. That they or he or it is a consequence without any If. A y with no x.
      She has seen his form, like a stranger who materializes day after day on the same train. Watching her in silence. A stranger in the new year rain. Below her window. At the back of her mind. In her dreams. With no face. And he is a consequence of I Don’t Know What. And she longs to see his face and she longs to never see his face again.
      When she returns to the familiar world of parallels that never meet until the universe ends, and the school is busy and loud, and everyone has familiar stories, and she sees friendly, familiar faces, and hears nurturing, familiar lectures, she feels alone, more alone than ever. And her thoughts return again and again to the familiar stranger standing in the rain. Like a guard on duty. Like a guardian angel without snowwhite fleece.
      At the end of the day she goes to his office. And there he is. Waiting. Quietly. Closed in by cement bricks painted grey. Hunched over symbols that rise off the page like steam and vanish in the suddenly frigid air. Without seeming to.
      “Mr. Riordan?”
      “Yes Phoebe.”
      “I was wondering if we might talk about something. It’s hard to explain. Because I’m looking for something. A book or something. But I don’t know where to find it.”
      “What are you looking for?” he says.
      She takes a seat facing him and he leans down to her. Places his elbows on his knees, and smiles without meaning to.
      “The thing is. I don’t know.”
      They discuss the things it is impossible to say and say nothing. Nothing at all. He fractures the silence within her with grand pronouncements about the importance of matching equations. Two sides of the same thing. Like reflections or mirror images. Words that smash through painted glass portraits, that shatter the delicate temple within her. He paints pictures of the world with symbols like π and Σ;. He’s got poetry written in the language of the Definite, and she feels increasingly Uncertain. Where do they pass? When is the moment, after so much is said, that they no longer communicate? Neither can say. To speak and say nothing. For all she knows he could be speaking German. The truth is she has no idea. She cannot even place the symbols in her head. They drip out of her like tears. When his mouth opens and his tongue moves up and down, click click like a duck, and she hears nothing besides the grey noise that reverberates through this prison of logic. From Which There Is No Escape. And yet that, THAT, inandofitself, is not the predicament. She longs for a prison. Some kind of prison. Even a prison of consequence. But there is no prison here. Because his words are not bars, but hot air. Because she could walk through his words and feel nothing. Not even his shadow. And there is no color and he offers no reasons.
      She blames herself, thanking him profusely for his time, and steps outside his office. She closes the door to trap the symbols inside, lest they escape with her, follow her home, and stand outside her window in the rain.
      And he knows what he cannot say that they did not communicate. It is his fault. She came to him for help, and he wanted to help her. He wanted so badly to help her. And then he wonders what he wanted. He leans back in his wood chair and stares at the grey wall. He stares at the grey wall until he does not know when.
      Suddenly he stands and throws open his door and looks into the hallway and catches her turning the corner at the end of the hall.
      “Phoebe!” he calls.
      Phoebe stands rigid. Someone’s toy soldier.
      Mr. Riordan walks over to her slowly, then quickly, then slowly again. He’s open and exposed; she sees through his mathematics so easily. So easily he wonders.
      “I just wanted to say,” he begins. “That I’m sorry. I don’t think I answered your question. So, here. I wanted you to take a look at this.”
      He holds out a book for her. Introduction to Logic. Third Edition.
      “I’ve scribbled some notes in there, but that shouldn’t make too much of a difference. Just, look it over. Just. Let me know what you think. I think it might help.”
      She stares back. At his grey suit, one of only three he ever wears. She has his scent now. She could follow him through a moonless night. He could never hide from her. Never in a million years. She could destroy him as easily as she wants to, or delay it. She could torture him. And he would beg for more. That acrid scent of want and desperation. The scent that clings to you when you’ve been standing in the rain. In the dark. Without snowwhite fleece.
      Phoebe nods and takes the book. “I’ll look at it,” she says.
      She walks away.
      He stands in the orange hallway watching her walk away, and he knows he’s been betrayed. Like he’s standing in the rain. Silent. Between the worlds of Definite and Indefinite. And he has no language to describe what he feels.


*          *          *


The night is thick with smoke and steam
      Smoke and steam
      Smoke and steam
The night is thick with smoke and steam
      And Phoebe’s white as snow.

And wherever that Miss Phoebe goes
      Miss Phoebe goes
      Miss Phoebe goes
And wherever that Miss Phoebe goes
      Miss Phoebe’s sure to go.

This doesn’t make any sense
      Any sense
      Any sense
No this does not make any sense at all
      but this is what she sings.

She doesn’t know why she sings this
      Why she sings this
      Why she sings this
She doesn’t know why she sings this
      She sings it anyway

She rides the bus all down Broadway
      All down Broadway
      All down Broadway
She rides the bus all down Broadway
      She sings the whole long ride

And when she gets out at sixty-second street
      At sixty-second street
      At sixty-second street
And when she gets out at sixty-second street
      She immediately starts to cry.

Cause something’s wrong insider her heart
      She doesn’t know
      She doesn’t know
      She doesn’t know
      She doesn’t know.

He’s standing in the little park
      The little park
      The little park
He’s standing in the little park
      He’s walking over to her.

They sit down in the little park
      The little park
      The little park
They sit down in the little park
      That is behind her building.

She doesn’t know why she can’t stop
      Why she can’t stop
      Why she can’t stop
She doesn’t know why she can’t stop
      Stop crying or this song.


*          *          *


Jordan finally speaks. Words like soft rain. Rain with snowwhite fleece.
      Soft. Warm. Necessary. Certain.
      Hard. Hot. Perfect. Warm.


*          *          *


They lie in bed and listen to the radiator banging sporadically. They lie on their backs and stare up at the ceiling. The elemental fabric of the song of the city echoes through the open window. The twinkling city lights reflect through the wood shades. Their thoughts mingle with each other in the quiet distance. Which is a field of imagination. Which is where they sleep, wrapped in warm breezes and each other’s dreams.
      They wake throughout the night and she rubs her fingers across his chest. He pulls her hair and wraps it around his fingers.
      “How long have you been watching me?” she says.
      “Not long.”
      “Since when?”
      “Mmmm. October I guess.”
      “I guess.”
      “Why didn’t you ever say anything to me?”
      “I don’t know.”
      She waits in silence and finally says, “Was that you? In the street? In November?”
      “Yes.” Definite. Certain.
      “In December?”
      “Why did you stop?”
      “Did you see me?”
      “Not clearly.”
      “It got too cold.”
      “You followed me to school.”
      “And home?”
      “No. I waited in the park. And then… .”
      “And then I’d go home.”
      All of his words ring with chimes. They tinkle in the cool air. They dance like leaves. Like little girls who wake in the middle of the night. And she falls into him. She falls into him like a stone into a pool. Into an ocean, and she has learned to breathe underwater. There is no doubt and no fear and no pain. There are no strings in her heart. There are no strangers in the rain.
      “I know a spell,” Jordan says in the morning. He is standing naked by the window smoking a cigarette. He is rail thin and tall with shaggy hair. His movements precise. Determined. Certain.


*          *          *


“In school one day I took a hair from your shoulder. You didn’t notice. I wrapped it around my finger and I tied it in a knot. Tying a knot with a single strand of hair on your own finger is not easy. My finger got all purple. I left it there for days.”


*          *          *


When the future arrives it is not what she imagines. It is what she believes. It is what she knows. What she determines. It is festooned with little flowers that thrive on laughter and happiness. And anything that does not wholly commit itself to this is foreign. Outside. Unrecognizable. Not Worth My Time.
      Jordan reads to her. She believes: In the mountains, there you feel free. She discovers the magic of a blank page. Rivaled only by the magic of symbols that fall from her like tears. Fall on a page and remain there. Things That Remain. That’s the important thing.
      But when he leaves it is not only Jordan that throws the world apart, that opens the Box without a Top, A Bottom, or Sides, but everything that will not stay upon the page. The letters vanish and the words rise in semiotic vapor, scatter in the autumn, dispersed like so many leaves that once danced in the breeze. The magic of language was an illusion. It will not remain. It Is Outside. Unrecognizable. Not Worth My Time. And she wonders, Why did things turn out this way? Was there another way things could have turned out?
      No. She knows the answer is a resounding NO.
      She had held on so tight she had not seen the future coming. Beyond the horizon. Beyond the quicksilver. And when it arrived she was unprepared. Startlingly unprepared.
      Jordan’s sporadic visits to the city push them farther apart, as much as he pulls her closer. She begins to ascend, as if the world rained upsidedown.

      This is the way the world is.
      This is the way the world is.
      This is the way the world is.
      Not with a bang but a whisper.

      And the whisper is the silence of the night. The loneliness. The abandon. The greedy fog that invades her. She stares at the other freshmen at NYU and thinks, Who are these people? What am I doing here? I, who once rode the mighty scute of the turtle-world and survived the acid rain. The rain of abandon and sorrow. I, the chalice of strangers in the rain.
      And so the future rains upsidedown with all its mighty indifference.


*          *          *


She stands in front of the New York Art League with her portfolio in her sweaty palm. Her portraits are crude and flat, but they are recognizable. There is a magic in her lines that meet where the universe ends. In her eyes that speak without mouths. In her wet mouths that call without words. In her gestures that reach without grasping. They remain on the page. Full of want and desperation. Characters in a world between the Definite and the Uncertain. Prisoners Of Vision. They appear in the rain and the dark. Snowfleeced angels. In a world that rains upsidedown.