A Clarifying Moment, Alyssa Noel
The first thing I want in the morning is more time. Time for more sleep, time for all the things I want to do that day, time to write, time to eat more than one meal. Look now: see the shadows play and kiss on the ceiling. Listen to the clock tick softly on my left. My lover tells me she kept time last night to the rapid rising and falling of my chest and I tell her I’m sorry I’m a jagged person. Now the sun hits her eyes. Now my thumb on her cheek—matching the tempo of the clock. Will we ever be more than anything that we are now? I learned through literature that the self is the result of a collection of experiences and prescribed perceptions. I already know that when the sun dies we will not register it until seven minutes after. We are the time between seconds. Nothing more. I pull my lover across the ocean of blankets and sheets and sunshine and lost time to stretch the seconds of raw morning we still have between us just a little longer.
When I think of funerals, my next thought is of oranges. I must have been seven years old at my great-grandmother’s. I didn’t understand death yet, so I was given oranges to suck on to stop me from giggling at her wrinkled face turned towards the sun. I remember standing over her with sticky citrus fingers, whispering You’re so funny, Mammaw to her frozen lips. It felt like a game, like when somebody at a party pauses the music and everyone freezes, and the first person to trip makes everyone laugh. Only my great-grandmother wasn’t budging and no one was laughing, least of all my mother, who yanked me from the casket and plopped me in a hot plastic chair.
Then there were lots of people with white hair talking. Some of them were crying. Someone my mom called “Aunt” but who was actually her cousin was sobbing so hard that she couldn’t read off the lined notebook paper between her hands, and that made my mom cry. My mother, who never cries, except for once when I got put on the wrong school bus and she couldn’t find me all day. I thought, Maybe Mammaw is lost somewhere like that. But I didn’t want to cry too, so I began throwing my orange rinds on the grass, seeing how far I could launch them. My mother clamped down on my wrists so hard I dropped the rest of my fruit and she hissed at me Leave. I gladly slid off the chair—anything to get away from that sad, weird place.
My wandering feet led me to the barn a little way behind the service. The doors were broken at the hinges and leaned crookedly on the walls, brown from the sun, their bottom edges devoured by weeds. I vaguely recalled a few weeks before, when my mother asked my father to Go out there and help Mammaw fix up the place, she’s too old now and my father grunted and said Get her sons to do it. My father wasn’t at the funeral now—something about work. I walked into the barn.
It stunk. The honeycomb fly traps strung up on the ceiling could not mask the smell of manure, high as my knees in piles on the floor. Because the windows were boarded up, there were only strips of sunlight shining on spiderwebs that stretched across the wooden ceiling beams.
I spun around in my dress flats and glared around the room, finding nothing. But—there it was again! A squeak, coming from the back corner. Slowly, I slunk towards it, tiptoeing around the mess on the ground. My ears brought me to a crate, and inside were several orange kittens, blooming like lantana. They stumbled over themselves, stretching to me, screeching louder now that they could see me. I gingerly picked up the nearest one and held him against my chest. I felt him nuzzle against my chin.
There you are. My mother stood behind me, black streaking below her eyes and frizzy haired. I thought she’d be mad at me for having fun at a funeral so I gently tossed the surprised creature back with his siblings.
Instead, my mother laughed. Deep and loud, like the noise was clawing itself out of her throat. I sheepishly turned back to face her, and she brushed a hair out of my eyes.
Mammaw could never stop picking up these damn stray cats, she said, and she kissed my forehead.
Cherry Blossom Tree
The cherry blossoms are blooming again, just like they did last spring, and the last, and twenty years before today.
Twenty years ago: when two girls first kissed, beneath this tree, and they believed the cherry blossoms bloomed only for the two of them. The flowers spread their petals open, like the girl with the rosy cheeks for the one with a honeyed voice. How the girls fell away under each other’s touch like the bulbs from the branches in the summer.
That summer, sixteen years before, when the honey–voiced woman fell to her knee and prayed that her rosy-cheeked lover would say yes, say yes, say yes.
And when two years passed and the woman with rose-painted cheeks said yes, she would follow the sound of her lover’s honey-drenched voice to Paris. She would go anywhere to be with her.
When three seasons of cherry blossoms melted into passing time, and the woman like a rose decided France wasn’t for her, of course the woman as sweet as honey came back to be with her. Of course she loved the little cottage in the meadow, the one that her beloved had dreamed about living in since she was rosy-cheeked girl.
Eight years ago, a little disagreement brewed into a storm, and the honey-voiced woman chased rosy cheeks out to the cherry blossom tree. They struck each other with lightning words, and their voices boomed like thunder across the meadow, until they were both drenched in tears and love. The woman dropped kisses like honey onto her love’s rose petal knuckles. She kissed her rosy cheek. She kissed her, again and again, across the years. The woman poured her honey love into every pore of her sweetheart’s rosy skin, left no hair on her body unstroked. When she died, said the rosy-cheeked woman, she wanted to be buried beneath the cherry blossom tree. Her honey–voiced lover kisses her name in the stone and hopes to God she feels it as a single flower drifts onto her shoulder.
About the Author
Ivy Marie · Mercer University
Ivy Marie studies creative writing and English Literature at Mercer University. She was the 2019 winner of the Dan Veach Prize for Younger Poets and has been published in Glass Mountain Magazine. She also interns with Macon Magazine and Mercer University Press and edits The Dulcimer and The Mercer Cluster.
About the Artist
Alyssa Noel · Washington University
Alyssa Noel is a Dual Degree student at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri where she is pursuing her Bachelors in Biomedical Engineering and Masters in Engineering Management. Before transferring to WashU, she was a Mathematics major at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas where she developed a love for the beauty in simplicity.