Liam Curley

Capacity

We’re horseshoeing towards the Oregon coast, me with May, us keeping each other awake, talk departing our heads. We’re in a car, slouching, feeling clayed. We pass lumber yards, the sweat rings on ball caps of the Pacific Northwest, the tree trunks carried as cargo like battering rams in cribs, all labor. We’d gone through a forest fire being tamed, a fog making romantic with the road, and all we could think to say was how safe we were as we swung for the ocean, the cathedral smoke given off by the burning trees coming in through the air conditioner.

That morning in the camp’s coin-op showers, barely there, feeling gargled and cherub-like from tent sleeping, close to the woods—deep woods or what they call “undeveloped land”—my head churned like a lottery cage, the logic of the most buoyant idea, so early.

I think about how scientists want to map out the brain, block by grey petrified block, and I’ve read there’s a limit to how much we can actually grieve and process. How we really only have enough grief for one funeral. And isn’t that enough? It explains, maybe un-soundly, why it’s hard to really understand a figure like 10,000 deaths, can’t bring words to it, because at some point, at capacity, there isn’t any more to be magnified.

I understand this uncapable feeling, the “no more,” the dredging and dredging to meet bedrock. Because even now, as much as I want to think about this basic, sippy-cup biology, I’m at a loss. This is where what-I-know cliffs, where I can really only start retracing—grief, one funeral, grief—nothing left to explore.

I let the running shower water delta against my jaw and watch a daddy longlegs suffocating in the steam, twiddling on web—its own tongue. I shake my head before jimmying off the faucet. On the slow walk from the sheds, towel matador’d over my arm, I see families start fires for breakfast. I mash my hand into my nose, stuffed up. Hours and hours of this nature.

I kiss the pentagon of May’s forehead, her hair still wet in curls, gyres, falling over themselves like flowers on wallpaper. We ride over a bay, white piles of oysters dumped from the buckets on shore, a million lovers’ open lockets. I can tell she’d been in accidents before, when we get too close to something up ahead, the way she thumps at the invisible break on the floor of her side of the car.

There is no order to what we talk about, but me and May always seem to find our way back to the Doom. It’s this code word we use to talk about our problems, ruining each other, the end of us, jokingly, the things we know just don’t work but we ignore. And honestly, it’s like a feeling in the chest and it’s like doom, but it’s also just like the sound DOOM, something falling from a great height.

I keep worrying on this trip, waiting for the tires to blow out, for the dashboard to burst open with the sort of smoke and dust and paper that a car coughs up when crashed into, like the aftermath of firecrackers. But then I look over. She asks me what I meant when I said she makes everything clear.

May is teaching me about photos of Martha Graham, the real untitled art of her with velocity and toes. I am teaching her the words to the song “Random Rules” in this same car on the Maze overpass tearing away from Oakland, the cabin filled with sun. Onto the next adventure, I mouth along to her: “No one should have two lives. Now you know my middle names are Wrong and Right. Honey, we’ve got two lives to give tonight.”

We agree after a while that for all of the 101’s long-faced elegance, it would be better if they just hammered it straight, cut up the coast, fasten it with highways the way punks use clothes-pins to tailor the rents in their black tees.

When we reach the pull-off for the Pacific, it looks God-given, the color of laundry detergent, a soft sculpture. I pit the endlessness of the Pacific against the endlessness of Lake Erie, say, just south of Buffalo where I rested against bone-smooth driftwood. How should I look into the flat endlessness of both, shining lake and sea, the ungulpable? Is one supposed to do something different than the other? Out here or in me?

On the West Coast, the sun abandons its light like coins, bouncing off the bluffs that look fuzzy, shan shui, and giant, like the mountains from scrolls—ink going all tadpole in a bowl of brush water. May gets out and spools a mustard yellow scarf about her neck, laughing for the hell, her pocked metal earrings like the comb of the moon. She picks up some fruit, a peach, from the backseat to take with us.

I sigh. Accurate, alas! The movies, the four-edged facts, don’t do the Pacific justice. You’d get to thinking it’s not all that glorious, a house wrapped in a plastic sheet carried around on the back of a truck. I figure I wouldn’t know how to explain waves to anyone, if asked. The bedrock again.

In some urgency, some hurry to get down the steps to the coast proper, jittery with good fortune, I am pulling May’s hand in my hand. May slips and digs her fingers into the peach she’s holding, the blushed juice rushing out, to brace herself. I’ve got her by the other hand, and I can feel all the muscles lifting her up, and we’re working together on this broken way of going forward.

Out on the low-tide sand, it opens up, and it’s like suddenly, after difficulty, we’ve outrun the pack, we’re out way ahead. On our own. We run towards the water in the wind, our bodies like flags, like futurist paintings. Amok.

When we slow, we say to each other that we wish we could think deeply about nature, but it’s not in our grain. We’re not keepers. I mention Awosting, the glacier lake I grew up dipping in, and the apple orchard fences of the Hudson Valley with cores in the grass. Awosting, I know now, means “the other side of” or something like “beyond.” And I know the trick with arrow heads—how you’ve got to wait until it rains, walk out onto the fields, and they just rise up out of the soil. It just doesn’t mean all that much to me.

We listen to the ocean, hums distinct from other hums. I am not thinking about the horsehair of a tire ripped up or the endlessness I am next to, but its magnitude. I get to think there are so few moments that are nectarous, that are good. And it can be coming in from the wild or the well-vacuumed opera house steps, but I want to be open for it. I turn to face May. Even if we are up against the doom.

May is putting her fingers in her mouth. She is bleeding, in spills from her peach soaked fingers and her sandals. We’re both bashful and agnostic about emergency. We go back to the car, bandage her toes, like palmetto roses, feel close enough to make air seem useless.

May closes her eyes next to me, now letting me see her injured hand, and then I go wash up. I get distracted, looking into the knifed in initials in the beach mirror, thinking about that one funeral and grief again. I want to turn the idea around. I want to say, I’ve found the at-capacity that I can be unashamed, that I can be un-nervous, and joy-filled. And this is it. It’s like I found the top, bumped my head drunkenly, angelically against it, and I am thankful because there’s no finding it anymore. What a relief there’s nothing else there, above. Because sometimes when it keeps going, keeps giving, when I look at May or the Pacific, I want to say it’s too much, too much.

 

 

Liam_CurleyLiam Curley is a writer from Wallkill, New York and a graduate of Ithaca College. He was the employee of the month in July of 2009 at a 24-hour McDonald’s on the southbound side of the New York State Thruway. He lives in Oakland, California.

 

 

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