Manzanita Park

By Clare Flanagan


How did I arrive here

from where I came —

the tree limbs, the cold lodestone rock

that pulled me as a child, called to ascend

til the branches bent? I named

every hoof-beaten path

in the backyard woods, stalking birds

& berries through the dusk hours, grown voices tearing

through the box-elders, calling out

to me. I labeled maps

in thin script, hidden still

in a Midwestern basement, slipped

between half-

finished canvases and pipes

exposed. My blood ran

with the knowledge

that I would become someone. So how

did those winding trail-lines

take me here, where I feel

I have forgotten all intention? It’s a nice patch

of grass, sun-saturated. They ringed it

with buildings, named it

for the small apple trees, drought-

stunted, frozen somehow

in girlhood. In their thin shade

I read the same sentences

over and again. I am learning

how memories are encoded – traces, sketched

in neural pencil, brain-buried,

smudged bolder when  they’re called

to the surface. Or perhaps

they leave the hippocampal bowels, float finchlike

to the cortical branches, sing clear

and independent of time. I think of this

as I gaze through the twig-fissures

at the California sky, sift

through decade-old networks –

buckthorn-woven, strung

with cattails, near-embalmed dreams

of being President, or

a vigilante queen. These days

I want less for myself. Before I leave here, before

I read the chapter on forgetting,

I think I’ll become Ophelia –

sink small under the lush square

of manicured grass, the green pool

deflecting voices that say

come back. Flesh

falling away like a wet dress, bone exposed

as the stark backyard granite, the boulder

ringed with tiger-lilies. How I

would strive, thin-armed, to pull my weight

to the rock’s crown, slip

down. How

I would try again.


Manzanita Park


By Clare Flanagan


From age twelve & onward I was warned

about them – notelong departures

from the prevailing key, hanging stealthy

between staff lines, barely heralded

by some arcane mark. Accidentals

stretched my knuckles to gristle

over stiff-sprung valves, derailed

whole melodies, hammered breath from me

til the true sound came into being. It’s been years

since I last read music, but today

on the commuter trail behind the Knollwood

Super Target with its wayward shopping carts

like loose cattle & empty apartments

metastasizing by the highway, those were the kind

of notes tearing through me –

teasing unready fingers

on the left handbrake, a rough reflex

half a beat behind. I’d seen the car

too late, but I was wheeling, coming in

sun-blind and hot, and in a single slow moment

I spiraled forward, a body-nautilus, back wheel rising

over wordless mouth. Curled before the hatchback

that stopped feet short of me, too-long shoelaces tangled

in the stilled pedals, I saw open skin hash-marking

my elbows and knees, road-carved sharps

across a measure of skin –

bloody blue-notes like the ones

I used to pencil in, meaning

don’t make that same mistake

you keep making. Even as I took

the hand of a stranger, who helped lift me back

to the world, the only word I could say

was sorry. But now, my legs being

less pavement-shaken, I want to examine

these bruises, let water sting the gravel

from the wounds. I want an ablution, a blessing

for white knuckles grasping

the wrong brake. I want to hear

the wrong note in the right place, a divine slip

from the key of speed, my still face feet

from the short-stopped vehicle, the voiceless

two-ton warning that all this momentum

is temporary. What I want most now

is to learn the best and most difficult song —

the chord that sets the wheels spinning again,

rate regardless, the one sung in gratitude

for being given one more mile

to fly forward, another day

to fall.