E.G. Cunningham

Women and Children

Sicilia—(2016)

O ﯾﺎاﷲ, Marwan thinks, what god transfers here. The gateway island is a flux of speech and place, of untraceable systems of estrangement. His mother and father pull-push ahead, through the crowds that aren’t crowds, through the light that’s not light, toward where, Marwan feels, even if he doesn’t think the words, a place, اﷲ ﺷﺎء إن, where he might lie down.

 

Coleraine, County Londonderry, N. Ireland—(1691)

A rolling tongue, cast back from some other beyond—an opening, channel, entering, then later leaving. At the rim or edge of anything : by means of : the waking dream furls a bend or ply of mind—all symbols ossified, become the fabric of—the long song pealed, repealed as simple as the love/hate anthems, the Celt battles, the blood-shrouded terrain, where any town square might rightfully be called diamond, as seeing Coleraine from an aerial distance. Instances of simultaenous coexistence, but disuse is the staple of the dreamlife…

Doireann’s been scolded against daydreaming. A memory of husband William frowning as she brought out the first portrait she’d done, his downturned mouth issued the familiar proverb : Cha toir a’bhòidhchead goil air a’ phoit. She turns now to recommence hemming the seam. What a house is. Playne salte, the smallest bowle of silver. Four cuppes, four spoones, four houete of aquavita. Think it true, she asks herself, what William had said? The sun balances along Portrush: razor of lavender and lemon across grey. True, she assents, ‘Beauty boils no pot.’ Still and all, Doireann has a weakness for color.

 

Miami—(1997)

The men mean nothing good. Elena pities, a poor default, she knows. There are regulars: R., G., Mr. M.—they mostly want sympathy, empathy, or some affective proxy. To cry or slump or go on and on. R. works construction; Elena drinks a whiskey sour and notes his callouses: pea-sized or dime-sized marks where material has taken flesh with it. Concrete, drywall, soldering, sanding—a list of terms she nods along to as R. speaks his workaday world. Men take Elena’s flesh by proxy, a truth she defends against with material: pills, heels, garter, bills. Deliberate alt-rock selections. That they feel, have feelings, that they hurt—does this then mean nothing good. The question, the only question. Elena wonders.

 

Sicilia—(2016)

In time fog clears from Marwan’s eyes, cutting clarity into his lungs and chest: irreversible, and he wants nothing more than to forget. The first lesson comes via echolocation : tripping through the tight cobblestone passages he keeps track of by smell color sound, nearly losing his ﻣﺎﻣﺎ and آب in a mix of odors and fabrics. A rush into the nose of something new and stinging, followed by the sweet smell of baking this street or the next street over. Marwan turns his head, his yellow tunic streaked with dirt, his hands opening near his sides for something to hold. Ciaoraggazovienequa, a shopkeeper croaks, and behind the crystal windows a row of dream-colored tubs. What is it, Marwan wonders, some kind of beautiful cream, some kind of halib. ‘amah, he calls, aintazar, but his parents are pressing against the edge of the crowd, already out of earshot.

 

Miami—(1997)

Tell me you’re legal, at least, Mac says. Elena responds with the typical stare. What do you think. Christ—he takes a swig of his beer—I’m going to hell for this. No, Mac, she says. That’d be too easy. She drags a Bic pen across a cocktail napkin. Bored, hungry, and sore. The Ellie-821’s hang from her feet’s arches like weighted blocks; she eyes a nick along a heel’s six-inch polycarbonate. Mac the suited man. Mac the middle-class architect. Whose patronage is mere antidepressant, self- administered. Is it working. No, she decides, taking in his sigh, his upturned Heineken, it isn’t.

 

Coleraine, County Londonderry, N. Ireland—(1691)

Color: the artist’s stronghold, Doireann knows. The embroidery is coming along. Midday and enclosed in four walls, and what a thing to light aflame, she muses, what terrible pride to set alight the city gates. The woven Sash loops through her: It is old, but it is beautiful, and its colours they are fine. A prick from the needle, some red seeps into the stitching. It was worn at Derry, Aughrim, Enniskillen, and the Boyne. She raises the needlework to her mouth, wets the spot with her tongue. A taste of copper. Eachdhroim an áir. Derry still standing. And her walls not breached.

 

Sicilia—(2016)

The sun smears tangerine along unrecognizable terrain. They keep on into dimmer and dimmer neighborhoods, and of one thing Marwan’s sure : night is coming. The dark in his chest, put in hiding for the afternoon, starts its climb toward his body’s surface : soon Marwan’s eyes limbs thought feet will grow heavy and loose like fruit in summer. His mother has an expression; it comes to mind now—When fortune turns against you, even jelly breaks your teeth.

How easy the trade : place for place. He almost can’t believe it—the free and easy gaits along cobble, the glint of chrome and glass and shop lights blurring the hard edges of buildings—Something in my eye, Marwan thinks, very sleepy now, and no word from ﻣﺎﻣﺎ about where they will sleep. When they will sleep.

 

Miami—(1997)

I wanna see what’s under there, Eddie says. A fat, sweaty man, with gold rings from little finger to thumb. Elena weighs pros and cons. Two hundred, she says. Twenty, he says. Rammstein on for metal night. Wednesday and still early, the summer sun faintly knifing the windows’ blackout partitions. Larissa on stage, half-drunk, her swimwear badly adjusted. Other girls stand off to the side in wait. You gonna do this or what, Eddie slurs. All of a sudden, Elena thinks, this has stopped being fun.

It started as anything does, one fixed action sliding into a new moment, slight turn of cheek, a change in terrain. She’d overheard a friend of a friend mention money. How much she used to, before she stopped. Where she’d worked. One afternoon, she kept on instead of the usual exit. The club was a cinderblock cell across from an RV park. A Shell station farther down. Some used car lots. She parked in view of the highway, in case of someone. And smoked a cigarette in the driver’s seat with the engine off. And got out and pulled the heavy back door. One fixed action sliding into a new moment. Sometimes just like that: a change in terrain. Her eyes adjust. A little neon trails the wall. Say I violated a code, she thinks; so what—by whose lights. Another rotation. Probably her mind had already been made up. Or was it before, even before the first turn. Sitting next to Eddie, she wants to know, and doesn’t.

 

Coleraine, County Londonderry, N. Ireland—(1691)

Take what you took, Doireann sings, some things won’t change. Shots had rung out. A wind that smelled of earth. And the boys all copper—no, she hadn’t watched, but heard enough. And saw those who never came back, their essence fogging the land like a shore’s high tide, enough to lose herself in. Some did: John the potter’s son from hanging, Sheila too hung herself in Thomas’s absence. All the absences, Dorieann thinks, must count for something.

 

Sicilia—(2016)

Even in tears he feels the facts as facts. Where once walls, a tent. Where once meals and plenty beyond those, rations. Now they live as a vast school of fish. The pull of tears only briefly kisses, then springs back. Marwan lives in the present, as he almost always has. Fortunate, his mother clucks, like clay is fortunate. His mother has learned the words for please and camp. He is learning the words for color and pleasure—mi piace il colore bianco, he says. Speak Arabic, his mother reprimands. ﻏﺘﻨﺎ ﻧﺤﺎﻓﻆ ان ﯾﺠﺐ, his father says. I do keep the language, Marwan protests. You will lose it, his mother says.


E.G. CUNNINGHAM is the author of Ex Domestica (C&R) and Apologetics (Finishing Line). Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Barrow Street, Deluge, La Vague, The Nation, Poetry London, The Poetry Review, RHINO, 3:AM Magazine, and other publications. Her lyric memoir, GALL, is forthcoming from C&R Press. She teaches at the University of California, Merced.