The Degree of Distinctness of the Details in a Picture

by Sarah Viren

1. You are a far piece. You are a piece far away. You are Spanish moss and key limes. You are torn to. 2. A mirror shatters on my bedroom floor and I pinch its splinters between fingers, feeding this to the mouth of a plastic bag, summoning omens. 3. You were a piece of me. You are a piece of me. You together. You are Everglades sapped for sugar. You are sugar, when sugar is a term of affection. You are that field we herded with our feet in Mississippi, one of us saying “This would all be river, if only—” and the other, “But the sun. The flatness. These tiny ridges of earth.” You are a piece in the meter of silence after I hang up. 4. These pieces never make whole (a) In California’s ocean, a damp December, all of us shivering in our underwear. Who knew beaches would be so bare. (b) An Astrovan, loose lugnuts, on the side of a highway near Graceland. My mom hailing a semi and we pelting gravel at each other’s faces. On the floor of the truck that stops for us are Crunch bars, smashed under solid boots. The potato-faced driver gives us pieces, and we eat them secretly while mom stares out the glass. 5. Your piece is far away. It’s 1:30 and dark. With a start, I think I see you in the hunch of a pillow next to my head. I even speak to you, only accepting your absence with the silence, which continues after I’ve asked a few times. Is that you? In the morning I wake fully and am remembering tulips, how we stood before them in a row, tiered three. Smile. Here the tulips are beginning to unfold and I want to jigsaw this piece with that. But I can’t reach. 6. You are far. Far means a great distance. Far means a remote place. A long way off. At times, I see you in fractured light giving veins to orchard leaves. You get me lost, driving along narrow ribbons of asphalt, bags of picked apples in the passenger seat. You can’t be home. You are always home. 7. I am right here. You are a far piece.


1. I command you. Hear. Hear me across fields of sweet, of silk. Hear me this. Missouri has a border made from the stuff of rivers. In Iowa, Missouri makes itself into a border. Do you hear? This is one of history’s stories. The date is 1839: A crop of honey trees crosses the border and a Missouri sheriff marches northward to tax their bloom. Property of my state, he claims – but the gags of Iowan kidnappers garble this. Did he say state or stay? They call this the Honey War. A ten-mile frontier of disputed trees filled with honey and comb and bees. Iowa turns south and waits. Missouri looks up, restive. You could hear the mud on boots, the crack of baked skin. Militias made up of flintlocks and pitchforks and dusty faces. Is that a shot? 2. You are here and I hear your buzz before I sleep. Sometimes in this darkness, I understand you shape the distance. I hear you in the windrows autumn makes of oak leaves and I want to tussle your silk. 3. Here they predict sleet and I stare at the glass and watch the gray dip into blue, remembering tinder. After that break between December and January, I drove 900 miles from Florida to Mississippi to kneel in front of a fire in a cabin beside a swamp. We made marionettes from each others’ limbs, our boughs bent. Knuckle kisses. Mornings we drove in search of cobbler, catfish, biscuits. At sundown, I stole pictures of silhouettes made from tangerine and slate. Did you hear what I said then? This feels nice. But then? This isn’t mine. 4. Hear tell. Those are two commands, ones I speak in pauses, here, trying to whittle my place from these stumps, this dry bark. You see? You touch and smell. I am here, wanting you to hear. I rode my bike home in the dark two nights ago past silence, past some girl, wide-stanced, firing her purse in to the ground while someone – a boyfriend, a husband?—looked on, then away. She lurched toward the wreckage and I remembered someone else’s words: like a bur in a dog’s coat his rage/ has borrowed legs. Because of that or maybe the silence proceeding and following all this, I screamed, not realizing then what I screamed for. For you to hear. And then waited. Only sirens answered – here at night there always seem to be sirens. They echoed my own and we faced each other in the stillness, me searching for you in their shrill, them oblivious. 5. There are times I really hate this place. 6. If you tell me a secret about all this, I will keep it. Though I can’t be sure if I want you to hear or tell. I imagine us pieces of the parts lining the border. I am from Missouri and so claim that space. Missouri of Mark Twain, Missouri of compromise. In our front yard were a hundred squirrels. Then with the report of a rifle we invert. Why are you on the other side just as I begin to shoot? 7. Hear alone. I am not talking to myself.


1. At least I have a muddy memory. This might all be more painful otherwise. 2. These are the things that stick at me now (a) A sunshine bridge in Florida made of skyway, (b) a suspension bridge in Ohio that we slept beside, (c) a golden bridge of California that taught me suicide, (d) the bridges in my dad’s head, ones he pulls out and dissects when I ask, “how are bridges made?” He assumes I want sky and, pausing, explains cables and beams and things that stretch up. Only I am curious about pilings not span. Who must scuba the murk to plant those underwater trunks? 3. The least ways to remember is to forget.


1. I ask for a map of relations and get back a spider web of someone else’s kin. Lenora, Estelle, Wendell, Warren, Lincoln, Eastin, Bobby, Denise, Gary, Bethany. This family has a tome of connections 423-pages long. One of the most devoted nieces— Claire maybe?—stitched these names together on her computer. Now here I am, in this grandmother’s kitchen, flipping pages. You should be somewhere in there. You are kin to. 2. The grandchild of this grandmother loves me. This is what our mouths say, weeks later, as we lie under sheets in a hotel and feel we are exhaling. Alone, I worry I am stealing kin from someone else. 3. When I was 16, my father’s father came to live with us in Florida. He was our family beekeeper. If kin were bees. Knob-bodied, ocean eyed. My favorite story about him was this: (a) Once, when my dad was young, his heedless pop, son of Swedish immigrants, came into a $10,000 inheritance. Someone related by blood left this to him. His kin/my kin. He could have invested, my dad likes to say. He could have bought something nice. Instead, he quit his job. He told my grandmother to quit hers. And for more than a year, the family dined out every night. When they had no money left, everything returned to what it was before. (b) He also carved hundreds of Dala Horses, brushing them lust red per Swedish tradition. Later he watched his wife forget to remember small things, then big things, then everything. But more pertinent to you, he stowed our lineage in a book shorter than 423 pages. One filled with names I do not know. 3. Reading it, I know this is what it means to be placeless. Kin to so many names bereft of faces. 4. When I turned 18, my grandfather died in a bed in a nursing home seven miles from our house, 2,900 miles from his. Somehow, probably you arranged this, I was the last to visit. I remember only that he said something about something being beautiful and looked out through liquid at what seemed a far piece.


1 (a) My first year of college, a fat girl named Sara who lived next door to me was obsessed with objects. Objectification, she responded when I wanted details on her senior thesis. It was a video installation, installed at the end of that year in a windows-for-walls room we called the fish bowl. Art in parts, Sara’s three-video project traipsed the room, a battery. One showed a stripper, a friend of hers, getting dressed for work. It was all washed out and dim-lit, not the stuff of pornography. The second video I can’t remember, but the last was a booth. You walked in, sat down and found yourself facing yourself. The camera aimed its face at you and the video became your response. The idea, Sara told me beforehand, was to do whatever you want. You are the object. (b) Drunk on free art show wine, I kissed my real first love, a wide blue eyed woman from a north Texas town that hid in its city hall basement an old sign: The Blackest Land, the Whitest People. On summer trips there we walked the railroad trestle and shopped at Kmart where I paused before isles of barbeque and hot sauce, jealous of the inevitability of seeing elementary school friends now rounder and jealous too that someone they knew had gotten out. In the fishbowl booth, our kiss was sloppy and several minutes in length, Sara told me later, laughing at the object I had become. 2. Them there. Because we will not say Lenora, Estelle, Wendell, Warren, Lincoln, Eastin, Bobby, Denise, Gary, Bethany, we say “them.” Because we do not want to mention California, Texas, Mississippi, Florida, Missouri, Iowa, we say “there.” The “t” makes here somewhere else.


1. Once (some places still) reckon meant to count. Count chickens in the coop, count children, count country miles. There is an old man somewhere, squatting to earth reckoning his land. When we speak, we feel him mouth his meaning through us. 2. I reckon. I count. I reckon. I assume. I assume you exist. 3. Dead reckoning is a calculation again. A means to discover where we are, right now, based on where we came from and how fast. Animals do this. Pilots and ships did this once. Now they rely on GPS, technology that makes travel easier. You always know where you are, even if you pay no attention to where you came from. 4. To find you I might reckon, but I am still, still here staring out from this glass. And you don’t have a start.


1. You make mess of origins. 2. I listen to E.L. Doctorow’s The March driving to Western Louisiana and want both of them, this past and this panorama. I want them as bridges to you. I want too to be trapped by deltas. Not because this land makes grace from history, but because it doesn’t, because it’s as mess of. 3. Those made of it can’t shed themselves. 4. Up here I make a mess of a life or a mirror on a bedroom floor. Down there you— Even trying to speaking this our distance grows. I’ve tried to name you and now can hardly even hear you anymore. 5. In his Book of Disquiet, a character Fernando Pessoa has made real longs for a sitting room he never saw because for years he heard music played by a little girl who sat in that room. He calls this feeling terribly anonymous and far away. 6. I am looking for a word that means nostalgia for a place one never knew.

Author Bio
Sarah Viren is an associate editor at The Iowa Review and an MFA candidate at the University of Iowa. More >

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