Carol Moldaw


64 Panoramic Way

Like easy conversation, rambling, obliquely angled, the winding street traverses the steep residential hill. Stone stairs ladder-stitch the street’s tiers; every few rungs open on terraces, windows glinting through hedges, sunlight feathering grass. At the first switchback, pine needles tufted with dog fur pad up the wide cracked steps leading to a cottage and two ramshackle shingle houses. From the lintel of an illegal basement apartment, magenta fuchsia, silent bells, bob and sag over a pot’s rim. Higher, up wooden stairs built over rubble, we climb to the top deck. What was our garden now grows wild onions’ white flowers, and butter-yellow weeds-- winter’s mohair throw draping a bare mattress. By late spring someone else or no one will be bending to pick cool herbs like single guitar notes. Something knots in my throat. Indecipherable decibels begin jackhammering inside #D--our old address. Black Sabbath? Iron Maiden? I know our own records by the first chord. Pounding, we try the unlocked door, and pick our way through a year’s domestic fallout: dropped clothes, album sleeves, mattresses blocking entrances, plates, cups, hangers, books. I trip trying not to look. Waving on the balcony, an old guest, now our host, offers us the view. At this time of year, no yellow beach roses tumble the latticed railing, no draft of honeysuckle, no bees flitting near their hive. Cars nose around the hairpin turn. Looking past Berkeley’s hazy flat grids, past Oakland, you can see, as if you’ve flicked a painted fan open, a striped spinnaker tacking the wide bay, three bridges, and San Francisco shrugging off her damp negligee.


The articulation of my bones a bird’s, I woke not just not knowing where or who but what I was: my opened arm a wing in which she rested, the two of us fuscous and fused in the feathery half-dark until that consciousness that’s always roving, testing, that’s roving now, striving to assemble an accurate report, probed further into the feeling and found me made of string and straw, bits of silky floss licked together, a nest shaped to fit her unfledged shape, an account of ourselves I accepted until daylight pried apart the louvers and I discovered myself fingering the soft stubble of her shaven hair.

Studies in Pen and Ink (#5)

The strawberry daVinci drew in cross-section on one side of a notebook page bleeds through to cushion a fetus floating on the back. By now, the ink has browned, the paper’s cracked, dimly lit, encased upright and displayed in glass for us to circle, case after case of notebook pages we pause before and pass in accelerating knots and curlicues-- the coition of a hemi-sected man and woman no more absurd or accurate than a flying machine. A tube from the testicles, the seat of ardor, leads straight to the heart. Once, in a videotape of surgery, I saw fimbria wafting in the body’s fluid like seaweed under water. The ovaries looked like sponge or coral. Here, the woman’s heart’s a dial. I hear my own timer ticking, ticking fast, the parts dissected, tagged, and reassembled, but never yet disarmed. Or detonated. Here, here’s the blueprint, recto and verso, marked up in mirror script. The deeper I delve, the more I feel objective. Pushed by the crowd, we rush through in under an hour: a living page, one of the studies on water.

The Butterfly

"The eye follows the hand, the mind follows the eye, the heart follows the mind." --from the Natya Shastra With no appreciable weight, a butterfly alit and rode my finger an hour or longer. Holding my hand ahead, I let the butterfly lead. We walked down to the kill, its wings an upright sail. I was almost afraid to breathe, but my feet knew the path: its trippy roots, the snagging branches with springs like rocket launches. I sat down on a rock. I couldn't believe my luck. The world right then seemed kind, with a butterfly on my hand, its bronze wings spread flat, pulsing to raise its body heat. Like a fluttering eyelash, it tickled the web of flesh between forefinger and thumb. "My life can never be the same!" I thought, studying the leopard spots of its eyes; its veins like pleats; its scalloped scales; its legs, six knobby little twigs; the thorax's fuzzy patina; the two slender antennae, bulb-tipped, like matchsticks; and the pointed black circumflex markings on each scored wing: accents from the mother tongue. Its proboscis sipped the salt from my hand and tapped out a secret code, the secret names of God, invisible to man, imprinted on my skin. If I could have become a fern-- a stone--a stalk of corn . . . . Instead, my left hand twitched and the butterfly detached itself, all in a breath, my article of faith, momentarily tame as if out of a dream, now circling the rock, not coming back.

The Peony

A man cups his fingers as if to bring them to his lips to blow me a goodbye kiss, or, as if he were Italian, to underscore his words. He is not Italian; he is not speaking; and he does not bring his fingers to his lips. Gravely, they descend upon a peony held up by the rim of its fishbowl vase. Because I would be his, he tells me a secret it is mine to know, all the while spreading the silky petals with his slowly opening hand so that the peony is made to bloom to its fullest, until it is an open globe, overbrimming the vase. Only now do I think of those paper flowers that blossomed when we floated them in water, as girls. The words of the secret blurred as soon as I woke, but his light hand gravely forcing the peony, that remains.

The Widening

At the crucial moment she said yes. His hand in the back pocket of her jeans had made her wet--but nothing and no one had prepared her. They were on her bed, at boarding school. Naked she was self-conscious, and self-conscious she was timid. He would know what to do if only she let him. She remembered letting herself be kissed when she was twelve, pulled into the bushes by a classmate, happily ambushed, but sure right up until the moment his lips pressed hers that she would not be kissed, no matter how long they sat nested in the shrubs, because it was forbidden. He dug in, the sharp pain snapping her out of her reverie, and knowing she could not bear it if she conceived, and she said no, pushing his shoulders hard with her hands. At once he was out, up, and through the door. Why had he left? In the bathroom, she looked and saw what she’d heard she’d find: blood. Her body pounded and throbbed, with the widening had come a great unremitting pressure on her bones and she ached inside. And that was it, she’d lost something she’d not examined having, something that until then had seemed irrelevant, illusory.