Marcela Sulak




Rolled up in the top cupboard in Tel Aviv, tied with string and covered in a garbage bag is a flock of feathers. Feathers that once flew over the blue pools of water and the fields gold with wild mustard, daisies, and dried grass. Feathers that once belonged to Canadian geese on their migrations between Canada and Mexico or South Texas, where they'd winter, filling the skies with their vees for weeks, the traffic of their wings and honks. They'd wake us in the morning, and they'd clutter the air every night. Geese my uncles shot half a century ago at least, maybe even a century ago. And my grandmother and aunts plucked. Feathers my grandmother stuffed into a comforter. I was so happy when I'd asked for it, and received it. I'd also asked for the breadknife thin as the moon the geese passed over each November. It was thrown away. And the wedding ring, which my grandmother actually gave me herself. Or rather, gave it to my mother to give to me, and then my mother decided to wear first until she died, at which point she'll give it to me if I am still alive by then. Inside the top cupboard are the feathers. I can feel them beating against the door. I can feel the comforter shift with their weight. And I don't know if it is the feathers or if it is my aunts or if it is the stitches of my grandmother, but that comforter is filled with nightmares. I have to air out the dreams for two weeks before I can sleep. Even Lorena, who came home with me for Christmas, since she couldn't go home to Mexico in semester break, said, "your grandmother was deeply unhappy when she made that comforter for you." But that's the thing, I tell the feathers rustling, even now, for I will take them down when I am done writing. You were not made for me.




I can't wait to go to sleep each night since F and I had sex on top of my grandmother's down feather comforter the first night I got it down, aired it out, and lay it out on the bed. My dreams have been spectacular—not a single nightmare among them. They are not my own dreams, of course, just as the nightmares the comforter used to bring hadn't been mine. Which makes them even better. Last night I was in Mexico in the mountains—chocolaty red earth and bronze shrubs lining the cutbacks. Close enough to the Texas border for there to have been a Czech kolach and Christmas decorations gas station and diner. The night before, my daughter was my sister and my mother sent us off to camp.
     One night I dreamt I was a kite. My dreams remind me of Mary Ruefle's essay "Snow," in which the narrator opines that everyone should celebrate the first snow of the season by having sex with someone. She herself advocates the same partner every year, even if you both eventually marry other people. She imagines being in a classroom, noting the snowflakes, and announcing to her students, class dismissed, children. It is snowing. I must now go and have sex.
     In the case of my grandmother's down feather comforter, I must reevaluate my image of my paternal grandmother, an immigrant with a scar on her cheek from her brother's hatchet (she 'd been standing behind him as he was chopping wood) and a fourth grade education. You wouldn't notice unless she pointed it out—it blended with her laugh lines.  I am sorry she is dead.
     My grandmother's house had been decorated like a Hapsburg estate—two sets of sliver, dark furniture, a formal sitting room (perhaps the only one in Texas) and the walls hung with scenes of the Austrian alps or else blonde gorgeous saints looking particularly virginal against dark backgrounds, clasping crosses or rosaries to their breasts and gazing at the viewer with tears in their eyes to inspire feelings of remorse. Maybe, like the wrathful feathers and ancient sorrow of my grandmother's down feather comforter, or Mary Ruefle's snow, they were simply lacking a certain sex offering, and that made them very sad. Especially galling, then, must have been the usual platitudes and prayers directed at them instead.
One night I dreamt I was running across the savannah, gallivanting with giraffes and zebras, as if I'd stepped into one of those National Geographic children's puzzles. One night I dreamt I was a smooth beige stone skipping across the surface of a pond.
     I made such pretty ripples.




Thee I grant sugar, mine, and thee I grant three moons, and thee I grant a fence.

Fences make me feel mean; they always have. Cutting cows off from half of winter. And when the grass is finished growing over on the other side, then they'll get a big surprise! They can eat till they're so fat they'll be sold, and/or we can eat them, like trolls in the fairy tales.  Wire fences make me feel mean, reaching through wire fences to take the stunted mandarin oranges ripening too close to the fence line to be harvested, just before they begin to putrefy. Especially because my fists are just small enough, but almost too big, and I have to wiggle them a little when they are wrapped around mandarins. As if I were putting saltines in my purse in a diner, because in those kind of places, even if they serve you two packages with your soup, and you do not eat them, they will not throw them away, but set them aside, and serve them to the next person. Although tortilla chips they do throw away, so you should probably put those into your purse, except they are not individually wrapped, and it can be messy. 
     Thinking about the spam and Vienna sausages and salmon bones in the canned pink salmon, and pork and beans, and ranch style beans, and all the cans that opened unto me in my childhood is supposed to make me feel mean, the fact that I liked them, and with ketchup, etc. but it doesn't. Metal cans do not make me feel mean, nor the things that came out of cans. Except for peas, which are disgusting. Especially when my grandmother sliced the spam and fried it in eggs. But letting the mandarins rot and fall makes me feel mean. For they are not without beauty and thorns and hardship. They are full of seeds, so many seeds, even the French friends note their unusual flavor but say the seeds are too much. They flock, they flow, they descend as if a cosmic tableau, through the dark winter evening leaves, and you can squeeze their juice into a glass, and it is delicious.
     No one says, princess, I'm glad you reminded me, take half my kingdom. No one says, here, have some money from my profits, have some votes. No one says, here, little stones, come flock around my head and let the radiance from my face glow you up a little. And sometimes I do want that crown and that vote and that sunshine on my face.
     Having too many moons make me feel fat, though giving them my glow cost me nothing. I do not like the idea of them, the idea of things that want to reflect someone else's light.
     My horoscope says it is because I feel sad when people want to take my sweetness for granted. I do not feel sweet today. I feel mean. I think of my second cousin, polishing the public steel statue of two sugar cubes in the town square in Dacice. My cousin would not have polished the statues, actually, for they are in the town square, and he is the groundskeeper of the palace. But it was in the palace of Dacice that the sugar cube was invented. And my second cousin cleans it up, like a faithful ant. And I feel so mean, I am looking in my imagination at the cobwebs on the legs of the Palace furniture instead of the frescos and chandeliers. Not the furniture in the public rooms, of course, for my second cousin is good at what he does, but at the broken piece in the warehouse. For like him, when I was a child I loved white bread with a hole cut in the middle and an egg fried inside—we never dared ask for it. It was one of those things one hoped for and was pleased with when it came. Or white bread with a circle of corn syrup on a plate, and we could dip the bread in it. And if there was extra syrup left, we'd lick the plate. It made us feel so rich to have it left over. Not rich enough to waste it. But rich enough to lick the plate. Things like that, I will agree, only taste good if they are given to you. Not if you give them to yourself. But given by someone older than you on whom you are dependent, and in their honor, your little face glows with their reflected flight.




To listen one must love seeds. Or, to love, one must listen to seeds. I forget. This morning on the bridge across the ancient mills, the cart driver collecting the garbage stopped to count the courting cattle egrets. He was crooning their vital statistics to his shadowed assistant. The egrets were fluffing their feathers, and editing the stats. To listen to this morning is to love seeds. To pull the pole beans, pop the casings, line the pockets.  Every day I gaze upon the scales of the anona, fruited away in the canopy of my orchard, and every day the anona grow plumper, taking their time, un-anxious to please me. The oranges in their nets don't orange. They are enjoying their green phase. The seed banks of the world change places—the one in Syria has moved to Iraq. The one in Norway has begun to lend out seeds and then collect. There are gun banks buried underground—one in Texas—these are called caches. When you dig guns up they grow and grow. To love bodies, one must scratch holes and listen to seeds. These. This morning picking beans, my shoe slipped into a pocket of air. It was a cache of vole. To love voles one must hunger, muster hunger, desire darker ways of seeing, seed the dark, and must love ceding.






ON FEATHERS I & II: I was reading Mary Ruefle's The Most of It, and My Private Property. My grandmother was particularly fond of St. Teresa.

ON SUGAR FENCE MOON: the town of Dacice, on the Bohemian/Moravian border, where the sugar cube was invented, sports [a charming statue]
[Here] is the palace.

ON TO LISTEN ONE MUST LOVE SEEDS: this piece was inspired by my daily run along the Yarkon River, which was once part of the ancient Roman Salt Trail. I run to my garden and orchard plots in the community garden. The Syrian Civil War, which some believe was caused by climate change and drought, sometimes causes dust storms that block out the sun in Tel Aviv for days. I was reading about Syria's seed bank as I was gardening and running [here].