I was an ice baby. I turned to sky blue. My tears became two glass beads. My mouth stiffened into a dumb howl. They say it was a dream but I remember that hardening.
My sister at six dreamt nightly of my death: "The baby turned to ice. Someone put her in the refrigerator and she turned as hard as a Popsicle."
I remember the stink of the liverwurst. How I was put on a platter and laid between the mayonnaise and the bacon. The rhythm of the refrigerator had been disturbed. The milk bottle hissed like a snake. The tomatoes vomited up their stomachs. The caviar turned to lave. The pimentos kissed like cupids. I moved like a lobster, slower and slower. The air was tiny. The air would not do. * I was at the dogs' party. I was their bone. I had been laid out in their kennel like a fresh turkey.
This was my sister's dream but I remember that quartering; I remember the sickbed smell of the sawdust floor, the pink eyes, the pink tongues and the teeth, those nails. I had been carried out like Moses and hidden by the paws of ten Boston bull terriers, ten angry bulls jumping like enormous roaches. At first I was lapped, rough as sandpaper. I became very clean. Then my arm was missing. I was coming apart. They loved me until I was gone.
2. THE DY-DEE DOLL
My Dy-dee doll died twice. Once when I snapped her head off and let if float in the toilet and once under the sun lamp trying to get warm she melted. She was a gloom, her face embracing her little bent arms. She died in all her rubber wisdom.
3. SEVEN TIMES
I died seven times in seven ways letting death give me a sign, letting death place his mark on my forehead, crossed over, crossed over
And death took root in that sleep. In that sleep I held an ice baby and I rocked it and was rocked by it. Oh Madonna, hold me. I am a small handful.
My mother died unrocked, unrocked. Weeks at her deathbed seeing her thrust herself against the metal bars, thrashing like a fish on the hook and me low at her high stage, letting the priestess dance alone, wanting to place my head in her lap or even take her in my arms somehow and fondle her twisted gray hair. But her rocking horse was pain with vomit steaming from her mouth. Her belly was big with another child, cancer's baby, big as a football. I could not soothe. With every hump and crack there was less Madonna until that strange labor took her. Then the room was bankrupt. That was the end of her paying.
Max and I two immoderate sisters, two immoderate writers, two burdeners, made a pact. To beat death down with a stick. To take over. To build our death like carpenters. When she had a broken back, each night we built her sleep. Talking on the hot line until her eyes pulled down like shades. And we agreed in those long hushed phone calls that when the moment comes we'll talk turkey, we'll shoot words straight from the hip, we'll play it as it lays. Yes, when death comes with its hood we won't be polite.
Death, you lie in my arms like a cherub, as heavy as bread dough. Your milky wings are as still as plastic. Hair soft as music. Hair the color of a harp. And eyes made of glass, as brittle as crystal. Each time I rock you I think you will break. I rock. I rock. Glass eye, ice eye, primordial eye, lava eye, pin eye, break eye, how you stare back!
Like the gaze if small children you know all about me. You have worn my underwear. You have read my newspaper. You have seen my father whip me. You have seen my stroke my father's whip.
I rock. I rock. We plunge back and forth comforting each other. We are stone. We are carved, a pietà that swings. Outside, the world is a chilly army. Outside, the sea is brought to its knees. Outside, Pakistan is swallowed in a mouthful.
I rock. I rock. You are my stone child with still eyes like marbles. There is a death baby for each of us. We own him. His smell is our smell. Beware. Beware. There is a tenderness. There is a love for this dumb traveler waiting in his pink covers. Someday, heavy with cancer or disaster I will look up at Max and say: It is time. Hand me the death baby and there will be that final rocking.