“Swerve” by Laurie Blauner


If I’m tired of my own company, I swivel my mind away from myself. It is Travis Bickle from the movie “Taxi Driver” saying, “You talkin’ to me?” while looking into a mirror. Often I need to go in another direction. I could approximate how a friend or my husband would answer whatever question I’m considering. I just need to remember that this conversation never actually happened. Or I could turn towards an undoneness, composed of shards of other people’s opinions, and simply ignore my own, a collage that encompasses me. If I concentrate on myself too much I usually need to spiral abruptly in another direction.

One morning as I was walking to the bus stop to go to work, a crow divebombed my dark hair. I was startled and frightened. Maybe it had a nest nearby or mistook my hair for another crow. But now I avoid crows if they are anywhere above me. Even though the crow shook me away from whatever thought had been resting inside my head.

Sometimes the animal is alarmed by the encounter, disturbing whatever the animal was thinking at the time. I think of all those deer caught in headlights when I lived in Montana, mangling themselves and the cars. It is terrible and that’s not including all the distracted possums, cats, and squirrels. My heart breaks for those useless deaths. In their interaction with humans the animals didn’t have a chance.

I am nobody, a cloud in wind with eyes, a mouth, hooves. I give myself away, play, hide behind trees, bushes, tall grass. I’m nibbling, sleeping, and continuing the usual activities, love, hate, fighting. The wild life is a rising and falling. The forest moves with light, here and there. The forest moves out of my way. I’m on a road and suddenly no one can save me. Every idea concerning humans has a shape and hardness. Laying on the ground, I wear bracelets of blood.

I rotate my car towards the Olympic mountains in Seattle if I get a chance. The mountains’ images are reflected in Puget Sound, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean, resembling a tautology of snowy white repetitions. These winter mountains are buoyant jewelry on the water’s surface. I park my car at a nearby overlook with its small gardens, benches, a view of the mountains. As I’m walking the narrow path along the edge, a loose dog is nearly hit by a car and yelps in the street. The dog escapes to the sidewalk unharmed, but I was hesitant to turn my head away from all that brief beauty.

Sometimes I must look away from what’s dying. A cat when it’s almost gone. My unconscious father dying of a massive heart attack in the hospital. He hated hospitals. A herd of elephants will caress what’s left of a dead elephant’s bones, a tribute, as they pass. To finish a painting an artist must separate from the work and step far away, to view it and improve the piece incrementally. Climate change is slowly killing us all. Most accidents I want to unsee, a car sprayed with blood, someone shouting their grief, a girl lost in cold water, or guns with their beelike bullets. I try to slip away from the pain.

I don’t want to see:
Everyone all at once understanding the harm they have done.
Someone repeating, Do it again, to their historical ghosts.
A person burning their past; books, letters, puppets, everything.
Ideologies posing for newspaper photographs.
The textures of what’s inside and outside a human body.
A bouquet of handheld guns in a small room.
Rabbits that don’t know where to go.
A mother or father that didn’t know what to do.
A plant or flower with teeth.
Anything mechanical that’s lost control.
Everyone all at once trying to make amends for the harm they inflicted.

If I’m driving and a dead animal appears on the road ahead or if I glance at an accident I naturally swing away as if I don’t want to make the victims suffer anything more. This is a form of psychological dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is how we perceive contradictory information. I think I can accept reality, including death, wanting my beliefs to be the same as my actions. But I swerve.

This morning I touched a bump on my head that I imagined was moving. A dark thought, something roaming around my skull beneath my scalp. In Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) a psychologist tries to replace old thought patterns with new, better ones, which is also called Reframing. This method challenges old tunnels of thinking and tries to arrive at more positive thoughts, to change a life.

Things to change:
A rabbit with its head in the ground.
Unidentifiable outbursts.
Stuttering weather.
Everyone talks but without doing anything.
Spaceships arriving soon.
Reasons to fear the wounded.
Someone speaks for you, claiming they are your ventriloquist.
The moon sleeping alone.
Night knocking loudly on locked doors.
When eyes and mouths are considered symptoms of a body.
Being the puppet that only listens.

Leave when it’s the correct response to a situation, when things don’t seem right or something wrong is seen or spoken.

“That huge grey rock haunts me,” a friend said, describing an encounter between her car and the stone. I asked her why because it was only a rock and she wasn’t injured. She explained that the stone couldn’t eat, hear, see, taste, feel, smell, sleep, or speak and yet it hurt her car. How could she trust anything, inert or not? I knew she wasn’t accepting any responsibility. “That rock is me and I will forever avoid it.” At the same time she claimed that now it feels as if the rock is always in front of her wherever she’s going.

A man, with long, greasy hair, chortled to himself although he was facing a river that was unseaming the earth underneath a bridge. His belongings littered muddy dollops of grass. 

“My stomach settles on my legs,” he screamed over the moving water. 

I thought of a loose pet and swiveled away from him. I distanced myself from the playground that bordered his homelessness. I quietly walked up a hill, over, and away. 

When I’d gone far enough, I breathed again.

I have become whatever I’ve become. It seems that nothing changes, that what I like I will always like. But that’s not true. Mountains remountain themselves. Trees’ complexions transform seasonally. I pivot toward what interests me; writing, dance, reading, people, animals, until they don’t any longer. I don’t know why. In a larger landscape, there are so many different directions I can go, chasing something I think I believe I just saw and might like.

I walk away from fragments of what I need because what lives in me compels me to do so. Being older, it feels like all or nothing. Can we receive what we need? We can try. Or else we continue without, anyway. The world prevails. Is there an incandescence within us that suggests what to do or is it just our life’s accumulations? Our dreams? Try returning a flower back to its seed. Try overwhelming your mind with new thoughts. Imitate someone else until it feels like you. Then anchor yourself and persist the same way the world insists on the way things should be.

I told my mother, “I can’t do much more for you.” Although I wanted to be of use, help with her computer, help with her disintegrating New York City apartment, her hearing, her walking, her vision. But it loosens what’s dark, unfathomable, and needy in her. I can’t bend that much or I break.

I leave New York and, as I have done so many times, returned to Seattle in individual circumstances. Sometimes I need to go so far inward I am deaf to others. But I miss them and my pets and I find a path back. I go and un-go. Not a coward but not brave. When I arrive home, every animal I have known returns to me, in a different form.

A dog sniffs then hurries around a corner.
An owl aims itself toward the moon.
A cat chases a spasm of light.
A bear waits for appropriate weather then abandons its cave.
Bees freckle the sky, searching in groups.
A wolf seeks something over the hill.
A grazing horse looks up and gallops.
An insect zigzags for no apparent reason.
The mouse nibbles book pages, moving them from one room to another.
The parrot reminds me of everything I’ve ever said.

I’m praying in the form of shifting toward something. But without repenting or knowing what it is. I turn suddenly toward what’s before me, the ugly and the beautiful, nature, my husband, our new cat. Everything spills into everything else. Hello to my perpetual ghosts. Hello to my shadow that appreciates each part of my body. I try singing, which sounds like stones dropped lightly inside my house. I’ll be on to something else soon. Otherwise I feel static, just as trees, hills, rivers, and clouds keep changing. We always transform. What stays and what leaves? I never know what I’ll find behind a house, down a street, in an abyss, or a car. It could be a bone or two, an animal, someone with a weapon, an accident, a quarrel, or a necklace of blood curling around a neck. Or a kiss, a gift, fields with white gasps of clouds, moon-colored flowers, or a lake kneading its water. Which one would you run toward?

Swerve toward:
Hills and animals while leaving no trace of yourself.
Friendly lawn furniture.
A chiffon dress the color of a grown wolf.
A husband that wears an old hat that impresses everyone else.
A river whose sound can cure most of your symptoms.
Books that inquire what you are thinking.
A dance that resembles someone with hiccups.
Untongued stones among your roses.
Grey, curling hair that politely lectures you about your sweaters.
Someone dreaming about spaceships.
White teeth gleaming like small straight bones from a smile.
Ghosts that recognize you.
A painting aware of the present and the future but looks towards the past.
A forest filled with familiar, accidental wildlife.

Laurie Blauner is the author of five novels, nine books of poetry, and a book of hybrid nonfiction called I Was One of My Memories. A new novel is available from Spuyten Duyvil Press. Her latest poetry book, Come Closer, won the Library of Poetry Award from Bitter Oleander Press.