The Iowa Review

Augustland The Long Nineteenth Century

- Nikki-lee Birdsey

I don’t not love. The summer’s dark reveals what? The spider’s threaded retreat, the sea’s output, inside me the large swaths of water, the swamp-

colored eyes. How many north-facing rooms have I sat in, explain-me how the different apartments in which I’ve lived have the same stains.

It’s the “return of Saturn” now, planet of my heart: melancholy, burnt moons, vermillion bracelets. In the airport all the signs reveal themselves:

I know you know we are all dead soon, relatively speaking. Dead as the Cinnabon™ in the Walt Whitman rest stop on the Garden State Parkway, reminding me of airports,

of aerial perspectiv­es, of celandine, of the “crime that is Europe.” My energy company is named Mercury, but I need the lights on, always, and they laughed.

I walked away from New York City, that song. In a half-dream I still see your face, the fibrous light and Arthur Russell’s world of echo opening

up the walls. At times, everything really does sound like it’s underwater. Nothing moves where we are, the quilted notes; you should see the shapes I have been in.

It’s uncanny how much no one cares about the trees lining the Garden State Parkway,

the inexplicab­le scorch marks in Devil’s Forest. New Jersey is the state of Saturn.

Explain-me how Jesús’s L.A. circles above me tonight, he, standing below the white-painted arch, the pink bougainvil­lia climbing, in real time, the stripes over the swimming pool and the nodding of privet berries in the wind. Does even the dust glisten? I read a book in one sitting that made me miss my cello. Instrument­s can only travel next to you or not at all. When I was born under the sign of Saturn they changed my name and Saturn claimed me. Saturn is the only planet with rings, its circles move in every planet’s logic; drawing it all in with devastatin­g tides. By now, you remember Whitman wrote about a spider. Back in Iowa, in the sleepless heats of August, protean seeds, tornado sirens,

I punch a hole in the coat closet door because the economy is bad and two years previous my tuition was defunded. American debt is timeless. The plains’ windflower­s and wood anemones, colonial houses with oval windows and undergradu­ates in neon beneath them, and beneath that my three-letter world is borderless:

For what is faster than my thoughts when I’m like this? My uncle’s nineteenth­century orrery on a table in the apple orchard, its glinting swings and levers whir in the wind, its clicking symmetry perfect to him. Damien and Chris said almost the exact

same thing so they must be right. The long durée, just another goodbye in the night.

It’s an August Tuesday and I can’t heat the house enough. I monitor the dehumidifi­er. I don’t leave the house to watch it and the pigeons outside the bay window, the insects as loud as New York City tonight. I walk through the garden, my vision snowy from the light but for the dappled shade of endless trees; how wonderful, me beneath them.

I think of Saturn when I wake up to my own scream and the recurring nightmare of a man standing over my bed and I think about when that started.

The moon magnified through beaten glass. In time, you still wake to the scream, but mostly, you worry the neighbors heard you.

All the Augusts are rooting for you even when you’ve managed to forget nothing.

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