Ann Stewart McBee

Brown Things

The upward slope of Cherry’s oiled lower back meeting the peak of her buttocks. The tiny tuck where the upper thighs meet the pear-flesh cheeks. The smell of baked skin and artificial coconut over chlorine. Sam describes the dunes at Sleeping Bear: how the wind makes ripples in the sand that feels soft as milk between the toes. The phantasmagorical slurry of color in the fall he can only describe as like a big bowl of Fruit Loops. Petoskey stones plucked free by glaciers and worn smooth by waves. I’ll find you one. When I come back, I’ll bring you one for a Hanukah present.

Golden dunes in the morning. Wet sand at the shore in the afternoon. Smudge of white-tail deer in the grasses when he finds it at last. Momma’s dented face through his empty beer bottle. Cutty Sark on ice making a joyous sound in her plastic cup. A dried Petoskey stone is a muddle of ancient coral. At home he polishes it with Pastor Pete’s rotary tool and silicon carbide on a piece of garden-stained denim. The mark on the wall has gone from the artificial wood knot that resembles a comet to the one that looks like a rattler’s eye – six inches in four months.

Wet spots on the sidewalk hours after the rain shrink like memories. The taste of smoke building against his teeth. His unwashed hand on Heather’s lower belly. It’s yours, she says. It’s yours. Pregnant nipples resist the tongue. Junior Rearden’s F sounds. Junior’s dead tooth, for which Sam calls him jack-o-lantern. Jagged drops of dried blood in the school yard. Pete’s hideous favorite suit. It’s bister, he says as the laxative melts in his coffee and cream. Diarrhea then is brick, bronze, buff. The new suit is sorrel. Drops of dried blood are smooth orbs on the concrete floor of Pete’s workshop.

Structure. Stability. Leaves gathered in a bedsheet. Baked apples oozing brown sugar. Apple muffins. Bubbling apple pie. An angry swipe on Momma’s apron from peeling apple after apple after apple. The midsections of woolly bear caterpillars who warn of winter. Cattails along the highway. The snow after the plows and an initial melt. Cigarette butts, dog shit, oil smear. Leather coats. Boot laces. Heaviness.

The Mojave desert from the airplane window. The woolen pants of his new costume are still too short. The studio executive’s cigar. He chews on the word amphibian, which means Sam looks like a toad. The back of Beau, the quarter horse he has ridden in all three Western roles, caught in the fading sunlight. Her velvety nose. The fleet farm smell of sweat and hay under her mane when he kisses her goodbye. The executive’s cherry wood desk. Sobbing sounds. The amber leaded glass in Cherry’s front door. A tiny cardboard box without wrapping or label containing a polished Petoskey stone. The mind governed by the flesh. Decaying like a rotten thing. Like a garment that is moth-eaten. Sensuality. Wistfulness. Toads.