“Marvel,” a lyric essay by Jennifer H. Fortin

Jennifer H. Fortin


Why does it bother me when others marvel at what I don’t find wondrous? It has to do with naiveté, with undue congratulations.

I feel bad every second of every day.

Or it has to do with false enticement: they are trying, via Marvel, to elicit a dramatic reaction. I can’t believe x! Marvel as rhetorical crutch.

An engineering marvel: the miracle is lessened if you specify with adjectives. Something either is or is not a Marvel. There are not types of Marvel.

I like beginners.

A young woman in my office inadvertently pressed the loudspeaker button: “I can’t afford to have friends anymore.”

I am in terrible trouble, she smiled.

The man from Ghana at work, as he passed by, said to me “You look excited!” I was in the middle of writing an e-mail to the Board.

Driving past the National Wildlife Refuge, I pointed at a mound of dirt and work machines inside the fence. “I can’t tell if they’re destroying or preserving,” you said.

A thread of spider web extends from a tree across the driveway and attaches to the side of our house. It possesses certain pulley potential—deliverance from torque. Europeans use cobwebs to reduce bleeding of wounds. So why can I not let it be.

I have been to Ghana. It was exciting.

We would intuitively consider sleep dark. Our gut instinct is to think of blackness as a color: more artificial, an observation people have placed along the spectrum. Darkness, on the other hand, feels more primal, like it would and will exist outside of human being.

Blackness is exclusive and controlled. Darkness is inclusive, is space.

I am not content to absorb my invaders.

Do you remember when I was sleeping? The rivers always turn red then. When you remember, when I sleep.

We’re considering that art (artificial, artifice) refers to a broad range of human activity. We’re remembering that, in ancient times, ekphrasis was used to indicate a description of any thing, person, or experience—not strictly a description of a piece of art, which is the more familiar definition today.

There’s something here about the power of darkness to obfuscate. And there’s something here about the clarity of blackness, in naming things black, in the human capacity to describe. The ability of description to illuminate, to take on a life of its own.

I divide people I know into two categories: those who are holograms, and those who are not.

Proposal for a new Marvel: darkning. The opposite of lightning. A dark sheet that has to do with, instead of repulsion and heat, attraction and coolness. Used to represent a judgment on the world.

Responding to a light with a lie.

I am too tired for jokes.

In the past, I wrote this: The challenge is always the return from space. How not to be cruel toward that which is not under control of the will. How to stop considering ourselves so sensitive, marveling over details. Everything is huge.

Might I just as well be talking about heroism? About nerve?

Sometimes the news story is who the least successful alum has been. Who wants an apology. Who is asking for respect, the surprising dangers of vitamins, the handwritten message on a damaged plane wing, We know about this wing. Shaken confidence, emerging details. The accident victim opens up.

Gentle ways to improve behavior.

All this traffic, all these interruptions: can I just tell my goddamn story?

I had just learned how to swim.

Sometimes the change your face undergoes is like that of the Olympian’s mother, certain, as the race ends, he had won yet another consecutive gold—who was then simultaneously whispered to by her two daughters—one in each ear. Silver.

The Marvel is not hers; it is mine. I marvel at the swift change her face undergoes. Even though her son remains a cosmic force, she is devastated by the silver.

The fantasy in which I of course am standing on the dais. Yet I remain unimposing and plain. What I have participated in captures the full range of emotion like no other event.

In which I do not feel bad every second of every day.

Although Marvel is devastating.

In which I am weeding the garden, when I am called over by the evil scientist to count the number of trees. I count. Then I count the bushes, but now I count them in twos.

American Bittersweet, American Bittersweet. Bollywood, Bollywood. Admiration, Admiration. Green Panda, Green Panda. White Profusion, Wedding Ring. Sky Pencil.

Then I am told to count the flowers, and I say I don’t know how many there are, but I start counting. By the time I reach thirty-one, the beautiful prince decides to elope with me, as we are in love, graphically, graphically.

No one is left behind. No one is left.

But devastation is not always marvelous.

In which I am revived by antiquarians, made modern.

In which you do not need to research what my powers and abilities are, because they are abundant and abundantly apparent.

An embarrassment of powers, actually.

Are you ready to gratify your beloved?

All this traffic: refers to movement, to transportation. The Marvel is that we feel the traffic is actually the being stuck part. Who invented this heavy communication, I wonder. This traffic where nothing is traded, when we’re supposed to be touching repeatedly.

The Marvel is feeling the traffic.

On the drive home from work, I trail a bicyclist. Logan Rio was so pretty in eleventh grade the rumors had to be. The word was that the past summer she had hit a bicyclist while driving, and that she killed him.

You think there are people you aren’t allowed to love. This I can’t believe. Literally, I cannot believe it.

I don’t trust those who can’t love autumn the most.

Wanda at work came by my desk and handed me a photocopy of an employee’s headshot. I had never seen this man before. “He is no longer an employee,” she said. Matt M., what did you do that was so bad? What are they afraid you will come back for? You look handsome in your picture, not angry. Can you be that wicked? Don’t you love autumn most?

Maybe it was the daily commute that did it.

My brother is also Matt. I keep a picture of him at my desk. I don’t know what he is thinking.

We are the only surviving family from the previous world.

We make bold predictions.

“What would you do if you returned to find your glass of water had a goldfish swimming in it?” you asked. Answering your own question, you said I would know someone had been here.

Grateful teens may have less risk for depression, other problems, study finds.

To think is to thank, etymologically, and actually. Thinking is a form of gratitude. It is an acknowledgment of things and objects, people, places and ideas, beyond the self. Even in the midst of misery, there’s some relief to be had in the ability to observe.

To thank is to point to the responsible individual or thing, as in: owing to him or her or the circumstances of this day, (x). The responsible person, then, is the thinking person. She’s the one who remembers, who notices, who is conscious and considerate.

She evaluates, she has the form of something in her mind.

Maybe it’s from this gratitude, at least in part, that other feelings sprout—the guilt of not thanking enough; the fear that your thanks, no matter how you try, can’t be sufficiently communicated; the joy when they are; the sorrow when no one cares about your exciting observation; etc.

Since thought and emotion agitate and motivate each other, it seems to make sense to represent these motions.

I would worry that I had failed in my gratitude, that the goldfish was another problem.

Water is our next crisis. That Marvels can be crises—maybe even that they often are crises.

Keeping the match lit in the middle of a hurricane.

Muscle comes from “little mouse,” so called because the shape and movement of some muscles were thought by ancients to resemble mice. Little mammal heart, the one invader I guess I really have absorbed.

“Israeli scientists have tested mice as a new form of airport security detector. It consists of three concealed cartridges, each containing eight specially trained mice. If they sense traces of explosives or drugs, they will trigger the alarm. According to the New Scientist, the mice work four-hour shifts and are more accurate than using dogs or x-ray machines.”

Which has proven more accurate: those mice or my heart?

Hey, NASA guys: land something on Mars if the answer is my heart.

You were playing with the child when she bit you. You both cried a little—you, to teach her she had the potential to inflict pain, she when she learned her lesson. You read a book together and everything was fine. How often that is my response to playfulness, to lessons, to hurting and being hurt. I read books to normalize.

Afterward, the pattern begins to break down. The stress of the pattern gives way to the stress of breaking it.

Three nights ago, I was woken by the unmistakable scent of my mother’s chicken and dumplings. The scent quickly disappeared as I regained consciousness. Like most other things, the olfactory hallucination means, I discovered after superficial research, I could either be crazy or sick. A guest named “Iowa” writes on the blog forum DEPRESSION CENTRAL that he has been having hallucinations for thirty years. Do you smell things that aren’t there? he asks.

Chicken and dumplings is my brother’s favorite, not mine.

Iowa smells oranges.

He begins his post by noting that he had mistakenly posted it first to the relationship forum instead of here.

“Moonlight Magic” is envious of Iowa’s orange hallucination. Moonlight Magic smells burnt rubber and garbage.

Read a book and everything will be fine.

Little mammal heart, do you have your own memories, your own life, independent of my brain? This must be what muscle memory is, memories lodged in fiber. An invisible speck of glass pressed into the palm.

We drove by a man who looked like he had walked right out of the Great Depression.

“Muscles retain a memory of their former fitness even as they wither from lack of use,” claims Wired magazine. “The findings raise questions about how long doping athletes should be banned from competition.”

Always I have wanted to throw a nice glass against the wall. I’m not one to ruin things intentionally; I respect objects. I think it would feel really good to throw the glass and hear it break. I told this to my father. He surprised me by saying I should just go ahead and do it. And maybe I will.

With more glass being used architecturally now than in the past, more birds are seeing sky that isn’t there, bursting into windows and dying. Soon we’ll walk out the door to find the perimeters of our homes, of our offices, lined with the little dead things. The fine lace bed skirt that was your great-grandmother’s. Evidence of an ostentatious lifestyle.

Everything is fine when you read a book.

The sky that isn’t there is not a full-on hallucination but a reflection. A mere disturbance, a normal phenomenon.

Dopey mouse heart, I have so many questions for you. How long should you be banned from competition? For you is it cigarettes and tar or baking bread and freshly cut grass? What do you sense that’s not actually there? Certainly somewhere it is there—someone smokes a cigarette, workers are paving a road, a teenager in sneakers and shorts sweats in this heat over his lawnmower.

So this is about distance, like everything else.

The machine throws a fit when he runs over a rock, over a small, green apple, plastic utensils chucked from a car window. Because he thinks the same about himself, the boy thinks his machine can do more than it is capable of.

Whatever he touches is an extension of himself.

This heat makes people lose patience. You can see it speeding things up. You’re faster to make the questionable statement to your boss. To make the questionable statement about your boss to your colleague. Faster through the red light, more apt to touch her thigh this season as you two laugh. Pull out the steak knives instead of the butter knives for dinner.

Everything is superlative.

For at least twenty years, I’ve been having dreams where I lay on the ground.

Mostly I just lay on the ground. If I suddenly find myself upstairs, it is inevitably wooden. Unspeakable terror, the winning of money and prizes. An unchanging conversation about two Allisons, desperate to find the right one.

We together feel the same noise approach, consecutive beams laid in a railroad track.

In the car trying to ask whether you’d ever heard this thing, my preface was, “Did you ever hear this? I heard it in New York City, so I don’t know if it’s true.” You let me get away with these lines of logic.

I feel bad every second of every day because each one is the end of a great pleasure. I like beginners because I have never been one. Since I can’t believe anything I contribute to is a real beginning, only do I continue and end. I was born very old. The apocalypse will arrive when I die.

I heard this in Syracuse, so I don’t know if it’s true.

In the rocket sunset that was starting its crusade in our kitchen that August evening.

While trying to remember how to place a phone call to a destination outside the U.S., which I used to do frequently.

I heard this while courageous and lonely for a friend, so I don’t know if it’s true.

While lonely for a cloud, for weather you have made more active.

While peeing off the back of a pontoon into the lake as Marvin Gaye belts out “Let’s Get It On” on the radio.

While trying to get milk from an orange.

While trying to get out.

The only thing I want is to die exactly one day after my beloved does.

We took the highway to get down by the river. We got very close to where we were going. On a side street, looking for street names, we passed a young boy at the curb who appeared upset; it looked like he was crying. The second time we drove by him, after pulling a u-ie in a used car lot, he motioned for us to stop. Stop looking at me, stop, stop. We understood his motions to mean this, and drove on.

The river is a crisis.

Hearing is always simultaneous, so we don’t know if what we hear is true or marvelous.

Cassette tape unspooled in a wreck on the grass. A head of hair straining to hear another head of hair that has been struck dumb. This is a sorrow religion.

On the same page as martyr, a few entries below.

To prove her courage and commitment to her cause, a martyr has to face opposition. Does the opposition need to be conceptual—as in, oppression—or can it come in the form of another soul? Is the opponent necessarily adversarial, or can it be complementary? Two souls facing each other.

The opponent plays an important role.

Martyr comes from witness.

The Executive Director of the Fallen World told us to find those with whom we have rapport, but he did not say whether they would ultimately be the ones to do us in. Whether we would be commemorated in the coming years.

Why there aren’t martyrs in nature: nature communes with itself. The snake under the footbridge locates his rhythm, continuous, not against the brush there, but among it.

Even when two dogs are pitted against each other, facing each other like souls sometimes do, they are not witnesses. They can make no testimonial.

Can a person bear witness to herself? Not really, I’d say, as much as I feel like a bystander of myself most days.

I am very resilient.

Is there any difference between martyrdom and suicide? Yes. The difference is Marvel.

We were about to turn into the driveway one night when something darted out in front of us. It looked like an amarillo, I said. You mean armadillo, you said, and I agreed, but no—I did mean ranches and widows, cattle, mills and oil, couples living together, the entire district tinted yellow—nearly the cause of an accident.

The difference between a hologram and a photograph.

A hard swerve to avoid hitting this breathing yellow already split open as an orange.

An assault of color.

The Spanish had it right.

It was a remote control car.

The kids had it right.

News I learned over three days: my best friend is going to have a baby, my cousin’s fiancėe’s mother has passed away, another cousin (the same age as me) had a mental breakdown and can’t leave her house.

That apparently lots of people throw dirty clothes behind the door.

That a block and a half down the street from her front door, she starts glancing over her shoulder repeatedly.

That delivery of news, good or bad, is always a weird, telling endeavor. That a person owns the news, and the ownership is passed along like an object.

This doesn’t have to do with crime: it has to do with secrets.

That, walking by a lakefront house in the morning, it can suddenly and completely feel like evening if the streetlamp at its gate is lit and a cricket chirps.

A pinhole of evening.

Finding it out only when someone makes an offhand comment.

Oklahoma is so hot the streetlamps are melting.

Have you wasted your fantasies?

Opaque light like thick, hot paint. Translucent shade.

Such intelligence exhausts me, the implicit requirement that my slow mind keep up with the changes.

All the other verses you didn’t know existed come around after what you said Please don’t take it away about is taken away.

I have learned much from the names of car makes and models. Enough to get by using them as my only vocabulary, like a traveler or a scientist abroad. Instead of bathroom, coffee, train station, I ask for the Civic, the Escape.

I count them in twos: Corolla, Corolla. Odyssey, Odyssey. Fiesta, Master, James.

You will consider yourself the twin of anyone marvelous who shares your birthday, but never a triplet, never will your generosity extend to include a third. You will laugh, sad and sentimental, every time someone says “Literally.”

It’s hard to be angry with someone when there’s a third person in the room with you. Correction: it’s hard to be angry with someone and express as much with a third person in the room.

I’m not required to gesture. I can get over anything.

I want to move on from doing things for my own betterment. I want to put something else first. However, this itself may be for my own betterment.

Because you don’t believe in social media, you will be brought photographs from the past several reunions and a newspaper. The newspaper is a fortune outlining the rest of the summer.

Have you ever been afraid of what you might say? The cousinhood of error and terror, who are the same age as each other.

I wonder if she is able yet to leave her house. If she does, will she ever go back?

I imagine she tries to pay her bills with shells.

I imagine this because I have just returned from the coast. Because the vacation was like my only silver thread.

When you truly miss someone, you imagine him doing things.

There was a webcam trained on the shore so you wouldn’t miss a single change as you waited in the lobster pound for your dinner. On the screen, no news anchor reported on the developing baby, on whether the funeral was held at a Baptist church in the middle of a cow field, or on how my cousin is doing.

The whole beach watched when I made my way on snails and shells to the tide pools. You overturn rocks and the coast unsettles. The implication about life here is that you pick your way through. Deliberately, you consider each choice of every moment and choose.

There is no native nor tourist there you meet who hasn’t thought about, or felt, the water that day. How far inland, I wonder, do we go before there is a mixture of those who have thought and felt the water and those who haven’t; then, fewer and fewer who have; etc.

And can you tell them apart?

How landscape can be an obsession, how it must be.

I feel frustrated and dismayed that these things I think may be obvious. They don’t feel obvious to me.

Over and again, I visualize the flattened blade of grass I once saw. I have since had it sewn onto my soul.

How far outward, I wonder, do I go before I find someone else who also visualizes that blade.

Is it like telling the dead and the living apart?

July and August?

June and August.

A boy scrambled over the rocks to his sister, screaming that he had found crabs. Dead or real? she asked. Real, he said. The real one dies one day following its beloved.

When you return from the beach, somehow there’s sand everywhere, all over your house—in shoes you didn’t bring, crusting the bathroom sink—like a different beach visited in your absence.

Left its secrets behind, created over the past half billion years, the result of being worn out.

I just described my transition to adulthood.

Sometimes I turn cold with alarm; I cannot tell why.

Empathy with another’s creation of pain hurts more than the primary pain itself.

Someone close to me has been causing us pain. For me to feel that primary pain was easier than feeling alongside him his understanding of the suffering he brought us.

It has been a tough year.

We walk into rooms filled with smoke and ask who’s there.

On an unplanned visit to the ruined fishing town with a French name, the radio says, the candidate was led on a tour of the damage done by the hurricane. I am not sure whether the hurricane did the leading.

Just in case, we tie bricks to our ankles. Speak a little French without being conscious of it.

Nous sommes vide et économe. Une pluie de centimes nous fais frémir. On demande juste que ça dure la journée.

We are vacant and frugal. A rain of pennies thrills us. We ask it to just last the day.

I am informed that she has had a relapse. There must be a French word for the improvement you didn’t hear about, which is now void. I thought I heard the word in the middle of a pop song broadcast on the radio. I heard it through the grapevine, not much longer would you be mine.

I understand this improvement to be what hurricanes are all about. You didn’t think weather had subjects?

Sometimes we are its subject. Our heads cubes of old ice.

When I heard the news, I didn’t know what to do, baby. You should have told me yourself.

Sometimes I just want my head held.

My Marvel is tempered: it works over and within, like good veination on a cow’s blooming udder, my imagination.

The days flash by, encores. Elderly folks say it goes so fast; therefore, I feel old, oh my God, I feel old.

I have attached myself to fame.

I have attached myself to a flame in the young past, like a tack pinning a lost, wind-whipped scarf to the shyest tree in three counties, which is the slender darling of a bright cloud of mosquitos.

As I move along, it becomes clear that this place is a domestic scene, and not a temporary camp barely staving off the total wild. The moment of certainty here hinges on whether you know what palm mutes are.

The point in our conversation at the bar at which the next guy over interrupted to join in was when we began to talk about music.

Love is a survival instinct.

You wouldn’t set a snare trap in your mudroom and expect to catch a beaver while you go finish your hand of cards.

While you roam the aisles of the orchard, picking the best like you knew what that meant, and mediocre ones, and, because you are sorry, a bad couple.

You interrupt the apples because they’re talking about music again in their silent huddles.

To save for his high school ring, my father picked apples the fall of his senior year. That was when, instead of planning school shootings, people did things like that.

Had we but world enough, and time, a hundred thousand enemies would wholeheartedly agree.

That we’re smart enough to be able to characterize people and things as silent, to bother to describe using absence.

Say I don’t smell like the red belly of a canoe flipped ashore for the first night of the cold season.

Say I don’t smell like I’ve been sleeping.

Say I don’t seem like I have pools of ink instead of breath welling up out of humility.

Say I don’t seem like I have spools of pink instead of death swelling up out of immunity.

Say I don’t sound like a very wealthy person laughing at my wealth.

Say I don’t smell like a god.

Like gold bricks made of blood.

Gold bricks made of mosquito blood.

I don’t sound like a god, even though all my writings are commissioned by God.

The wave of someone hurting back the feelings of the one who has hurt her feelings. This wave always sounds like TV snow. Like a war of ants.

This wave is actually the tsunami I see when I close my eyes and look in my mind. It is a moving ridge, very much moving and perfectly frozen.

An empty channel you were hoping to watch.

What’s your reason for wanting to live twice?

In accordance with Chinese tradition, pandas are not named for 100 days.

My father immediately named me White Wave. In the 100 days following my birth, there was only white noise in my room, and they bathed me in dead water, which could not have been easy. Every night at midnight, he threw a glass against the kitchen wall. This was the same glass he would put back together in the morning.

The crash of my wave is, if you look closely, made up of an audience of common moths. A tolerance is built of the part of the wave, even though it’s in fact ultramarine, that is white. Even though it is in fact colorless.

The longest note my father ever wrote me concerned a GPS.

A tolerance of waves. An audience of moths. An office of I without ease. A China of days. A reason of colorlessness. A cardinal of hundreds. A hound of traditions. An accordion of underwater. An understanding of the father. An immediacy of what was built by the corps of martyrs. A high-risk birth of dirt. An equality of Marvel. An effort of feeling bad every second of every day. A common of quantity, of layered quality. An alibi of ease. A lake of bricks.

The decadence when you are in pain and then kindness. If someone even just says, I know, or, Yes, that’s a hard thing.

The hinge of an animal bending to graze.

A White Wave ready to be asked your question.

A preview of disease.

A celebration of sister cities.

A celebrity of blow-ups.

A romance of data.

We each speak how we want.

A mistake of miracles, and the opposite.

An accent of conception.

An accident of wrestling moves.

A massage of veterans.

A line of eyeglasses designed by the receptionist.

A tackle of lucidity.

A budget of tyranny.

A defense of the reflection hills encourage.

A straw in which to store your arrow.

A suspicion of scorpions.

An attic of nests.

A courage of holding a job.

A blister of primal roots.

A stucco of that which is staccato.

A skinny of pineapple and southern pink. Now we’re getting into areas I don’t know.

A politeness of early morning silhouettes.

A reign of sympathy arrangements.

A justice of the dive inward.

An exception of the glass thrown against the wall.

A syrup of throwaways.

A ruby of hammers.

A nudity of the supposed.

A control of deadlines.

An interest of lifelines.

A burn of neighboring life overheard.

A wall of windmills.

A decorum of wheels and knees.

A jubilee of shade.

A blame of crescented things.

A rattle of perfect conflict.

Ever have I seen only one body. Her head did not give way.

Never do I get things done easily. I walk out the door and into a memorial wall, which is not a true barrier. Nor is it a road, nor meant to recline upon.

I thought I was inevitable to the world.

We Lack in Equipment & Control is Jennifer H. Fortin’s second book. Lowbrow Press published her first, Mined Muzzle Velocity, in 2011. She is also the author of four chapbooks, from dancing girl press, the Dusie Kollektiv, Poor Claudia, and Greying Ghost Press. With three others, she founded the journal LEVELER. She is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Bulgaria 2004-2006) with nonprofit and communications experience working toward a career in speech-language pathology.

Acknowledgment of influence: Marvin Gaye, Sarah Orne Jewett, LEVELER, Andrew Marvell Muzzy, Nate Pritts, Liam Rector, Various Yahoo! news headlines.

Image: taringa.net

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