Maw watches Cujo

Christmas 2007

Cold, a little cramped, content:
how I remember christmases spent
in dad’s mobile home during those
pre-liberation       /      post-divorce
years. The trailer, an aluminum box

dolled-up to pose as home, packed
to the brim with threadbare ephemera
handed down or scooped from the graveled
lips of 68/80, cabinets and shelves lined
with liquor and time-polished wooden

tools from the grandfather I never knew.
Packed among the ephemera, we stooped
into crushed velvet cushions and lined the
frayed relics of Maw’s labor-love, rugs exploding
with strips of old t-shirts and bedsheets

woven into beautiful concentric arcs. Per
tradition, we watch a movie marathon,
explosions and death gurgles so easily
scoring the opening of presents you’d
think we lived in a Tarantino film. Behind

the noisy tube, the adults weigh in on the
big issues: domestic beer preferences, our
cousin’s sex life, the gorgeously simple past—
so my ears prick when Maw’s voice, sweet
as the Mary Jane candies she kept, cleaves

the drivel like a thorn grazing a lazy thumb:
     that damn dog is the devil!      her eyes,
huge and wild through her funhouse frames,
gobbling the grainy image of a st. bernard
with a million bloody teeth. It takes a moment

to digest, our collective breath held hostage
by her—she is frozen in the act of forking
sweet country ham, her still-crisp Newport
cradled in an ancient victory-V. The moment
stretches and bursts, a balloon filled with

too much water, the air rushing back into
the room on the backs of my family’s
raucous laughter. We snap back, giggling
at the depression-era woman, finding it
funny that she actually believed the bernard

lived in some abandoned americana yard,
slowly terrorizing single-mother families
before swallowing them bones, bangs and
all. How clever we felt! How full of ignorant
joy at her expense. And how strange still

that years later, rimming the ruffled skirt
of her coffin, we all wiped our eyes and
recalled those funhouse frames of hers,
stretched wide and filled with the bright
glare of Cujo’s bloody maw, snapping shut.



If I could roll the tape back, the compressed celluloid
of memory blurring as it is shuttled through
the intricate guts of hippocampal projectors,
I think I’d sit another spell in the old wooden
swing of your grandmother’s garage and smoke
a few menthols with you. I’d choose one of those
winter nights we were both home from college,
the carousel of seasons marked by our pilgrimage
to the lovely simplicity of our motherland,
the passage of time discernable by the silent
multiplication of empty bottles you bought from
Mutt’s down the road. Every conversation,
boiled down to its bones, about proving who
was more alive, measuring our vitality in rehearsed
stories about the sex and booze we had while away,
the lies slipping like smoke from our mouths as if
we were two dragons comparing their wealth from
atop massive heaps of fools gold. In the soft miasma
of those prolonged December nights, the world
outside the cramped garage was strange and
fantastic as the Twilight Zone, drenched
with the electric purples and blues of an 80s flick,
the snow drifting lazy as fallout to meet the Earth,
gripped with rigor mortis. Your family, a rippling
silhouette in the titian light seeping through the living
room curtains while you steeped in the cold shadows,
all half-lidded eyes and teeth slick with the cartoonish
gleam of Clorox commercials, a dopey little Cheshire
reduction, a simpler version of yourself. Countless
moments to choose from, both of us jabbering as
the cold encroached, the thin atmosphere of aluminum
garage thawed, briefly, by the heat of our turgid exhalations,
by the smoldering snubs of cigarettes in our palms, but
I remember our silences best, those moments when we stared
out to the slushy streets listening to the sleeping giant of the city,
our friendship unknowingly reveling in the beautiful winter of its life.