The Boy with the Bolt
The boy at my poetry reading wants to start a reliquary.
He might be twelve, his belly billowing like a safety
net for his body and his thick, curly hair the color
of Tang. His shoulders have the breadth and weight
of a kitchen cupboard but his voice is a child’s,
girlish and mannered. His name is River.
He tells me the bolt he found along the bank of a river
will be the first official piece of his reliquary.
Meaningful objects are hard to come by, he says with a child’s
comic gravity, but I’ve got this bolt. Lifesaver-
shaped erasers line the shop counter behind him beside paperweights
of Paris. In the Q&A his cheeks prick a muddled rum color
each time he asks a question, like What’s your favorite color?
and Do you believe in numerology? His mother scolds, River!
when he asks my deepest fear, but he waits
for my answer. I want to ask how he knows what a reliquary
is. I want to know what the bolt looks like, if it’s right now safe
in his pocket and if the sign it held warned CHILDREN
CROSSING or WIND GUSTS. A child’s
deepest fear is not of danger but of loss, though of loss that doesn’t color
what comes after. Absence without aftermath. He’s so intent on saving
what surrounds him that who he’ll be without it must seem, to River,
as abstract as old age—a minor evil that the simplest of reliquaries
could overcome. I want to hold the bolt’s small, solid weight
in my hand, hold its useless intention, but people are waiting
to buy my book and tell me how when they were children
they also lost their mothers, as if inside reliquaries
we keep grief, and not the rose-scented and colorless
bones of saints. As if grief could carry us like rocks across a river,
embedded in sediment so we might safely
walk above water. But grief is the water. I have saved
messages from answering machines and a nearly weightless
shred of cork, several post-it notes, and a petal from a river
of curbside cherry blossoms that my father scooped like a child
with both hands to let fly in front of my mother. Moth-colored
powerless petal. And then-isn’t a book also a reliquary?
River waits in line to ask what he should put in his reliquary.
Instead of signing my name I list: a used eraser, a child’s watercolor,
and a page from your diary saying you haven’t lost anything,