at least I used to look closely. Like I’d look different. But this woman–no. The long greasy hair white and gray tangled underneath a man’s hat. The long plume of a dirty chicken feather. And I could not see her eyes. Not just because she wore the brim low but the dark spectacles almost not of glass but like made of volcanic rock in how they reflected wire-rimmed and round the rest of the face the nose and mouth enshrouded in loose dry skin and wrinkles crow’s feet about the eyeglasses and the lips cracked with many lines and sagging into her smile showing what was left of her teeth yellowed and rotted and when she laughed or rather cackled it was like some dark abyss opened up and I was staring into a skull wearing a tophat and she was walking towards me in that stoop of an old woman the back humped and the neck disappeared the frail body supported by a cane a knotted stick the hand I could see poking out of the folds of her moth-eaten dark robes red and purple showing gnarled fingers and ingrown nails the dirt beneath them and a sheen of grease in the enamel as if she’d just eaten fried chicken with her hands one of the many chickens she kept about in cages clucking to her laughter almost like a chorus the hens led by the roosters singing, “You are lonely! You are lonely!” to the snakes in their coils and the spiders hidden in dark cages. And yes I looked closely as if I was looking into myself when I stepped foot in her door as I entered her cabin deep in the thrush of the big thickets what would be gone if the Sabine flooded and it did which is why her house was on stilts a make-shift dock leading up to it with missing wood planks and a decaying two-seated row boat lay overturned against the rotting siding an oar leaning nonchalantly at an angle beneath the skulls and other calcified bones hanging there from her home some of them tied to feathers and others with the sockets of the eyes dark yet something glowing inside as if candles illuminated them and I said to myself, “Yes, I am lonely and is this it? Is this the intimate encounter I’ve been looking for and will I feel from this old woman who gave me birth isolated yet somehow content as an artist the pain of rejection will she also say to me, ‘You are different and all your dreams will avail to nothing…’?”

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