Firn

hybrid by Claire McQuerry 

I wake to moonlight
paling joined lakes,
peaks rising skyward from tattered shores
towards where my plane crosses—
how thin and cold the air.
On looking longer I see: no,
not lakes at all

but snow, spilt like milk
over the ridges.

The boy’s name was Jason. We’d walk home after last bell, school bags dragging over lawns, where on hot days I’d turn cartwheels in long bands of shade—

Big-boned and slow, he was never to be mocked. I’d been admonished. “The other children,” his mother said, “are so unkind.” Once, I opened my finger on sewing shears. (She’d let me make doll clothes from scraps of cloth). She held my hand under the faucet, as dark clouds of blood raveled across the bottom of her sink.

Across the airplane aisle a mother
strokes her sleeping son’s hair. His mouth
rests open slightly. How smooth and unmarked
the faces of the very young—how enviable
the lack of trouble, their undisturbed
drifting into rest. The flight attendant
offers water from a plastic carafe,
passing it over the boy’s head.

Jason’s father did something mechanical at the power plant. He’d come through the door at 6
and then we’d all know it was time to leave.

I can’t imagine what he did when he came home that evening, long past childhood, to what we all read about in the news. I can’t imagine because he was such a silent man I knew almost nothing about him.

The grown son, a perpetual child. The watchful mother.

She’d shot him once in the back of the head then shot herself.

Glacial lakes are milky
and green, sometimes the blue of aquamarine.
Colored pebbles along a remembered shore,
the mirrored trees, sear of such cold
locking over my feet and ankles.
“Rock flour,” someone tells me, “is
what turns the water to milk.”

I’ve already understood
what I saw from my window were
not lakes but hollows of firn, invisible
to most—so remote
and inaccessible those peaks.

Even seeing, the mind deceives, stitching perception to memory.

He and I would scale dirt knolls of the empty lots between houses, sifting sand through our fingers. We played a game of winging stones into troughs—where workers would soon pour cement. What was empty closed in then, disappeared.

Jason’s mother kept him home from high school. “No one understands him,” she’d say. “He’s very special and no one, not even his father, understands.”

Once, much later, I saw him on a visit home. His large back could have been anyone’s at first, turned as he was toward the mini mart’s register. Even as he rang up my purchase, his gaze slid past mine. A fluorescent light washed out the glassed-in room, lending his skin the hue of sour milk. It was unclear when I said hello, whether he knew me.

Now we’ve begun the descent. The child cries
while the mother hefts him to her lap.
“Hush. Hush,” she tells him dreamily. “Soon
you’ll be back in your own bed.”

Even seeing, the mind deceives. Even seeing,

perception stitches.

The mother, who was she, really? Her lumber, the faded cornflowers of her dress, the doughy hands and breasts. She was safe, we thought. The safest. Sometimes she’d take me to the plant nursery. It pleased her most when people thought I was her daughter.

The car smelt of hot vinyl. It all recedes—

Those snow gullies—

somewhere I could never locate
again, somewhere vaguely
midway between the coasts—

may thaw or
persist for seasons, if never again
to my eyes, at least
then, in the mind of God.

I remember my own mother, teaching me to read beside the sunny window. A cat stretches on the warm cement. Next door, Jason’s mother plants carrots in neat rows while the son plays indoors.

Seasonless rooms of memory. Rooms of all we think we know.

Shifting, aglow with unreal light.