We were living in a horse trailer the first night that it happened,
travelling from New Mexico to Texas and further East
to sell at some big shows my father had heard about.
I was sixteen, maybe fifteen—I just know it was a year or two before I left home—
my brother two years older.
Texas made sense because Austin had some festival. I remember my father sitting out on the bare plywood tables after dark, watching. He shouted a warning
to someone who he thought was an innocent being taken in by a stuffed bra and false lashes.
She shot back: “I’m pretty sure he knows what he’s getting into.”
Louisiana didn’t make as much sense though. We encountered nothing there but long stretches of highway
going over water,
roadside signs for towns hidden by trees,
and vapory air that made my eyebrows itch.
Her mother was back home in New Mexico watching the baby. I rode up front, passenger seat, nearest the window.
Forest green diesel pickup truck. Caved in with dents. Paint grayed over with age.
I need to tell you details to put you in the scene. Are you there yet?
The problem with putting you, the reader, into the scene is that no matter how much I say I won’t be able to sense you there,
no matter how many details I give you you’re still in another location,
decades ahead of the event.
(Why am I giving you a map to a crime you’ll never be able to solve?)
My older brother would be locked in the horse trailer while we were on the road.
(It is because I want to warn you of something?
Of small spaces?
You are not there; you feel that you are.
I like using semicolons because it makes me feel like less like the girl who didn’t go to school.
Now that I think about it,
my father used to say riding in trailers was unsafe:
“What if the hitch breaks?”
I only rode in the horse trailer a few times, when I needed to cook something on the little camp stove hooked up to a propane tank.
Now that I think about it, that would have been doubly dangerous.
Maybe I just need you there so I can think about the situation from an outsider’s perspective,
From a normal person’s perspective.
I’m hoping you are normal.
I was always told that that there’s no such thing as normal, which always made me feel a little bit queasy.
When I used that word I just meant
a part of the unknown space I didn’t know how to enter
where people went to school in the kind of busses that my father hoarded and parked all over the property. He’d remove the seats and install shelving, line the shelves with banana boxes full of beads that I’d string, and sort and pack and unpack for shows.
I don’t know how I made soup, good-tasting soup, in a moving trailer—in the front part, right near the hitch where the floor bobbed up and down the most—without spilling anything
“You’re a good road cook”, my father would say.
He was smart about people.
I’m sure he knew how much of my desire to do rested on these compliments.
The odd names for towns hidden in trees.
I should have been afraid to sleep
in the back part of the trailer in the wild
in the pitch dark
in the middle of nowhere.
I don’t think I had seen enough movies
or read enough news to be scared
(I always dug for the funnies section whenever I came across a newspaper).
I slept on the plywood boards stacked in the middle of the floor,
my brother on an empty section of shelving.
Father, I think we called him Joe back then, slept
where the stove and the propane tank and
the foam mattress and the Pendleton blankets were kept.
This incident, the first time it happened
wasn’t admissible as evidence when I testified. (Courts are finicky I guess?)
Something about it being outside of the state of New Mexico.
(Did that mean it was irrelevant?)
I remember the hollow sound of the trailer door, the scraping and banging, the metal on metal sounds the sharp squeak of ungreased hinges and deadlocks being rammed into place.
My mind has erased the specific lilt of the other sounds.
There is another person in this story.
She didn’t consent to be here.
I’m talking about my memories
which are enmeshed with hers
though we are separated by something more than a wall,
by the same force that kept me from opening my mouth or moving that night,
that kept my brother and I from ever mentioning the things we both knew,
the force that kept mothers in other locations—
the same stupid force that had my brother holding a funeral for my father when he died
instead of tossing his body in the river to be torn apart by fishes,
the same force that has me frozen in place sometimes for no reason,
that has me stuck in endless, endless loops of self-questioning.
I don’t get nauseous every time I see a horse trailer.
Memory is not that simple.
Sometimes it tears through the soil,
sometimes it roots under and leaches out my strength
(Everything seems secondary to reliving that night.
I have this life to live.
People know me and want to talk to me.
There is paperwork,
and things that Absolutely Must Be Done.
I have to say things like, “I don’t know why I’m so tired”.
Why do I keep writing these letters?
Why am I telling stories no one wants to read?
When I open my mouth my tongue gets caught on a thorn, loses its roots and starts to wilt.
Why do I talk? Why do I talk?)
If I’m loud enough I can speak across time.
If I string enough lines together I can reach her and give her the words that she needs.
I was told that if I stayed quiet I could leave
I want to undo the magic that has me believing the contract,
I’m not a mermaid anymore
I belong on the world
I don’t need to trade in my voice
to get legs.
Your Own Way
There’s that moment
before you push off from the shore
where you wonder
am I run myself dry searching,
going past all of the solid things
and ending up
with just air?
the water looks so blue and clear
under your boat
and you start to fall in love
with the feel of your muscles
and knowing it’s your own strength getting you
past the waves.
It’s like you’re reading your own story
for the first time in your life
and you want to keep turning the pages
to see what comes next.
Jenica Lodde is a human much of the time. Other times she is a bank of fog clawing her way across an ocean of dreams. Her poems have appeared in: io, River and South Review, Third Wednesday, Gravel, The Scop, Windows Facing Windows, Word Fountain and others. Her chapbook, “Emotional States”, was published by Finishing Line Press (2020). She has a poetry memoir forthcoming through Honey House Press. Twitter: @JenicaLodde.