eyeholes by Monika Woods
My mouth is too strong. I set my teeth against my other teeth. I do it on accident but I feel it and I try to stop. My lower teeth gently wedge themselves against my upper teeth. My mouth wants a bit more space. My mouth is hurting itself.
There's a certain kind of mouth I like on a person that looks like it's pulling. I look up are my teeth moving on the internet.
I chew my lips of course, I can't help it. I can tell it's too deep, sometimes, when I peel a piece away with my teeth.
So sometimes I have ruby wells on my lips.
My eyes are already set deep. I want to warn you that when I die my eyes will sink deeper into my face and look like holes. I know because I have my grandmother's eyes.
At a funeral you could think, "the way the priest is cleaning that chalice, I'm reasonably sure it's the only housekeeping he ever does." You could think, "I wasn't good enough to her." You could think, "I want to take something solid from this pew." You could cry. You could think, "this isn't want I want for myself."
You could hate the priest's assistant when he walks away, you see him change out of his white tunic into a coat, through a small door he left ajar, when he comes back and winds the microphone cord around his arm dutifully and heartlessly. You could think, "they should all be barefoot; the squeaking." Nobody remembers or cares you're there except for you, and that's because death. My dad likes to be outside more than anything so to stand next to him next to an open grave while his mother is in a coffin feels particularly unfair. I have to warn you, if I cry at a funeral, it's not just about the person who died. Graves are so small and well-tended where my dad grew up. There's a bus stop in front of the cemetery where my grandparents are buried. There are benches next to graves where my dad grew up. I never thought about it before, but there are trends for the dead. My cousin just wants a stone on the ground. I feel like I know my body will fail me. I never felt youthfully immortal. My grandmother used to worry about my weight in a way that made me realize she worried about hers. Where my dad grew up they say “before the war.” After the war, the bricks from the town my dad grew up in rebuilt the nearby city where I was born.
My lips are so rough. I scrape them against each other to prove them to myself.
Have you ever seen anyone get put in the ground? Do people say “you’ll know the end when you see it?” Getting put in the ground, slowly, the grave elevator bringing you into the ground, the pallbearer the funeral home provides fumbling with the switch, does feel like some kind of ending. I have to warn you, my lips might bleed in the middle of our conversation and you’ll be forced to watch me lick it. I explain the word bottleneck after the context for the explanation has passed. The conversation moves without me, I think I felt so strongly about the word bottleneck because I knew I was the bottleneck. I’m the one who can’t make herself understood. I do the same thing around my fingernails, I grab a tab of skin with my teeth and pull and sometimes it’s too deep so I have ruby tracks running down my fingertips.
When you see your family, you might think about death. You could talk about the ice cream you ate together ten years ago, everyone knows your favorite flavor, you only see them in the summer.
I wish my grandfather had taught me how to play bridge. At a funeral, you might feel like you shouldn’t feel so sad because your cousins were closer to your grandmother than you were. Then you could think, “she was my grandmother too.” Then you think, “why am I doing this”
Certain things from when you’re little lose their appeal over the course of your life, but not ice cream.
When you take a walk you might think, “this is where my kid took his first steps.” You could be thinking, “this is where my cousin wouldn’t smile because she just got braces.” You could hate the next thought you have, “and this is the place I last walked with my grandfather, and that’s the place I was mean to my grandmother.”
Along with feeling split you feel guilt while you walk around. Regret and caring are pulling at me while I sit, walk, read, watch around. I sometimes feel surprised. How would I be if my parents hadn’t sent me away for a few summers? Those summers were formative. If they had never happened, would I still be the type of person who feels like there is a limited amount of grief to ration?
I unwrapped photographs from disintegrating envelopes for hours. I thought, “my children won’t have to do this when I die.”
My grandmother kept a diary when she was young and she saved everything and so my cousin read it. I couldn’t really read it, not like she could. When she was surprised how young my grandmother used to be, her husband said, “even grandmothers are people,” and she said, “I know, but this was my grandmother.”
Grief is happening around me in different ways like I’m standing in a lake up to my ankles but everyone else has gone in but the line of water is hitting our bodies at different places. When I start to cry I lay down in the shallow end instead of walking deep. My aunt held me by the shoulders and said, “take solace that they’re together in the light.” And I love my aunt so I nodded but she made me sadder. I hated the priest’s voice. I hate when people tell me to take solace in what gives them solace.
I have to warn you, if I die and you put a cross above me, that’s not what I want. If I had to have a grave, I’d want the ground cobblestoned and I’d want a tree to bend over a bench. I’d want an open, gentle mound of earth planted and flowered over, but I don’t want a grave
I am terrible to have around because I’m pretty matter-of-fact, and the sadness I’ve endured has been low-maintenance. I hate platitudes so eventually, people stop talking to me. The loss I feel is a constant tinny thrum, of, I wish tickets weren’t so expensive; the guilt I feel when I go on vacation when I could be visiting my family instead. It’s like losing more than just guilt, actual loss, reminds me of the baseline I operate on.
I certainly don’t want dirt piled high above me in a way that would make a little boy want to climb.
Alone, at night, you could think, “have you ever been a burden?” Be glad you whistled, quiet and sharp, after deliberating if you should do it, while the organ played its last heavy breath because it would have made her feel something. Maybe she would have remembered the way she left you home with your grandfather because you were too unruly, took your sister to church instead. You were proud of that. That whistle was the last thing you could do to reach out to her across the many voids between you, some shared ground, a compromise, after all, you were the one in church, and it was her last time, and she wasn’t really there after all, because that’s what you believe.
Author photo by Sylvie Roskokoff.