Deanna Benjamin: Pleiades (essay/memoir)


Southern Legitimacy Statement: In 2004, after living in Savannah, Georgia, for three years, a stray dog wandered into my front yard. I guided him to the back yard by his blue collar. My other half printed out “Found Dog” posters and tacked them onto neighborhood street signs. No one called. We named him Charley because he was a chocolate lab-mix. A few people who wanted a dog came by to meet Charley. One of them bent down to pet him, and Charley humped his left arm. No one wanted Charley, so we kept him. We took him to the vet and treated him for heartworm. The sterilized adult heartworm that remained lived for another five years. Charley lived for another ten.


I want to get up from this table and get a glass of water. I want to brush my teeth, then my hair, braid it, pull it back into a bun. I want to put on a linen shift and walk along the Gulf Coast from Bolivar Island to Matagorda Bay. I don’t care that the sandbars are far from the shore or that the tar balls would flatten around my heels or that the water is muddy from river runoff.

But I am in Middle America and yesterday a summer shower cooled the summer heat even though it is October and I read a chapter in Julie Carr’s Objects from a Borrowed Confession which reminded me of that time in Houston when one day I lay in bed from dawn to dusk reading Flaubert’s Madame Bovary while you did something I don’t remember. Spring felt like summer. The book cover was ruddy pink, and the bed was a futon resting on a bamboo-slatted frame, the cradle of our passion, the frame we still use. Saturday brushed against the windows of our second-floor apartment, the one in the pink house behind the police station, and the sky was gray with clouds even though the threat of rain had passed.

I want to go back to that apartment, to the time before the clouds came, before I washed the walls and the floors and all the clothes and bedding in the house, before I found a home for Nadine, our cat, and Togo and Kenya, our birds, before that Valentine’s Day when I sneaked into the ICU with a vile of water from your saltwater tank and a copper test kit so you could tell me how to treat the ick that your fish were dying from while you lay there recovering from nearly dying yourself after you collapsed on the black-and-white floor of the emergency clinic deprived of the smoothest of oxygen, your cheeks purple, your eyes frightened like I’ve never seen in anyone’s eyes before or since, your soul bulging from your irises, aching to escape the eternal twist of fate, aching to return to a moment when breath was easy and unnoticed.

But it is a quarter century later and, right now, while I write these words, you are riding your bicycle in a tree-filled park that was once home to the centennial celebration of the Louisiana Purchase and is now home to golf courses and tennis courts and the museum that reads in its granite lintel dedicated to art and free to all and the Shakespeare festival that we stumbled upon our first June here while we drove through the park in your red convertible, the convertible you sold the next summer because we needed the money and your Takach press was more important than the Miata you bought in Savannah after we sold the blue Westy that we bought in Tempe a dozen lifetimes ago, and I am reminded of that morning we woke to the sun rising pink into a valley at the edge of Arizona, which took me to the Thanksgiving night in that same Westy two thousand miles away when the ocean was hidden by night and the pine trees towered and we were buried under a pallet of blankets and our two Boston terriers, the same terriers who died some years later here in Middle America, were snuggled under the covers with us, which took me to the night on the beach when comet debris showered in the Pleiades.

It was our first night together alone. The stars dazzled and meteors danced and I danced and your eyes danced and the Gulf waters shouldered little shells onto the sand and the twirl of my flower skirt rippled the wet air: all while I realized long before I knew it that I would love you harder than I would love anyone. Ever.