Sinew

by | Feb 14, 2023 | CNF, Issue Thirty-One

            after Fernando Velásquez’s untitled plexiglass print, #19 in the Mindscapes Series

Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, you look at the skyline but not skyward. You don’t want to be drawn into the dizzying web of steel cables spun from above the twin arches. You are stepping toward the borough of your earliest home, not counting the incubator. Not counting your mother’s warm watery cove before your sister, then you, splashed out. Sometimes your Upper West Side sublet is too small to breathe. Sometimes you just want to free-fall back to the ocean. Manhattan to Brooklyn. Memory to memory. Muscle to bone.

*

When the spooked horse kicked Margaret in the knee, I wanted to stare at that gash and name what snapped and what was oozing out like cottage cheese and raw ground beef. Margaret Steger was seventeen and chubby and confident enough to rope-lead a wayward pony back to her family’s farm while riding bareback, with me astraddle behind her. I was nine, horse-crazy and always hanging around the barn for the good-girl luck of feeding carrots to their Appaloosa mare. One time, Leslie and I were invited to their summer cottage on Cayuga Lake, where we shared a bedroom with the Steger girls. Janet was two years younger than her cousin Margaret and built like a Penthouse Pet. When Janet stripped out of her T-shirt and cut-offs to go swimming, I tried not to look at the thick black shadow rising like a monster from her crotch.

*

Because our high-school lockers were assigned alphabetically, and because we had the same class schedule our junior year, Leslie and I could dress up as conjoined twins for Halloween, braiding our hair together and wearing our father’s sweatshirt. Traveling as one unit was easy for us: in both fifth and sixth grades, we scored the blue ribbon for the three-legged race at our elementary-school Field Days. We trained after school in our long, flat yard, our sights set straight ahead, counting toward synchronized flight: One-two, one-two, one-two. When, at our birth, the obstetrician counted two placentas in the bucket, she told our mother we were fraternal—two eggs, two sperm—a story we breathed until, at forty, we were labeled monozygote, or identical, by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine after they tested our blood and DNA for a sleep study. One egg, one sperm; egg splits completely.

*

Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House. This Disney album was the soundtrack of childhood Halloweens, howling through the windows or up from under the porch of the houses Leslie and I trick-or-treated at. Still, when our older brother came stalking out of the bathroom and down the hallway toward our bedrooms, wearing his snorkel parka zipped over his face, with a plastic pumpkin bucket stuffed in the hood, shrieking and groaning and moaning exactly like the LP, we freaked. I looked, then locked my door. Greg’s Godzilla roar was less precise, perhaps because the original was created by rubbing a resin-covered leather glove along the loosened strings of a double bass. Perhaps because the monster inside us breathes its own primordial music.

*

In the basement of his brick and stucco Tudor, my mother’s father would sit and listen to hundreds of classical 78s on an oak Victrola, noise to my ears until freshman year in college, when the opening strings of Pachelbel’s Canon wept through the dormitory walls. Across the hall, Lois, listening, had just returned from the funeral of a high-school quartet mate who’d cliff-dived into a shallow pool near Buttermilk Falls. Back then and earlier that day, Lois was the lone cellist to plant her feet, play the same eight notes over and over and over, while the violinists ascended toward the sky.

*

You will never board the express elevator to the 107th floor of the South Tower to see the city full circle. Instead, you will stand in the World Trade Center Plaza and look up; the Twin Towers will rise like futuristic castle-rooks and almost touch. You will imagine Philippe Petit a quarter-mile high, stepping onto air, onto a 450-pound steel cable shot across the 200-foot gap with a bow and arrow, then crossing that void of wind and mist eight times in forty-five minutes. On the New York sky, Petit put a face. The first of three thousand faces. Tower to tower. Left foot to right foot. Dream to sky to earth.

*

Sinew. Noun. (anatomy) A cord or tendon of the body. Noun. (obsolete) A nerve. Noun. (figuratively) Muscle; nerve; nervous energy; vigor; vigorous strength; muscular power. Noun. A string or chord, as of a musical instrument. Noun. (figuratively) That which gives strength or in which strength consists; a supporting member or factor; mainstay; source of acquiring strength (often plural). Verb. To knit together, or make strong with, or as if with, sinews.

Read more CNF | Issue Thirty-One

Pin It on Pinterest