Porto, Portare, Portavi, Portatus
A Poem by Erika Meitner
At the airport the conveyor bears small yachts shaped like luggage
into the distance, and I am headed, when they let me pass
through the x-ray arch, toward home. There is a distance
sometimes greater than this between us, since you are in
another state-gaseous, solid, liquid, light-and I admit
I am often absent lately from whatever is happening
in a given room. Portatus. Having been carried from one place
to another, I will be delayed in this terminal in Akron, Ohio
for the longest dusk, but I do not yet know this. I spend hours
trying to puzzle out the black script running a boy's entire right arm.
He is crew-cut Army, sits in the attached row across from me,
feet up on a digicam rucksack. It's probably Bible, that tattoo,
John or Luke, maybe Timothy, and the boy is beautiful, the boy
is totally unmarred but for his tattoo. When he flips his cell phone
open & shut, open & shut, I want to reach out to stroke his
wheat-colored stubble, ask him what his black ink means.
Portare, to bear. I still have many things to say to you,
but you cannot bear them now. Portare bellum: to carry the war.
Before Thanksgiving, we will pull in to the Sunoco off I-78 in Jersey,
where one veteran in hunting camo carries another like a bride
over a threshold. They will be laughing when they chime
through the door of the Quik-Mart. Every footstep and palm-press.
Every machine propelling us forward. Wrecked amen of beverage cases,
clicking gas pumps. Selah hallelujah. And I will carry you away
beyond Babylon, a passage, portare, to bear from one place to another,
on one's arms, head, or back. Our bodies bear witness (to the light
to the darkness), bear fruit (lucky lucky), bear the sins of many,
bear whatever it is into the distance. When our neighbor dies ---
the pastor's wife --- he calls over, asks me to go through her clothes,
take them home. She would want you to have them, he says.
For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry
nothing out (except our stories). In this story, the door jingles hello.
The man being carried turns his head toward me,
over the shoulder of the man carrying him, and he is laughing.
The word I thought of was mirth: and Sarah laughed
to herself, and God asked Abraham, Why did Sarah laugh?
Porto. I bring my son inside by the hand, after them.
He has to pee. The bathroom is outside. There is no key,
says the cashier, and I see the laughing man balanced on a stool
at the counter, which is when I notice that he has no legs.
His buddy peruses the beef jerky aisle, and when he turns,
one side of his face is scarred and pitted. The bathroom
is fetid. My small son touches the graffitied tiles,
the toilet seat, asks about the condom machine
bolted to the wall, and I stumble through some answer
about adult things, about protection. He does not ask
about the soldier with no legs. Portant. They carry.
Outside, their pickup is filled with hunting gear,
camo tarps, a wheelchair, a USMC sticker. Portavi.
I have carried my son and I will not bear another one.
My neighbor's name was Ruth, and before she died I was often
tempted to ask her to pray for me, as if Jesus could cure
our secondary infertility. That story of him touching the bier.
Then the bearers stood still. And he said, "Young man, get up."
And he told the mother not to weep, and her only son sat up,
began to speak. Portamus. You & I, we carry the burden together
of the not-exactly-barren. We were fruitful and now un-,
and some days we are so old that the gray in your hair
gieams like treasure, and others we are so young I get carded
for beer at the Food Lion. In this story, I put off visiting
the neighbor's to go through Ruth's clothes, and instead
get her back issues of Good Housekeeping from her husband.
In my story, your face is turned toward me, and we are laughing
at the ancient recipes, and in my story everyone is marked
and we all carry, have been carried, bear up under the weight
of our dead and our living and our injured and injured and injured.
Daily, we bear the weight of more weight forward;
portare is hardly ever said of a light load.--- Copia
©2014, BOA Editions, Ltd.