Mary Pat Dalles

Itka’s Place


      Once there was a pile of beautiful words, one upon another, and though their letters were akimbo- the cross of a “t” loafing up against an “o”; a piece of an “I” rubbing up to a “c,”making it look almost like a “d”; small aberrations nothing serious-the total effect was graceful. The pile was like languorous ballerinas napping together with a luxurious limb fluttering occasionally or a tutu rounding things out. The carpenter came with his tools, looking for lumber, and thought the pile of beautiful words might do. It might just do. Imagine his horror when, at the last board, the thing came tumbling, jeweled words like “delightful” and “caress” and “beloved” banging to the ground. Imagine his horror when his favorite, “love,” careened off the side of “divine” and crumbled into a thousand shards. What to do? Eyeing everything on the farm, not neglecting the animals though he would have hated to destroy them for the building of a shed with their white bones, he settled on the path of gravelly words to stock his supply. Though the gravelly words had fierce points and gratings and electrical jolts and an excruciating number of other flaws, it seemed they might suit. Words that were a bit ugly, words that children did not like, words that made lovers fall out of delirious love-these were what the carpenter used. He pounded words like “jolt” and “miscarry” and “anger” into place. He fashioned window and door frames with words like “forfeit” and “deny” and “burden.” When he was done, it was a strong structure, no one could deny. And useful. Anyone who sat underthe “anguish” beam, at any of the myriad parties the carpenter threw for his friends from the old days, promptly put up a bleating, a raucous and distasteful but satisfying bleating. Sitting on the “troublesome” window ledge was always upsetting but in the end a certain calm came, usually after the party was long over. Even a moment or two on the “abandonment” plank was enough to bring out pimples of the worst kind, though later after the toxins had drained, the skin was peachy. In terrible gales and galling blizzards the structure stood. People from the silky places began to come occasionally, for refuge or for what they thought of as diversion or even amusement. But their amused laughter had a touch of the demonic; their smiles, a finger of treachery. And so it happened that a split was breached.

The Girl Who Could Not See


     Once there was a little girl who could not see. It did not seem to matter much-she seemed to see. She poked her fork right into her vegetables the first stab, without missing. She picked up her comb without fumbling, when she combed her hair, as if she knew exactly where on her dresser it lay. She rested her hand on her dog Ganesh’s head and it always landed on the very top, not on an ear or halfway down the neck. So things went quite well. It was only a keen person who would ever have noticed that when Itca looked you in the eye, it was not really in the eye. There was a veil between her eye and yours. But as I said, almost no one ever noticed. Itca herself suspected only because she had dreams-of ablack world, of not being able to open her eyes.

     One day, when Itca was walking among some pine trees and her feet felt right at home there tramping the dry needles, she looked up and for the first time saw green. That is how she came to know she could not see, because for a second or two that one day, she did see.

     And having seen green, she knew that what she had seen as green all her years (about nine) was green covered by the veil. And she did not know how to tear away the veil. She tried everything. She stayed in her room, trying to think away the veil, and her mother wondered why she did not come for dinner. She looked at things hard, with a pick-ax eye, to hack out green. She looked with a soft eye, like coaxing with honey. She looked twice as long, or half as long, witha blink or two, with no blink. She spent time in the pines, asking them to allow her to see them. Itca became pale and thin from trying.

     After a year or so, after she had given up and learned to praise the pines without having seen them but once (she asked their forgiveness for holding their green only as memory), she made a discovery. If she looked with her voice, she could see. If she turned her eyes to the pines and saw with her voice, the green that was their true color came streaming in, first piercing the veil with tiny holes and then sweeping it away in a magnificent green torrent. The first time it happened, Itca’s body ached, even the palms of her hands and the soles of her feet, as if something in her had to work overtime to sustain things. But she learned how to feel the ache as beauty.

     Later she took up singing. She read stories out loud. In grief, she cried very loud and did not care who heard. She did not care who heard her laugh either. Her voice filled the world like cream, like rich black soil. Her blue eyes became bluer, and her voice was blue. And the veil? It dropped away completely one day-a blue bit of silk- and in a sudden gust of wind, disappeared in the spaces of blue between white clouds.

The Violin and the Meadowlark

     Once there was a violin and a meadowlark. They decided to have a contest to determine which could make the best music. Both knew they could not do it alone. The violin needed someone to hold the bow, and the meadowlark needed a tall grass to stand on while she sang. They gave themselves two weeks to get ready. The violin found herself a lusty boy to hold the bow. The meadowlark earmarked a prairie. The appointed day came. The lusty boy was lusty, and the tall grasses a rich brown. They decided that the violin would play first, since the wind had not come up yet, and the meadowlark preferred her grasses swaying slightly. The violin took a deep breath and gave her lusty boy a nudge. In a hush, the music began. Notes of great elegance and passion made their way into the world. They slipped out, first with silver slippers, but they quickly changed to black patents and then to red sequined four-inch heels. It was dance music, yes it was, but then what music cannot be danced to? The lusty boy sweated as he bowed and even the beads of sweat danced to the ground. What to measure the music by? Well, sheep flicked their ears to cut time as they chewed; the ants dropped their loads in syncopation; the flowers came into a deeper hue at climactic moments, and of course there was the dancing sweat. When the world had danced into an appropriate and delightful frenzy, the violin signaled to the boy and he lay down the bow. It was time for the meadowlark. Had the breeze come up? Yes. The meadowlark twined her toes around a tall grass, tilted back her head,opened her throat, and began.The first note came out like a rose, fragrant and brilliant red, but soon the notes were pure color-pure red-and the world became red too. Then the red became drops of blood and the world was drenched in blood. Horses’ tails, dripping with blood, painted the sky into a sunrise. Blood seeped into cracks in the rock and became rubies. Blood became ripe apples heavy on their boughs. The blood became throats of hummingbirds, giant cherries, delicate hibiscus blossoms, new lips of babies, swollen lips of lovers, glints of red light in the air. When the meadowlark stopped, and she stopped precisely when the wind went down, the world prismed out red in a thousand tones and shapes and varieties. It was a hands-down victory for the meadowlark. Nobody could contest. The ants said they would much rather carry around rubies than bits of dirt, even though the rubies were heavier. The sheep enjoyed munching the ripe apples, and even the dancing sweat said it would prefer to be a tear. And as for beauty-well, there was just no comparison. So the violin congratulated the meadowlark. The lusty boy who had held the bow shook hands with a blade of grass. And both continued every day to let their music grace the world.

The Seer

     A seer came to her that night, came and stood near her and told her prophecies that contradicted. “Come closer,” Itca said, “so that you will know it right, so that what you say will be true.” So the seer put her head into the crook between Itka’s collar bone and her jaw and she said the words that were true. For Itca this was a relief At last she knew certainly that it was only closeness, yes only closeness, that was necessary, and then what was true would be clear: She had thought before that truth stepped out from the brain, grandly, in ermine robes and with a ruby crown, carrying sentences of wisdom on golden trays. That she would know because a seer put her head into the crook between her own collar bone and her own jaw was a new thing, a thing of amazement. After that, in her desire to find what was true, she began to beckon things. She beckoned a cricket, which then bounded discretely from outside her bedroom window to a dark spot just inside the patio door: She beckoned the white blossoms of the blue-green thistle, and they began to suddenly appear in vases in her house, gifts from gentle and pass1onate hands that knew nothing of her beckoning. She called a certain heaviness to her bones so she could be still. She called a lust into her hair and it was a veil for conjoinings and wetnesses and wild lingerings. She called a glint into her eye, a fleshiness into her flesh, a redness into her tongue, a facility into her fingers, a syncopated music into her movements, an eagerness into her solid thighs. And what did she learn that was true? Why, everything, of course. Why, nothing, of course. At least nothing that can be said in words. There are no golden trays with sentences of wisdom like strings of pearls. Even if there were, there is no one with ermine robes and a ruby crown to serve them up. There are only the crickets, the delicate white blossoms with spikes on their stems to pierce the heart, the full wet body with its primal and insatiable desire, the crooks and crevasses to ease into, like the space between the collar bone and the jaw. There are only these- and red rocks, and sparkle dust to bless, and chickens in trees, and flesh that aches, and fierce wind, and tiny red strawberries so sweet so ready, and the crystalline structure of pure water; and gossamer desire that flows everywhere- so that what is true can stream, like amazing blue, into the amazing day.

Mary Pat Dalles earned her B.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, her M.A. in English Literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and her Ph.D. in British Literature, Romanticism, from the University of Colorado-Boulder. In her nearly twenty-five years of teaching (all of one of which have been at UWP), she has taught courses in literature, traditional and modern grammars, creative writing, linguistics, and composition. Presently, she works solely in the freshman writing program. Her book publications include Silken Desire and Between the Collar Bone and the Jaw. Last November, she was awarded the 2012 College of Liberal Arts And Education Academic Staff Excellence in Teaching Award.