The Bed


From the Archive

Photo: Magrethe Mather (1927).

Photo: Magrethe Mather, 1927.

Catherine Bowman’s poem “The Bed” first appeared in our Winter 1988 issue. Her latest collection is Can I Finish, Please?

I was five that summer, in our new house, with the light
aproning over the desert just before dark. That year I touched the blue
pink skin of my cousin’s baby rabbits in the smoky evening smell
of El Paso lawns. And there’s Hulia watching me, her head positioned,
great and toothless, through the broken window; the first big boney fish
star of the wrinkled sky. And there’s my mother and father’s bed.

It was one of those standard, posture-correct, kingsize beds
preferred by newly married couples in the 60s along with avocado light
fixtures. Tiki Torches and furniture store paintings of Picassoesque fish
that glared over the matching carpet where I’d dance the lovesick blues
with my Uncle Mitch. He’d play Hank Williams in the den and then position
me on his boots, my face pressed against his jeans that smelled

like Coors and grease. Afterwards I’d rub my face clean in the smell
of their vast sheets and pillows. Even now it’s still the biggest bed
I’ve ever seen. Like some kind of cloudy mountain it was positioned
up against the wall, I think to hold the house up and maybe even light
the block, bigger than all Christmas trees. Here’s Johnny! and the blue
sky. I’d peek over its ocean top of silver-threaded fish.

climb up and then fall into the deep end where I knew they’d never fish
me out. There I’d tumble down and drown, alone in smells
of hair spray, linens, tobacco and love on Sunday afternoons in the bluish
swollen glow of their room. It was the first of eight beds
they would own together, always pointing north for the light,
Mother’s side on the right, always near the bathroom in the same position.

One day playing in their bathroom I found some pictures of positions.
I asked my father and he laughed. Nothing, just fish.
Then he lifted the book of people-fish out of my hands into the light
brown dresser drawer that held the silver dollars, metal box and smelly
stuff. Later, lying in the farthest spot under the massive wingspan of the bed
I imagined myself a fish-woman with seaweed hair and fins that glittered blue.

If I had never seen those glossy magazines, how-to-books, or blue
movies I think I’d still slide into the positions
discovered in the caverns of our river bed.
First one stroke and then another, until we’re swimming hyphenated, two fish
moving together in the dark, following a scent, a smell
that unfolds into our blood when we flip out the light.

And in the rippling blue afternoon when the sunlight
posits over us like a smell or a herd of masked fish
we rest and play in bed and learn to face night.