Dennis James Sweeney
You’re the Woods Too

Everything is green. The seats are green, the stage is green, the stage lights are green, the curtain hung as a backdrop is green, the balconies are green, the carpet is a dark moss-green, the tracking lights are green, the ceiling is green. There’s no suggestion anywhere that any color other than green exists anywhere in the world, not even in the playgoers, for there are no playgoers, only seats in varying shades of green, cushioned by moss, or, if you like, occupied by it, seats like long lines of million-year-old rocks. The armrests are green, the bolts holding them to the floor are green, the music is green like water flowing through a bed of moss, muted by it and refreshed, the aroma is green, the air ripe and wet with growth, the walls are green, the tranquil doors at the exits are green and apparently sealed shut by moss. The green theater appears never to have been degraded by human presence; it might as well not exist, but it does, it is green, the cupholders are green, the orchestra pit is green and filled with water, the battens are green above. Everything is green.

The green lights dim. Enter SISSY, who does not actually enter but is revealed by a shaft of light from the ceiling.

SISSY types. She does not notice her surroundings but hunches over the moss-covered typewriter that barely fits on the circular green table, leaning forward in her flimsy chair. She is a fixture; she seems to have been there forever, like the theater itself. She never looks up.

In a small, ageless voice, accompanied by the muffled sound of typewriter keys, SISSY begins:

Dear Liz,

After a while you’re the woods too. Sniffing spitting dying. Dreaming of less frigid days like a helicopter seed in the wind nothing to lose but potential and who isn’t willing to give up that so many trees already carpet the sky. They can have it the way you had me. Open your hand and I’d melt like butter rub me across you and ease your conversion into the cold constricting what’s in store.

Love,

***

Dear Liz,

Let me describe this for you sticks leaves dirt slugs the size of your wrist. Don’t tell our neighbors I’m out here waiting for you the Cuisinart clicks on I can hear it like a gunshot between the trunks. Everything you plug in is plugged into me I darken when you light navigate porn the shoutings of the republic I make silence for your noise fill your emptinesses with crickets. Someone has to live behind fluorescence dirty and waiting. When the digital minutes fall apart I bury them pretending on moonless nights I can’t see the ground piled over them glow.

Love,

***

Dear Liz,

The woods are satellites they are watching me and I know they are watching unworried. I could die. I could set a fire. Every stroke would be as wind. Babe you don’t know the tyranny of your bangs the knife glint of your French nails you don’t know breakfast starts with a hope and ends with a hunger in our thick house. The night brightens like a seed. No yellow light every inch is clear oilless water. Swim swam swum. We synchronize without even trying.

Love,

***

Dear Liz,

Come back to you like a fountain come back to you like a minx. Come back to you naked and roiling. Come back to you through a hole in the book come back to you over a redwood fallen come back unsaddled come back shorn. The paradox is leaving you is coming back. My victories have your shape.

Love,

***

Dear Liz,

Now I know the facts and their woody stems. Like toothbrushes calling germs in the night they draw the world in.

Or images paint themselves on flower petals like negatives. Bees whisk them up and spread color and we eat it in a sandwich.

Or the truth bugles. Mammals arrive head down as to a lake drink and remain still while their blood thickens with presence. A wrinkly monk crawls into their toes and eyes. He shows them the world as it is seen by a rock on the least remarkable mountain in the old old invisible country. The mammals stand on two legs and walk back to you. In their new vision you are an extension of the pots and pans and I am what you are cooking and the spices hang in the air like a dry rain.

Love,

***

Dear Liz,

I am allergic to your white counters your house slippers. I breathe myself in like a car in a garage.

Love,

***

Dear Liz,

Why the slow trail of unassigned longing. Why the boys why the men. I chant to Zarathustra. The walls of my skin are made of bone. In the ice cream shop back home the high school students still brace their forearms against the sweet the cold travels from the steaming freezer into their eyes. You hand them dollars they hand you your night. You let it fall and melt on the stones.

Love,

***

Dear Liz,

I covered myself in mud for you babe your memory hardened on me and I couldn’t stand so knelt instead at the mud pit and whistled. No one thinks of a whistle as a cry for help but it was mine. Liz I will flex and swell and crack you. Your segments map me our continent divides. Salt in water tastes like a sneer. Direct your worst dreams to the bottom someone someday will discover them there.

Love,

***

Dear Liz,

If you find me prone it’s because I am prone I say give up the search now. Eat without me. Add olives. I don’t care the land is bitter and wet. Birds swirl above me. Rare birds but lovers. A generation plans its escape in the safety of bright blue eggs and all at once their eyes cannot ignore a hand stretched high from the brush. The search over. Here I am. This is a woman wrapped in tendrils. I am her tendrils now.

Love,

***

Dear Liz,

Lonesomeness is a trusty home. Together we can live in it the moss climbs up our walls then over us our breath tickles and casts small shoots Liz you know these mornings. We all do. They are cups for our hunger brim with juice eat what we don’t cereal boxes pour endless silver sugar across the endless sky. We square away our hearts in cardboard. They don’t sell for much but they sell for something. That way we don’t have to carry them around.

Love,

***

Dear Liz,

We used to have as many friends as the dead our dreams rotted before we woke sweating you remember every room had a heavy flag shaped door. Two pretzels that was us botched in a factory inseparably entwined. The crowd goes wild. We are the crowd marching through the factory with torches. We’ll burn you we say to the vats emptiness is a valid political model the salt that speckles your rounded shoulders is everyone’s. We’ll lick the salt off and return like microbes to the sea.

Love,

***

Dear Liz,

Some nights I fly away to you and my body is left a mannequin the stars fill my eyes my long cool stomach waits like a burnt field. I know nothing of what I do with you when I am absent. In the morning I’m sore like a child who drops her sweet who knows so much of pleasure then in a stroke it disappears your last desire is my first instinct I lie on the soil wreathed in loss welcome to the leaves I wear for you in case you manage to fly to me too one of these long days. Even though I know the walls of your house are thicker than time.

Love,

***

Dear Liz,

The only you I need is your memory. You’re a seashell I put to my ear to hear the ocean yelling about the dishes I left in the sink overnight. In you too I can hear boats’ hulls breaking water and leaving it mangled behind them sand bashes against sand and makes itself even more infinitesimal. Until a claw reaches out of this shell and clasps my ear. I’m worried Liz. Let me go.

Love,

***

Dear Liz,

You will have to carry me through the harsh lights. You know how my skin reflects like the moon. How my craters frighten children. I am dotted with footsteps my dust falls up like a halo love is brief but the memory of it lingers like a flagpole. You will have to carry me through the harsh lights. This silky era has no flesh to it.

Love,

***

Dear Liz,

I heard voices at the edge of the forest today and they sounded like us little boys high with wonder. I wonder if we were boys in a past life Liz if we tortured frogs and girls like us. Young love has to be the price for something. The voices ended in shrieks at what I can’t know but I’m sure the boys had a reason to run screeching out of the woods I haven’t found a reason yet I am beginning to feel just fine here every morning the paper comes. In the form of falling leaves and birds that remember nothing calling.

Love,

***

Dear Liz,

I am too full of fresh water of air that washes me clean of grit. I don’t love you still. Still I think of us as only beginning. We had to be born in the machine to know it. But the forest lives and breathes and one day I will take it by its mane and ride onto the hard streets you can meet me there and climb on behind we will cloak ourselves in flight the machine will stutter Liz bathe with me in rain repeat my name walk with me into the loving cold. Only then will these trees grow straight and know us.

Love,

***

Dear Liz,

I went out in the woods from you for you. I sling myself over a crooked branch and call it Liz. I am Sissy. Nurse log. Rotting bed. All these nights of pulling and I can’t uproot the ground. Watch now for where the world shrinks. That is me burning us away.

Dennis James Sweeney's writing has appeared in The Collagist, Crazyhorse, Five Points, Indiana Review, and Passages North, among others. He is the Small Press Editor of Entropy, the recipient of an MFA from Oregon State University, and a recent Fulbright fellow in Malta. Originally from Cincinnati, he is now a student in the PhD program in writing at the University of Denver.