Part One I want to write a truth about Ohio. For it to bleed into the edge of Cincinnati where my feet sink mud river high under shroud of bluegrass. My instinct is: write her in metaphor. Write her as bluegill against smoke and cityscape. Goldenrod in the navel of a mine. But then I would lose the Big Mac Bridge, the suspension between south and authentic Thai. Highways through glacier-carved hills connect Cleveland and Appalachian Trail. Graffiti riots reduced to skin color. The doppler of sirens in a fenceless yard. The sound of a city on fire.
Part Two A sink and a window should meet at the seam. I stop loving God hands-deep in Dawn suds washing dishes on a Sunday. The ritual sincere: the baptism of plates. I hold them under water until they give in. Scrub white the sins of pot roast, caramelized carrots and potato skins stuck to the rim. If only I could do this for myself. If only God were a sink and a sponge and a girl’s empty hands. I would ask her to wash the waste from my tongue. To remove the summer I stole eggs from sparrows’ nests and crushed them in my palms just to feel the collapse of the shells. I’ve never met a God who hears kitchen prayer, so I conjure the faucet’s nickel neck, the pumpkin stain on my linoleum floor, the robin-blue cabinets my father made by hand.
Part Three If Ohio were a man, his chest would break with the weight of fault lines. But Ohio is a she, wide hips and birth bones. Hopewell and Iroquois inked into legs made of flint, and the same breadth of ash speaks cave and serpent mound. I would lie in her lap with my hands pointed west, each fingernail shaped like a spade. She has tunneled her name under railroads, coal dust in grids to the Erie Canal. I have lost her on interstate 75 where the statue of Jesus sinks past his shins to her core. Billboards breed cicadas packed in silos touching moon. Storefronts plummet through holes in the streets. Her thumbprint pressed in tobacco fields.
Part Four The road is a map I keep in my shoes. State Route 32 going sixty both ways, I find my salvation in pavement pulling east. The sincerity of blurred signs and fence. I forget empty water bottles trapped on the floor, the miles imprinted on the curve of my spine. I learn how to drive when I learn how to leave. When the color of home is a shade I can name, every hue turns to ash in my palms. I am lost in East Fork. I am lost in Fountain Square. I forget how it sounds when the sparrows migrate south. This is the part I regret: the little miami through sycamore park, two deaths in snow that turned the sky black, the smell of red clay on my tires.
Part Five I want to touch suburban heat in the center of the quietest buckeye. She reminds me that rivers snake shapes into stone. Somewhere coyotes find buses in creek beds. A streetcar’s maiden voyage to Over-the-Rhine. I don’t want to lose the way soybeans mirror brick or a skyline of buildings surrounded by corn. My initials are carved in the hollow of a tree ten miles from highways that never lead home. Each night there are barred owls and raccoons in the yard, pulling apples and plastic from dumpster to lawn. I miss the way city and farm are the soles of her feet, her toes planted firm in the clay. The onion grass she wears as a veil.
Christen Noel is a writer and photographer from Cincinnati where she lives with her husband and wild 18-month-old daughter. Her most recent work can be found or is forthcoming in DIAGRAM, Juxtaprose, and The Normal School.