“Absence Artist”

In Diagram.2, Del Sol Press, 2006

In 1928 I washed up, wet and fatherless, in Union Beach, New Jersey, delivered from my mother Mary to wear my father's name: Nathwell Tate. Nat Tate I went by, Nat Tate I signed my work, name and work now lost as waterlogged Atlantis. They never found my body. Full fathom five thy father lies.

My father was and he wasn't. A cipher, a story. I was four when he died. Or I died before him. Or he died or didn't die before I was born. They never found my body. I never found his body. He knew my mother but not me. He came, he went. A version, a void, a grave. She said he was a Nantucket fisherman. Sometimes. She said he drowned before me. Full fathom five.

Lies that came and went. Wet dreams of death and drowning. My father was a naval architect. Submariner. Deep-sea diver. Merchant seaman. Missing. Killed in action. Dead in the water. Those are pearls that were his eyes. Sleepless as the river, unburied in a watery grave, locked in Davy Jones's locker.

He came, he went. They never found our bodies. A cipher, a story. My mother Mary had a talent for polishing glassware. A barmaid, maybe, whom a sailor pressed up against, pressed in upon. He came, he went. A version, a void. Floating me, beaching me, drowning. Full fathom five. A grave . . . .

Or the darker version, wherein he pays for his pleasure, a shadowy urgent dockside encounter. I've had a few myself. Under thy shadow by the piers I waited, wrote my other father, the one who died when I was four. The father I adopted, not the one adopting me. Hart Crane, my chosen father, friend, beloved. Who died when I did, at thirty-two. A shadow, a darkness. Sleepless as the river. He died and didn't die; he lives in words. But all of us are dead now. Null, void, grave. They never found our bodies.

My mother, born Mary Tager, became the widow Mary Tate. Self-inventor, shape-changer, tale-teller; serving-girl, glass-washer. Kitchen maid, then cook, at Windrose, a small elegant estate on the wrong side of Peconic Bay. A sea-change erased me, perhaps: nothing earlier remains, no place or face, scent, sight, or sound precedes Windrose. I was three and lived with her there, "below the bridge," the locals say, north among potato fields and fishing-boats instead of south in the fancy Hamptons.

She died before me. I was eight. One icy morning in Riverhead, Long Island, a delivery van delivered her from life into dead and bloody nothingness, broke her bones. River and island, full fathom five. When someone interrupted schoolyard softball to say so, I thought he was joking.

A departure I wasn't witness to, a void unavoided. Thus I was delivered from her a second time, February 1936. Already snow submerges an iron year, wrote my other father, a lover of boys like me. He wrote that six years before she died. Two years before he drowned. We never met. I never found his body. . . .

Behind him, flashy in red Hong Kong sharkskin, loomed Staretz, Yacovlev, and Rodchenko. The custom suits couldn't contain the bulky bulges that made them all stand so awkwardly.
Chosen by The Iowa Review
Nat Tate was unreal. Hart Crane was real. The story is a fiction on a fiction, the brushy vital verge between fact and dream.
Chosen for this delicious anthology, "A Period of Silence" examines time’s meaning in a marriage.
Winner, STYLE Fiction Prize
The Georgia Review, fall 2009

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