The light is blindingly bright in Fresno, the sky an immense empty canvas of blue with depleted or no ozone. One is vulnerable here. The dangers of exposure are real. But for the poet Liz Scheid the pressure to conceal is too cruel. She steps out. With lyrical, dignified strides, she rushes into, and confronts, the bare light. Her mind conjures myriad spider shapes, her fingers twist and clutch the horizon. The result is The Shape of Blue. A book of ten personal essays. But more accurately, an act of bursting out of human skin, of contemplating the beauty of a fleeting snowflake, of singing and sustaining through an elegy for a sister too close, of mourning Pluto, too far, vanished from the outer edge of human imagination.
From the subsection “OF SCARS” of the first essay “What Is the Shape”:
Sarah had a beautiful blue scar on her elbow. When we were kids, she fell out of our brother’s tree fort and ran inside, hysterical, to show Mom, who nearly fainted when she saw the white bone in all that blood…Her elbow was shattered in pieces, and her wrist was broken.
My older brother Showket has a scar on his head. In early 1990s, the Indian soldiers came rampaging into our village in Kashmir. One of them hit against Showket’s head with a mortar gun. I don’t remember the exact number of stiches, but I am sure it is close to sixteen. However, the younger sibling that I was, diminutive in size, insignificant in stature, I remember how I felt when relatives and friends thronged about him after he was released from the hospital and brought home. He rested in a huge bed, under a soft blanket. He reclined like a groom who had a bloodied crown. He stole all attention.
The day the village compounder came to perform the ritual of unwrapping his crown of white bandages, my numerous aunts cried with joy in unison. I slipped away, into the hall in the rear of our house. I was bruised; no one was paying attention to me. To take my revenge, I stole a banana from a polythene bag in the closet that one of the aunts had brought along for Showket, and that my mother had kept hidden from me. I felt ashamed while eating the raw banana. But as I chewed on, I relished the bitter taste of envy and resentment.
Sarah was in the hospital for what felt like weeks. I just wanted her to come home. We visited every day, and I was jealous of all the attention she got—all the yoghurt and ice cream and balloons.
In an early essay “Ten Years After,” Scheid visits her sister’s grave at night. She begins an imaginary dialogue with Sarah. It is Christmas time, but there is no snow like Wisconsin, the home of their common childhood memories. In the dark spiral that we fall in with the writer, without the Central Valley where the winter rains are depressing and the streets deserted and infinitely sad, we begin to think about the hair and the bones and the casket—are they rotting or already rotten?— of Sarah. Scheid cries:
Why did you have to die in December?
I stop. I am ravaged.
There is something naïvely ingenuous about Scheid’s voice. I know of many first books in which the voice is still dawning on the writer in incandescent flashes of lucidity, and there is a quest to reveal, to stumble on small beautiful shapes of life. The Shape of Blue is such a book.
Feroz Rather received his MFA from Fresno State. His work has appeared in The Rumpus, The Caravan, Berfrois, and Warscapes, among others.