Signs Taken for Wonders | Nadia Wolnisty
Nadia Wolnisty is the submissions editor of Her work has appeared in Spry, Apogee, Anti-Heroin Chic, *Isaucoustic, McNeese Review, Paper & Ink, and others. She has chapbooks from Cringe-Worthy Poetry Collective and from Finishing Line Press and a full-length from Spartan.
From out my backseat window, I see a sign go by;
We Bake Memories,
it says. The truck has a picture of bread,
in a bag and already sliced,
with a blonde girl in pigtails who’s smiling.
It all makes perfect sense.
This is a service people would want.
Most of the time, when we remember, the memories come out in spasms
and gasps, not in a neat little package, in manageable parts
that can be consumed or stored away as needed.
The truck is large and unwieldy, filled with equipment,
I imagine, to do the work
of transporting things in your head and in your heart into the oven,
glowing like the lights they use to show x-ray transparencies on.
I haven't heard of such a thing before,
but I guess it's not surprising because things are different in Van Wert, Ohio
than they are in Duncanville, Texas.
The houses are more spread out,
and the people seem to have slower ideas.
I haven't been here very long. It's just a week-long business trip,
and it has no business being in the Midwest.
I wonder if the driver likes his job,
out here in fields of dying yellow.
It's simple enough, I imagine,
going house to house, making stops for the folks that have an appointment.
The truck finagles its way in front of farm houses,
the driver gets out and unloads his equipment onto a dolly.
He has longstanding customers, and he gets to know them
over the years. He asks about their children and grandchildren
and knows who makes the best lemonade.
He says Time to begin, and the customer sits in front of their oven.
Diodes connect the temples to the ovens,
and there's a whirl and a hum. Then, the smell of memories fill the
and the customer almost always gives a smile of relief.
This isn't a job I could do, as pleasant as it sounds.
For one thing, I couldn't drive a big eighteen wheeler like that.
I used to get panic attacks while driving around Dallas, Texas,
which, granted, sounds pretty reasonable, given how people drive there.
But the panic attacks were bad and once led to wrong-way driving.
The panic attacks were dangerous and
would get me lost on highways and in my head.
I couldn't breathe or pull over or stop. My brain
would get all ashy, my palms sweaty,
and I would try hitting my head until I
could think, just think again.
That's why I smoke when I drive
—to remind me that things are real, really real,
going into and out of my lungs,
and that it's not all flotsam and random memories,
coming in spasms and gasps.
I haven't had a panic attack in while,
so that's an improvement. I figured out the GPS on my phone,
which is helpful. It reminds me that things are here
and now and existing in the present.
The last one I had was a few months ago,
on my way home from therapy. I thought:
What if when I have kids, I hurt them too?
Because I don't think when he was twenty-five,
my father ever thought he would either.
My head got scattered like breadcrumbs, and I wasn't home until after dark,
pretending to myself that I could be this neat little package,
in manageable parts.
I'm bad enough as a passenger. Working in insurance claims does that.
Makes you worry that your driver doesn't pay enough attention
to the truck ahead of him or will attempt a u-turn or miss his exit.
Right now, in Van Wert, Ohio, I'm particularly anxious.
We're on our way to the airport, my coworkers and I,
and I don't want to miss our flight. I want to get back to Texas.
My home is there. A home without memories of childhood,
a home to grow into instead of up in.
And I think that means something,
this anxiety and need to leave and go somewhere else.
I've never been homesick before.
I have a house now, in Duncanville, Texas.
It's a little shabby and could use some fixing up.
But my books and cats and roommate are there.
My rugs that get lumpy. My front door knob you have to jiggle.
The windows that don't let enough light in and are drafty.
My parents criticized that when they visited at the beginning of last summer,
after I had first bought it. They haven't been back since.
And I wonder if the We Bake Memories truck
will ever make it to the metroplex in Texas.
Maybe I'll call the driver up and make an appointment.
He'll finagle his truck up my dirt driveway and come in.
He'll like my house and think a little unexpected breeze is nice.
He'll connect my temples up to the diodes and to the oven.
It'll glow like an x-ray on a light. And I won't be afraid of it the way
I’m afraid to get a real x-ray because of the bone fractures it might show.
After an hour or so, the memories will be done, all of them,
from years and years of abuse and addiction and joy, too.
It'll make sense. A nice, neat package, where things will stay
where they belong. My whole house will smell like bread.
I'll use an old shirt—I've lost the oven mitts—and take out the loaf.
Once it's cooled down, the driver will say,
Here, won't you please share with me?