Sugar Mountain

Charity Coleman


some I know
are congealing
into opacity

Toadstools grow from Joni Mitchell’s pores like little rainbows. They look candyish but they’re poison. She tries to keep them down with silver hologram stickers but they push through anyway. Metallic cracklings unstick as egg-births, amplified and slowed / soft membrane against crystallized calcium carbonate, an inversion of breaking the crème brûlée, protein exposed to bacteria-rich air, no powdery bloom for protection. Spoons a-ready, glint of burnt sugar and eggshells.

Tinsel in sunlight. The sound of Joni’s voice.
Once upon a time, three octaves. Via satellite from California. Ladies of the Canyon dancing barefoot. My sister and I, ages 5 and 7, singing “The Circle Game.”
Joni pony ...captured on the carousel of time. 

When she was stricken with polio and hospitalized at the age of nine, the doctors told her that she’d never walk again. Joni had other plans. She wanted to be home for Christmas like any sane kid. She snapped the wooden crutches in half, lit her first cigarette, and busted out of there.

Joni grows up into a space-age ailment. The filaments in her flesh are spun on a special loom that eludes doctors. She says, “I’ve been sick all my life.” The mysterious fibers growing from her skin––they are not plant, animal, or mineral––remind me of the scary&terrible children’s story, “The Radish Cure,” about the child who refused to take a bath. Her parents consult Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, a helpful witch of sorts who lives in an upside-down house that always smells of sugar cookies. She is like Baba Yaga minus death. Mrs. Piggle Wiggle instructs the parents to allow their daughter get very dirty until the dirt cakes thickly on her skin. The girl becomes quite filthy, and then, while she is sleeping one night, the parents steal quietly into her room and embed radish seeds in the soil on their daughter’s flesh.
When the seeds begin to sprout the child is horrified and finally begs for a bath.

It’s a sickening story, a story of sickness. The parents never tell the girl that the sprouts are her imagination but maybe they were, they grew out of that. Maybe the whole thing is about psychiatric malaise. Delusions, paranoia, gaslighting, hypochondria, or: she has a very active imagination. What supposedly happened is that she took a bath and they lived cleanly ever after, but I have to wonder.

While I wrote the story called The Last Revolving Year, about the teenage sisters who had nothing but each other, someone told me about a classmate who used to urinate in her pants and then hide the soiled underwear inside her desk. She always smelled like pee. Accidents. A dampness.

It was so arid where we were, our nightgowns would cling to the blankets and spark with static when separated.

There are women who abscond early from the pedestal of motherhood, others who never get up there. Motherless women, mothers as perpetual children, rooting around in the moss for mushrooms. As a young woman, Joni had a baby and gave her up for adoption because it was like that back then. She had the baby in a moss garden and sang, I’ll write a bunch of songs about you, and then she walked into the filigree. When I was born, my mother was barely 19, a motherless child who grew up to sing and then stopped to live outside of the body.

“I’ve been sick my whole life,” says Joni. How do we know which illnesses are imaginary? Who are these doctors to speculate on imagination? It’s out of their jurisdiction. They treat it as a fault. They’re the ones who will perish with the old world... There is a balm in Gilead!

I went to a party. There were spliffs rolled in peach-scented rolling papers printed with tiny flowers. A girl named Lily came up to me: “Come smoke this with me!”
It looked like a slender tampon for a slender doll.
I was eating a piece of gluten-free strawberry shortcake and offered her some. “It’s gluten-free!”
“No thanks, I can’t eat dairy,” she said.

Of course.
I asked: What is wrong with us.
She replied: Well, we’re dying.

Well, we’re dying. 

I know a child who once said, “It’s funny how when people talk about the body, they never mention the imagination.”
I wish the children in my life could be children forever, and so do they
children could be children forever never sick
foreverforeverforever, I do I can imagine it
baby it’s been a good ride Joni pony knows:
Songs to aging children come,
Aging children, I am one