Excerpts (x-xvi) from Accretion: What Breaks Becomes the Binding Agent

Heather Madden



Joan dies as spring curls toward summer. I’m not there: I’m walking slowly across the field where I must pause.

I have been ill becomes my refrain.

First we till by hand, then we rent a machine.

Because Kieyoomia—a Diné sergeant, not a code talker—couldn’t interpret the codes, he was tortured. Perhaps faith, often confused with fate or destiny, is the best example of negative capability.

Dig your heels into the soil, and lean against the machine’s impulse to move forward.

When a stranger’s condo burned, Joan offered that woman a key, a place to stay.
Years later, when the woman refused to leave, Joan sought a court order.



My language was my weapon, said World War II veteran, Joe Morris.

Tie your wrists to a forty-pound child, and ask that child to jump up and down erratically.
This is the feeling of a rototiller.

In Panama, Joan lived with the women who established a cooperative in the mountains. When the Bishop came to visit, his robes made no sense. She was amused: he thought they might impress the women who’d been working in the hills till their hands and faces were tight with soil.

First we shoveled the soil into mounds, then we added manure.

There’s no room for ostentation in the story.



If you require guidance, mark the edge of the halo lightly, using a compass and a pencil tip.

Someone advises us to sell the furnace. Someone advises us to fix it. Two out of three repair-persons agree: the first has miscalculated the efficiency.

Before Joan’s wake, we walk until we find the Turkish restaurant, then order only appetizers—the best eggplant I’ve ever eaten.

To want is to want, says a woman in the grocery aisle.
She’s studying the beans and talking to no one in particular.

Once we’ve tossed flowers onto the casket, no one knows what to do.

For a year we’d searched for a place she might live with us. I’d said, If we have a child, we’ll want you to be nearby.

This is the summer I can’t stop listening:

First the bodies of three Israeli children are found, and then the body of one Palestinian child is found.

According to the radio, these murders occur somewhere beyond the context of history. One might infer that order is important, but then I remember time’s only a unit that stops everything from happening at once.



Several years ago, in an emergency room in Providence, after three days of bleeding, we stared at a too loud TV: a childless Pakistani couple received a baby during Ramadan.

The anchor explained the child had been found in a garbage dump, rescued by an aid organization, then passed to the producers.

Other contestants won motorbikes.

Eventually, someone in a lab coat helped us turn off the TV, then advised us to return home till the bleeding stopped; see an OBGYN for a blood draw on Monday.



When I finished a draft of my first manuscript (a thesis), I learned that I’d written things others would rather I hadn’t.

Who would want their sadness displayed so publicly? What good can come of it? My father was ill at the time, dying though we didn’t know it.

In a dream, I’d accepted a teaching job at a small college on the U.S. Canadian border. The town was and was not Moncton. There, everyone spoke Franglish.

How will I return to see my family and friends? That’s one thing I wondered.

In the art building, a woman used water and a brush to remove paint from a canvas. She said she was painting backwards, uncovering a better picture.



In 1996, my father and I were stopped on the bridge from Juarez to El Paso.

My father made a joke, and so he had to present both his I.D. and his badge which was the only way we were allowed to cross.

For a while, S— drove with an atlas in his car. Eventually, most of New England fell out, leaving only the parts of the country that he would never visit, and now I’m thinking about all the objects we accept as documents.

My father had always imagined that he looked like a U.S. citizen, but the border agent did not imagine that.

I hook my hand through Eric’s arm as we walk back to the car.
On the drive home, we avoid the BQE.

It’s evening: I can’t shake the feeling we’re swimming through something.



As we tread, a heron lifts its long body from a nearby boat and floats toward the dock.

When I wake from an accidental nap, I realize that the front door has been open.
For hours, not broken, but loosened by a gust of wind.



Heather Madden lives and writes in Chesterfield, NH. She holds an MFA from IU and an MA from NMSU. Her work has appeared in numerous journals and been supported by awards from the St. Botolph Club Foundation and the Somerville, Massachusetts Arts Council. She works as a freelance writing coach and editor.