If We Do This, Then We Really Did This.

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Month: April, 2014

Our Word :: Week 3 Day 2 :: {They Said|I Said}

What they said was,
Eve’s apple didn’t fall far from the tree,
but also,
it fell so far that some of its skin
is still stuck in your teeth.
And you can’t help your nature,
all that orneriness handed down in your ovaries,
all that quiet rebellion in the roots of your hair.

What they said was,
skirts two fingers above the knees,
and then get down on them,
open your mouth up wide and
take the love of Jesus down the back of your throat,
spit out that fruit of knowledge
and swallow down all the divine will you can stomach.
And you can’t help your nature,
the black sheep bleating there behind your breast,
the scarlet E slashed there across your chest.

What they said was,
close your eyes and raise your hands
and let the breath of God blow you back into your place,
give us your tongue and let us hold it,
give us your feet and we will wash them with wet cement.
And you can’t help your nature,
the way you walk right into flaming swords
no matter how many times you burn,
the way you won’t stop charming snakes
no matter how much venom
is bubbling up through your bloodstream.

What they said was,
the help meet is your inheritance,
it comes to you in the shape of a missing rib,
covered in dust and smelling of ashes,
the naming of things hidden behind fig leaves,
your expulsion is for your own good.
And you can’t help your nature,
the soaked velvet smoothness of your wicked wetness,
the controlling cleft that sits in the shadow of your spine.

But what I said was,
I don’t even want a toothpick,
I want to know how original sin tastes
trapped against the baptized buds at the top of my tongue,
I encourage every irritable egg released,
let my hair down to talk back and take up space
and be generally unruly in its unbound state.

What I said was, sometimes I don’t even want to wear a skirt,
sometimes it’s the covering up that’s comfortable,
sometimes I want to be on my knees in jeans
and if I want to,
I can catch supplication in my mouth and save it for later.

What I said was,
wool makes my skin itch and
all this black draws down the sun
so I throw it off me and stand naked in the sudden rain,
running red around my feet,
no scars but the ones I made myself.

And what I said was,
I keep my eyes open underwater
so I can see the sharks approaching,
I keep my hands balled up in fists to punch them in the nose,
and my place is where my own breath takes me,
whatever exhalation feels like home,
and my tongue knows thirty-five ways to call myself a hero,
my feet know thirty-five ways
to take me back to every burned out garden I claim as my own.

What I said was,
I like the heat and I like the bite,
and all I’ve inherited is full-moon wolf-eyes,
a howling here behind my breastbone,
a ruffled fur wildness resonating
in the dirty God-shaped space of my ribcage.

And what I said was,
the naming was never yours,
it belonged in the mouths of the mothers,
in the hands of the whores,
in between the rosebud legs
of blessed virgins
and the desert breasts of dried up crones.

What I said was,
it was vanquishment
not banishment
that brought me here,
this body the spoils of a war we won,
and I stitched your lips in silence
so I can’t hear you anymore.

Our Word :: Week 2 Day 5 & Week 3 Day 1 :: {A Truth} {A Name}

A truth. A name. A naming of truth.

We came here through no fault of our own, a spiral of stardust crawling through the mud, squalling in caves full of dancing shadows, fire-bearers and wheel-shapers and wild myth-makers, wide-hipped wonders birthing whole new worlds into our hands, holding the hungry mouths of a hundred generations against our breast. I’m propped up on the bones of those who have gone before me, where girls caught on fire in cornfields and Civil War soldiers came back home, and sometimes I get it wrong, sometimes I don’t listen enough to the stories of the living, seeking instead the solace of a long-buried history, smothered storytelling under centuries of dirt, a grave robber looking for redemption in shroud-wrapped words six feet deep and as long as a last breath. I’ve made an art out of repressing the present, finding refuge in my dreams, comfort in the abstract images my subconscious spins out while I’m sleeping. I shared a cradle with the creation story, Genesis my original mythology, and there are countless hours I’ve spent atoning for Eve’s uncontrollable desire, for the way she couldn’t just keep all that insatiable curiosity in her pants, for how she swallowed that serpent whole and let knowledge grow unapologetically in her belly, until I found my own apple and bit right through to the core, let the juice and the seeds spill over on to dust-covered feet, and so I am

a history-holder, tomb raider, dream-dancer, Eve-apologist, apple-eater.

I always have a hard time finding endings, because I feel like they must always be profound, instead of just a thing that happens, naturally, organically. Sometimes the death of a thing is not worthy of my grief, yet I inevitably find myself in sackcloth and ashes, fasting, weeping, wailing for the act of loss itself, for what it represents in life, for the bitterness of brevity. But then what to do when you can’t handle the rawness of all that emotion free floating through the air, when your skin has turned itself inside out and every nerve is exposed to the winds and the whims of being alive? Here, me and my emotional harakiri, throwing myself down on my sword, but I’m too afraid to die, so I just shove everything back inside me and stagger around with my insides falling out through my fingers, slippery intestines of self-doubt coiling around my wrists like living bangles. And I’m not a violent person by nature, so all that untended rage just lurks under the surface like cancer, waiting to eat me up, and sometimes it’s just me and the rotten banana black spots of my soul, and there’s a primal part of me that thrills in the dark crunch of a buzzing wasp beneath my fingers, that broken body, and even the sting feels like the step of a striding giantess, and so then I am

an ending-extender, wailing woman, shamefaced samurai, closed fist Lilith, stomping Kali.

I believe in omens. Not good or bad, but as a way of knowing true aloneness is nothing we can ever obtain, even when we seek it out, even when we rip our hearts out and offer them up to oblivion. Crows that cover the underworld of your soul with feathers soaked in midnight ink, black cats that cross your path like the kind of catastrophe that brings you back to life, a defibrillator of disaster, shocking the shit out of you, forced electricity flowing through sleepy veins. For a long time I thought bad luck was a thing, a pair of decaying rabbit feet hanging from my earlobes, and I had let my hands be tied at my sides so I couldn’t reach up to pull them off, and all the time, I could feel the black magic of them whispering through the tiny bones of the ear, sinking in under my skull, stealth bombing my bloodstream until my whole body was a ship of misfortune; tossed upon the waves of deep superstition, I tried everything to sink myself, to toss the tonnage of hardship over the side, but I just kept floating back to the top, I just kept seeing bluebirds among blossoms and hearing hawks scream across the sky and feeling a southeastern wind on my skin after a storm, and somewhere there in all of that I found that I am

an equal opportunity oracle, decomposing diviner, unsinkable mystic, hollow prophet, and olive branch-bearing dry-land dove writing down my own promise on a piece of rainbow paper.

Our Word :: Week 2 Day 4 :: {Quiet}

Well.
The thing is this.
The thing is I don’t know where to start today.

Type.
Stare.
Backspace.
Type.
Stare.
Backspace.

Blank space
Blank space
Blank space
blinking.

All this heaviness
inside my head.
Building up
behind my face bones.
Drumming
Smelling
an inch of cold Lady Grey
left over
from breakfast.
His voice
His monotone tone
And I love it on a good day
but this day it’s just
like ice picks in my ears.

I’ve been spelunking into
this fucking cave for nine days now
and right now I’m impaled
a stalagmite straight through my spine
and I can’t move from where I am
staring up at the small square of light
where all the good air is
where all the good words are.

In the space between the beats
a man held my hands
tied together with a length of rawhide
and an old mother
perched on my shoulder,
in the shape of an eagle.
A warrior with the face of a child.
The way a goose makes a V
in flight by herself
in flight with her family.
My hand pregnant with a silver pen.

But the words abort themselves
all over the paper
a miscarriage of metaphors
and all the things I thought
I’d write about
all the epiphanies sitting in my fingertips
curl up and turn away from me
and from the back,
they all look the same,
they all look as blank as stone.

My failures falling all over me
in a rush to be first to remind me
how useless I am in all my roles.
You’re a shit mom
you’re a shit wife
you’re a shit daughter
granddaughter
sister
friend
artist
writer
human.
You’re shit.
I’m just laying here
with my hands over my ears
but I can’t stop hearing it
from the inside out,
and everything echoes down
down in this darkness
so anything that’s voiced once
haunts me a hundred times.

If all this doubt were venom
I would slice my skin and suck it out
Spit it in my own face.
The only antidote is to just keep living
keep writing
to heave myself up off this spike
and hold my guts in with hands
then spill them out on the screen.

Well.
The thing is this.
The thing is: here are my guts.

Our Word :: Week 2 Day 3 :: {Circle Back To The Truth}

I’m laying face down on the floor in between the bucket seats of our old Ford van. I am nine, or maybe ten, and full of the misguided spite preteens delight in. He is in the seat above me, humming softly, then singing lowly, and I snap, “Somebody doesn’t know how to sing.” Very pointed, that arrow, and the poison tip of it meets its target, digging into the soft flesh of his throat. Silence leaks from the tiny hole of hurt I made for no other reason than I could and I’m sorry sits like a stone in my mouth. Against the rough carpet that smells like stale french fries, my body bursts into flames and I watch the ashes of me fly out of the open window and down the back of Blanding Boulevard.

He is not even two, and I am home alone, and something inside me snaps like a dry twig under a shoe on summer ground that hasn’t seen rain in far too many days. There is crying, and crying, and the kind of dumb defiance all toddlers possess, dying on every hill simply because it hasn’t occurred to them not to, and I smack the top of his head twice – thwack!thwack! – hating myself from the skin in even as I move my hand through the air. Ten seconds later my rage is spent and I am cradling him close to me, wishing I could put him back inside the womb where I couldn’t reach him, and through his hair there is a small red spot in the shape of my palm that burns my eyeballs like a desert.

The night air is cold against the bubbling over pot that holds twenty years of my anger inside. I stand at the threshold, screaming into his space, throwing the words at him like spears: I hate you! I HATE YOU! and then I watch in horror as the mask slips for the tiniest fraction of a second, allowing me to glimpse the unbelievably human face beneath it, broken down and dilapidated and so very, very alone. I can’t stand to see it and it’s all too much and I shove at him, shove all that ugliness outward into his chest, and he almost falls, catching himself right before losing his balance, but in my mind I see him falling falling falling away from me, cracking his head on the concrete stones, and later I say I didn’t mean it, but I really kind of did, and I fall asleep digging deep crescent moons into the lifeline of my skin.

Etc., etc.

And that is what I know to be true today: a chronological ordering of all the stupid shit I’ve done, a timeline of the truths that hurt so hard they keep me up some nights, wrapped around all that shame like a stomachache. That’s what I do, what I’ve always done, gather up all that greasy grief and guilt, stuff it in my mouth, lick it off my fingers one at a time. I pull regret around my shoulders, tuck the corners of it in under my feet, let the heat of it warm me up like breath caught inside a blanket. All those missteps, pulled over aching hands, a hundred pairs of mittens knit with the comfort of condemnation. And okay. Okay. I’m only human, and we all do this thing where we hold ourselves to a higher standard than we’d expect from anyone else around us, and I don’t know — maybe that’s where the love and hope come in, maybe that’s where we start to figure out how to extend the same hand of grace we offer strangers to ourselves. It’s a complicated process, wrapping up this gift of kindness, allowing it to be opened; our lives are spent in endless spirals of apologies and falling back into good graces after fucking up good and after awhile, it just becomes second nature to second guess our every intention, to wear the bones of all our mistakes hanging from our belt, to pile all that up on smoking altars of self-loathing and throw ourselves on it when we creep too close to the corners of loving ourselves unreservedly. So maybe the thing that we have to do is just sweep all that shit on to the floor, stand on it, make love on it, move to the music and feel it crumble underneath dancing feet. And maybe that’s the thing that feels most true today, this desire to drag these rags of easy darkness into somewhere with some light, to shake them off in the sunshine, to sneeze all this stupid remorse out of my sinuses and make space for a little mercy.

Our Word :: Week 2 Day 2 :: {Truth}

Roland let me die. That is the truth.
I still love him.
That is the truth.
When is a door not a door? When it’s a jar, and that is the truth.
Blaine is the truth.
Blaine is the truth.
What has four wheels and flies? A garbage truck, and that is the truth.
Blaine is the truth.
You have to watch Blaine all the time, Blaine is a pain, and that is the truth.

— excerpt of Jake Chambers’ final essay in the Dark Tower series by Stephen King

______________________________________________________________________

What is my truth?

My truth is this: I am the adult daughter of an alcoholic father who died one year and three months ago and sometimes when I dream of him, I can still smell his drunk smell — leather and smoke and ninety proof. He took his last breath with very few things left in this world — a sweet woman who tried her best, a trailer with a sink full of dirty dishes and an overflowing ashtray, an unwieldy wheelchair leaving tracks through the side of the yard that never gets enough sun — and my last memories of him are steeped in the sadness of a pissed-in camper bed and empty vodka bottles hidden in dresser drawers and boxes shoved under tables and into corners. When I see him in my sleep, he is never one-legged, but he always sways where he stands, as if a wind follows his footsteps. I can feel compassion there, in the world behind my closed eyes, and I hold forgiveness in the palm of my hand, like a sugar cube, like a treasure. I never ask why because reasons are unimportant in the hushed halls where the dead live on — what would it change, to know? — and true acceptance means not having all the answers but still moving your feet. So I move my feet. I shuffle forward to find what I can offer the ghost of my father that lives in my face now, and somewhere, there is an ocean of grace that I will fall into and drink up until I lay on the bottom with a belly full of salt and sand, a shipwrecked heart about to be plundered for the cargo it had no business carrying in the first place. Stripped down to bare boards, it can once again catch the current, rise back up through the fish and the fathoms, into the waiting face of the sun, into the stars that spell out his name when I’m not looking.

What is my truth?

My truth is this: I am thirty-five years old, and my life is so full that I fight against how fleeting it is. I’m not afraid to die. It doesn’t matter what comes after — something, nothing, somewhere in between — because the idea of an afterlife feels like a consolation prize to me. Heaven is outside my window, right now, right this very minute — the willow tree with its delicate leaves, the wild way the weeds have grown up while the lawn mower was being repaired, a fat bumblebee bumping up against the glass, the bamboo shoots of the garlic growing in a pot over the sink, the way the lavender turns itself toward the sun. It’s the smell of banana bread baking in the oven, the dimples above my daughter’s elbows, the scent of earth on my son’s skin when he comes in from climbing his favorite tree. It’s in wildflowers that taste like the beginning of time as they sit on your tongue, and strangers who wave you in ahead of them in line. It’s the constellations that explode into the black behind your eyelids the first time you say yes and really mean it, and hands on your hips guiding you home. It’s the sound of seagulls and the smell of sunscreen, the spaces in between the shadows, the screaming brakes of a subway train pulling into Grand Central Station, setting foot in a brand new country and knowing it’s where your bones belong. No. I’m not afraid to die, but I am terrified to give these up, to let go of the truths that tie together the atoms of my very existence. I clench my fists unconsciously, curling my fingers tightly around the tiny speck of my mortality, baring my teeth at a universe blind to how beloved it is to me. I hope I get to go down fighting, clawing around every corner of death for one last glimpse of all the good and glorious and ordinary moments.

What is my truth?

My truth is this: I am a mess. We all are. I am deeply damaged all along the soft underbelly of me — maybe more than you, maybe less, perspective is hard when you’re trying to examine the levels of your own pain. Words like atomic bombs that have obliterated me. Shattering loss that left me sobbing into the floor, curled up around myself, compressing all that pain into the tiniest chip of bone at the bottom of my sacrum. Inexplicable acts of abandonment, wandering the wasteland of an orphaned spirit; a trespasser, stealing apples of emotion from the orchards of another, sleeping in the soundly constructed stables of someone else’s dreams. Broken. Laid open. Gutted and thrown at the feet of the common gods we call upon with a single breath, skin shrinking back from my bones under the heat of a sun bigger than the sky. But this, this, it’s still so beautiful. My life, your life, the life that comes with being human, being so stupidly fragile and so tremendously strong, being so exquisitely awkward and so breathtakingly graceful. Being in these bodies of dead starlight, rubbing against each other, souls sparking, supernovas in reverse. This life, our lives, are the truth. You have to watch life all the time, life is a pain, and that is the truth. Life lets us die, a hundred times over in a thousand different ways, but we still love it. I still love it. And that is my truth.

Our Word ::  Week 2 Day 1 :: {Light | Image}

Looking for the light
sometimes means I
find it in both long
sweeping shadows
and in the most delicate
slivers of daytime,
the same color
as our together-skin
beside this dusty
four o’clock window.

Our Word :: Week 2 Day 1 :: Truth {Light}

The word light appears in the Bible
two hundred and seventy-two times
A lamp beside feet lost in shadows,
a day star dawning across the horizon
of a heart half-hidden in shade.
Children of the morning hours, placed
lovingly in the arms of the afternoon sun,
bearing witness to an abandoned road
and the blinding of a broken apostle.
Come into the world the less loved twin,
the darkness drawing down the eyes
and the daggers of men; still, it bent
over and brought back the withdrawn moon,
brushed mourning under a burning bush.
A lifted veil across the valley of death,
a glow surrounding the cities set on hilltops.
Flung across the firmament of heaven,
a pillar of cloud lighting up the night,
seven lamps and the spice of sweet incense.
Sent forth in front of a holy mountain,
armor against the emptiness of its absence.
Two hundred and seventy-two times it’s there,
but I only need to see the way it spreads out
across our unoccupied bed in the morning —
the way the wrinkled pillowcase cradles the
curved indentations where you lay your head,
waves receding back to the solitary shoreline
of a memory of skin tender and well-tended —
to know the holiness it holds in a single spark.

 

Our Word :: Week 1 Day 5 :: Place {Rebellion} {Who We Are Where} {Love Letter To Home}

I.

I woke up thinking of my father, of all the empty vodka bottles we found when we cleaned out his trailer, the way we cracked his laptop password and read a dozen conversations with people we didn’t know, hungry to know who he was as a human, without being weighed down by trying to be somebody’s father, somebody’s son. I punched the wall beside someone’s face once when they told me I was acting like my dad — I’d been rebelling against the idea of his DNA defining me since I was fifteen and couldn’t stand that someone might see him in me — and I walked away from men who reminded me of him. Stormwalker. Wakinyan. Talking to thunder, seeking comfort in the bare bodies of madwomen, connection in the bones of improbable ancestors. Crazy-making worm-eating whirlwind of stale smoke and Old Spice, killing himself slowly for so long and with such silent screaming, and I could almost convince myself I wasn’t surprised by my sudden status as half-orphan, but then I fell down on his dead totem pole face and all I could do was fiercely whisper I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m so sorry I didn’t hate you I did love you I’m so sorry and surprise was the only taste in a mouth that kissed the cold brow of a man I would never understand.

II.

I love my naked body, unencumbered, nothing digging in or sticking out, just skin and air and muscle and movement. In the dark, in the mirror, in the shower with hot water laying loving hands all over me. There is nothing vulnerable in it — I feel like I’ve been cast in clay, in bronze, a heavy thing to sit on hearths, to be worshiped on altars. Clothing adds complications, unnecessary layers — do I look like a mom in this dress? Are my jeans sliding off my ass again? How much of me is hanging over the waistband of this? — but naked we are all only human. There’s a humble power in the way skin stretches over bones, this birthright of beauty that belongs to every one of us, this painfully thin barrier between our insides and the whole world, these hips and the babies carried upon them, these feet that have touched holy ground right outside the front door. Some Celtic warriors would shed their clothes before battle, would run down their enemies on the battlefield with painted faces and broadswords swinging and naked bodies bound by nothing but nervous sweat drying on the wind — I lay my hands on a belly that twice held life, soft breasts that sustained it, shoulders that carry the stories of daughters and mothers and magic-makers, knees that have known supplication, and I think if I went into battle, I would fight with bare skin and bare hands, and I would emerge a hero.

III.

Home: where my grandma threw back the curtains and fed us french toast with powdered sugar for breakfast in bed. The porch swing I stayed out too late on, fifty-two mosquito bites but I couldn’t stop staring at the way his hand looked on my knee in the filtered light of a quarter moon coming down through the tangle of spanish moss in the trees. Breathing into a brown paper bag and my mom’s hands were cool like marble. Kissing James Ward in the back room of the Skate ‘N’ Space, the first time, a purple shirt, soft lips so different from the back of my hand. Chlorine green hair, seeing which one of us could spit watermelon seeds the farthest, catching fireflies and feeling their frantic feet seeking an escape from my cupped palms. Fingers like a solar system under a summer dress, his or mine, or both, slick with sweat and exhaling whole worlds into the gentle shell of his ear on one whispered yessssss. Lying on a bed criss-crossed with early morning sunlight, spilling secrets to my mom, sweet acceptance in soft tones. My hands full of babies taking their very first breaths, barely crossed over, so new that it is a kick in the solar plexus, all that potential and responsibility and the way it’s like dying and being resurrected every time, like Lazarus, like Jesus, and you would let yourself be crucified a hundred times over for that tiny heart beating outside your body for the first time. Home: the places you feel most alive, those moments you can reconcile your extreme insignificance with your immense importance and shake with the enormity of your existence.

Our Word :: Week 1 Day 4 :: Place { Journey} {Drums}

We are all born with feathers.

There, from the fertile black soil of the wild path we walk in the moments before dreaming eyes open. Out of nowhere, out of everywhere. This idea, we all come into the world covered with these fine fledgling feathers that later allow us to fly, that we are born possessing wax-free wings and we go not towards the sun but into the sweet face of the full moon. The mythology of magic feathers –the way I found a small, perfect blue jay feather in my dad’s things right after he died, and poked it through a hole in the roof of my car, how it catches the light from the fat beaded goddess that hangs from the mirror and and turns it into indigo fire sometimes, how I think maybe that’s him saying hello and I’m sorry and I wasn’t then but here I am now. And how that’s a metaphor for probably a lot of my life — I wasn’t then but here I am now.

And the questions were asked, and the questions were answered.

Where do you want to go? An old, old forest.
Who will you be there with? Myself. Alone.
Who will be with you? Anyone who wishes me well.
What will you be doing? Searching. Finding.

Then the drums start. The smoky sweet scent of the incense catches on the breeze of the old white fan, the window unit air conditioner that is too loud and leaks condensation. I remember that old apartment, the cedar chest we bought at a flea market, an eight card spread on top of it, a cone of frankincense crumbling into a cracked dish. In the dark behind closed eyes, there are spirals and spirals — mist on mountains and around stone circles. There is air rushing into my face; I look to my right and find a new companion, a round face with eyes like comets, curls held captive under an old aviator cap. “How does it feel to be flying sideways?” And I am, we are, moving through the sky from west to east. “Who are you?,” I ask, my mouth full of wind, my tongue and teeth heavy as ice. “Amelia!,” she replies, and she smiles, and a part of me thinks this is ridiculous, but truly, in the moment, it’s only nice to have a friendly face guiding me, showing me how to move around under the clouds. Deep green breaks up the grey of the horizon. “See the treeline? Aim for the center. Stay low. Be careful you don’t crash into anything.” I lean right and find myself

in the forest. A hut. There are young lovers at the door, the wild animal longing of each body for the other hanging heavy in the air, a heaving shimmer over the pine needles. My bare feet are almost silent as I pass them on the path. “I’m sorry, I must be moving on. Alone.” They nod in unison, their hands entwined like one huge heart, held up between their chests. There is a fire in the floor, but I can’t see it. I smell the smoke, hear the sharp crack! of burning sap, but my eyes find only a fortress of trees in the late bloom of summer. I walk in a circle and turn once more and there

is a tiny crooked house set in the middle of snow-covered mountains. The thatched roof angles sharply upward, and cast iron pots and pans and cauldrons hang from the porch roof, alongside bundles of drying herbs. Rough red bricks lead to the doorway — the door itself is warped and curved and barely fits into the frame. Someone else is here, but I see no one, I only sense my breath is not alone, the air is being shared. There is a candle in the window, the holder shaped like the lamp of a genie. Rubbing it seems rude, and I only like to wish on stars, but there’s magic here somewhere and I’m tempted to gobble it up. There is a candle in the window, and a fire in the floor, and the spiraling starts again, but then the baby wakes up and the chain of my necklace rattles like bones in a cup, and the moment is lost –for the moment. But now I know. Now I know I can follow the feathers and the drums and find the house in the mountains — maybe next time I will stay awhile, settle in, scoop all that magic up in two hands and throw it down my throat. Maybe next time I will have twelve minutes to myself instead of seven, and in those extra five, I will find the fire in the floor and bring some back with me, eyes red-rimmed and watering, chest lit up with a glowing heart, phoenix ashes behind my breastbone, just waiting for that first breath, that first rising.

We are all born with feathers. We just have to find them.

Our Word :: Week 1 Day 3 :: Place (Now)

I live in the house I grew up in. That’s not strictly true — our first home was two doors down, and later we traded the poplars and sycamores for spanish moss and palms — but this is the home my grandparents built, and it is the only solid structure, the only thing that’s lasted, in my life. It was too big for them, and it is too big for us now, but it is the lynchpin for so many of my memories. There is a tiny troll door in the guest bedroom, an unfinished attic that holds the remnants of my grandmother’s hoarding, white columns with woodpecked holes too high to reach, and every summer, dirt dobbers and wasps gather in the eaves, humming like I imagine blood would sound from inside my own body. In the spring, the dogwoods bloom, and I remember how my Nan told me Christ was crucified on a dogwood tree, and that’s why their petals form a cross, with tiny bloodstains at each edge. Half my childhood was spent passing the tree we had at the end of the driveway and whispering, thank you Jesus as I touched the places the nails had made. I guess it was an evangelical equivalent to the sign of the cross, a little girl rosary. I was big on symbolism even then.

Behind the house is a wooded area. It can’t be much more than a mile or two of trees and tiny creeks and a small pond that makes for pretty poor fishing. When my brother and I were kids, our Pap would wake us up early in the summer mornings, before the suffocating heat of the day had really had a chance to get hold of the day, and we would gather up our cheap canewood poles and tackle. There might be worms we’d dug up the day before, or plucked from the sizzling asphalt driveway before they fried completely. The barbed wire fence was relatively new then, and we had to climb up and over it, skinny legs as brown and quick as a fawn’s, my grandpa’s hand as big and sure as the world as he helped me jump down. It was almost a wilderness back there, water moccasins slipping in and around the banks, making my skin crawl and shiver. I was a nervous child, and all my time in the woods was spent half at perfect peace and half in a quiet state of terror, waiting for the other shoe to drop, the way I have all my life when something seems so good, when I’m on the cusp of total contentment. We’d catch a bunch of fish, and throw them back in, and when we got back to the house, Nan would make us sandwiches with tomatoes still warm from the sun in the garden, the juice and seeds dripping down our chins and in between fingers that still smelled like pond water.

One of the times I was away, the old woman who lived in the house on the other side of the pond died. She was small and brown and wrinkled; she wore an eye patch like a pirate and I was convinced she was a witch. Her land was sold, and developed. Almost every tree on her property was razed down, leaving the hill disconcertingly naked and shy. It broke my heart a little bit the first time I saw it, stepping easily in between two trees where the wire had been stripped away, leaving a clear path. A bench had been put in on the outer bank — “In memory of Sid” engraved on a small plaque the color of old pennies — but it was later removed after the boards rotted and started to cave in. I liked it better without it. I stopped being scared of snakes — I stopped being scared of a lot of things after New York — and walked often among the trees still growing wild on our side. If you got far enough in, you couldn’t see the buildings or hear the highway anymore. It seemed like the most important kind of quiet, then, the kind of quiet that lets you grow, that lets you heal.

For a season, those woods mothered me: the reflection of the sun off the water, the stark white of the sycamore against a blue sky, a family of turtles sunning themselves on a tire in the shallow end of the pond, the way the reeds whispered in the warm wind, all a balm on my splintered spirit. We buried my cat on an outcropping surrounded by falling pines, and I sat on one, the setting sun catching the tears gathered at the ends of my lashes and turning everything around me into crystals and rainbows. I knelt down on scorched summer earth, hot under my hands, and wrote a poem for a dead girl, folding up the paper and handing it to her mother one Sunday morning as we passed each other in the pews. I walked circles around the water, watching for signs, finding new names for divinity as I picked dry leaves out of my hair. I leaned against peeling bark, a steady hand in my back, sick with new love and breathless with the accompanying vulnerability. I gave my roots permission to dig down deep, to unfurl out and away from me, and I let my soul stretch straight up into storm clouds the color of watered down whiskey, circling me like messengers, holding out my hand for what they had to tell me.

And now, today, an hour ago: she walks with me, collecting and naming things, sticks and half-eaten pecans and prickly sweetgum balls. A solitary dog bark echoes from around the block, and she calls back woofwoof!, her face scrunching up, and the birds tweet to each other in their sweet way above us. Down by the water, we find a turtle shell; I shake it and several tiny bones rattle out onto the ground. I pick them up and put them in my pocket, not knowing why, just knowing that all bones are sacred and sometimes I need something sacred to carry with me, to remind me we’re all consecrated. The shell is old and weak and the bottom part peels away in her hands; we take the carapace with us, smelling like the sea in the hottest part of summer, mild decay and salt and musk, and she places husked out pecans inside it when we get back into the yard. I put the bones in a tiny mason jar, and am surprised to see they float in water. That’s holy to me, somehow, and I think about all those suffocating bones, heavy under dirt, how maybe for some of them there is an empty longing to float along free somewhere, to feel cool water in every pore, to feel the way the sun dries you out on the surface, and I hope somebody will throw my unsinkable bones out into the ocean some day, or a river, or the pond behind this house. I’m still big on symbolism.

 

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