October 31, 2013 § Leave a comment
There is a hole under the city. She doesn’t know why, but she knows she must have it. If it isn’t big enough to hold all of her – both tissue and bone, she will leave what isn’t necessary above ground. She will become hollow to match this thing she loves.
It was ground water and the absence of soil that brought the two together.
Clay is a type of soil. It has the smallest particles of any soil. This makes it good for storing water. This makes it good for storing air.
When the girl came to the city she was looking for water. She wasn’t looking for a place to breathe. It was merely by accident that she fell into the hole. The city was covered in bridges and roads. It was only the girl that could walk below the city. It was only the girl that could swallow the hole.
There is disagreement about how the two met, though most agree on the rose quartz and the gaze. What had been lost had been passed through. The chanting of a single word to detach tissue from skin.
The girl dropped the quartz into the hole. The soil lifted from the ground and the water came through.
It might not have mattered that the quartz had fallen into the hole, except that the quartz was part of the girl’s body. It was the place where memories are held. You see, this girl was not an ordinary girl. This girl had been under her body. It wasn’t until she stumbled into the hole that she realized she had been under the city.
The city was merely a surface for the girl to fall beneath. It was a holding place. A place for people who were born to live above ground. The girl had never been one of these people. The girl was born for the hole.
When the hole felt the quartz, it felt the girl. But it wasn’t her body that the hole felt, it was her memory. After suffusion, the soil had washed away, and in its place was the episodic memory of a loss the girl had felt. When the quartz left her body she became the pavement that deformed the hole, and it was only from within the hole that she could access the loss. The hole would function as the girl’s frontal lobe. It would hold the quartz, under the chanting city. One word that could detach the body from the gaze – something physical and hollow, mapped by water.
Under the city is was magic. The pavement stopped coming through. The soil returned. It is unclear whether is was the girl or the water, but the hole remained. This was the magic of the underground. The magic of detaching up from down.
In a semi-circle memories were passed between unfamiliar hands. The girl dropped her memory into the hole. The hole could not remember being formed. The city had been flooded. Houses had been washed away. The hole had not formed because of the water. The hole had formed because of the girl.
It was the 11th of October, a first quarter moon. The girl was walking through the city. She paused to watch a child climb a statue of a wolf. The city was above water, and the girl walked under bridges to cross town. Graffiti marked the territory of a college town, “night sleep, and the stars” written in bold letters. She would walk until the ground was soft.
Under the city a hole was being born. The girl put the memory in the quartz and let it fall. She emptied her eyes for the hole.
June 24, 2013 § Leave a comment
From a distance she looks like a tadpole. Like she’s not quite finished transforming. I watch her swim. There is an ease about her. Her eyes are patient, and her body is full. The child she carries pushes its feet against her abdomen. He dances to the music of her weightlessness. He too finds comfort in the safety of water.
I remember when she was all boots and feathers. When she was from neither Ohio nor DC. I remember the way she looked at me, in my jean vest and thick black-framed glasses. She would tell me later that I wasn’t born a sidekick, but rather a flower—compliment me on my odd sense of style, make me feel like some rare bird, perhaps even a blue heron. We were both born of the ocean, she the water and I the wave. I would come to adore her—copy her style, long earrings and tall boots. Always feathers and current. My Elisabeth.
In time we would grown, both together and apart. She would find the man she had never written about, and I would write our lives together so we would never be apart. I would write Wendy and Betsy into the same story, holding hands and making paper cranes—because these are the women we will love forever.
She will love a man, but never a boy—before you. You are the unborn child of the woman with wings beneath her rib-cage. The woman with beautiful orange scales and a tail not yet formed into legs. You are Elliot. The son of a woman who refuses to choose between the water and the sky.
The woman is your mother. She is the most beautiful creature you will ever see. Before you were born she imagined you inside her body. She found you in the sand, under the water, and above the trees. She climbed mountains wit you. Rode bikes with you. Before you were born your mother loved you. She waited with that same patient look, that same weightless body. She played music for you. Danced next to blood red rocks for you. She painted her belly and called to the gods of the summer solstice. You were meant to be born. Always and specifically what the planets intended. Always the son born to common parents. Always Elliot. Son of the girl in the water.
January 27, 2013 § Leave a comment
I can’t remember which direction we traveled past the water or which boats knelt beside the shore. We watched a man approach a Hinckley from downwind. A Kingfisher sat on the stern. We talk about water like we talk about birds. I peel a snail off the dock and toss it into the water. Docks are not meant for land. You lean back and look at me. I blink saltwater from my eyelashes. It is sad to see a boat removed from its mooring. In Maine we prepare for winter with our bare hands. The kind my mother had after years of hauling water.
In Maine we look for sidewalks without snow. The wind is so strong it burns our cheeks. We run so fast the wind gets inside our bodies. Our ears ring. The ringing feels like waving goodbye to my mother when I leave for Albuquerque. In Maine we prepare for winter by saying goodbye to our mothers. We stack wood before we leave.
I do not migrate alone. I fly in a skein with a flock of Canadian geese.
When I arrive home there is an envelope waiting for me. I open the envelope and remove what is inside. It’s a field guide of North American birds and a note. The note says something about raking the leaves before the snow comes. My father sent the book so that I could look up hummingbirds but all I can find are swans. When I go to the doctor I need a new prescription but I don’t have the sickness, which means the fainting has nothing to do with my eyes. In the morning I rest my head on the table. I cannot remember the last time I saw you, but I have new eyes and these eyes are stronger so if I concentrate real hard and think of Chennai I can find you among the gods. I rake leaves in preparation for winter.
Another way to prepare for winter is to find a blue scarf in a dim restaurant. When you remember that it belongs to you, you are ready for the solstice.
I stand in the snow and cry out. I cannot remember life before winter. I cannot find a place for my hands. When I was a child I thought having five fingers meant everything. I stand by the window and wait for the mail to come. My father sends an envelope of laminated maple leaves. I picture him standing among the trees collecting sap. There are white buckets and women with rubber boots. They make syrup before the snow comes.
When the snow melts we drink coffee. I wear all the lost scarves and you sit beside me. Two hours pass. The rest of the world is in motion but we are still. I breathe birds from my back in the place where wings form. I take sparrows out of your skin. I replace your eyes with silver coins and stuff your body with straw. Only it isn’t straw, it is feathers. And when the wind blows, the feathers return to the birds. You lean back and look at me, but I am gone. You touch your coin eyes but you cannot cry because your eyes are made of silver.
In New Mexico I find a penny and toss it into a ravine. Even in winter everything is red. I open the door to your room. A hummingbird flies out. It looks at me. It was never inside my body. It was never a tiny bird on the windowsill at your parent’s home in Los Alamos. The bird that flies out of my body was never in your room. The bird inside me is a Rhode Island Swan.
I have a niece and a nephew. Their tiny snowshoes rest against the wall beside the stove. This will always be a safe place for them. A place where Chickadees land. A place where their bodies will look like snow angels and their eyes will hold secrets they will tell me when they’re older. They will not be afraid of winter. They will not hold their breath for him.
In Colorado I wake to the sound of a piano. We all sit together in a row on the couch beside the fire before I am alone again. I call home. If I die, please bury my bones above ground. I turned thirty all by myself, and if the piano had not woken me I would still be dreaming of frozen oceans. Impossible sorrow. Life without birds that return from Estes in the afternoon before winter settles in. The bird inside me is a Canadian goose just learning to land on water.
In Colorado winter is powerless against the bird. I stand beside a pond and watch ducks. The bird stands beside me. He has not flown in from Canada with the other geese. He has not sent an arctic chill to Maine. My mother says the chill makes her hands cold. My bird is not a Lark or a Raven or a Sparrow.
The pond means something to the bird. When I leave the pond I am sad. I am not sure if I miss the bird or the water. The pond is only partially frozen. I never knew winter at all.
In the morning there are more birds. We make snow angels with chalk on the sidewalk outside my home in Boulder. We fall in love with the mergansers that swim in pairs in the pond that collects Canadian geese. In the afternoon we bring in the winter moorings and raise the sails. We uncover the wood and replace the suet. If I die of winter please don’t tell my father. My father says you cannot die of winter. He says hold on little one; the ice will break before the dawn.
November 20, 2012 § Leave a comment
It began to snow this morning. We ran past the cold air so we could breathe at the top of the hill. I opened my mouth with my lips closed. This is how you breathe in winter. The dog on the sidewalk walked slowly. This wasn’t any different than yesterday. This wasn’t any different than any other day. The hill came before the view. And the man with the backpack remained nameless.
When we reached the lake I released my fingers from my palm. My disfigured finger moved slowly, like the dog on the sidewalk. The other fingers were aware of this, but they didn’t say anything. The only finger loud enough to be heard over the sound of our feet was disfigurement. When we reached the lake I waved to a group of men standing by the water. The sadness left my finger, maybe because I don’t like dead fish, or maybe because even though I wasn’t born in Maine a part of me always cries for dead things.
When I opened my mouth a hummingbird flew out. This is like giving birth.
I took my hand out of my pocket. The snow didn’t stop until later in the day. Later when my fingers were warm. Later when disfigurement spoke louder than footsteps on the ground—when life inside a manmade lake looked more like not living at all. Deformity reminds me there isn’t enough space. Deformity reminds me I don’t like winter. This is what life looks like before the solstice. This is what life looks like from the top of a hill.
You think I miss you, but it’s the rocks that I miss.
Remember when Kimya Dawson wrote a song for Lidia Yuknavitch in the basement of the house where we used to live. You said we never had a basement, just rocks lined up to meet the earthworms and maggots. You said rocks pile up, but I wasn’t listening. And when I crawled inside the attic you called my mother and asked her to come get me. You asked her to pull me out from under the kitchen table. But what you didn’t understand was that I had a hummingbird inside my body and if I opened my mouth it would fly away.
October 17, 2012 § Leave a comment
We met in a field of birds five years before I was born. You came before the solstice. Before anyone was ready. Your mother put her hands out to catch you. When I look at your mother all I see are her hands. The way they hold her granddaughter. They way they reach out to steady someone less strong. They way they always extend to you. From the day you were born, winter.
I have always been aware of hands. When I was five years old there was an accident. One of my fingers had been cut badly. It had been severed. I held the tip of my finger in my palm. It was no longer attached to the rest of my hand. When I look at this finger I see the disfigurement. It defines me in some way. It reminds me that I was born without the scars I have acquired. It reminds me that I have lived outside the walls of my mother’s body. Still, when I think about my mother I think about her hands. They are a map of a life well lived.
When I think about hands I think about mothers. I think about your mother. And if I close my eyes they are my own mother’s hands, because you come from something good. Your mother’s hands remind me of my mother’s hands. They remind me that I was born. They remind me that you were born, winter. That I did not imagine you arriving before the solstice. Before you found me in a field of birds.
Your hands look like they have traveled across oceans, winter. They look like they have felt the skin of elephants. Tied saris. Made paper cranes that flew off windowsills. They look like they have touched my forehead in the morning before we sat with our legs crossed on the floor. Your hands lay flat against mine in the place where we meet to talk about the birth of a deity. Your fingers stained with Kumkum. When I turn thirty you tell me that Ganesh is beckoning me across the threshold of my third decade—that he waits for me there as he always waits for me, with a smile behind his twisted trunk, eager to trumpet my arrival. This is written in a journal I keep in my hand along with what you wish for me. That my trunk may away. That my tusk may break. That my words by worlds held in Ganesh’s great lambordara.
You were born before the sun was low in the sky. Before the nights became longer and the days become shorter. On the day you were born we were given the gift of freshly fallen snow. In return I offer snow angels that fly to India and walk through the temples looking for Saraswati. The angels I make for you ride swans.
Before the solstice returns I offer snow angels that look like penguins soaring across the sky. I offer mohini—a place to violate your own nature. To feel my hand when it is far away from your body. To unwrap the skin around your eyes and look into the ocean. To see the herons standing in the marsh. I offer you darkness in the early morning and rain in the desert where you were born. I offer the scars on my disfigured finger, the ones you press against your face when you want to remember me. When I look at this finger I think of you, winter. The way disfigurement was an impossibility to you. This is my favorite part of your body, you said.
Disfigurement is most apparent in the cold. The finger becomes rigid and inflexible. It will not bend to meet the other fingers. The bad finger falls to its knees. Like when you write stories about women who sit on concrete stairs and smoke cigarettes. Women who are sad. The bad finger falls to its knees when you remind disfigurement it doesn’t exist—look at me all serious, give me flesh wings.
Before the solstice I am born small and bald. My mother pierces my ears at three months because everyone says I look like a boy. I remember my life mostly through disfigurement, but also through hair. When the leaves are orange and the birds move closer to the edges of the branches of the cottonwood trees your hair is long. In Tiruchendur you wake at dawn. You wait in line. There are hundreds of people waiting. A dozen men sit on wooden stools. When it is your turn you sit in front of one of the stools. The man on the stool shaves your head with an open blade. As the sun rises over the city you bathe in the ocean. This is how I will remember you, winter. This is how I know I did not imagine you arriving before the solstice. Finding me in a field of birds, calling it the bird spot—the place where you will tell me everything I need to know about seeing above the cottonwood. This is where I spread my flesh wings. Look for you. Run over bridges. Shout your name. Wait for snow to fall. When snow falls on the city I am without you. When I close my eyes I see winter in India. I see your hands holding a leaf.
When you return I ask you to tell me the story of Ganesh’s birth. You have told me this story many times. I know the story by heart, but I still like when you tell it. There are many interpretations of this story, you tell me. I look at the lines on my hands, the cracks in my fingers. We carry our memories in our hands, I say. Yes, you say. And then you tell the story again and I listen like I’ve never heard it before because in some way, I haven’t. Ganesh’s parents gave him leverage over all the world. I offer you the circle of rasas, so that I might find you there.
What I wanted to offer you was a birth story. Some account of how winter came to be. You were born before the solstice. Before the sun was low in the sky. You were born before the nights became longer and the days become shorter. Before Japanese seismologist Hiroo Kanamori discovered faults in the earth. Before disfigurement. You were born in the west. You were born into your mother’s hands. On the day you were born I was hibernating. My parents traveled west so I could be born in the sun. On the day you were born everything changed. The earth’s daily rotation began to vary. And as the earth followed its orbit around the sun both hemispheres experienced winter. On the day you were born we were given a gift—the chance to make snow angels with our bodies. To watch them dance through temples in India—climb to the tops of buildings wearing saris. On the day you were born snow fell on the cottonwood tree beside the birds.
On the day winter was born I woke from hibernation and looked at the scar on my finger. These are the thirty-five days of winter: Day one. Winter drives uphill. Day two. When we make it past Flagstaff we are closer to the sky. Day three. I am afraid of what will be forgotten. Gold rings from exotic shops. Kumkum from India. Day four. I ask to climb to the top of buildings. I promise not to slip on my sari. I promise to look at all the temples and remember what winter told me about the gods that face west. Day five. Leaves that look like letters from the Sanskrit alphabet hide goddesses. Day six. I sit at the edge of the shore and let water pass through my fingers. Day seven. The water is frozen in the center of the marsh. Day eight. This is what you came here for, winter says. Day nine. So I walk to the top of the cliff and let the rocks fall from my hand. They bounce along the surface of the ice. I look at the scar on my finger. The grooves look snake-like because of the change in temperature or because winter is being born. Day ten. The disfigured finger would not bend to meet the other fingers. Day eleven. Every rock skips because of winter. Day twelve. Winter doesn’t believe in disfigurement. Day thirteen: Winter takes your hand when you’re not looking and touches your bad finger. This is my favorite part of your body, winter says. Day fourteen: I don’t know whether it’s the time of year or the color of the ground but I can’t let go of winter. Day fifteen: Winter is the reflection of sun against snow. Day sixteen: Winter is a friend of mine. Day seventeen: I write letters to winter because it is how I remember. Day eighteen. I already forgot what winter smells like. Day nineteen. Winter is in the trees. Day twenty. I make snow angels and offer them to winter. Day twenty-one. On the day winter was born everything got a little brighter. Day twenty-two. Sun reflects off the snow. Day twenty-thee. Birds leave a space in the sky for the snow to fall. Day twenty-four. When spring comes we wait for winter. Day twenty-five. Winter doesn’t believe in disfigurement. Day twenty-six. Winter touches my bad finger. Day twenty-seven. This is my favorite part of your body, winter says. Day twenty-eight. It is true. Day thirty-nine. Winter changes everything. Day thirty. Winter makes snow angles. Day thirty-one. Winter goes to the temple. Day thirty-two. Winter sits beside me. Day thirty-three. Winter says Ganesh is standing at the threshold. Day thirty-four. Winter puts stones around my neck, says we’ll never be far apart. Day thirty-five. I have not faded from winter.
Dear winter. I write letters to remember. We sat on top of hills watching empty fields. You saw under the feathers of a bird. Said there was frost inside its bones. We wondered what winter was like for a chickadee. Why this bird did not migrate with the others. Why chickadees don’t migrate at all. Some birds stay close to winter. Some birds hibernate inside of you. When we reached Gross Reservoir I was already gone. You looked at me from across the water. You held out your hand. You watched rocks skip from my fingers. Disfigurement fell to its knees. The chickadee fell to its knees. The bird that loved winter flew to the heavens with the rare white crane.
Dear winter. We were born to our mothers. It is possible we were born at the same time. The possibility of being born at the same time reminds me that you cannot see my scars. Dear winter. Your words like women on concrete stairs make chickadees stay always in Colorado. Dear winter. You are the island city in the sun. The ocean’s deep sleep. The forest. All the possibilities. You are my friend, winter.
On the day winter was born a mother’s hand was outstretched waiting. On the day winter was born we all fell to our knees.
October 17, 2012 § 1 Comment
When I see a fawn crossing the road. When I see prairie dogs along the edge of the trail we run on together. When I see birds. I think of you. There is one bird we share. It is our bird. Even when it migrates for the winter, it belongs to you and me. It belongs to us because we can see its beauty. It belongs to us because we are friends. Because together we wait for spring, when our bird will return home. When our bird will return to the cottonwood tree by the lake where we run.
While we wait for birds to return we feed goats. You carry rice cakes and I carry leaves. We do this every morning. We do this because you know the goats wait for us—that they enjoy what we bring for them. That they have feelings, like we do. We do this because of you. Because you are kind. We do this together. Because we are friends.
I admire you. I admire you because you are compassionate. I admire you because you teach people things. Because you teach me things. I admire you because you are good. Because you will wait by the tree with me, until our bird comes home.
October 9, 2012 § Leave a comment
(Mom with Allen Ginsberg)
My mother always carried the buckets in her left hand. They were heavy and she had a bad hip. She slipped on the ice when she was pregnant with me—when my brother was three and always running away. We will sell the sheep when her hands are tired. They are cracked now. They don’t look the same. They look like she’s been washing the dishes for fifty years and it’s always December.
There will come a time when she is too weak to bring the sheep their water. The white buckets too heavy to carry. The cracks in her hands will bleed. They will lose their grip on the bucket. When she holds my hand she squeezes my fingers into the indents in her thumb like she wants me to know she’s older now. That she will die. I pinch her cracked thumb to make sure she can still feel me. I run my index finger along her palm as if to say, I remember when your hands were soft and smooth. As if to say, I am sorry I am still so young. She is in Nicaragua now and her hands hold the plates of rice and beans she will feed her patients.
I don’t want my mother to get old. I am afraid she will ask me to brush her hair because she’s too weak—because the cracks in her fingers are bleeding. I don’t want to brush her hair because I am afraid I might brush too hard. She always brushed my hair very gently. I don’t want to lose my mother. I don’t want the pain. I want Maine, New Hampshire. The way Donald Hall had Jane Kenyon before they flew to Minneapolis. I want my mother. My mother smells like Rain from Kingfield. I don’t want to cry hard, like when my father lost June Jordan to cancer.