on the day winter was born
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.