Poem: a wild hymn

a wild hymn 

 

Their footprints gather around the stone. 

 

The ancient birthburial ground. 

The place hidden among the lindens.  

 

It’s as if I can see them here, women in the woodland;

knelt in prayer, anointed, weaving, drumming

through the centuries. 

 

Maybe                I’ve been here before. 

Maybe                this is from some other time, 

                            some other body. 

Maybe                here I made my plea 

                            to the woman in the linden tree

               

           And she answered. 

 

She sent out silken soldiers, retrieved my wishes,

 and has returned for me

lifetimes later, to my new body and says

“Come.”

 

Dark                     Light

Mother                 Lover

                Queen 

 

I’m back in time, surrounded 

by ancient women and from their goddess’s forest

uprose a wild hymn.

It thrills through me, opens up my bones like husks

and I’m with her. 

 

Branches grow from my shoulders, adorned

with emerald leaves, bright berries.

My skin is bark. 

My face, smoothed wood. 

 

Ancestors. Only as strong as their memories known. 

I stand in their long-eroded footprints around the stone. 

Salmon Bodies

flash fiction

We go upstream, against the flow of salmon bodies throwing themselves on the rocks. They are spawning in spite of the ruins. Resilience was something I learned first from my mother and my father, through her table loom and his greenhouse. I learn it again here, in the stench of their bodies. Their striving splashes interrupt the steady rhythm of the rapids and they are too fast, too acrobatic, for me to get a clear view of their scales. I catch only a glint, a sparkle in my peripheral vision. The river grants me cold water on my toes, and I imagine where each drop would fall if I weren’t placed here, moving along these rocks.

We continue upriver to the mountains. The range is split in two by a crevice, carved by a glacier long ago. Now, a half moon rises there.

It’s too early, I say, the sun is up. The sky is still marmalade. I do not like the night.

We go upstream. On the other side of the river flow is a sandy mound where a deer bends down to drink. Do you think she’s going there too? Suri asks me, pointing to the deer with her chin rather than a finger. I don’t know the answer. Perhaps the deer is coming down, perhaps there are crowds ahead where it still snows. Maybe she has been shadowing our journey from the valleys. Maybe she’s running.

It’s easier to breathe here, away from the dust.

The deer looks back at me and I’m struck with vertigo. Suri grasps my elbow and steadies me on the slimy river rocks. Strands of her hair escape her hood and are caught in the November wind as if being pulled back to where we’ve left. Just a bit further, she says, and we can make camp.

There are empty homes and log cabins in these woods, but we do not acknowledge them.

I look back across the waters and the fading light of day muddies the details of the woods; I can’t tell branches from leaves or soil from shadow and the deer has disappeared in the depths. There could be people in there too. People under tarps, people wrapped in Mexican blankets, people trading for iodine. People like us. Suri assures me not to fear other travelers. She says we are all the same, like the salmon going upstream.

A crow swings down from the trees and drags a rotting fish from the edge of granite stone. It’s heavy, but he is persistent. Another one, above, caws at the darkening sky.

Suri takes my hand as our stomachs roar in unison. Somewhere, the cicadas begin to hum.

Summer is a bandage and I welcome her ruthless healing

 

The last two seasons have had me swept up in their rainy days. When it snowed, so did I. When the sky poured water on to the Earth, I let mine flow too. None of us are strangers to sadness and I didn’t expect summer to taste as sweet as it does, didn’t expect the rising temperatures to make me shed some skin, but there’s always something sinister about sugar.

2018 was the best year of my life and so far 2019 is shaping up to be one of the worst. I’m mining my heart and mind for anything that sparkles enough to tell me why; what do those years, 2019, 2017, and 2014; what did they each share? What blades did they bring to the fight? What was it about those years that tore my attention away from the sublime colors of the sunset and the miracle of creative survival back into the depths of a lesson I just can’t seem to learn?

If I’m being honest, I think I know the answer. But I don’t want to be honest right now. I want summer.

I don’t let that shadowy space deep in my belly even suggest the formation of a sentence or a plea in my mind. Summer is a bandage and I can feel something, somewhere, lost in my gut or my soul or maybe lost in my heart (it’s so hard to tell apart things in my closet that I’ve been ignoring) so instead I shrug and buy another candy apple; ride the Ferris Wheel, and plunge my legs into the ocean.

Alaskan Salt

I have always liked the feeling of being cradled by mountains. This is something I have told you, when I was frightened in a ceaselessly flat desert, but this is something you have forgotten.

It is summer. I find that I also like the feeling of night that isn’t night, when below is illuminated by a persevering sun and the family that isn’t my family has retired to curtained rooms. Midnight looks like noon. I like this because I don’t sleep, I won’t sleep, I leave you in our bed.

I push through the mosquitoes on the trail. I am bitten.

Every hour is a golden hour. I like this. I run my fingers over the sky and make it swirl as Starry Night swirls. Every tour guide is saying the same things about the trees, the spruce trees. They say that Alaskan spruce trees are arctic trees, black spruce and white spruce, that they do not fear endless nights and they do not wither in endless days. I am not like these trees.

I like the silt left on the land by the glaciers that have passed millennia ago. The river collects it. I like that the river is fast, that it takes trees and rocks with its flow. The river is stronger than any other river I have ever seen. It is all glacial melt and very grey, even when I cradle its icy water in my palm.

We are in the river but we are not together.

In my raft, I know the names of the people I sit with but I really only know your mother. She asks if I’m okay. I say yes. There were once women here, women who followed gold-seeking husbands. I wonder if they feared this river, I wonder if they feared gold, if they feared men.

The guide is friendly. His beard is long. He checks my life vest.

We are moving. The raft is fast with the river’s gushing course and I think I like this feeling of “afraid,” I like feeling afraid without you. In the raft we gloss over rushing waters, pass exposed roots from a ripped apart shoreline, and see nothing made by human hands.

I am wild because the land is wild.

Our guide says to hold on. I tighten my knees and the bones are pushing into one another. We catch a wave and the glacial melt splashes in my face and I am freezing, my muscles are stone, but when we come in to anchor you are standing on the shore, also wet, and I think that maybe glaciers are warmer than the land.

For six days, I wear the same boots. They have traction in the airport and on the tundra. In them it is easy to run over the thawing earth, the lush dune grass, and the yellow wildflowers. I run fast.

I decide to keep these boots, forever, until someone takes them from me. My father had made sure I packed his wool socks, the ones he has for winter when he cuts firewood for the stove. They itch my ankles. My feet are cold.

There are goats on the hills, but they are far away and your niece cannot see them when I try to guide her eyes. She chases after her brother.

I lean down and hold on to the grasses of the tundra. I grasp it like threads. There are those who put love on silkscreens, and those who allow it to fray. The tundra does not end, and it is alive, it is bathing in summer sun and it seems so aware of me looking at it. I think of Alaska as a woman, the kind of woman you can love but doesn’t let you touch her. The kind of woman with warmth subtle like candlelight, but it’s the light you reach for in a storm.

You call me back to the car.

I like the feeling of being alone on the train. I am looking out the window and, after a long while, there is a wolf. It is probably accustomed to crossing this railroad without disruption. There is only wilderness here. The wolf waits for us to pass, but the train moves too quickly for me to see its teeth.

I want to tell you this, but you are not here. I don’t know where you are, you have left again, are forgetting to speak to me again. I usually do not like this.

I drink coffee and think about the wolf and the thickness of its fur. There isn’t much chocolate, and when a man comes by with a cart I ask. He apologizes, he doesn’t have any chocolate, but he says I can order ice cream when my number is called to visit the dining cart.

He is selling maps which show the route of the train. The maps are small but the illustrations make me look longer than I look at most things. I buy the map and leave it on your seat. I want to look at it before I sleep. I want to see the places I go, where you are going too, the places where I won’t really see you.

Following the tracks, the train travels along lonesome coastline and finds a fishing town. We sleep there. You love the espresso over vanilla ice cream. I love the espresso. In the morning, we look at the sailboats in the marina. We laugh at our favorite names. You say the three words lovers are supposed to say, but it makes me feel strange, like I’m wearing a wig that doesn’t fit.

With our bags, we are leaving, we are told that these towns become isolated in winter when snow collapses over highways.

We wake in a new place. They introduce us to Denali and the hotel room we share has views of valleys and ice and it is beautiful. Breakfast is quiet but I hear you clearing your throat.

We climb into a plane. When it is in the air it is too loud and it is too high. I do not like that I am afraid of heights, afraid of the way the wind hits the plane’s wings. I am an anxious person. I am silent but my eyes burn and I taste a salty tear on my lip.

You are gentle. Maybe because your mother and your brother and your father and your aunt are in the plane with us. You hold my hand for a while, but then you want to take pictures of Denali’s summit, and let go. I like this.

We leave the air behind for the land and the land behind for water.

I understand water. I know water. Oceans are a refuge and I am not afraid of the boat. I am first. I sit on the bow. We reach the icebergs and I know in my soul that I like them most. I like the ice floes and the otters with mothers that swim with them. They are playful. I want to be like these otters. I like how icebergs are sketched in crystalline blue, a tropical blue and I have imaginings of warm places in a very cold place.

I touch glacial ice. It is softer, clearer, gentler than I had assumed it would be. I begin to lay my roots, to pierce through ice and entangle myself, to never move, to never let you move me from this bay of icebergs. But it is where you have brought me, and I do not know if I am complying if I stay. I retreat.

Humpback whales emerge from the water. The calf rises first, then the mother. They come closer to the boat. They are not afraid of us. The ocean waters are dark, the captain tells us, because of its richness. Countless whales come, he says, to take part in nature’s bounty.

The ship leaves the glaciers and the ice and my planted roots. It passes sea lions on rocks before it pulls into a cove where orca whales should come. Everyone is outside in the freezing summer wind, grasping their cameras in their gloves.

The captain tells us that the algae bloom in the oceans surrounding Alaska create half of the oxygen in the world. I breathe deeper and I am not sure if the air tastes fresh or not. I look for you. You are in the back of the ship with your father. The orcas come. There are seven of them. They are hunting.

I never liked the feeling of Genesis, of creation that falls to imperfection. I do not like the feeling I get in my stomach when I think of Cain succumbing to wrath and taking the life of a kind shepherd, committing mankind’s first murder, and the second in breaking the heart of his mother, the first woman. It is unclear to me if they were strung out of Eden or if they had sailed out, just as I cannot tell where I have made choices or where you have made them for me.

I do not like uncertainty.

We board our flight home. I have set six fires in six days but you have doused them. You put my carry-on above us. I give you your sunglasses. The plane goes.

This piece originally appeared in Issue 8 of Wildness. You can find it here.

Flash Fiction: “Jerome”

It is an empty copper camp in the Black Hills. It is where I take you on a road without radio, driving on an incline passing red rock and a woman selling turquoise from a blanket on the highway. We come around a sharp turn, through valleys of wildflowers tucked into the dips of the mountain, and see the sky. Desert skies are different than skies in other places. They are open and luminous and endless – I thought maybe you, too, were bright, and we, too, could be – might be – endless.

The court that has squabbled for months in my head has chosen the jury. We will burn or blossom in this heat, but you do not know this. How could you?

We take pictures of these: deli sandwiches, stray cats, ghost mining shafts, Arizona hillside, the art we love so much, each other.

In these photos, you are with this open sky sipping iceless Coke with your arms outstretched on cliffs. You were hearing music I did not, from a haunted block in Jerome, the narrow ghost town.

I see light in these collected pieces that we are carrying down the mountain, but the printed pictures cast, too, new shadows.

Two Dreams

I.

My mother can’t be bothered to go outside – Dad is asking her to come out, out of the house.

“Come and see this sunset,” he says. It’s the brightest and most vibrant sunset he has ever seen, he says. It’s falling perfectly behind the tallest peak of Pilchuck, across the valley from the Dutch Hill house.

I’m seated at the dining table. I lean back in my chair to view through the window and see it, the violent tangerine hue, and how quickly the sun falls. I can almost hear its thundering roar out of the sky and behind the mountain.

“Ah,” he says to mother, glancing behind him out the window. “Too late.”

Mother drains the pasta.

“Dad!” I shout, and dart out of my chair and swing open the screen door. My feet pound like stones on the wood of the deck.

Night has come and it has come fast.

There isn’t any moonlight to tamper with the stars. The stars aren’t only stars, they are honeycombs hanging in the sky, they are three dimensional, they hover within the atmosphere. Their hexagonal auras pulse outward from their crucibles like sand on drum skin.

In the yard below, there are animals. Their forms are hidden in the dark but their gazes are illuminated by the sky we look up at together. Dad has followed me. He regards the creatures carefully.

We watch the white dust and geometric shine of the stars, but soon, from behind the Dutch Hill house, clouds come. They usher blue skies behind them and push out the night.

“Aww,” I lament, plopping my chin into my palm. “It’s morning already.”

II.

Katey has been wanting to take us to a beach. It’s along sand dunes, in the desert – it’s hot there, and far. Mother doesn’t want to go, her feet swell, doesn’t Katey remember this? How could she forget?

Katey says she’s gotten a babysitter. We don’t ask where her husband is. Dad listens to mother complain about the trip, but he says nothing. It’s a holiday soon, I mention. Lake Day is on Thursday, everyone will be at the sand dune desert beach, what was Katey thinking? How will we find parking?

Without missing a moment, we’re at the sea and Katey is in the dune grass putting lotion on her knees.

The tide is adjusting. The stormy black waters carrying tangled seaweed and driftwood begin their rush downward against the shoreline and outward into the expanse, and taking its place is a shallow water of cyan blue, tropical almost, and I run into it up to my knees. Splash. Plumes of water. Sinking sand. Splash. I think of milk and honey, of holy places and the names of G-d.

I put one foot in the blue water and the other in the black. The waters are separated by a thick line of sea foam. I straddle over them, feet buried in the sand, and hold fast against the opposite tide pulls of each and laugh.

Dad is watching me nervously from the beach. He wants me to be careful, I know. But I’m older now, strong. I can even swim a little.

“Maybe it will help,” dad says. He is looking at his legs. He feels he is old, I realize.

Dad is cautious. He enters the ocean like a ballet dancer but only lets the waters reach halfway up his shin before he turns around before he returns to the beach. I think maybe he doesn’t want to get better. I think, maybe, he’s afraid to know if he can.

Mother is on the rocks. She doesn’t look at me, or Katey in the dune grass. She just looks at Dad, worried. She is lost.