The Smallest Things Inspire Me

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I once visited an Iranian grandmother in her home. She made Turkish coffee in delicate cups, and fed me pumpkin pie and chocolates.

“It is always like this, back home,” the man with me said, who was from Palestine. “There is always hospitality.”

“I am very religious,” the Iranian said in response, and quoted the Bible; “That which you do unto others, you do unto me.”

“I don’t believe in the God of Americans,” the Palestinian man confided in us. “They are too afraid of one another. They have no trust and they have no warmth. There is no God teaching them.”

“It is the same God,” the woman argued in a soft, good-natured tone. “Same God, different language.”

They disagreed, but the sun still shone, and the coffee was still good. The lady from Iran showed me photos of all her grandchildren and told me to visit again.

“Any day,” she said. “There is always more.”

Moonlight Shadows

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I heard the full moon sing last night; songs of ancient paths, songs of distant dreams; and the wild spirit that remains in my heart unfolded to hear it.

Like a ghost you came, and whispered: Play once more with me. Play another game.

How did Wendy answer Peter, that last time? “Peter, you old fool. I have no time. I am dying.”

Of laughter?

Yes, my love. Of laughter. Of the absurdity of this wild heart, in this frail body.

Then what else have you time for, if not one more game?

I was surely a highwayman, in a different life. I love my black fedora and vintage velvet coat, and the sound my boots make on the walkways by the beach. I enjoy the vague notoriety my unusual appearance grants me, and the smiles and nods of recognition from faces I don’t know and people I will never actually meet. I sit on the pier and every now and then a police officer walks by to make sure I am not drinking alcohol – once caught, forever guilty. The trickster’s lot, indeed.

At Thanksgiving I saw a couple playing chess and went to watch. “Pat always wins,” I hear the others say, and those who walk by ask Beth if she’s lost yet. I am four drinks into the evening, with two fingers of bourbon still in my glass; I’m feeling charitable, and I decide to help poor Beth. “If I were you, I’d call his bluff,” I say.

She does so, and she goes on to win. It’s unprecedented. Before I know it, the footman is pouring me another glass of bourbon and I am kicking off my boots to settle in for a game against this legendary player, Pat the chess player; Pat, who’s very identity is caught up in his ability to beat people mercilessly in this game every time he plays it.

Is there any point finishing this story? We all know that I won. The bottom line, is if a stranger turns up to Thanksgiving in a black fedora and velvet coat, it might be Loki, and it might be me, and neither of us should be trusted with your money (or your life).

When you die, we will be two silver foxes, running in the moonlight.

Down here, in the darkness by the sea, where land and water meet, I can see you. Your red hair caught up in the wind, dancing like the wildfire flame that you are. If I pay attention, I can feel your knuckles brush mine where our hands hang loosely, side by side.

I have all of eternity to be a fox, I tell you.

Time for one more game, indeed. Perhaps we should play for higher stakes; the highest stakes, even. There are dice in the pocket of my black velvet coat and I turn them absently as I consider this.

Would you really play that game? You will be playing against me, not with me.

Oh, Prince of Travelers – when will you learn? I am always with you. If I lose I will become a fox. And if I win…

I know what you want, if you win.

I smile wryly into the wind. “Give me but your voice, and I will lay all of Paris at your feet…”

Silence answers me. The wind alone is left to brush my cheek. The game, I suppose, is afoot.

Writer’s Block

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I want to write something beautiful. Something that speaks to yearning; something that speaks to the yawning cavern, aching to be filled.

I want to speak of the darkness of that cavern; of the infinite chamber that hangs silence like a curtain, waiting for the voice strong enough to pierce it – this veil that is not a veil; this veil that is “nothing” incarnate… but “something,” all the same.

I want to describe rivers of blood, pulsing with all the relentless and ferocious calm of the ocean, swelling to the unyielding call of the moon overhead.

Have you ever ventured deep inside great caverns? Do you know that there is always ice inside them, beautiful and glistening in the pale and eerie light; as cold as death itself?

I want to write something that speaks to the gentle violence that occurs, when crimson rivers start to lap at frost-strewn banks; when the diamond-studded tips of the grass bow low enough beneath the weight of their great jewels to dangle their fingers idly in these hot streams.

I want you to know that I saw the moon, reflected in dark waters, as cold and inexorable as the ice. And that one of these implacable masks had to surrender, had to yield to the other, and it was not the moon. It was never going to be the moon.

After that, I had no words; no ink with which to write. There was nothing I could say anymore, that had not already been said by better poets; better writers than myself.

What am I to do? I gave the darkness my voice; I flung it into the furthest reaches of the cave.

It echoed for a time, but now is lost.

Harvest Moon

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Come and lay with me, here in the amber leaves.

Don’t tell me anything. No whispers; no promises you want to keep and won’t. Do not dare to name the names my dreams are longing to hear – and whatever you do, don’t say any one of the single things my breath is holding itself for.

In this silence, the crows will come and feast on the breathless corpse of everything I wish to leave behind. 

Don’t say anything.

There is a piece of me that I have decided to hold onto. For now, at least. And if you say a single word about it, I promise you, I will never listen to anything again, but the beat of those crows’ wings against the cold north winds as they clamor over the remains of those parts of me I will not name.

So be silent. I have a story for you. It is the story of an orchard over-filled with too-ripe apples, splitting their skins and sickly sweet. It is the story of worms wheedling their way inside them; a story of flies clustering in great black hordes around them.

Be silent. This is the story of the berried branches of my childhood, where the weight of the dark fruit brought whole hedgerows to ruin, collapsing them beneath the burden of their terrible, ponderous weight.

Do you understand? There is no preservation. If the Harvest does not come, there is still no salvation.

There is nothing but the putrid stench of rotting fields; of animal carcasses piled ten feet high, and burning. This too, I have seen.

Knowing this, understand what I am telling you when I say I have decided to hold onto it. I am dying – aren’t we all? It is better to let the crows pick my body clean by nightfall, than to ask me to lie in the October sun, slowly bleaching and fading away.

But this one thing, I have buried. Yes – you must bury that which you wish to keep. That is why people lay their bodies in the ground like seeds; like treasure. They worship death with trembling, admirable reverence.

Listen: one day you are washing your clothes in the river. The next day you are washing your hands. One day you will wash your parents’ corpses, and one day your body will be the corpse that is being washed. The river will live far longer than you, but it will not remember.

That is why you have to bury things. The ground remembers; twists itself and changes shape, in order to conform to the memory.

That is why I tell you to be silent. There is nothing “right” to say. Not to me. Once I am gone, I am gone. I will not remember what you said.

Here we lie, in breathless silence, waiting for the crows. All around us the stars are falling, like the veil of night itself.

Perhaps I was wrong, and it is not the crows that are coming after all. Perhaps it is just the stars, here to dance with us on the pyre of the dying year. Perhaps I was even lying, to see if you would lay with me, knowing we were listening for our deaths. Perhaps there is no difference, and the stars and the crows are one and the same.

Everybody has a grave. That grave should not be inside of somebody else.

If you understand that too, I will tell you where I buried it.

Memento Mori

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Sometimes I think I would not mind, if this was it.
Have I not lived a long life already;
Have I not lived, and loved, as deeply as anyone hopes to?
I would have only one request, perhaps – if this was it –
And it might be, “Give me ten days, or all of them.”
Years of unknowing wear hard, even on me.

Still, I am grateful for these years.
Maybe I was not made to live too long;
Maybe I have already lived longer than anyone can know.
So if this is it – and I do not make it to 40 –
These years have granted me the grace to say,
“This decade will not be defined by my death,
But by the fact that I finally decided to live.”

And it has been a long life already,
And I am tired, though I seldom say it.
But now I am finally blessed with boundless energy, to do
Those things I always said I wanted to do.
And I am grateful, to have learned before I die,
That there is no such thing as “later,”
And there is no such thing as “time.”

There is no such thing as “time.” 

The Shadow of Truth

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When did my truth become my shadow?

When it became a shroud I laid on others like a blanket – “I know who you really are.”
When I could no longer see the person beneath that which I already “know” about them.

Religion colors truth. “God sends people like that to hell.”
Politics colors truth. “They shouldn’t have come to our country.”
Betrayal colors truth. “You have shown your true colors – be forever painted with them.”

I, myself, am an imperfect canvas, splashed with the colors of my day.
I, myself, am no doubt made an object by those whose knowledge of me consists solely of one moment.
One page in my story. One encounter.
One immovable experience or attribute, lodged in their minds and memory.

I believe I am incapable of committing atrocity. I believe this, and am sure it is true.
In the meantime, all atrocity has ever needed, is an unwillingness to be flexible.
Certainty, about who “the other” is.
Certainty, that my perspective is true.

The reduction of a human story to a single page, read once; perhaps never understood.
The reduction of a person to an object.
All begins first with the reduction of myself to an immovable object – “a perfect statue” – casting the shadow that I insist is “truth.”
Forgetting that I, too, am but a changing canvas.

A Summer Storm

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The skies opened in the early evening. I was folding my laundry, neatly; domestically.

You should never put a window in the laundry room. Unexpectedly you will have to choose: the great immensity of the wild outdoors; the calm clutter of your daily life.

Tap, tap, tap. Raindrops like small pebbles on the glass; calling me for an illicit daylight tryst.

I put the laundry down and went to it.

No hoodie; no heavy clothes for me. After days of heat, the wind is refreshing and the rain sweet and inviting; a thousand cold little kisses at once. I shiver, and start running.

The wind sweeps my bangs out of my ponytail. The first casualty of the hour; the first scrap of civilized life, falling, discarded in the street.

My glasses come off next, tucked into a pocket, zipped away. The rain is too heavy; I would rather run impaired than pause to keep wiping them.

Here I am; bare-faced, ponytail dripping. Running, running, running down the street, becoming more and more my human animal with every step.

“It’s raining,” an old man calls to me, concerned on my behalf. “You’ll catch a cold.”

But I am feral; the rain turns to steam where it touches me, and in that moment, I don’t remember what “cold” means.

Running, running, running. Turn onto the main street; now I am running in the road, towards the traffic. I am more alive than them. I am more than a silly person hiding in my car, cowering from the rain. I am a human animal, running.

Off the road. Into the eucalyptus grove, the massive wind-tunnel of tall trees. There is no pavement here, only mud and sand, and as if the rain weren’t heavy enough, fat drops spill from the leaves and land squarely on the back of my neck and snake their way inside my shirt. Soaked at this point; my wet clothes start to chafe uncomfortably against my skin. I’m ready to drop being human at all. I pull off my shirt. Running, running, running in my sports bra and shorts.

I’m nothing more than a wild animal in the woods.

I’m nothing more than living.

My ponytail drips all the way to the small of my back.

Ahhh… that’s cold. Now I remember what “cold” is…

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A thought of “home” rises in my mind; warm, blankets; a hot drink; a hot shower.

Within a single second, I want it, and here I am, miles away from all of it…

Is it just me, or is it raining heavier now? The wind that had seemed “bracing” when I ran into it before now feels like a thousand hands holding me back. My foot slips in the mud and I feel a muscle tighten where it shouldn’t have – ah, great. Great, great, great.

Running, running, running.

I take the ponytail out. There’s no use pretending it serves any purpose anymore. My loose hair lashes on my shoulders like a cat o’ nine, and pushes me forward.

At the crossroads, a family in their car stares at me and my disheveled mien. I look right back and wish I was in MY car, and laugh at my own hypocrisy as they pull away.

Last stretch; I have to choose between the longer, winding path, or the short, direct, uphill one.

Uphill it is. I’m miserable. I just want to be home already.

It’s raining so hard I can’t even open my eyes anymore. Just running blind. There’s nothing romantic or glorious about this. I’m just a drenched animal, dumb enough to fall for the rain’s sweet lies.

My thighs are burning. My sides are hurting. Some guy in a pick-up truck honks his horn at me; thank you, random cheerleader.

Finally: home.

Home, where I stand on the porch and hesitate – just a moment.

… I hope it’s still raining tomorrow.

 

Originally published on Anima Monday, April 2019

Scarlet Stars

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There are two kinds of Knowing.

Here is the first: When the marine layer is low, the amber streetlights refract in such a way that the white froth upon the tide is tinted red. This I Know, and like so many scientists, fancy myself wise for Knowing.

In my homeland this is called a “bloody” tide; and this is a type of Knowing too. Bloody tide and full wolf moon, and the turn of the Gregorian Year; this is a type of Knowing that sends me down to the sea with my hair wild in the wind, to climb the carnivorous black rocks by starlight alone, to make offering of that which I deem precious: the Dragon’s Tears.

Offering and demand – this is more of that second kind of Knowing. You can give anything to the sea, as long as you are willing to be left with your hands.

The clouds lifted before midnight. The sea foam returned to its white sheen. At the edge of the pier, the sky was spattered with red fireworks – a thousand crimson stars, burning holes in the velvet sky. I wondered if the gods are real, and if so, what they must think of us, painting the night sky red with stars of our own making.

 

Ocean Soul

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It was a half-moon last night, waxing. A friend and I went to the beach, to watch the white-tipped waves wash upon the sand.

My friend pointed out the stone jetty – a narrow, rocky path that stretched out some way into the sea.

You mean we could climb those rocks and have the ocean on all sides of us?
Yep.
… Let’s do it!

The wet rocks shone in the lunar light, each craggy edge and roughened plane detailed by the moon’s gentle touch; the rest was darkness, and unknown. Blindly I reached out with hands and feet, tentative but trusting, seeking the next safe foothold; the next secure grasp. One step after another – forward, always forward. Beneath the rocks, I began to hear the roiling waters swirling underfoot. We were surrounded on all sides, except the path behind upon which we had come, and the sky above, overcast and starless.

Eventually we came to the end of the narrow path. I stood as close to the edge as I dared. Exuberant and excited, I lifted my arms and cried out my joy to the vast black sea.

The dark waters moved like a beast rolling over, rewarding me with a sudden surge that rose as high as I stood. Tiny drops of water landed in a hundred kisses on my upturned face, and there was salt upon my lips.

Yes! Teach me your song!

The black water toiled upon itself and pulsed against the rock I stood on, but remained indecipherable. So I lifted my voice to the wind and began to sing to it a song of the sea of my homeland. And as I sang, the midnight sea swelled and moved about me, until I began to hear the song that it was singing too.

I laughed and raised my voice again and howled up at the pale white moon, lifting my arms high, high above my head. And then I began to sing the song of the dark sea, the song that it was teaching me. I sang, and she sang, and we sang until it seemed a frenzy of white foam crested every other note; we sang until I was soaked to the skin but warm to the bone.

I said to my friend after, that I was glad to have had someone with me. A reason to turn back, as the tide came in.

Why? Were you scared?
No. That’s the problem.

Restless

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The winds were wild today. They got inside me, whispering songs of darkness and undergrowth, thorny branches scraping starry skies.

Like a fool, I thought of you, and wondered if you remembered me too.

We were young together; wild within ourselves. We ran through the night like silent shadows and sought out the dark places where only the spirits lived. We ran to the tops of hills and sat on stony peaks and stared out at the city stretched out beneath us.

You always had something silly to say. Something about the trees, talking. I loved it when you were silly.

I don’t remember anymore what made you stop. If it was me; if it was the spirits; if something got into your body and scared you. But one day you sat down and you told me, “I’m too tired to run tonight.”

I said, “Okay,” and sat down with you. I thought, tiredness passes. And instead of running in the moonlight, we talked. You spoke a lot about your father. Your old boyfriend. Your current girlfriend. Our friendship, and our love. You told me your pain, and I told you mine, and above us the skies stretched from dusk into dawn, and back to dusk again. Something cold was coiling its way around my stomach; the groping fear that wild things feel when they sit in plain sight for too long.

“You should get up,” I said. Then: “Please. Get up.”

You didn’t move. “I’m tired,” you said, again.

I jumped up then. I did not like this creeping tiredness, that had made you more tired while you rested. “You have to get up,” I said, and started pacing in circles around you. I got angry. I got scared. The skies turned again. The dawn brought dew. You didn’t even move to shake it off.

I said, “We have to go,” and I bit you. Ah – that made you move! You hit me right back, and then you said, “If going is so important to you, you should go! But I am tired, and I am going to stay here.”

And I didn’t understand. But I still did not like this creeping tired. I did not want to stay close to it. So you curled up and went to sleep, and I walked through the undergrowth and mud, and found my way to the top of the hills and sat on the stony peaks and listened to the trees sing by myself.

They could not explain it either. So I still didn’t understand.

Someone found you; I suppose that was for the best. They put you in a box, next to all the vampire bats and crocodiles, and made you warm and dry. That is what you looked like when I found you. Warm, and dry, and safe. Of the two of us I thought I’d look the worst for wear, with all my scars and my new limp; but I was wrong. Your hair was too short; your claws were gone. And even though your eyes were open, on the inside, they looked fast asleep.

I took a seat while the vampire bats were snoring, and I told you what the moon had been doing, and where the seasons were. It seemed like it was hard to know, from inside your box. And then I said, “I’m sorry I bit you. I knew they would find you, though. If you lay down long enough. I was scared for you.”

And you said to me, “We’re just different, you and me. My pain was too heavy. I needed their help to carry it.”

I was hurt at first. Was that not what I had been doing, all those years ago? But I remembered what you looked like in the grass, running fearless in the hillocks; and I knew then too that there was no way to make you remember that all things get lighter, with momentum. You didn’t even remember what momentum felt like.

“I’ll come back another night,” I said. “I’ll tell you again what the moon is doing, and where the seasons are, and what the winds are whispering.”

I thought I saw your body shiver, as though it wanted to move again and come with me. But then there was only silence and stillness, so I left.

The wind is stirring, and like a fool, I think of you, but not enough to keep my promise. Not yet, not now, maybe never. I don’t think you notice the time that passes. It’s not as though you can see the sky change, from inside your box; but I always have a sunrise to chase, and long nights to run through.

Please enjoy your box. Please be happy inside it. This is the best thing I know how to wish for you. And don’t worry about me – you don’t have to wish anything for me. Everything I wanted, I have: Thorn-scraped skies and stony peaks; running, tumbling, headlong through the mossy undergrowth, and all the dark places, where only the spirits go.