She swayed, dipped, hummed, and quailed. His eyes focused on her hairless mouth and beamed radiantly as she swayed, a secret fire chasing the passing vision across an envelope of tears. He had neither the courage nor the intelligence to be such a wonderful coward.
Next to an assemblage of gates, my heart was fluttering like a wild pigeon. I crossed the limpid waters of my dark
underground lake. I had collected a burden of aging endearments. I had to travel two days to get from one end
of the boat to the other.
The sheep dog and I seemed to notice its shadow on the brick alley wall at the same moment, but I thought about
how the shadow was dependent upon the dog and the street light, and the dog thought about how the dog was
dependent upon the shadow, or at least that’s what I thought next when the dog stepped into the shadow and I
could find neither the dog nor a door where the shadow had been. It did not occur to me at that moment that neither existed without the other although they sometimes appeared to be traveling as if they didn’t need each other, and it occurs to me now that I too can seem to be separate from that which has become attached to me.
I have looked for that dog many times, and I have found him where he was not and taken him with me to places where his shadow could not be found and found myself there instead, but only as they both knew me, which has given me something of myself I hadn’t known.
Strolling the traveled streets of my hairy body, the warm yes of the evening slipped over my shoulders. My cold
friends treated me with the grand indifference of a whale for a migrating hummingbird. A simple, lithe, petite woman with a growth at the top of her thin neck that might have been her head tried to comfort me with a brush. I held my uncertainty in abeyance.
I had been waiting for a glacier. It was important, but you can’t try any harder than I did. I’m still told that we
struggle to create great works of art, trying to understand the truth about life, which is not as it appears to be, and
perhaps we learn enough to help us, but what we understand about love can defeat us, for love does not submit to
considerations of appearances.
Maybe an old brown farm dog chased something as invisible as I am across the cow pasture and maybe it didn’t, but I know what it feels like to watch something like that and think about the hired man’s stroke, half his face resting all day long, and how he stood there strong still in the haymow and stroked in retreat.
I’d never seen anyone go that far into his body before. And then his father came along, and he helped him, though he didn’t need the help, not for the work anyway, and the father took the son’s strong slowed movements and his half-resting face into his own body and went on with his own muscles stroking and looked up at everyone with his smile just a little sagged and nothing less for it, carrying it all wherever his eyes took him, lifting each leg and thinking and going on, just a little bit older with each step, and it grew into something that wasn’t either of them but a man with a new life he was ready to follow wherever it went.
Winter entered the external house with me, fell asleep by the fire while I dreamt of chasing rabbits through the
unmarked snow. They all lifted the tiny cup of coffee together and in this way were able to gradually overcome
the limitations of gravity, which gave the youngest the opportunity to burn his tongue. I decided then that I
hadn’t been born yet, and I watched for what it might mean when I was. Wagons were still hauling pieces of the frozen river back to the icehouse. A lone swallow repeatedly flung himself against the air, ecstatic with the wind’s gossip.
The season was young, and she was innocent, dreaming sweetly of the fat hairy fingers of the butcher’s son,
which excited her, and she didn’t know why.
Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps I’ve only just been born, and this ordinary day has been my one life, and just when I’m ready to quit, I’ve caught up with night again, whispering I can’t sleep, and I have to get there by morning.
Rich Ives is the 2009 winner of the Francis Locke Memorial Poetry Award from Bitter Oleander Press and the 2012 winner of the Creative Nonfiction Prize from Thin Air magazine. His book of days, Tunneling to the Moon, is currently being serialized with a work per day appearing for all of 2013 at silencedpress.com. Tunneling to the Moon and Light from a Small Brown Bird (poetry, Bitter Oleander Press) are both due out in paperback in 2014.
Lead image: “big white one” (via Flickr user Laura Thorne)