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The Earth, Measured

by Joel Hans

Mom plucks an inchworm from the desert willow, knowing how much I like to let them tickle the foothills of my toddler toes and take them on adventures. It inches me through childhood, to the time my sister stands atop the ladder Dad built against the olive tree in the backyard, belting a melody about the moon, until she falls and breaks her arm on the earth. Continue, the inchworm asks. Yes, I say. The inchworm crawls to the time Dad props us both up on the visiting platform to watch my sister ride a rocket to visit a distant rock. The day I find Mom coughing in my sister’s vacant room, so hollow it rings like a bell. Continue? Mom’s visitation, where I tell the story of how she called inchworms earth-measurers. Through a meadow of globemallows, a white dress that fits me like sky over mountains and a cake I desecrate with someone I’m supposed to know. Continue? The inchworm walks with me to the time I fish out a blue-bellied lizard drowned in swimming pool then get a phone call from an unnumbered caller who says my sister’s barge to the stars has gone off-course, teach my children about death in two summits. Continue? Together we inch to the day I finish emptying my childhood home—Dad’s in hospice but his ladder still rests against the olive tree. New burls have swallowed the stringers. When I put my hand on a rung, I find the ladder is taller than I remember. I climb, leaving the inchworm far beneath, until I hear my sister’s voice. She belts a song about how the great horned owl used to smile at her from the fan palm. Around me, the sunset sets the table in the sky with her stars. Continue?

Joel Hans was once called a saguaro in disguise. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Story, West Branch, No Tokens, Puerto del Sol, Booth, and others. He edits Astrolabe, a literary journal in the form of a dynamic universe. He holds an MFA from the University of Arizona and continues to live in Tucson, Arizona with his family. He can be found on Twitter @joelhans or at

Lead image: “Close-up of a handmade wooden ladder with a blurry background” (via Flickr user Ivan Radic)