The land of giants

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When I was small I lived in the land of giants. People and building loomed large, towering over me in a world that pulsed with power and strength. In my first eight years when the year changed, I sat on my grandparents’ porch, coated and mittened, to watch the New Year’s parade march down the broad street. The porch stretched half a block in length surrounded by concrete walls I first had to tiptoe over to see the marchers.

 

When my years grew large, my grandparents’ home grew small, their porch unable to hold more than a few chairs, a table, a bench, and two or three small children.

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I knew a man once who slept in my mother’s bed, a man not my father but who owned her when he changed her name. He walked in fierceness, his words the mace he swung to shame and mock and ridicule. He slew me more than once. Though I had more than a decade to stand on, he towered over me, an insurmountable wall that kept me in a place of fear. I hated him.

 

A full generation passed before I saw him again. This past week we met. The years have left him frail, thin, and sick. His legs hesitate when he tries to walk, and his ears fail to listen to the soft voices around him. Old angers still smolder in his words, but the flame no longer leaps out to scorch and singe.

 

All of us come to rubble eventually. The mortar weakens and our walls collapse. We lay down our weapons and surrender to the years.

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We talked, the two of us, and told our stories. I searched for my old hatred and found it gone, lost on some path I took decades and decades ago.

 

I left that man, surprised at my great peace and my great guilt. I am not innocent. I have wrecked havoc, too, shook the ground with anger, pierced hearts with sharp-edged words, and held others hostage behind walls I built myself.

 

I have grown small again and hope to stay that way until I leave. I have had my share of hurts, but I have also hurt others and must make amends, for none of us escape this world unscathed or guiltless.

Eating summer

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We eat the strands of sunlight that the plants spend their days gathering. We eat the roar of volcanoes, old memories of fires and dinosaur bones, forgotten car trips, purr of cats, chatter of blue jays, breath of smokestacks, and all of our words, even our silence.

 

We eat earth’s metals – magnesium, zinc and copper – that the plants mine. They find the wells of sweet waters far beneath the soil and draw it up for us.

 

One day in July the garden calls us to eat spring and summer, sweet, salty, tart, and juicy. After we slice the sunlight into a blue bowl, we pour the sun’s golden liquid that we gathered from the tight fists of olives, and eat until our bellies fairly shine. Then we lick the bowl like it was the sky itself.

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Vegetables

Winter’s night

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The shadows have been there all day, waiting for the light to slant. The world turns its back on the sun as the shadows tilt onto the ceiling above the kitchen lights.

 

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Twilight awakens my longing, lets it loose like a hungry hound, searching for a bone I buried somewhere long ago. I miss the ones who have left. I hunt for them along the trail of memories,  following a familiar path that leads to the river. Here as always, I lose their scent.

 

Evening washes the room gray. My eyes cannot adjust; details fade like memories. Darkness brings its own weariness. I wear it like a cloak or shroud. I am too tired to go further. I long to hibernate, to crawl inside the barren night, and sleep and sleep and sleep.

 

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I listen to the lullaby of dark; I am weary, friend.

Don’t stop.

But I must sleep away this night that seems to never end. My tears will drown me if I do not stop.

Don’t close your eyes.

Why? Just a bit of rest and I will start again.

There is no starting after that sleep.

How far until the light?

The weight of snow

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Snow laden pine

 

 

Today the snow fell.

 

 

The pine trees stood in the silence to catch the falling sky. Two crows watched, unaware or unconcerned. The pines had nowhere else to go. When their limbs grew tired, they laid their burdens down. Snow scattered on the ground, startling the crows.

 

 

The birch trees are bones picked clean by the wind. Summer’s silver leaves lost long ago.

 

 

I have never loved the trees more than now.

 

 

The snow knows something of letting go, words unspoken, worlds lost, vanishing hour by hour. I think a bush grew there; I can’t remember. My familiar path is gone. I am left with only memories.

 

 

The snow knows too much of death to make a sound. It writes without words — shows, but never tells. See, you will not drown in this white flood. Winter stills the water and commands it to sit at her feet. In spring, the water will move again, seeking the earth’s heart, flowing down, down into the River Lethe, drowning all your memories of this world.

 

 

The blue shades grow large. I watch them lumber across the yard into the night.

 

 

I promise myself I will not forget this day.

 

Writing myself down

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I sit before the screen as words unfurl; skeins of thought untangle one by one. In silence I knit, undo, and knit again.

 

Above ground, the words grow, limb by limb, empty branches longing for spring. In the hidden place, the roots of wordless thought spread beneath the story that is me.

 

 

 

The truth is, words gnaw at my heart, so I release them. One thought leads to another; I follow, climb skyward, never looking down. I cling to fragile branches that cannot bear my weight. The trees I write, stripped of summer, grow from the tips of from my blue-stemmed hands. Blood flows from heart to paper, as it must.

 

 

The pattern is everywhere. Beauty divides and subdivides into frost, deltas, translucent wings, agates, cells, copper crystals, numbers, and the red river within. Trees of fire touch earth in storms; neurons branch into life. I am part of the pattern. Sentences flow onto paper; the waters merge, drowning me again and again.

 

 

I write the bridge I walk on. Behind me, the past swallows my path. I long to write myself home, a place I’ve never been. Will these words carry me there?

 

 

Had I been free to write these many years, I would have had the time to write myself mad. All those doors shut, the daily tasks that blocked my way, disappointments stealing so much time, every one another mercy.

 

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CREDITS

Copper crystals:  By Paul from Enschede, The Netherlands (Dendritic Copper Crystals) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Sand patterns:  David Lally [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Colorado dry river delta:  U.S. Geological Survey 
Department of the Interior/USGS
U.S. Geological Survey/photo by Pete McBride

Veins: http://www.radpod.org/2006/11/08/cerebral-arteriovenous-malformation/

Dr. Marina-Portia Anthony

Frost: Joe Lencioni, shiftingpixel.com

Wing venationhttp://bugs.bio.usyd.edu.au/

Neuron: http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pbio.0040029

 

 

 

 

 

A journey and an explanation

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Late August, they gave me a map and instructions. I planned my route, studied the names of the rivers, noted the areas to avoid, and headed out. Like all of the journeys before this, I set out with a heavy backpack and a light heart.

I have made this long trek across the months before and knew I would pass some familiar places. My legs, unused to walking after the long summer of watching clouds, complained and then grew silent. My back has never ceased to speak.

I have been schooled in maps, known, and walked them. A map is the story of the road, told true from first to last, but it is not the road. Contour lines, floating on the flat surface like ripples in a lake, are someone else’s story. Your feet must walk the road and find what elevation means.

I follow a path of beauty, canopied by a wide blue sky, days lined with slow smoldering trees that light the way. I know the sun will turn soon and the winds still the fires. I have a long acquaintance with winter.

Faces wait for me at each encampment; they are why I journey. The weary climb, the bruised feet, the hours setting up the camp – all are forgotten when we meet. I offer them my strength, teach them all I know, and trust they will remember some of what they learned for their own travels.

I have journeyed often and I have journeyed long, but I have never been so tired. Mid-October means I am halfway there. In December when the earth sleeps its longest night, I will sit before a fire and rest, tell stories of my trek, and remark on the terrain I covered.

 

For now, most of my writing must be in the lives and minds of my students.