It is a crisp, green color but feels like soap after sitting in the little tub next to a sink for a good week or two. The water is covered in an outrageous beauty, a slimy blanket. I am searching for a way and notice some rocks, like the top of a bald man’s head, creeping up out of the water and presenting a challenging but crossable path to the other side of the swamp. It’s been a few hours now and the sun is setting on a field of wheat that the neighbors are harvesting even though the field belongs to my father. There are locusts the size of my finger clinging to the tall, dried out plants. When I walk toward one it moves it’s body to the other side of the stalk, and then, with a quiet ease, peaks around the edge of the grass and directs a curious gaze in my direction.
This is the field where I tipped over a large cardboard box. A box full of Quail I raised from eggs as a home-school project. They were 8 months old and the coyotes had begun to dig under the coop and take them to their pups. Every morning I came back into the house crying because another had been taken, they started out as sixteen, and by the time I tipped over that box there were twelve. When the box fell on it’s side they igniting with more force than I thought possible, with a mighty activity that to this day ripples the air and touches my cheeks from time to time. A few months later I would be riding the tractor in the back and find one of the birds on the edge of some brush. I turned off the engine, got off of the tractor and rejoiced in this quiet miracle. The small bird walked toward me without hesitation.
I am struck by the way I am able to live my life from day to day. I can sleep soundly. I practice piano and learn to make soap. I take time to write, pray, read. I am swept up in the mad beauty of the leaves changing colors in autumn and the way a strong wind can hold me in the palm of its powerful hand. I laugh so hard my stomach hurts and my mind swells with possibilities as I think about creating, singing, dancing, climbing and reuniting. And it is not that any of these things are bad, or wrong, it’s just that all the while there are things going on all around the planet that would literally bring me to my knees if I was only right in front of them. Is it far too easy to tune out the different aspects of reality that makes up this maddening, invigorating, infuriating, inspiring world?
The other day I talked to a man who was born in a small village in the South of Sudan. He told me about the red and orange days of his youth. He was telling me about the simplicity of his childhood and the way zebras and monkeys would walk through the dusty paths similar to the way deer walk on the outskirts of our busy streets. He was a twin, his brother’s name was Ngor Majak, and he was killed when the men on horses came to their home.
And here I am sitting at a café with the light dancing off of the wooden slats with shadows of booted feat and leggings making their way across the floor. I am watching these faces with pierced nostrils, septum’s, eyebrows, lips, cheeks, chins, and tattoos covering arms and legs telling the stories, fears and passions of their spirit and heart. They are happy, they are sad, we are sitting here and somewhere in the world the village where the man used to live is sitting not yet rebuilt and still orange with the hot sun and dirt.
There are millions of voices in the night. These voices include the crickets and cicadas rubbing and flexing their bodies, rubbing their tibias on their metathorax or some such mysterious act. They contradict their small bodies by making such loud chirps. It is the wild cat walking on the autumn leaves, the owl and its low murmurs, the consistent wind playing around every tree, bush and plant, and the coyote far in the distance howling at that moon. Perhaps this choir means something different to each spectator. For me it has been the exclamation of a world unfulfilled, the celebration of simply being, the prayers of a thousand creatures, a beautiful oath to be satisfied with the mad mosaic of life that is here and now. Last night as I lay in my tent next to my sleeping husband I listened to these noises. I felt peaceful. I felt afraid. I felt like I was feeling what I should be feeling, what I was meant to feel. The memory of these wonders fade quickly and so I sit here with intention, to pin down Peter Pan’s shadow so that I might share it with my companions, and so that I may be reminded again and again that mystery is fundamentally and vastly alive and real in our world.
There are colors that appear in the sky, completely unexpected. I wonder if it is because they are so completely unaware, as all colors are, that we accept their beauty as holiness? There are so many questions that begin to brew within my mind as I sit on the edge of vast bodies of water and watch their power. On a stormy day it reminds me of feral cats swatting and slashing the air with their claws. While swimming this past August in Lake Michigan the waves were reaching fifteen feet and I was swept up into a large wave. It seemed that I was flying in a tornado. My arms and legs were not in my control, my hair was pulled north, south, east and west. I pressed my lips together tightly to stop the water from entering my lungs. I later found out that seven people were killed throughout the summer under the very same water and I remembered the moment when I came up out of the waves to breathe again.
It was two days ago, a Tuesday evening at magic hour. I had walked by that tree so many times from the day I first started walking to school by myself up to the day I realized. I haven’t brought myself to walk past it again. I just can’t do it yet. Not because I’m afraid of what I’ll see, but because I’m afraid I won’t see it again.
When I was younger I had a dream that would repeat itself over and over again. I would ask my mother and father if it had actually happened because it had become such a normal part of my life. In my dream I could see things that others couldn’t. I would walk past people and I could see what seemed to me at the time to be a miniature stage with small characters and props set up in the center of their bodies, close to where their heart would be. It was incredible really. The most intricate miniature sets, absolutely beautiful. There were times that I could not look away. The stories I watched would captivate me completely. Other times they terrified me, especially as a young girl.
The dreams suddenly stopped around the time I turned ten, but not before I was warned in one of my dreams while looking into one of the miniature sets of a young woman in her early thirties. The set took place on a path that weaved its way through a field and trees. It was in front of one of these trees that the tiny woman stopped and reached her hand up into the tiny branch covered in extremely tiny early Autumn leaves and carefully retrieved a fledgling with brilliantly colored feathers and a broken wing. For the first time in any of my dreams the tiny character turned toward me and looked me in the eyes, holding her hand out with the fledgling. I am not sure why, but it was at that moment I knew I would stop having the dreams. And the instant I touched the bird I awoke. I felt peaceful.
When I walked past the tree the other evening I stopped. For the first time in all my days of walking past the tree it suddenly look familiar. Similar to the feeling of walking in a neighborhood and catching a drift of somebody’s clean laundry, and the smell reminds you of a time when you were young and the world looked so much larger. Perhaps it was the changing colors of the day as the sun begins to shift, or the leaves blowing this way and that in an Autumn breeze. Whatever it was I knew where I recognized the tree, it was from the dream with the fledgling. I walked up to the tree, curiosity jolted from my brain toward all of my finger-tips. I had to see. I reached into the swarm of green leaves turning orange and yellow and that’s when it happened. The bird burst through the leaves, as if it was expecting me, and I knew that was the fledgling, brilliantly colored, older, it’s wing no longer broken.
The stories I want to tell are folded up in a napkin that I left inside the pocket of my favorite pants back in 1999, with the dollar given to me by a man when I sat by the edge of a road somewhere in Wisconsin. I left them near the swamp when I was seven and the winter ice was thin and I fell in. The words I want to write are echoes from the small hut that sold coca-cola, the glass bottles and the day melting into the unknown of what tomorrow might bring. They are pricked with my fingers on the blackberry bush that my great grandmother and I would pick from to make jam.
I feel that I have never written what I want to write. It stays boiling up just on the other side of capability.